ASCRIBED to David in the "title," this psalm is almost universally allowed to be his. It "has all the characteristics of the earlier Davidic psalms." No allusion enables us to assign it to any particular occasion; but, on the whole, it would seem to belong most probably to the period of David's residence at the court of Saul, when he had provoked the jealousy of the courtiers, and calumnious accusations were being continually brought against him. At such a time his friends and companions may well have lost heart, and advised him to "flee away to the mountains." But David flees to God (Psalms 11:1), and trusts in him for deliverance from his persecutors (Psalms 11:4-7).
In the Lord put I my trust; or, in the Lord have I taken refuge (Kay, Cheyne). Before his friends address him on the subject of his danger, David has himself recognized it, and has fled to God for succour. How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? rather, flee ye, birds, to your mountain. Probably a proverbial expression, used when it was necessary to warn a man that in flight lay his only safety. The singular ( צִפוֹר ) is used collectively.
For, lo, the wicked bend their bow. The words are still those of the timid friends. "Lo," they say, "the ungodly are already bending the bow against thee"—preparing, i.e; to attempt thy life. They make ready their arrow upon the string; or, fit their arrow to the string. The last thing before discharging it. That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart; literally, that they may shoot amid darkness at the upright in heart.
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The word translated" foundations" is a rare one, only occurring hero and in Isaiah 19:10. The meaning of "foundations," first given to it by Aquila, is now generally adopted. We must suppose the timid friends to be still speaking, and to mean that, under the lawless rule of Saul, the very foundations of society and of moral order were swept away; the righteous ( צדִּיק, a collective) had done and could do nothing to prevent it. What remained for David, but to withdraw from a community where there was neither law nor order, where the first magistrate commanded (1 Samuel 19:1 ) and attempted (1 Samuel 19:10) assassination?
The Lord is in his holy temple. David's reply to his timid advisers is an expression of absolute faith and trust in God. Saul may reign upon earth; but Jehovah is in his holy temple (or rather, "palace," הֵיכַל ) on high—his throne is in heaven, where he sits and reigns. What need, then, to fear an earthly king? Especially when God is not inattentive to human affairs, but his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men (comp. Psalms 7:9; Psalms 17:3; Psalms 139:1). His "eyelids" are said to try men, because, when we closely scrutinize a thing, we drop our eyelids and half close our eyes.
The Lord trieth the righteous. God tries the righteous, scrutinizing them with his penetrating glance, but a glance wherein there is protection and love. When he tries (or closely scrutinizes) the wicked, the result is different—the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
Upon the wicked he shall rain snares. On Divine displeasure follows Divine punishment—not always speedy, but sure. Those who have plotted against David will have" snares rained" upon them. God is said to "rain" on men both his blessings and his curses, when he gives them abundantly (comp. Job 20:23; Hosea 10:12; Ezekiel 34:26). By "snares" are meant any difficulties or troubles in which men are entangled by the action of Divine providence. Fire and brimstone. The punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah was the typical example of God's vengeance to the Israelites generally. And an horrible tempest; literally, a breath of horrors (comp. Psalms 119:53; Lamentations 5:10). It is thought that the simoom may be intended. But none of the threats are to be taken literally. All that the psalmist means is that God's vengeance, in some shape or ether, will overtake his persecutors. This shall be the portion of their cup. This is probably the earliest place where the metaphor of a "cup" for man's lot in life is employed. Other instances are Psalms 16:5; Psalms 23:5; Psalms 73:10; Psalms 75:8; Psalms 116:1-19 :23; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:31, Ezekiel 23:32; Matthew 20:22, Matthew 20:23; Matthew 26:39; John 18:11.
For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; rather, for the Lord is righteous; he loveth righteousness (see the Revised Version); literally, righteousnesses; i.e. good and righteous deeds. His countenance doth behold the upright. So the LXX; the Vulgate, Hengstenberg, Bishop Horsley, and ethers; but the bulk of modern commentators prefer to render, "The upright will behold his countenance." Either translation yields a good sense.
Psalms 11:3, Psalms 11:4
The question of fear and the answer of faith.
