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“The friends of David advise him in this psalm to flee unto the mountainous parts of the land of Judah, in order to avoid the danger which was threatening him, should he remain in the place where he was then residing. The psalm is written in the form of a dialogue, of which the first three verses contain the advice of David’s friends, and the remaining portion his reply, wherein he declares his unshaken confidence in God, and his conviction that the wicked will be punished, and himself duly protected.”—Phillips.
We have in this psalm a striking illustration of Christian heroism. The Psalmist is found in circumstances of great moral perplexity and personal danger, but he stands his ground trusting in God.
I. The severity of the trial.
David’s timid counsellors bring before him several pressing reasons why he should despair of his cause, and retire from the scene of conflict. They urge—
1. The desperate designs of his enemies. “They bend their bow, and make ready their arrow upon the string” (Psalms 11:2). They will take his life; their thoughts are thoughts of blood.
2. Their perfidious policy. “That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart” (Psalms 11:2). They were prepared to resort to the basest stratagems to compass his death.
3. Their successful action (Psalms 11:3). “What hath the righteous done?”—P. B. Version. “The question in the last clause of this verse implies that the righteous have effected nothing in opposition to the prevalent iniquity.”—Alexander. “If Saul, who is the vicegerent of God, has cast aside his fear, and now regards neither truth nor justice, a righteous man has no security for his life. This is at present thy case, therefore flee; they have utterly destroyed the foundations of truth and equity; what can righteousness now effect?”—Clarke. The position here is, then, that righteousness has been unsuccessful, and the inference is that righteousness will be unsuccessful. “Thus wickedness seemed to be getting the upper hand to such a degree that the godly remnant (Isaiah 1:9) felt themselves tempted to flee, as Lot was bidden to flee, from the city to the mountain.”—Kay. “All is hopeless disorder and confusion.”—Perowne. The representatives of moral ideas were false, the practice of righteousness ceased, the very principles of law and order were subverted, and there seemed no hope.
II. The constancy of the tried.
“In the Lord put I my trust” (Psalms 11:1). “My feet are on the true rock, why should I look elsewhere for safety?”—Perowne. “How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? How can ye say?”—Phillips. Dark as the hour was, the Psalmist’s resolution was unshaken. What were the sources of this sublime courage?
1. The presence of God. “The Lord is in His holy temple” (Psalms 11:4). God may seem to have deserted the earth, but He has not.
2. The majesty of God. “The Lord’s throne is in heaven” (Psalms 11:4). Far above all human or devilish energy. The supreme power is moral.
3. The knowledge of God. “His eyes behold,” &c. (Psalms 11:4). “His is a fixed and penetrating look that sees into a thing to the foundation of its inmost nature. The mention of the eyelids is intentional. When we observe a thing closely of ponder over it, we draw the eyelids together, in order that our vision may be more concentrated and direct, and become, as it were, one ray piercing through the object. Thus are men open to the all-seeing eyes, the all-searching looks of Jahve, the just and the unjust alike.”—Delitzsch. One of the Greeks said: “He is the best general who knows the most of the affairs of the enemy.” God knows His enemies, and the enemies of His people—all their secrets, subtleties, stratagems, and in due time He shall confound them.
4. The righteousness of God. God hates wickedness (Psalms 11:5). “A cordial hatred.”—Alexander. “He hates the wicked with all the energy of His perfectly and essentially holy nature.”—Delitzsch.
Here the Psalmist rested; here we may rest. Truth may fail in the Church, righteousness in the State; the magistrate may cease to be just, the priest to be good, the king to be honourable; but God liveth, the Wise, the Just, the Good, and in Him we may rest.
III. The certainty of the triumph.
The wicked shall be destroyed with awful terrors (Psalms 11:6), but the righteous shall triumph (Psalms 11:7). “The upright shall behold His face.” “His unveiled countenance, no longer hidden behind deeds of strange providential discipline (Psalms 13:1), no longer making itself felt in a few straggling rays; but like ‘the sun in a morning without clouds.’ ”—Kay.
1. All God’s people may expect to be thus tried. At one time or other our faith, principle, hope, will be thus severely tested. We must all be tried by fire.
