Psalm 11 is yet another lamentation, although it’s not so much the psalmist who is lamenting before the Lord, but his companions, who despair because of the evil in the world. As you see from the title, this is a psalm of David. And the psalm can be divided into two parts. In verses 1 to 3, the psalmist expresses his faith in God, while his companions are in despair. Then, in verses 4 to 7, the psalmist describes the Lord as the righteous King who will deal with the wicked and who will save his people.
Verses 1 to 3
The psalm beings with an affirmation of faith:
In the Lord I take refuge.
Once again, we have God’s covenant name, the name which speaks to us of God’s commitment to his people. He has bound himself to his people with a promise; and since he’s bound himself to his people with a promise, his people can trust in him to help them. ‘Taking refuge in the Lord’ means trusting in him for protection and help. When a storm is coming, we take refuge in our homes, which are strong and secure. And the Lord is a strong and secure refuge for his people. He’s a shelter and a high tower for all who trust in him.
Since the psalmist trusts in the Lord for protection, he will not listen to his companions who are suggesting to him that they should flee like a bird to the mountain. We don’t know the background to this psalm, but we can imagine David meeting with his advisors because of an enemy who is against him. And David had many enemies, didn’t he? There was King Saul who turned against him and tried to hunt him down. There was his own son, Absalom, who turned against him and made himself king in place of his father. There were all the Philistines with whom he fought. David had many enemies. And we can imagine his advisors advising him to make his escape because of his enemies.
And his advisors state their case in verses 2 and 3. Firstly, the wicked are bending their bows and they’re setting their arrows against the strings. In other words, his enemies are preparing for war and they’re getting ready for the fight. And so, David must go quickly. He must not hesitate or delay, but must get away urgently. Secondly, the wicked will shoot at him from the shadows. In other words, rather than attack him in the open, they’ll sneak up on him and attack him in the dark. And, of course, darkness often conveys the idea of deceit. Think of Absalom, who used deceit to turn the people against David; and David was unaware of what he was doing, because he acted secretly. And thirdly, the foundations are destroyed. The foundations of society were crumbling, it seemed. So, their customs, their laws, their way of life, were giving way around them. And when the foundations of society are giving way, when the things which once seemed so secure are crumbling, it makes us afraid and anxious, doesn’t it? And so, the psalmist’s companions were advising him to flee because everything around them was changing and changing for the worst.
And yet, David affirms his faith in the Lord, the covenant God. In the Lord I take refuge. I’m trusting in him. Therefore I will not flee.
Verses 4 to 7
And in verses 4 to 7, he describes the Lord as the righteous King who will deal with the wicked and who will save his people.
David, in a sense, looks upwards above the crumbling foundations of society and above his enemies who are surrounding him in the dark, and he looks to the Lord who is in his holy temple. His holy temple is not the temple in Jerusalem, but it’s the true temple in heaven. And so, the Lord is far above this world. The foundations of society may be crumbling, but the Lord is above it and beyond it and is not affected by it. And furthermore, the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He’s enthroned in heaven as king over all. He rules over all things, including all the people of the earth. Everything and everyone is under his power and authority, because he’s the heavenly king in whom we live and move and have our being, so that the wicked are not able to move without his will.
And look, from his throne in heaven, the Lord observes and examines us. He examines the righteous, we’re told in verse 5. The word ‘examine’ means he examines them to test them. As someone might examine silver or gold to test its quality, so the Lord examines the righteous to test them. That suggests that when we go through trials and troubles, when we face opposition from the evil one and from the wicked, the Lord is testing us to see what is in us and whether we’ll respond to troubles and trials with faith and obedience. Will our faith fail or will we keep trusting in the Lord? And will we continue to do his will and to walk his ways or will we go astray?
On the other hand, the Lord hates the wicked and those who love violence. By the word ‘hates’ the psalmist means the Lord has rejected the wicked. For instance, in the book of Malachi, the Lord says he loved Jacob and hated Esau. He meant he had chosen Jacob and had rejected Esau. So, the Lord rejects the wicked and the violent. They are not his people.
And, of course, unless they repent of their wicked ways, in the end the Lord will punish them. He will rain down on them fiery coals and burning sulphur as he did with Sodom and Gomorrah. He will send a scorching wind against them. That will be their lot, the portion he gives them to suffer and to endure.
The Lord is on his throne in heaven, from where he rules over all. He examines the righteous to test their faith and obedience. And he sees the wickedness of the wicked and he will punish them in due course. And so, the psalmist does not need to flee, but can trust in the Lord to do what’s right, because the Lord is righteous. That’s in verse 7. Being righteous, he always does what is right. And he loves justice. That is, he loves righteousness and he hates wickedness. And since the Lord loves righteousness, upright men and women can take comfort in the knowledge that we will see his face. Seeing his face means he will look upon the righteous with his favour. He will smile on them and will show them kindness. But, of course, ultimately we will see his face when he bring us into his presence in the life to come, where we will behold him and where we will worship him forever and ever. No matter what the wicked may do to us in this life, we know that in the end the victory is ours, because whereas the wicked will be sent away to be punished forever, the Lord’s people will dwell with him forever in glory.
What we have in this psalm is a description of a righteous man who is under attack from the wicked. But the righteous man trusted in the Lord his God. And, of course, while the psalm describes the life of David, who faced many enemies, but who trusted in the Lord, it also describes the life of the Lord Jesus, who is the true righteous man who always did what was right and never did what was wrong. He alone was truly upright in heart. And yet, he faced all kinds of opposition from wicked men, who plotted together to kill him and who came to capture him when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane and to take him away to crucify him. And despite all his trials, he remained faithful and obedient to his Father in heaven. And when his enemies came to arrest him, instead of fleeing away like a bird — which he could so easily have done, and which his disciples did do — he gave himself up to his enemies, trusting in his Father in heaven to do what is right. And, of course, after suffering at the hands of wicked men, he did indeed see the face of God, because his Father did not abandon him to the grave, but raised him up victorious over death and over his enemies and exalted him to heaven to sit at his Father’s side.
And we who are righteous by faith in Christ must always take refuge in the Lord our God, because a wicked world is against us and the people of this world either try to lead us astray with their temptations or they try to crush our faith by their opposition. The Devil will come at us with his wicked schemes and he will mobilise wicked men and women to oppose us and to put us under pressure to conform to their wicked ways. And when we look around us, it very often seems that the foundations have been destroyed, because the world we live in today is very different from the world we lived in only a couple of decades ago. Think of all the changes to do with morality and what’s right and wrong and to do with sexuality and gender. Think of all the changes in our political world and we wonder where we’re headed as a nation. Think of how small the church often seems and how we’re dismissed as irrelevant.
All that was good and right in society seems to be under attack. And so, God’s people — all who are righteous by faith in Christ — must take refuge in the Lord, trusting that he is still in his holy temple, sitting on his heavenly throne; that he still rules over all and that he will do what is right, because he is righteous and he loves righteousness. And while we trust in him, we must be careful to remain obedient to him and to do his will, which he has revealed to us in his word. While none of us knows what the Lord has planned for tomorrow, he has revealed his will for what we ought to do today. He has shown us how to live as his people. And so, we must continue to trust in him and to be obedient to him. And in the end, in the end, we will see his face, when he brings us into his presence in the life to come, to live with him and with Jesus Christ our Saviour, who died to bring us to God.