Continuing on with the prayer of verses 4-6. Weiser, in his comment upon this prayer, states as follows:
…in the midst of his physical and mental suffering. It is in this connection that the knowledge of the transient nature and futility of every human life and of all human effort in the sight of God is first fully brought to light. …for it is inly in that perspective which sees everything as God sees it that the only trustworthy criterion and compass for the true nature of man can be found….The most common prejudice, from which the psalmist himself did not escape, is the general tendency to overestimate one’s one importance. Man sees his relation to the reality of God in its right proportions only if that prejudice is radically eliminated — if man sub specie aeternitatis Dei which he grasps in the light of his end of his life, comes to realize that his life and work are ‘much ado about nothing’, and has lost his rebellious self-assurance. The fact that the worshipper is so serious-minded and so courageous that he is even prepared to accept the radical result of that perspective which ruthlessly puts an end to any attempt at trying to hold on to what is only ephemeral.
Artur Weiser, The Psalms, trans. Herbert Hartwell (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 329.
Our affections, our love and hate are judgments, evaluations: when we love a thing, we think it somehow good and desirable. Our hatred sees something as dangerous, loathsome and to be avoided or destroyed. The less intense responses are the same quality though not of the same quantity.
The distress of the Psalmist thus lies in his false evaluation of the circumstance. It does not mean that the difficulty which he faces is not real. Indeed, the reality is necessary because God is using it as a means of transforming the Psalmist. The trouble is not in the objective thing itself, but in the inability to judge it rightly.
Make me know how vain all this life is! Make me know how fleeting are my days. Let me see that not only my own life, but all this great world are shadows.
We fight over things we think valuable. I knew of a case involving two homeless men fighting (to the point of extreme violence) over the “right” to comb through certain trashcans. I dare say that no one else even thought about such a “right”. But to these men, the trash was valuable. To those who walked by everyday, it was trash.
The Psalmist has been in distress because he was unable to see through his pain and circumstance. Only by seeing it as God sees it could he rightly judge the thing.
This Scripture applies this principle in a number of ways. For example, James — in a section concerning conflict — writes:
James 4:13–16 (ESV)
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Our obtaining wealth, our business is all in the hands of God: and even those efforts are fleeting, because we are mere breath. It is “arrogant” to think otherwise. In James 3:16, he has said that such “selfish ambition” is “demonic” and results in “every vile practice”. James 3:15.
Psalm 39 tells us that even if we gain such wealth, that we have been in “turmoil” “for nothing” and we do “not know who will gather”. Solomon in Ecclesiastes speaks of the vanity of gathering wealth to leave it to another. Ecco. 2:18-19.