"If the foundations," etc. The Bible is God's gift to a world such as its pages describe. Not a world of sinless holiness and painless peace, but a world of sin, sorrow, strife. A book for pilgrims, toilers, warriors, mourners, sinners. The "sword of the Spirit," forged in the fire of affliction, tempered in tears. Light in darkness; songs in the night-time; manna in the wilderness; water from the flinty rock; an anchor for the tempest-tossed soul. It leads us along the path beaten by the feet of scores of generations; across ancient bottle-fields; shows us the monuments of heroes and conquerors; and fills our daily life with the echoes of the mighty past. Whether or no this psalm belongs to some particular occasion in David's life—a question of no practical moment—it reflects the stormy experience he and many another saint have had oftentimes to face; and it does this for all time. In these verses we have
(1) the question of fear; and
(2) the answer of faith.
I. THE QUESTION OF FEAR. "If … what shall the righteous do?" The foundations, namely, of society; the pillars or supports of public order, peace, prosperity. These main pillars are four: authority, justice, policy, wealth. If these are shaken, the fabric totters. If they utterly fail, anarchy or tyranny ensues. When war threatens or assails, a weak distrusted government, an unrighteous cause, incapacity, an empty treasury, are more dangerous than any foreign foe. And though there were profound peace as regarded other nations, a nation afflicted with these four evils, one in which these main pillars break, would be on the verge of ruin. Yet underneath all these lies a deeper foundation—national character (Proverbs 14:34). The particular form in which public life rested on religion has never been possible for any other nation than Israel. None other has had a covenant like that of Sinai—an inspired code of laws; a perfect identity of Church and state. The relations of Church and state differ in different lands; are matter of controversy. This does not change the fact that public as much as private life—that of the nation no less than of the individual—is healthful, safe, prosperous, truly free, only as it conforms to God's law: is just, truthful, temperate, pure, peaceable, benevolent.
II. THE ANSWER OF FAITH. God reigns; God rules.
1. "In his temple," q.d; "in heaven." "His throne"—his supreme omnipotent dominion—is the reign, not of arbitrary power or mere mechanical law, but of holiness; perfect righteousness, wisdom, love. Therefore it is the "throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:6).
2. "His eyes behold," etc. In all this wild confusion, as it seems, nothing is overlooked; nothing unjudged or uncontrolled. God rules as well as reigns. Never for a moment is his hand off the helm (Romans 8:28; Psalms 76:10). Example: The beneficial results of the Babylonish captivity, in which the ruin of the nation had appeared total and final.
PRACTICAL LESSONS (especially in times of political strife and danger).
1. Courage. "How say ye," etc.? it is no part of a Christian's duty to flee, either in terror or disgust, from public duty. Public service—as citizen, official, or ruler—progresses under the great Christian law of love to our neighbour (comp. Galatians 6:10; 1 Peter 4:10). Who should be fearless and faithful, if not he who seeks in all to glorify God, and knows that all earthly as well as heavenly power is in Christ's hands (Matthew 28:18)?
2. Prayer. Prayer for our country is a great Christian duty.
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
The victory of faith; or, rest amid storm.
In each one of those psalms which represent some historic experience, there is its own differential feature. This feature it is the work of the student and expositor to seize and to utilize. We do not know and have no means of knowing the specific incidents in the writer's life to which reference is here made, £ although, since David was the writer, we should find but little difficulty in fixing on some passages of his history to which the psalm might possibly apply. But although that might furnish some interesting points of history, it would add little or nothing to the value of the psalm. It is one which is far too much overlooked; since it yields us a powerful illustration of a faith which overcomes the world. Let us set to work and see if it be not so.
I. HERE IS A BELIEVER IN GOD EXPOSED TO PERIL FROM DESIGNING FOES. (Psalms 11:2.) Those who are upright in heart are hated by the wicked (cf. 1 John 3:12, 1 John 3:13). This is not to be wondered at, for righteous men by their righteousness are a standing condemnation of the ungodly (Hebrews 11:7). The Lord Jesus was pre-eminently the object of hatred by the world (John 7:7; John 15:18-24). In the time of the psalmist this hatred was expressed by plots for the destruction of God's servants (Psalms 11:2). £ But, as if conscious of wrong and of the meanness and wickedness of their aims, men sought the cover of darkness for their designs (see Psalms 11:2, Revised Version). What a mercy there is One to whom the darkness and the light are both alike!
II. HERE ARE WELL-MEANING FRIENDS GIVING THEIR ADVICE. (Psalms 11:1, "Flee as a bird," etc.) This is the counsel of timidity. There may possibly be circumstances in which it may be right to take flight (see Matthew 10:23). Although our Lord expected his disciples to be prepared, If Need be, to lay down their lives for him, yet he did not wish them unnecessarily to expose themselves to danger. So that at times, flight may be wise. But in the case of the psalmist, the whole tenor of his psalm indicates that it would not have been right, and that the counsels of his friends were those of timidity and even of cowardice. Note:
1. We may any of us be exposed at some time or other to this temptation
2. Such temptation may be even harder to resist when it comes from friends than if it came from foes. So our Lord Jesus found it; he felt Peter's effort to dissuade him from the cross far more acutely than he did Satan's (cf. Matthew 16:22, Matthew 16:23).
III. THIS ILL-JUDGED ADVICE MAY BE ENFORCED WITH PLAUSIBLE ARGUMENTS. (Psalms 11:1, Psalms 11:3.) The advice begins with the word "flee" (Psalms 11:1), and ends with the close of the third verse. The arguments for flight are:
1. The secrecy of the designs of the wicked; since they work under cover of the darkness, it is best to be entirely out of their reach.
2. The grievous consequences of their success (Psalms 11:3). If the men who are the strength and glory of a state are removed, the righteous therein will be dismayed, £ This is a more specious argument than the former: it is equivalent to, "If you care not to flee for your own sake, you owe it to others to guard yourself; for if you, as one of the supports of the state, are overthrown, what will the righteous people do?" The wicked would rejoice, and would seize the occasion for the purposes of rapine and murder; but the righteous would be in sore dismay.
IV. TO SUCH ADVICE, FAITH HAS A READY ANSWER. (Psalms 11:4-6.) The various features of this answer may be summed up in one sentence, "The Lord reigneth!" This is faith's rest and refuge in all times of trouble. Things are not left to the cross-purposes of man. There is a throne above all, and One sitting thereon. This fact has a manifold bearing:
1. On men generally.
2. On the righteous.
3. On the wicked.
The terrible figures used in this verse are probably drawn from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. What the dread reality may be, of which these words are symbols, God grant that we may never know! More fearful than any physical judgments is the adverse verdict of the Great Supreme (John 3:19). Note: It is all-important for a believer in God, in the midst of the greatest calamities, and of the most serious public disorder, so to maintain his calm serenity of soul, as to enable him thus to rest in what he knows of God and of his revealed mind and will.
V. KNOWING ALL THIS CONCERNING GOD, THE PSALMIST HAD ACTUALLY ANTICIPATED THE ADVICE OF HIS ADVISERS, though in another and a better way (Psalms 11:1): "In the Lord put I my trust;" rather, "To the Lord I have fled for refuge." I need no other. He is mine. He will guard me. I am at rest in him. I will therefore stay where I am, and keep in the path of duty. I can calmly look on the raging storm, and wait till it has passed by. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Note:
1. The man who trusts in God has already a Refuge of which the ungodly man knows nothing.
2. That trust in God gives him the victory over his foes.
3. The God whom he trusts will be his Shield no% and his exceeding great Reward hereafter and for ever!
How much broader, deeper, and firmer should be our trust, now that we know God's love as revealed in Christ] "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:5).—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
A battle in the soul.
Faith and fear are in conflict. Plausible reasons are suggested why the fight should be given up, but nobler thoughts prevail.
I. FEAR CONFRONTING FAITH. (Psalms 11:1-3.) The outlook is discouraging. Our foes are many and strong; more, they are inveterate in malice; more still, they have already gained ground, and amidst the overturn of all right principles and the confusion worse confounded, it seems as if they were to prevail all along the line. In such a state of things selfish fear suggests—Why fight longer? Our best efforts are fruitless; we are spending our strength and labouring in vain. Better bow to the inevitable; better look to ourselves ere it be too late. The temptation is subtle and dangerous; even the best of us have felt its force. It was Jeremiah who said, "I will not speak any more in his Name" (Jeremiah 20:9); it was the great Elijah who cried out, as if in despair, "I only am left, and they seek my life" (1 Kings 19:10). Then there are not wanting false and mistaken friends, who say, as St. Peter to our Lord, "This shall not be unto thee" (Matthew 16:22), or as the disciples said to St. Paul, "Go not up to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:11-13; Nehemiah 6:10, Nehemiah 6:11). So it has been in all great enterprises. There are lions in the way; difficulties arise that seem to the fearful impossibilities. So it is specially in the Christian life. "The fear of man bringeth a snare," but so also does the fear that rises in our own hearts.
II. FAITH CONQUERING FEAR. (Verses 4-7.) God's truth is like Constantine's banner: "By this we conquer."
1. Realizing God's presence. God is not afar off, but near; he is not an indifferent spectator, but pledged to defend the right. The end is in his hands. He will save his people. The presence of an earthly chief gives courage to his soldiers: how much more should we take heart when we know that God is with us!
2. Confiding in God's protection. It is not chance, nor caprice, nor arbitrary rule, that settles things, but the will of God. He "trieth the righteous." There is a holy, loving discipline. The furnace may be hot, but it is for the purifying of the gold (Job 23:10). Let us have patience (James 5:10, James 5:11; 1 Peter 1:3-7).
3. Anticipating God's deliverance. Faith looks beyond the seen. When the vision of God's power is revealed, our fears give place to confidence, our tremblings to tranquillity (2 Kings 6:17). What God loves must live. What God has promised he will certainly perform (2 Peter 2:9).
"Put we our quarrel to the will of Heaven,
Who, when he sees the hour is ripe on earth,
Will rain hot vengeance on th' offenders' heads."
The righteous Lord loveth righteousness.
This is true for ever.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS CONGRUOUS TO GOD'S NATURE. If light is pleasant to the eye, and music to the ear, and beauty to the soul, it is because they are in the line of rightness. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh" (Ephesians 5:29): how much more must God love that which is akin to himself—which is of the very essence of his character!
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS FULFILS GOD'S PURPOSES. What God seeks is righteousness. This is the end of the Law; this is the purpose of all good government; this is the teaching of the prophets and the great object of Christ (Isaiah 42:1-14; Matthew 3:15; Romans 5:21). Christ is the "Righteous One;" and of him the Father said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." "Christ suffered once the Just for the unjust;" and we see how dear righteousness was to God when "he made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." The cross is the measure of God's love of righteousness.
III. RIGHTEOUSNESS SECURES THE BLESSEDNESS OF GOD'S CREATURES. Sin brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is by the taking away of sin and the re-establishment of the rule of God in the heart, that happiness is restored (Romans 14:17). The prophets tell with rapture of the good time coming; and note it as the peculiar glory of the new heavens and the new earth, that in them "dwelleth righteousness" (Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Peter 3:13, 2 Peter 3:14).
Here is a test: Do we love as God loves? "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3:5-10).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Faith's antidote to fear.
This psalm is referred by some to the early struggles of David against the unrelenting jealousy of Saul; by others to the rebellion of Absalom; by others to the general conflict ever waging between the good and the evil powers. The subject of it is "Confidence in the Lord, and his protection even against the mightiest force of the wicked." The two leading ideas are the doctrine of David's friends, and David's own doctrine.
I. SAFETY IN DANGER COULD BE FOUND ONLY IN FLIGHT. (Psalms 11:1-3.) This was the temptation with which his friends assailed him—to abandon the righteous cause by flight. The temptation was plausible:
1. Because his very life was in danger. If anything less had been threatened—reputation or property—it might have been prudent to remain; but "skin for skin," etc.
2. The attack upon his life was secret, and not open. (Psalms 11:2.) He might resist and conquer an open attack; but what can defend us against cunning plots hatched in secret?
3. The greatest social disorder prevailed. (Psalms 11:3.) "What shall the righteous do?" was their plea with him. "You are powerless if you remain." They were in despair, and thought that flight was his only desperate resource. But David's doctrine was—
II. THAT SAFETY WAS FOUND BY TRUSTING TO GOD'S PROTECTIVE CARE. (Psalms 11:4 7.)
1. Trust in God enabled him to stand by the righteous cause; by flight he would abandon it to the wicked. Faith in God gives an unconquerable devotion to the right; flight is unbelief and cowardice. Indolent trust—a trust that does not work and fight in the good cause—is no better than cowardly flight.
2. He trusted in God's overruling power. (Psalms 11:4, Psalms 11:5.) That somehow he would uphold the righteous cause and righteous men; that as long as his throne was in the heavens, they could not be in any lasting peril, whatever appearances might be.
3. He trusted in the retributive providence of God. (Psalms 11:5, Psalms 11:6.) A providence that dealt with the righteous and the wicked; an inward and an outward retributive providence, which rewards and punishes in both spheres.
4. Whatever his outward lot, he trusted that he should one day see God's face. (Psalms 11:7.) That is safety; that is salvation from all danger and all trouble. The highest salvation is of a spiritual kind, not outward and temporal. To see God's face is to stand firmer than the mountains, and to be richer than all the outward universe.—S.