Psalm 11 — The Test of Righteousness: Men Who Do Not Run from Adversity
11 In the Lord put I my trust: 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?
4 The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: 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.
7 For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.
Times of trouble (9:9; 10:1) come to all people. Coping with adversity is the test of trust. What does a man believe? Who does he turn to for help? What course of action does he take? We are taught that animals have one of two responses in their quest to survive: fight or flight. The Psalmist, David, grew up in the country (Bethlehem Ephratah); and he spent many hours alone with God in the pastures near Bethlehem, during his formative years.
Later, David was given national acclaim following his fight with Goliath (1 Sam 17). He entered the court of King Saul, in order for the monarch to keep watch over the popular shepherd, warrior, musician, and poet. David was repeatedly persecuted by his employer and his employer’s family. On many occasions the crisis of situations became life or death for the young man in his twenties. David lived by a principle he learned early in life, “In the Lord I take refuge.”
David received advice to “fly away” like a bird, from threatening persecutions (v. 1). A crisis prompted the writing of Psalm 11, and it begins with a debate. We are not sure whether the counsel to David is internal or external, but he resists the advice given to him. David laments with amazement, using a rhetorical question, “How can you say to my soul?” He is questioning the faith of his advisor. The recommendation was flight. The metaphor of a bird, seeking refuge in mountain heights, presents the first of three images of imposing danger.
David lamented the “hunting” access his enemies employed to do him harm (v. 2). The second image is David’s life-threatening encounter with his enemies, the wicked. They are like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord (Gen 10:8–9), who was one of the first empire builders following the great flood (Gen 6–9). The sense of ready ambush is accompanied by representative darkness. The cloak of night is the dark ally of the criminal. The bow is bent, and his prey is the “upright in heart.” Paul wrote to the Ephesians and instructed them to expose evil (Eph. 5:11).
Evildoers design to dispose of those who threaten to uncover their corruption. Here is the case of the silent church in the face of injustice. Fear, not perfect love, prevails in a believer’s self-preservation versus self-sacrifice. Where is the fearless Christian ready to speak out against the evil sins in our society?
David inquired about direction following ruined foundations (v. 3). The third image comes with another rhetorical question, “What can the righteous do?” The foundations that would prosper and favor the upright are in ruins. The wicked liberally loosen the tension of moral and ethical code, leading to anarchy, which inevitably invites a despot to restore order.
The righteous suffer in both cases. The upright lament these situations, even to the point of despair. Their cry inquires of the heavens. Why do the wicked prosper, control, oppress, and seek to discard the righteous with little or no resistance? Where is YHWH in times of trouble for His people?
David described the status of his refuge, the exalted sovereign God (v. 4). YHWH is transcendent. He is ruling on His throne (10:16), which has been established for judgment (9:7). The flurry of fear is arrested with the contemplation of His majesty. He is exalted. Heaven, above the kingdom of His creation, is His dwelling place. Nothing hinders His view to the work of man. His eyes peer into the hearts of men to test them. Wicked men operate as if God cannot see (10:11), but the righteous know He sees all (10:14). As Creator and Sustainer of all creation (Col 1:16; Heb 1:3), YHWH is the Almighty, the Most High God. He is able to judge men with the blink of His eyelid.
David presented God as judge of the righteous and wicked, whom He hates (v. 5). The Hebrew word for “test” supports translations like, “examine” or “scrutinize” which allude to the work of a metal smith. The testing separates the metal from the dross. The righteous and the wicked both endure His searing gaze.
His assessment intensifies His consuming fire, with burning hatred toward the wicked (Ps 7:11), who do violence (Gen. 6:5). YHWH hates all who do iniquity (Ps. 5:5). The punishment of His wrath is against all unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18).
The righteous are chastened into humility by watching His unfettered fury unleashed upon His only begotten Son on the mount of Calvary (Heb 12:4–11; Heb 12:2). The Lamb of God is slain (Jn 1:29; Rev 5:6, 12), becoming the propitiation for the sins of His people (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). From the sheltered caves of salvation, found under the cross, the righteous fear God and desire to keep His commandments (Jn 14:15; 2 Cor 5:9).
David described God’s punishment of the wicked (v. 6). In contrast, there is no place to hide in the valley of death, where the charred ruins of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19) serve historical warning. Snares (phm), yes, but the better translation (pahamey) is “coals of fire” joined with fire and brimstone to punish the wicked. The burning wind of torment accompanies the message of great displeasure. Seen at Sodom in the past and throughout the world, in the coming great tribulation (Rev. 16:8–9), these judgments of fire are only primers for the torments of everlasting burning hell (Mt 25:41, 46; Jude 7; Rev 20:14–15).
The second metaphor here is the cup of the wicked outstretched to receive the wine of His wrath, which the wicked must drink in entirety. Jesus drank this cup of wrath to its full measure for the eternal benefit of His people; but they must taste its bitterness, in part, through joining Him in suffering afflictions (Col 1:24). He passed the cup to His disciples.
David presented one of God’s identification attributes and the optimum eternal reward for the upright (v. 7). YHWH is righteous. He loves all performances of this attribute.
The wicked man pretentiously preaches his own righteousness via his resume of “good works.” God blinks, and these are exposed as filthy rags (Is 64:6). There is none righteous (Rom 3:10–12), not even one in the line of Adam (14:3).
Man scoffs at God when he is told these truths (Ps 2; 1 Cor 1:18). They rage in anger against God’s anointed and strive to make their prey their chosen scapegoat (Psalm 10). The wicked have forgotten God and in foolishness claim, “There is no God (10:4; 14:1; 53:1).”
The wicked inherit their heart’s desire, eternal separation from God. The lake of fire is void of love, grace, gentleness, kindness, justice, comfort, help, peace, joy, hope, faith, righteousness, salvation, etc (Rev 20:14–15). Meanwhile, the inheritance of the upright is all of these and more. The righteous will see God. They will see Him as He is, and they will see Him face to face (Rev. 22:4).
In sum, we have considered the anonymous crisis that challenged David to decide on the counsel to flee to safety from the operations of his oppressors. He was told to “get outta Dodge.” He wondered to himself, “What should the righteous do?” The Spirit secured his attention and gave him the mind of Christ to see his Sovereign Lord on His throne in heaven. He remembered the judgments of God in the past: Adam, Noah, Lot, Moses, etc. He was strengthened in confidence that YHWH punishes the wicked and delivers the righteous. David was not moved for he knew the battle belongs to the Lord (1 Sam 17:47). “It’s your move pilgrim…what are you gonna do?”
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 30, 2021