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[Note. This psalm must be regarded as referring to the position of David at the court of Saul when he was first put in peril by calumniators. It is generally agreed that the psalm shows a master-hand. Whilst the timid friends of David were filled with consternation, the Psalmist himself was full of confidence and rapture.]
1. 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.
David's Grand Creed
"In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?" (Psalms 11:1 .)
This is a psalm of David, and was evidently composed when he was in extremest distress. Whether he was in trouble under Saul or under the rebellion of Absalom does not immediately appear, but whether the one or the other his soul was probably never in deeper despair than at this moment. The utter helplessness in which his soul was plunged may be inferred, too, from the advice which his friends had kindly, yet foolishly, tendered to him. It would seem from the construction of the first verse that the friends of David had advised him to flee as a bird to the mountains, in other words, they had advised flight from trouble, the coward's cure for the distresses of life. The quality of David's spirit is seen from the answer which he returned to this mean counsel. It was absolutely intolerable to him, creating in him a sense of revulsion and utter disdain. There is only one flight possible to the truly good man, and that is a flight towards the Lord, his infinite deliverer. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." The suggestion made by the friends of David shows their own irreligiousness, and shows indeed all that the world has to offer to the soul when it is in its last extremity. A very remarkable thing is this, namely, the exhaustion of the world's proposals and remedies. The world offers one after another, with mechanical regularity, and soon comes to the end of its provision; immediately on reaching the point of exhaustion the world adopts the coward's creed, and preaches it with violent weakness to the distressed soul, saying, Flee ye as a bird to her mountain, get out of the way; run as far as you can; seek the darkness, and conceal yourself in impenetrable obscurity. That is but another way of saying, Take refuge in death; put an end to all this trouble; make your own quietus with a bare bodkin, or otherwise; only have done with this trouble once for all. The soul in its best moods must be left to say whether there is any true reasoning in such proposals. Is the reasoning based on sound principles? has the reasoning in it any quality of nobleness or courage? does it not, then, cease to be reasoning at all, and fall into the degradation of proved and undisputed sophism and insanity? It is when the soul is in these great extremities that it must either invent a religion or rush upon destruction. Happily in the case of the Christian there is no need to invent any religious alleviation of trouble, for that alleviation is abundantly supplied by the promises of God, which are exceedingly great and precious, never so great as when greatly needed, and never so precious as when every other voice is silenced and all the world confesses itself to be unable to touch effectually the tremendous agony. It is beautiful to notice how an assault of this kind is repelled by the very character of David. "In the Lord put I my trust." That was the solidity of his character. The people who pitied him, and who undertook to advise him, did not know upon what his soul was built as to its faith and expectation; they imagined he was looking out for whatever might occur to the vigilant mind as the best means of dealing with a temporary trouble: they regarded him as open to intellectual suggestions and all kinds of experiments, with a view to the baffling of his enemies and the soothing of his own pain. This was their profound mistake. Outwardly David was troubled enough; waves and billows were rushing upon him in great storms, so rapidly that he had not time to lift up his head and open his eyes upon the fair scene that was above; but inwardly there was a religious trust which made him what he was a secret, unfailing, abounding confidence in the living God all this confidence seemed to the outward observer to be eclipsed and indeed destroyed, but it was still there, making David's heart strong amidst all the temptation and wrath which turned his life into daily suffering.
"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" ( Psa 11:2 ).
Here we discover not the policy of the unwise, but the policy of the really wicked. That policy is marked by cruel cunning. Wicked men hide themselves in darkness, that they may "shoot at the upright in heart." These old pictures of the wicked man are portraitures which must not be taken down from the gallery of history. They are painted with a masterly hand. Fix the mind upon the figure which is here so vividly presented; the upright man is walking in the light, stumbling indeed, it may be, and not without fear as to the way which he is taking, yet his eyes are looking straight on, and in his heart there is a hope that he is advancing towards the desired destiny: but in a secret place the wicked man has hidden himself, and made ready his arrow upon the string; light is upon the good man, but the bad man has hidden himself and is practically in darkness; from the security of that darkness he delivers his arrow, hoping that he may strike the heart of the good man. That is a delineation of wickedness which is true in every line today. The wicked man, by the very necessity of his wickedness, is a coward. Men should make themselves familiar with the whole policy which wickedness has always adopted, that by being informed of its crooked ways they may be ashamed of it and abandon it for ever. Wickedness cannot modify itself, or improve itself, or make its moral quantity less; it may invent, or simulate, and perform many a trick that may surprise the unwary and the innocent, but in the soul of it it is for ever bad, diabolical, and humanly incurable. In another psalm we learn that wicked men "shoot in secret at the perfect." They would seem to have no friend but night, and to be unable to move but for the cloud of great darkness. That they can do so much in the darkness betrays the presence of a vision which is at once unnatural and cruel. Let us, therefore, learn to hate wickedness as an abominable thing, to have no sympathy with it, to repel it at every point, to hate it with infinite detestation.
