Psalms Lecture 4: Psalm 11

THE FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FOR LECTURES GIVEN AT NEW COLLEGE, BIRMINGHAM. I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND BOOKS WILL BE CREDITED TO SHOW WHERE MY INFORMATION IS COMING FROM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, COMMENT ON THIS POST AND I WILL TRY MY BEST TO ANSWER.

~*~

For the director of music. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.

Genre: Praise but individual, possibly wisdom depending on how you see it.

The divisions are pretty clear and Kidner has described them as:
A: 1-3 Panic
B: 4-7 Stability

It is clear that this psalm comes straight from a crisis, David is in danger, and yet David describes his stability in the Lord.

A: 1-3

This quickly feels like part of a conversation, but with who?
Is David responding directly to his advisers? Are his advisers intending to help him or harm him? Is this conversation ringing in David’s ears when the conversation is over? Is this partly what David himself feels he should do?
Either way, the suggestion to run and hide is persuasive, as, when running from an assassin, one who aims arrows at you in the dark, you have very little protection. This is not just a dangerous time in general but a situation which is felt to need a speedy retreat.

“like a bird” implies to me a speed, but also a fragility of life. If we look too at Matthew 6:26 where we are compared to the birds, which the Lord also feeds and cares for, it could be suggested that David was being seen as lesser than man, because he must protect himself by fleeing. However, both David, and Matthew’s gospel states clearly that the Lord does protect and provide for us.

On the other hand, verse 3 could imply one of two things:
– firstly, it could imply that the situation is hopeless. When the rug has been pulled from your feet, when everything is at a loss, when you are in crisis and danger, the best thing the righteous can do is run.

– secondly, it could imply something far more positive: protection for someone that means so much. David’s advisers could have been suggesting that David’s life is of such importance because of what he means to the people as a whole. David is seen as the foundation on which the righteous rely on. If David is destroyed, what then?

– there is, however a third option which David knows, and when put in a Christian light can be enlightening. The foundation is God, or Jesus.

Isaiah 28:16

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.

Part B:4-7

David points out that the Lord is in residence, that we are safe because the city has foundations.
Kidner says something interesting: “The collapse of what is built on sand may be distressing; it can also be a beginning.” Once we see it we can change. Instead of despairing, we can realise God’s place in all of this, and rest on his firm foundation.
We can remember that Jesus was called the rock, the cornerstone, a sure foundation.

The word “test” or “examines” is repeated twice. The Lord observes everyone and waits patiently, but concentrating, for the righteous to show what they are made of. The Lord may be still as the foundation, but He is not passive. His patience gives the righteous people opportunity to act as such.

This could be seen as a challenge to David’s advisers, a reprimand possibly. He has compared the despair and fear to trust in the Lord and has now basically told them “the Lord is watching you”.

What follows in verse 6 is the judgement and warning.

On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

This verse is an allusion to Genesis 19:24, where the fire and brimstone were the means to overthrow Sodom. Sodom stands in the Bible as an example and continuous reminder that sudden and final judgement can come at any time.

As an aside: my book notes that in the Hebrew “coals” is actually the word for snares, but most translations assume it was a small written error and translate as coals. Just something for you to think about: what might fiery snares bring to mind? To me it reminded me of Lucifer and he original place as the accuser, the one to try to catch you out and trap you.

Despite this warning, the reminder comes back to the Lord – HE is righteous, and the foundations of the righteous are His nature and will for His people. He loves justice because He is just. This means that it is also not our job to label who is righteous, because only God can discern that and David has complete trust in God doing so.

Returning to verse 1, David is saying the He is David’s refuge. This is not selfish, he is not going to God just to be safe – his life is anything but safe. Hence “to see His face” is not self-serving but something someone in love with their God might long for.

This both refers to the inner eye of worship to see God, but also the promise that they would one day be awakened from death to “behold his face in righteousness”.

~*~

  • Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Book I and II of the Psalms (Inter-Varsity Press, England, 1973).
  • Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David, Volume 1, Psalm I to LVII (Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts).
  • Society of Biblical Literature. The Harper Collins Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version).
  • Walton, John H. Chronolgical and Background Charts of the Old Testament (Zondervan, Michigan, 1978).
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