(This sermon from the pulpit of Clearnote Church, Bloomington, is a fit comfort for the godly, today grieving the wickedness of our nation's reelection of President Barack Obama to a second term in the White House.)
Since the beginning of the Second World War, western society has experienced a complete abandonment of its mores, a complete abandonment of its sense of good and evil. The true crisis of our time has nothing to do with monetary troubles, unemployment or nuclear weapons. The true crisis has to do with the fact that western man has lost his way. - Malcolm Muggeridge
On this Psalm Matthew Henry makes the following statement by way of introduction: “In time of public fears, when the insults of the church’s enemies are daring and threatening, it will be profitable to meditate on this Psalm.”
Let us turn in our Bibles to Psalm 11. This is God’s Eternal Word.
Psalms 11:1-7 (For the choir director; a Psalm of David.) In the LORD I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain; for, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are 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 test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face.
This is a Psalm written by David, and it was written in the middle of a great moment of danger, one of the great crises of David’s life when evil men were trying their hardest to destroy him... Probably this particular Psalm was written during the time when David was suffering under the hatred of King Saul. Saul was trying to kill David; and to David, it must have seemed at times as if the whole world had turned to evil and there was no hope of truth or justice.
We can see the reasons for Saul’s jealousy of David as they develope in 1Samuel 18 &19:
Therefore Saul removed him from his presence and appointed him as his commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. (1Samuel 18:13)
But all Israel and Judah loved David, and he went out and came in before them. (1Samuel 18:16)
Then the commanders of the Philistines went out to battle, and it happened as often as they went out, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul. So his name was highly esteemed. (1Samuel 18:30)
It’s easy to see the conflict developing here. It’s the same pressure which developed between General Schwarzakoff and President Bush during Operation Desert Storm.
So what was the result of this tension building between King Saul and the brave son of Jesse named David?
Now Saul told Jonathan his son and all his servants to put David to death. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, greatly delighted in David. (1Samuel 19:1)
This then is the context, most likely, for this Psalm. David is being oppressed by King Saul and fleeing before Saul’s murderous wrath.
The Psalm begins with a statement of faith, followed by a summary of the attack on this faith. We don’t know whether the attack was internal—from David’s mind—or external, from David’s friends.
Verse 1: In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain..."
“How can you say...” His heart’s despair; or the advice of his friends, if taken, would be an act of unbelief.
It is probably his friends thinking to help him who recommend that he forsake his trust in God and flee. David’s response is “How can you say that to me!”
Our dear friends do not always provide us the wisest counsel. Young people, choose your friends, choose your husband or wife, carefully because their counsel will have a profound impact on you.
“Flee.” It is unbelief that causes us to flee from danger and take refuge in something other than God. David’s friends were advising him to trust in his own schemes rather than trusting in God.
It is David’s temptation to take matters into his own hands rather than trusting in God. So when we waiver and compromise, we are showing our lack of faith in God.
Verse 1: “Flee as a bird...”
Birds are helpless to defend themselves. Instead, in the face of danger they take flight.
The killdeer feigns a broken wing.
But why is David being told to fly away like a bird? What is the danger facing him?
Verse 2: For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
David’s friends continue to advise fleeing from the enemy, giving here additional reasons for such flight: namely, the wicked are after David to get him. Saul is after David to get him—to murder him.
“They’re drawing a bead, fixing their sights, on you, David.”
Verse 2: For behold, the wicked bend the bow...
And from where are they attacking David?
Verse 2: For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness (NIV: “from the shadows”) at the upright in heart. “Hidden: in the darkness of a moonless night.” (LXX)
Cowards use unfair advantages for their attacks:
- from cover of darkness
- in civilian clothes
- even wearing the uniform of their enemies
The coward uses disguises, darkness, or lies to hide his actions and to cover his hotile acts so he won’t be recognized as the enemy.
Just so, Satan often attacks the people of God, not by sending persecution against the Church from the outside, but rather by cover of hypocrisy from inside the House of God.
So we see that this statement can be taken either literally or figuratively; sometimes gossip is spoken of in this same way—as “shooting from the shadows.”
All this is summed up by the statement: “The foundations are being destroyed!”
Verse 3: If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
At different times in Old Testament times God allowed His People to be overun and their walled cities to be destroyed. And the first thing which needed to be done after the people were restored to the city was that they worked to rebuild the city's walls. That job was always hard, but especially when the walls had been destroyed so completely that the destruction extended to the wall’s foundations.
Such was the case when Zerubabbel was working on rebuilding Jerusalem—including its walls—during the reign in Persia of Xerxes and Artaxerxes. At that time we read that the Israelites’ enemies were upset, particularly that the wall’s foundations were being repaired:
Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” 3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 6 Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 7 And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic. 8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes, as follows-- 9 then wrote Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their colleagues, the judges and the lesser governors, the officials, the secretaries, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations which the great and honorable Osnappar deported and settled in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the region beyond the River. Now 11 this is the copy of the letter which they sent to him: “To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River, and now 12 let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations." (Ezra 4:1-12)
The foundation is the heart of any structure. The whole building gets its strength from that foundation.
(Homes on Lake Michigan sinking into the lake).
