Psalm 11 Commentary: Introduction
I’ve been a little random in my teaching through the Psalms. I started with lament psalms. Then I covered in one lesson praise psalms. And then I basically started back from Psalm 1 and since then we’ve just been marching along, psalm by psalm until now we’re in the 11th Psalm today. My plan for now is to keep dealing with each psalm sequentially until… who knows when?
Psalm 11 Commentary: Hard Jobs
Now, let me ask us all a question. In today’s society – the society you live in and that is all around you – the one you hear and read reported to you on the news – are there some jobs you’d like to avoid right now?
I mean, do you think there’s a lot of encouragement that you’d get from our mainstream culture to be a Christian politician these days? Answering slanted questions about the age of the earth while that isn’t at all what you’ve been hired to discuss?
How about being a Christian caterer – maybe in Indiana? Do you think you might run into some difficulties in that kind of position in the environment in which we live?
Or what about going into the line of duty as a police officer? Imagine the scrutiny and constant danger. Imagine – if you make one mistake – you might be dead OR you might end up on the evening news for making the wrong move. And you’re not going to get much sympathy, either way.
I think that FEAR might serve as a mighty strong deterrent for many who would want to enter any of these vocations these days. The FEAR of persecution. The FEAR of what people might think. The FEAR of being misunderstood. The FEAR of being forced to do something your conscience simply will not allow you to do. The FEAR of even imprisonment if you make the wrong move.
And I’m not at all trying to absolve the wrongdoings of anyone in any of these groups that I’ve mentioned. I’m simply saying that there are many reasons for even a Christian who wants to do right to FEAR entering these vocations.
Can I add to that list of careers PASTORING? As a pastor you open yourself up to all sorts of attacks. Attacks from outside – from a culture that is increasingly hostile to the message of the Gospel and to what for centuries would be considered normal Christian living. Attacks from inside – from people you’ve served, with whom you’ve wept, for whom you’ve prayed. And they can turn and attack you. What’s the use? Why bother? Why try to serve the Lord and others? It’s so much work – so much risk – so little thanks.
David experienced these kinds of thoughts in Psalm 11. In fact, these thoughts were apparently being put into his head by someone else – not himself. Look at verse 1. He states that he puts his trust in the Lord and then turns around to this unnamed man and asks him “how say ye to my soul…”? David is having someone plant seeds of doubt into his heart regarding the worthiness of continuing to serve the Lord with boldness. He’s being faced with a choice. FLEE from trouble or FACE it with the Lord’s help.
Do you think that being a Christian baker or police officer would be fraught with difficulties these days? What about being the king of Israel? David faced hardship in his task. And he had to let his faith in the Lord overcome his fear of the wicked.
So, we’ll explore Psalm 11 now and I think we’ll be encouraged with David’s resolve, which we could summarize in this statement. “Let Your Trust in the Lord Remove Your Fear of Evil.” So, let’s read Psalm 11.
Psalm 11 Commentary: Genre
Psalm 11 is a reflective or meditative psalm. And the psalmist begins his meditation in verse 1. “In the LORD put I my trust.” Numerous passages of Scripture portray the Lord and what he provides to his people as something like shade that a large tree would provide from the blazing Middle Eastern sun. Or the Lord’s pictured as a large rock that juts out here and there and provides shelter from rain and inclement weather. Further still, throughout the Bible, God is imagined as a fortress. A place to which one may go to flee from enemies.
And this is what the psalmist states he does with the Lord. David makes the Lord his shady tree or his covering rock or his strong fortress. He flees to him for protection. He flees to him for comfort. And he finds the Lord to be as strong and immovable and safe as any tree or boulder or fortress ever could be.
How many times have you fled to the Lord? How many times have you sought refuge and protection from him? And you’ve found it – haven’t you? You’ve experienced his comfort. You’ve experienced his protection – spiritually and even physically. You know what David’s talking about here.
Well then, if that’s the case, if you’ve fled to the Lord and are continually doing so – then, you’ve likely also experienced what David experiences in verses 1 through 3. Let’s read those again.
KJV Psalm 11:1 … how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? 2 For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. 3 If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Psalm 11 Commentary: Discouraging Report
David addresses an unseen and unknown person. At least the person is unseen and unknown to us. David would have been able to identify him. Was it one of David’s enemies? Was it one of his advisers who was becoming faithless? Was it the general talk around the nation in David’s day? I don’t know. And it’s not important. The identity of this person is not important. It’s what he says to David that is important.
This report first of all advises David to flee like a bird to his mountain. This is a picture of pathetic retreat. When you think of courage, do you think of a fleeing bird? A bird that’s running away from some danger – is that the picture we get in our mind when we think of courage? No, of course not. But that’s just what this report advises David – to flee like a bird.
And where is David to flee to, according to this report? To his mountain. I imagine that this is a reference to Jerusalem or especially the Temple Mount next to which was Zion. Run away to your cloistered religious area – in other words. Run away to your mountain.
Well, why should he flee? What would cause David to flee? Verse 2 – the wicked. Those pesky wicked men. They’re up to something again.
By the way, I see the statements of this report running from the second line of verse 1 to the end of verse 3.