"If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men" ( Psa 11:3-4 ).
Here is the expression of a mortal fear. The idea occurred to the mind of the Psalmist that the very foundations of law and order might be destroyed. This is the most disastrous temptation that can assail the human mind. Immediately following it are all the consequences of a panic. So long as evils seem to be open to the restraints of civilisation and the penalties of righteous law, society retains a considerable sense of security, notwithstanding occasional and even violent outrage. In this case, however, the idea has occurred that the very foundations of law, justice and equity might be ploughed up and utterly destroyed. Then the question arises, What will the righteous do? where will the righteous be? of what use will be their presence upon earth when they have nothing to appeal to either of the nature of reward or punishment? All life that is to be solid and lasting is really a question of "foundations." Our inquiry should be into basis principles, original necessities, the eternal fitness of things, the harmony that is based upon the very nature of God. Our laws and institutions are only valuable and are only assured in permanence in proportion as they represent the spirit of the universe, which is a spirit of order and light and steadfastness. Whatever errors there may be in the superstructure of society there should be no doubt about the solidity of the corner-stones upon which the building is set. On the other hand, it is of no consequence how grand and even solid may be the superstructure itself if the corner-stones are unequal to the weight, or are in any sense faulty and unreliable. When the foundation gives way, the superstructure, however noble, cannot maintain its own integrity. The great necessity, therefore, of Christian civilisation is to have a solid basis, to lay down principles which do not admit of disputation, and to secure assent to laws which express the spirit of eternal righteousness. Hence the work of Christianity is profound, and being profound it is of necessity somewhat slow in its progress, making no demonstration, but quietly and almost secretly proceeding in its holy endeavours. In this respect it stands in strong contrast to the men who are fond of demonstration and of making such appeals to the eye as are likely to secure popular interest and applause. The programme of reformation is likely to be much more popular than the programme of regeneration. Unquestionably there is a disposition in the human mind to admire that which is lofty yet measurable, and which in some subtle way reflects a compliment upon its architect and builder. Many see the spire who have never seen the foundation. Many can admire the swelling dome who have no information whatever as to the nature of the soil upon which the stupendous edifice is placed. But if the foundation give way, who can keep the spire in its place? If the corner-stones shrink out of position, who can maintain the dome? It is the honour of Christianity that it alone is profoundly careful concerning the bases of society and the bases of the individual life; it insists upon the foundation being divine, not human. God has laid in Zion a corner-stone elect and precious. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid." "The foundation of God standeth sure."
David's grand creed is repeated once more in the fourth verse:
"The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men." ( Psa 11:4 )
The Psalmist instinctively turns to the holy temple and fixes his eye upon the enthroned Lord. We cannot but be struck by the noble elevation of the thought, as well as by the religious vigour of the language. The Lord himself claims all heaven as his throne, and because the Lord is in his holy temple the prophet demands that all the earth keep silence before him. This verse is indeed distinctively divided into two parts. In the first part we have the utterance of rapture and religious confidence and delight: the Lord is far away, enthroned in a temple not made with hands, enshrined in the very centre of the infinite heavens: the picture is grand and overwhelming, but if it ended there it would be of little use, except as a stimulus to religious veneration. The second part of the verse, therefore, comes to our aid, and establishes a direct connection between the majesty of God in heaven and his relation to the children of men. Though high and lifted up and seated upon a throne, yet God's "eyes behold," and "his eyelids try," the men who are upon the earth. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous; and his ears are open to their cry." God must never be put so far away that our prayers cannot reach him, or his replies be lost in their infinite descent. Nor must God be so far lifted up, even in imagination, as to cease from the work of judging the creatures he has made. It should always be possible for us to say, "Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
"The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup" ( Psa 11:5-6 ).
