In our age, characterized as it is by a strain of hyper-individualism that encourages a person to put all of one’s focus on oneself, we can hardly spend too much time on the biblical theme of corporate solidarity. Scripture is clear that while our salvation depends on our own faith and not on someone else’s believing for us, we are not isolated persons whose decisions have no effect on others. Moreover, the decisions of others have an inevitable impact on us. This is true whether the decisions in question are good ones or bad ones.
To get an idea of what we mean by this, all we need to do is consider briefly the history of Israel. In days of blessing, all of the individuals who made up the people of Israel enjoyed prosperity, even those individuals who were in themselves wicked. Hezekiah’s faithfulness during Sennacherib’s invasion, for example, kept the entire nation safe from Assyria even though there were certainly unfaithful Jews living in the land (Isa. 36–37). The principle of corporate solidarity also meant that faithful members of the old covenant community could experience suffering as a result of the sins of others. When God sent the people into exile because the majority of them were impenitent in their wickedness, faithful Jews such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel were carried off along with them (2 Kings 25; Jer. 43:1–7; Ezek. 1:1).
Today’s passage is a lament that most scholars believe was written during the exile. The author, whose identity is unknown to us, expresses great sorrow. The picture is one of tremendous suffering and poverty that would have been associated with at least the initial conditions of the exile (see Ps. 102:4–5, 9). Note, however, that while the psalmist refers to divine anger (v. 10), there is no confession of personal sin on his part. There seems to be a recognition that the exile is deserved, even if he as a faithful Israelite had done nothing himself to merit the loss of the land. Simply put, he was suffering on account of his being part of the nation that as a whole deserved banishment from the Promised Land, but not because of his own personal sin.
What does the man of faith do when he is suffering because of the decisions of others? He looks to the promises of God. This author knew the Lord’s covenant promises, including the pledge of restoration (vv. 12–13; see Lev. 26:40–45). He remained confident in the Lord in the midst of his suffering. We, too, must continue trusting in our Creator even when we are walking through undeserved suffering.