So, this report is still being addressed to David when he brings to his attention that “the wicked bend their bow” and that “they make ready their arrow upon the string.” They’re “bending” their bow in the sense that they’re treading it or putting their foot on it in order to bend it so that they can attach their string from one end of it to the other. And when they do that, what inevitably follows is that they put the arrow on that string. So you’ve got a strung bow with an arrow on that string. What happens next?
Well, why are the wicked getting their bow and arrow ready? “That they may privly shoot at the upright in heart.” They “privly” shoot. Literally, they shoot “in darkness”.
And what is more frightening than the darkness? I tell you, when we travel from Watertown to Whitewater and its light outside, there’s hardly a more beautiful trip. The landscape is beautiful. The drive is pleasant. The road is nice and paved. We can see wildlife – big birds. We see crops growing in their seasons and being reaped during harvest time. Big farm equipment. Just lovely.
Then there’s night time. And I tell you, it can get pretty harrowing. Every little thing that flies across the road becomes a deer in my mind! My eyes are constantly darting back and forth to make sure nothing is lurking on the sides of the road, ready to spring out and hit our car. How did my fun pleasant drive turn into sheer terror? It’s the darkness.
The darkness hides things that otherwise could be spotted beforehand and avoided. But menacing things can hide in the dark. Frightening things. Dangerous things.
And in David’s case, this report is telling him that the wicked are looking to kill people. And they’re doing it under the cover of “darkness”. Isn’t this report proving to be an encouragement to David? “David – you better run away from these murderous and hiding men!” This message was certainly intended to discourage David.
And these wicked individuals aren’t indiscriminately attacking just any one. They’re trying to destroy the “upright in heart”. The “straight” in heart. Those whose morals and affections are correct. These are the people being targeted – according to this report to David. And David would have been in this group – the upright in heart.
As if this report could get any worse, it ends in Psalm 11:3 on this cheerful note – “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” See our Psalm 11 3 Commentary for more discussion on this particular verse.
Psalm 11 Commentary: David’s Response
So, we could flee from difficulties. Or you and I could learn a lesson from David in Psalm 11. How does he respond to the report of the threat of wicked people around him?
Look at verse 4.
KJV Psalm 11:4 The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven:…
Psalm 11 Commentary: God’s Position
David reminds himself of the Lord’s position. Do you remind yourself of that? When you read the news or hear of troubling realities in this world, do you remind yourself of God’s lofty position of sovereignty?
Look at verse 4 again. The Lord is in his holy temple. The word TEMPLE can be translated as PALACE. And based on the mention in the next line about his THRONE, I think that’s probably a better translation. So, the Lord is in his holy palace. He’s reigning as a king. And he’s no ordinary king. His palace is HOLY or completely unique – different and special and set apart from any kingdom on earth. But, what makes his palace so special, so unique, so holy?
Next line of verse 4 – his throne – the place from where he’s pictured as laying down the law and adjudicating – it’s not on earth. It’s not earthly. It’s above all. Its unapproachable and unassailable. You can’t attack a palace and throne that are somewhere you can’t even get to. The wicked have their target on the earth – the righteous. But no matter what happens to his subjects, the Lord our King will never be defeated. People can rebel against him – and they do all the time. But they’ll never truly defeat him. He’s in charge. He’s sovereign. No one can touch him.
So, that’s the Lord’s position. And David reminds himself of that truth in order to think and respond correctly to this discouraging report of rampant, life-threatening wickedness.
Psalm 11 Commentary: God’s Actions
And now that David has established in his mind God’s lofty exalted sovereign POSITION, he’s going to also remind himself of the Lord’s PRESENT ACTIONS in verses 4 through 6.
KJV Psalm 11:4 …his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. 5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. 6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.
The Lord is watching. Wouldn’t that reality strike fear into your heart if you were actively opposed to the Lord? And he’s not just watching – like someone who just blankly stares out into space. No, the Lord is also doing some mental work as he looks – as it were – at the children of men or the sons of Adam. He’s trying all these mortals – all these men who will ultimately die – he’s trying us. To TRY speaks of testing or assaying. He’s examining each weak mortal as if he were testing metal. Zec 13:9 uses this term to refer to refining silver or purifying gold. And even if you haven’t done it yourself, you know that refining metals involves intense heat. And that heat melts away the impurities in that metal and leaves the metal more pure and strong and valuable.
Now, the Lord is pictured as doing this kind of thing to two groups of people.
Psalm 11 Commentary: The Righteous
Verse 5 – the Lord specifies that he does does this kind of thing to the RIGHTEOUS. He purifies the righteous. He tests or tries them in that way. Do you know how he does this? Well, in any number of ways. But in the context of this psalm, one way that the Lord tries the righteous to check our genuineness and to increase our purity is by allowing us to hear and experience discouraging dynamics as were reported to David earlier in this psalm. When faith in the God of the Bible and in his Son is seen as en vogue and popular and widely acceptable – then what does it cost anyone to enter a church building like this? To identify in the workplace and in the public square as someone who wholly embraces the faith once for all delivered to the saints? How hard is that? Not hard at all. There’s no shame to it. But now, when you have discouraging reports to the effect that your life or livelihood could very well be in danger if you continue to follow the Lord. If you’re seeing all around you indications that the very foundations of society are crumbling around you – and you’re all of a sudden finding yourself in a different world than a few decades ago – and all of a sudden you’re not in the in-group, well, that’ll refine you, won’t it? If it might cost you your life to be a Christian, that can have two effects on the church.
