Observe: Psalm 11 is in two parts: in the first part, v.1-3, the psalmist asks, “In the Lord I take refuge, so how can you say to me…” Evidently some are suggesting fleeing away. What follows is a rebuke to those who say the only safe course is to run away.
The wicked are out to attack you, they say, like a hunter after a bird, “to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.” The advice ends, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The psalmist is being told to flee from the wicked.
Part two is the psalmist’s response, in v.4-7. In effect the answer is, “Why would I run away? God is in charge of heaven and earth.”
The images of God on his throne in heaven and God dwelling on earth in his Temple are two sides of the same coin. God is watching, observing, examining everyone on earth. God sees and hates the wicked with a passion, but examines or tests the righteous. The wicked will be hellishly destroyed with fiery coals and sulphur, and a scorching wind. The final verse sums up the answer: The Lord is righteous, loves justice, and the upright will see God face to face.
Interpret: David, or Israel, or a congregation is being pulled different ways as they face wicked people who are poised to attack. Fight, or flight? Or are there other options?
The psalm becomes a strong statement of faith in the God who is just, who sees what the wicked are up to, and will punish them. In the Psalms the wicked often think God is not watching. “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” (Ps. 53:1)
God also has his eye on the righteous, who, if they know God, will depend on God to be just. The answer to the tempting but bad advice to “head for the hills” is right at the beginning: “In the Lord I take refuge.”
Psalm 11 is not a petition for help, but rather a confession of trust, right in the face of threats of violence. “What can the righteous do?” is directly answered by a strong confession of who God is.
Application: What do we do when we are given tempting but bad advice? Especially advice that sounds sincere and well meaning, and sounds like it has our own interests in view? The advice sounds godly: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
It is very, very tempting to run away to our own self-made refuge, to rely on our own self-made defences, or own personal brand of “righteousness,” which is bound to put ourselves at the middle of things. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:4)
The answer to all this is to know who God is. God judges, not us. People who say, “Good people haven’t got a chance” (Ps. 11, The Message) have forgotten who God is.
Trusting in God is easy in good times, when “God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.” (Robert Browning) But to trust in God and his justice when the world is dangerous, and the wicked look like they have the upper hand? To do that, we need to deeply know God in his deep character as the just God, who will judge, and who is a refuge for the righteous.
Prayer: O God, who knoweth us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn: Safe in the Arms of Jesus
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.