Morning Pages: Psalm 11
Some psalms take a few readings before you can begin appreciating what the psalmist is saying. You have to sit with them for a while. Ask questions of them. Read them in different translations. Journal about them. Sometimes, I don't fully appreciate a specific psalm until I've finished writing about it. It's like the process of writing my way through each verse is what brings clarity, understanding, and appreciation for it. This was one of those psalms for me.
David appears to be, yet again, in some predicament where others are poised to attack him. But unlike other psalms where David addresses those who wish him harm, in this psalm, he addresses his advisors—those close to him who are aware of his circumstances.
Vs. 1-3 "In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, 'Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?'”
David's advisors are providing him with counsel about the danger and impending doom. And their recommendation to him is that he flee to the mountains to ensure his safety and, therefore, guarantee the security of the kingdom of Israel under his rule. It seems they even go so far as to say that the righteous are helpless if the "foundations" are destroyed. Perhaps the foundations they refer to are the city of Israel and its strongholds against its enemies. Or maybe they were referring to David's kingly reign as the foundation they sought to protect. But their fears are evident. They had placed their hope in the finite rather than the infinite; if these crumbled, so did their hope.
Their fear and poor counsel incense David. So he says, in essence, “How can you advise me to flee to something with no power to save?! I flee to the LORD (Yahweh) for my protection!”
When David uses the name Yahweh (see footnote below), it comes front-loaded with generation upon generation of Yahweh's historical faithfulness. He is the self-existent one; everything else exists in and through him. It was Yahweh who first established Israel as his beloved people. It was Yahweh who rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It was Yahweh who fed them manna for forty years in the desert. It was Yahweh who gave them victory over all their enemies. It was Yahweh who led them into the promised land. And it was Yahweh who anointed and established David as king over Israel despite Saul's attempts to kill him. So those who belong to Yahweh are in no way helpless.
Yahweh is, therefore, the only logical place to flee for security and protection. In light of all this, David finds his advisors' counsel ridiculous; it's the wisdom of man. It is Yahweh who will determine his outcome—not the schemes of the wicked, the flawed wisdom of humanity, or his own self-protection efforts.
Vs. 4-6 reinforce his argument,
Vs. 4-6 "The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup."
David, the king and most powerful man in Israel, uses kingly language for Yahweh. David is aware of his role in God's kingdom; he is a mere servant and steward. Yahweh is the true King who is on the throne. He is ruling and reigning, and he isn’t blind to the schemes of the wicked. His gaze is set. He’s aware of all things. And because of this, David is confident that Yahweh will rain down his holy fire of justice upon the evil deeds of the unrighteous. Yahweh will remain faithful to his covenant with Israel and David, just as he always has. But that doesn't mean they won't suffer along the way; it just means that, in the end, they will prevail because Yahweh will see to it. So rather than fleeing to a mountain, David clings to the Lord.
Vs. 7 "For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face."
I've grown to love this entire psalm. But verse 7 may be my favorite, particularly where David says, "the upright shall behold his face." This verse gives me something to anticipate (seeing the Lord's face) and something to be grateful for (Christ's sacrifice ensuring the fulfillment of that promise). I am not righteous on my own, and I have no way of being in the Lord's presence based on my righteous deeds. But Christ’s life and death have secured my righteous standing before God, which means a day is coming when I will behold the face of God. I will see him who has pursued me and loved me through all the highs and lows, the tragedies and triumphs, the faithful acts and the foibles. I cannot think of a more glorious hope.
While I love that verse, and it gives me something to look forward to, it's the first six verses that ground me in present reality. The last several years have been full of doomsdayers and naysayers. Fear-mongering is the currency of our day. Our unhelpful, misguided advisors have been CNN and Fox News, Republicans and Democrats, private corporations and governmental agencies, billionaires and social media influencers. Even the church at large is often filled with the wisdom of man. We've grown so afraid that the "foundations of the righteous" are crumbling that we listen to those who tell us we must flee to protect ourselves or fight to defend ourselves.
We've been fed on fear and doom for so long that we've lost sight of the generational faithfulness of Yahweh. We've forgotten that he is the true king who rules and reigns over all powers and authorities. And even when it looks like the foundations may crumble and become rubble, he is on his throne in his holy temple. It is he who established his people, and it is he who will sustain them. And just like the Israelites and David, it doesn't mean we won't suffer. But it does mean we will prevail. So we do not have to flee in fear or fight to remain in control. Because Yahweh is on the throne.
Until next week,
* Note: Whenever the Old Testament uses the word LORD in all capital letters, it is the Hebrew word, Yahweh. Yahweh is the personal name of God first given to Moses in Exodus 3:14. It isn't easy to translate. But essentially, it translates as "I am who I am," “I will be who I will be,” or “I will cause to be that which I cause to be.” The name Yahweh either expresses God’s quality of absolute being as the eternal, unchanging, dynamic presence, or it means “He who causes to be.”
Martin A. Shields and Ralph K. Hawkins, “YHWH,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).