First, less people just seeking health and wealth and a good time and social prestige will all of a sudden stop showing up. The stuff that wasn’t silver or gold to begin with will just stop coming. They will be tested in that way and found to be not genuine.
The second affect will be to cause you and me to cling to Christ. To draw nearer to him than ever before. To abandon sin and any weight that so easily besets us. This happens when the Lord tries the righteous.
Psalm 11 Commentary: The Wicked
But the Lord doesn’t try ONLY the righteous. Remember – he was already viewed as testing both the righteous and the wicked – the sons of Adam – fleshly beings – Adam’s race. The Lord purges and purifies his own. But what about those who rebel against him? End of verse 5. The wicked – the ones who just love violence – especially the kind of which the righteous is the target – those kinds of people God hates.
Does that shock you? Does it make you draw back? Do you wonder if HATE means something different than what it really means? Well, it doesn’t. It means exactly what it says. God hates those who are violent against his people. Please don’t be offended by that. It’s the truth and it’s meant to COMFORT you. Remember? That’s what David is doing right now. He’s reminding himself of some truths that will help him cope with this discouraging report he’s heard. Don’t let the fact that God hates those who hate you be troubling. Let it encourage you.
And how does this hatred manifest itself on your enemies – YOUR enemies – the ones who hate you and your God? The Lord will rain some pretty awful things down upon these men. Now take note – THE LORD will rain down these things. You and I won’t. We’re not authorized to do so – especially not in the Church age – but we’re in the Old Testament here. And David isn’t even thinking of taking this kind of retribution into his own hands. He’s confident that GOD will avenge him and his group of righteous men.
OK, so the Lord will rain down some things upon the wicked. Rain them down as if they were actual drops of water from heaven. This is the picture. They won’t be able to escape these things. Well, what are they?
Snares or traps. The wicked are viewed in the Psalms as constantly setting traps for the righteous to catch them and kill them. And that was part of the discouraging report in this psalm. The wicked are going to shoot from the dark at the righteous. It’s a trap. Well, the Lord will return that kind of activity on themselves. See how THEY like it.
The Lord will also rain down fire and brimstone. That’s right – we’re preaching fire and brimstone here! And we needn’t apologize for that. Brimstone is sulfur. And it’s fire and brimstone that the Lord literally physically rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their many horrendous sins to serve as an example for those who would live ungodly lives thereafter. And I think it’s noteworthy – the righteous and the wicked both are pictured as experiencing fire. The fire applied to us proves our genuineness and increases our purity, strength, and value. On the other hand, the fire applied to the wicked will destroy them.
Last, the wicked are viewed as being swept away in strong winds – raging winds or this horrible tempest. If the wicked are like chaff which the wind drives away like Psalm 1 says, then this is a similar picture. They’ll be blown away, never to be seen again.
Psalm 11 Commentary: God’s Punishment
And someone might say – “But isn’t that a little harsh on the wicked?!” What’s God’s answer? End of verse 6. This punishment is the portion of their cup. It’s their portion. It’s what they deserve. It’s the thing divvied out to them, like an inheritance. They deserve to drink – to take from the imagery of the cup – God’s punishment.
And they will. They will experience this from the Lord’s hand. And so these are the thoughts that David turns to in order to think rightly about the discouraging report that he’s hearing. How could he flee from the battle? So what if the wicked are devising schemes? The Lord is in control and he’ll purge and purify the righteous through this and he will ultimately punish the wicked. You say that the foundations are crumbling? Not if its God’s building!
Psalm 11 Commentary: Ending
Then David ends his meditation in verse 7.
KJV Psalm 11:7 For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.
We can let our trust in the Lord remove our fear of evil because we know that the Lord is righteous. He is just. He always does right. And he’ll make things right. Evil won’t prevail ultimately. And therefore, we should not fear it.
And if you are righteous – by his grace – then you know you’re on the right side. Because the Lord is righteous and he loves righteousness. It’s not like we need to worry whether the Lord will side with evil. He never will! He’ll be on your side because you’re on his.
And then we’re assured of the last line. His countenance beholds the upright. He doesn’t turn away from the upright – from those who were said to be under assault from the wicked earlier in this psalm. He will – to borrow one of our idioms – he will “keep an eye on you”.
And the inverse is true. You and I will behold HIS face. In fact, that’s another way to translate this statement. The upright will behold his face. And you and I will see him as he is some day. That’s what’s waiting for us.
And so why fear the wicked? Why be shaken by reports that they’re out to get you? Are you fearing evil men? Are you afraid that some day they’ll rise up and even take your life? Are you feeling like the very foundations around us are crumbling? Don’t fear. Be like King David and Let Your Trust in the Lord Remove Your Fear of Evil.