2. Let us in such days beware of the temporising policy of faint-hearted men. “Flee like a bird to the mountain.” “The advice here given, and which he repels, is that of timid and desponding friends, who would persuade him that all is lost, and that the highest wisdom is to yield to circumstances, and to seek safety, not in resistance, but in flight. But in fact the voice which thus speaks is the voice of the natural heart, of the selfish, and therefore shortsighted and cowardly instinct, which always asks first, not what is right, but what is safe. The advice may be well meant, but it is unworthy. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. But it is often a sorer trial for faith to have to withstand the pleadings of well-meaning friends than to arm itself against open enemies.”—Perowne.
3. Let us trust confidently in God, and He shall make us to triumph. Torstensohn, the great commander to whom Gustavus Adolphus transmitted the prosecution of the Thirty Years’ War, was a man so shattered by disease that he had to be carried at the head of his forces in a litter. Yet no commander of his age was so resistless and terrible in his onset and so invariably victorious Schiller has expressed his leading maxim in these words: he never counted his enemies. Let us not count our enemies, but trust our God, and we shall be more than conquerors. “Flee as sparrows to your mountain.”—Phillips. But, trusting in God, the sparrow becomes an eagle, mounting above the storm, and delighting itself in the eternal sunshine of the Father’s face.
I. The hopes of the saint often appear forlorn hopes.
The Psalmist trusted in God, but to the timid and distrustful ones his hope was a wild, forlorn hope. A hoping against hope. Thus the hopes of the Christian often seem absurd in the eye of sense and the count of reason.
1. It is thus sometimes in the troubles of life. There are Egyptians behind, the sea before, and the believer’s expectations of deliverance seem most Utopian.
2. Amid abounding and triumphant wickedness. As in this psalm. “ ‘For the foundations are being overthrown,’ say the alarmed and timid ones. ‘He is as much in a minority now as he ever was. Had he not better leave the field of battle? Why struggle against (what men call) the inevitable course of events?’ ”—Kay.
3. As to the entire sanctification of character. How impossible it seems that we should become entirely holy, and love God with all our heart! Will not the sky always recede as we approach it?
4. At the grave. How utterly improbable the grand hopes of the saint!
II. Hopes which appear forlorn hopes to the world have nevertheless strong foundations.
The timid felt that the foundations were being destroyed, all on which a rational confidence could be founded was giving way, and yet, as we see, the Psalmist’s hope had a basis strong and deep. The foundations were gone. “It is not said, if the roof be ruinous, or if the side walls be shattered, but if the foundations.”—Fuller, quoted by Spurgeon. Nothing for sense or reason was left. But there are foundations under foundations, the eternal granite, and on this David built (Psalms 11:4-5). The power of God, the truth of God, the grace of God, the unchangeableness of God; here was the everlasting rock on which David rested his hopes. When the expectations of the saints seem most wild, yet do they rest more securely than the pillared firmament.
III. The forlorn hopes of the saints are destined to glorious realisation.
“Which hope maketh not ashamed.” In deepest trouble He will deliver us, opening in the valley of Achor a door of salvation. Amid triumphant wickedness He vindicates the just, shattering the proud pottery with a rod of iron. He makes us without spot or wrinkle. He raises from the sepulchre to immortal glory and honour.
THE TACTICS OF THE TEMPTED
In this psalm we see David stand firm; he will not accept the counsel of his advisers to flee, but at another time he seems to have followed this advice.
I. There are times when we ought to stand firm in the scenes of trial.
Such times are when—
1. Such trials come in our providential path.
2. When our testimony for God is specially needed.
3. When the cause of God imperatively demands our presence, &c., &c.
II. There are times when we may lawfully withdraw from such scenes.
1. When they do not seem to lie on our providential path.
2. When our testimony has been, faithfully given.
3. When God’s cause would seem to be best served by our retirement, &c., &c.
III. The standards by which our conduct should be regulated in the changing scenes of life.
1. The finger of God in Providence.
2. The Word of God.
3. The Spirit of God.
“Oh, wouldst Thou, Lord, Thy servant guard,
Gainst every known or secret foe;
A mind for all assaults prepared,
A sober, vigilant mind bestow,
Ever apprised of danger nigh,
And when to fight, and when to fly.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28