We have already seen that the conduct of the wicked man is marked by the meanest cruelty, now we see that the fate which awaits him is adapted to his quality and to his whole character. The wicked man has been using bow and arrow in secret, now the Lord himself shall be, as it were, in secret, and from his lofty concealment he shall not use bow and arrow upon the wicked, but "he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest." Mark the similarity of the action and yet the diversity of the instruments. If the wicked man can conceal himself, so can God. Whilst, however, the wicked can only shoot in one direction at a time, the Lord can make the whole heaven contribute to the vastness and intensity of the storm which he will pour down upon unholy spirits. This is no novel feature in the Scriptures: "The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven." In the prophet Ezekiel we read that God will rain upon Gog, "and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! The wicked undoubtedly have their day, and they industriously employ themselves in turning its hours to their own purpose; yet it is only a brief day: "the triumphing of the wicked is short;" whilst they are yet pursuing their unholy course the whole heaven shall darken above their heads, the earth shall reel beneath their feet, and the great wind shall be as a great fire, scorching and burning and destroying them altogether. "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them." However horrible the fate of the wicked, every soul that has not lost its religious consciousness or its sense of justice must own that such fate is well deserved. We are allowed to separate the wicked man from wickedness, and instead of desiring all these storms to fall upon the wicked man as such, we may pray that they may fall rather upon wickedness itself and utterly consume it. Whilst, however, we are thus at liberty to pray that the wickedness, rather than the wicked, may be destroyed, let no wicked man take encouragement from this view: it still stands as a literal truth that the wicked shall be driven into hell with all the nations that forget God.
"For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright" ( Psa 11:7 ).
This verse most fitly concludes the psalm. The Psalmist is now himself in his best and happiest mood. He sees that the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and that being so he will not forsake the righteous cause, but will bring it to fruition and victory. Not only does the Lord's countenance behold the upright, but the upright behold the countenance of the Lord. Recognition and fellowship thus become identical terms. Goodness knows goodness wherever it sees it. Fellowship is not a mechanical arrangement, but a natural expression of instinct, sympathy, and trust. What the Lord loves must eventually be supreme. Otherwise the Lord though omnipotent would be defeated, and though all-wise would be outwitted, and though all-good would be put into a minority in his own universe. Herein is the confidence of the soul that longs to be good. "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup." "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers." "We then being in Christ are fellow-labourers, to the end that wickedness may be destroyed." We will not flee away like a bird of the mountains when the cloud shuts out the sun and the storm roars across the whole earth with destroying fury; we will say, All these things are but for a moment; behind them there is a solid beneficent purpose; they are but sent to try our faith and complete our patience. Being based on the one foundation, we will continue to build, however unfavourable the weather, however rough the wind, however unlikely the instruments with which we have to work, and however difficult it may be to obtain the right materials. The one solid comfort we have is that the foundation is right, and that if we persist in building upon it according to the best of our opportunities, even though the fire may destroy our work, we ourselves shall be saved. Nor will we envy the lot of the wicked. Now and again an arrow shot from his bow does indeed smite the good man and make the upright momentarily afraid; but the Lord is still in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven. We will wait on, prayerfully, patiently, hopefully. The Lord hath not hidden from us his purpose to rain snares fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest upon the wicked. We know of a surety that this rain will fall, and that when it falls there will be no escape from its all-devouring fire. My soul, come not thou into the secret of that destiny; be thy portion with the righteous Lord who loveth righteousness, and be the chiefest of thy delights to behold the countenance of the Lord.
Almighty God, the appeal of the heart is always to thee in the dark day and the starless night. Men find out God when they are in extremity, when strength has failed, and wisdom has no further word to utter, and all life is darkened and distressed. We bless thee for living faith in thy presence, nearness, and willingness to save. This is our strength and our joy; it has become our song even in the nighttime, so that now we have music at home, and we have joy in the presence of danger. All things are under thy control; yet hast thou permitted the will of man to arrest thy purposes or to delay their fulfilment: thou hast had patience even with evil; thou hast waited until the anger of little men subsided and the angry soul began to pray. Thou hast not crushed thy way forward with the violence of almightiness; thou hast waited and wondered and complained and entreated; thou hast stood at the door and knocked, asking to be admitted. This is thy way. It is the way of almightiness; it is because thou art almighty that thou art patient: with less of power thou wouldst have extended thine arm in resentment and penalty; because thou art the Infinite One thou art calm, thou art patient, yea, thou art hopeful even of the unthankful and the evil. Blessed be God for this revelation of himself in Christ Jesus. We know that thou didst love the world; thou didst wait for it as thou wouldst wait for one without whom thou wouldst lose companionship and joy. We bless thee for thy patience, thy love, thy Cross, O God the Son, in which thou didst display the ineffable tenderness of the divine heart as well as the infinite patience of the divine will. Now and evermore be with us a great light and a tender benediction, an assurance of immediate and perfect help in all time of danger and difficulty, and a perpetual peace, calming the tumult of the soul, and bringing in a week-long Sabbath-day to reign over all our activities and distresses, our hopes and fears. Gather us near thine heart; bind us with the cords of thy love; give our souls a time of feasting day by day in thine own banqueting-house; and may the strength we derive be expended in self-sacrifice, in doing good, in heroic imitation of the dying, rising, glorious Son of God. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 11". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent