Last week I preached on Psalm 11 in my school’s chapel service. Since this passage of Scripture is clear, counterintuitive, and timely, I’d like to repurpose the message here.
What do you do when you’re really, really scared? Everybody gets scared; that’s no evidence of cowardice. The key is how you respond to being scared—and how you respond depends primarily on your worldview, specifically what you believe about God.
The Psalm reads as follows:
1 In the Lord put I my trust:
How say ye to my soul,
Flee as a bird to your mountain?
2 For, lo, the wicked bend their bow,
They make ready their arrow upon the string,
That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations be destroyed,
What can the righteous do?
4 The Lord is in his holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven:
His eyes behold,
His eyelids try, the children of men.
5 The Lord trieth the righteous:
But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone,|
And an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness;
His countenance doth behold the upright. (KJV)
I’ve inserted vertical space to show the psalm’s three divisions: the opening thesis statement (Ps 11.1a), David’s report of the advice he’s getting (Ps 11.1b-3), and then his response to that advice with wisdom of his own. But we should begin by trying to figure out the historical context—why he’s getting the advice in the first place.
His advisors tell him that he’s in danger, that he has enemies who want to kill him. Anyone who knows the story of David knows that there were many times in his life when that would have been the case. Long before he became king, the nation’s prophet, Samuel, anointed him for kingship (1S 16.13)—while Saul was still king, and while this king was planning to have his son Jonathan succeed him (1S 20.30-31). We know that Saul pursued David for a decade, seeking to eliminate him as a claimant to the throne—during which time, ironically, David expressed no interest in seizing the throne and even passed up multiple opportunities to do so. On at least two occasions (1S 24.1-4; 26.3-12) Saul was within a few feet of David, unawares, and David was in a position to kill him on the spot.
This psalm could well have been written at almost any time during those final years of Saul’s reign.
We also know that David faced a rebellion from one of his sons, Absalom, which led to civil war, with David and his closest advisors being exiled from Jerusalem (2S 15.10-16) and from Israel (2S 17.22-24), to seek refuge across the Jordan River in northern Ammon.
The psalm could well spring from that period as well. While we can’t place it more narrowly than that, we can note that David was someone who knew what he was talking about when he spoke to personal physical danger; his experience made him a much more reliable judge of both the danger he faced, and an appropriate response to it, than his advisors were. Even if he weren’t inspired, he’d be well worth listening to.
Next time we’ll look at the psalm’s first stanza, which reports the counsel of his advisors; in the third post, we’ll consider the second stanza, in which he responds to them.