But here in our passage David’s naysaying coulselors aren’t speaking literally, but figuratively. When they talk about the foundations being destroyed, they are saying that their whole society is in disarray and is crumbling to the ground. They are saying that the basic building blocks of the nation—law, order, peace, mercy, and justice; their country’s very foundations--are being destroyed.
In intent their king had become a murderer.
In other words, in the nation at that time, wrong was right and right was wrong. And the question asked here in verse 3 is really a statement of despair:
Verse 3: If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
David’s friends were advising him not to turn to God for protection and vindication, but rather to turn, to flee to the mountains—to hide in the caves there in the hills.
"It’s not your job, David, to clean things up! What sense would it make for you to stay here trying to rebuild our nation, just to lose your life trying? Think about your family; what are you going to do about them?”
These friends were counseling David to take matters into his own hands. To flee. Assuming God’s inability (or worse, unwillingness) to watch over His children, protecting and defending them, David’s friends said to him, "Run for your life, David!”
Other places in Scripture show us a similar situation where there is a great crisis, and in the middle of that crisis a man of God is seduced by evil words calling him to give up. Many times the righteous hear the voice of the Evil One whispering in their ear this same counsel of despair. For instance consider Job:
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:7-9)
How often the Evil One seeks to mislead us. And what tragedy is is when his entry point to our heart is through our closest friends and loved ones.
Again, this is why all of us--especially young people--must choose our friends carefully. Choose you husband, choose your wife carefully because you will be living under the influence of his or her advice, whether that advice is faithful or faithless.
After these acts of faithfulness (by Hezekiah) Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself. (2Chronicles 32:1)
He appointed military officers over the people and gathered them to him in the square at the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, 7 “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. 8 “With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah. 9 After this Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servants to Jerusalem while he was besieging Lachish with all his forces with him, against Hezekiah king of Judah and against all Judah who were at Jerusalem, saying, 10 “Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting that you are remaining in Jerusalem under siege? 11 ‘Is not Hezekiah misleading you to give yourselves over to die by hunger and by thirst, saying, “The LORD our God will deliver us from the hand of the king of Assyria”? 12 ‘Has not the same Hezekiah taken away His high places and His altars, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, “You shall worship before one altar, and on it you shall burn incense”? 13 ‘Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the lands? Were the gods of the nations of the lands able at all to deliver their land from my hand? 14 ‘Who was there among all the gods of those nations which my fathers utterly destroyed who could deliver his people out of my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand? 15 ‘Now therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you like this, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you from my hand?’” 16 His servants spoke further against the LORD God and against His servant Hezekiah. 17 He also wrote letters to insult the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against Him, saying, “As the gods of the nations of the lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand.” 18 They called this out with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, so that they might take the city. (2Chronicles 32:6-18)
So, would David have been justified to rule out all hope of change and to flee from such wickedness? When all looks black, even to the very core of a nation, is it time to flee? To give up the work of rebuilding the wall’s foundations?
Starting with verse 4, we have David’s answer to the fear and cynicism of his advisors:
The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. (Psalms 11:4)
David’s answer is that, although they are looking to earth for their solution, he is looking to heaven for his salvation. Although they are looking to men for a remedy, he is looking to his Heavenly Father. Although they are beginning to think that there will be no justice here on earth, David is waiting for the Day of Judgement when God will call in every single account.
And He will be the stability (sure foundation) of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)
God’s throne is up above, in heaven, and from His high and lifted up throne room He can see all things; He misses nothing.
Heaven is His “holy temple,” and it is called “holy” to emphasize how OTHER it is.
God does not live in temples made by human hands. Heaven is His temple and the earth is His footstool.
Thus says the Lord, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? (Isaiah 66:1)
“He observes” “His eyes examine...” God has His gaze fixed upon us, and on all men. Nothing can hidden from Him. He pierces right to the deepest motives of our heart and He misses absolutely nothing
He knows every infinitesimal matter in our minds, even down to our least sorrow or tiniest daydream.
Verse 5: The LORD tests (examines) the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
“Examines” The Lord “tries;” much as fire tries or refines metal.
“His soul hates.” God is not capable of doing anything but hating evil and wickedness.
Verse 6: Upon the wicked He will rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven... (Genesis 19:24)
The terrible judgment which God poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah is the image called in here, as it is frequently in other placces of Scripture. This is the fate awaiting those who are tearing down the foundations.
Verse 7: For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face.
What God is (righteous) and what He loves (justice) is a sure foundation for us to cling to. (Derek Kidner)
The character of God is the absolute basis of David’s certainty of His and all those who are righteous being rescued, and also of the wicked being eternally judged.
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (2Timothy 2:19)
But in the final words of this Psalm, it is not rescue that is the last thing to be mentioned. It is “seeing God’s face.” Finally, love draws the godly to their Heavenly Father.
In dire straits, they seek His face.
The godly always place their first hope in God, alone--never other people, their bank accounts, or in their own intelligence. Although other guarantees fail them, they are not disappointed because their first proof of future joy is not this life or anything earthly, but God Who is in heaven and Who watches over us as tender as a shepherd watches over his flock of sheep.
The godly refuse to give in to the advice of despair. They don’t allow naysayers to render them ineffective in days of terrible evil.
Instead of sitting around saying, “Oh, my! Things are so bad, I really don’t think there is anything poor little old me could do to help," the godly stand up and are counted and work on rebuilding the walls.
And this is true whether the walls are those of a city, a family, a church, or a nation.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.