Psalm 11: Confidence in God's Power
Translation of Psalm 11
11:1 (For the music director, by David) In YHWH I take shelter. How are you saying to my soul, "Flee1 to your mountain like a bird 11:2 For behold the wicked have prepared a bow, they have made ready their arrows on the strings, to shoot in the darkness at the upright heart. 11:3 For the foundations are being overthrown.2 What can the righteous do?"3 11:4 YHWH is in his holy temple,YHWHís throne is in heaven; His eyes are beholding,4 His eyelids are examining the sons of men. 11:5 YHWH is examining the righteous, but the wicked5 and those who love violence his soul hates. 11:6 May he rain6 on the wicked, traps, fire and brimstone, And a scorching wind will be what they deserve.7 11:7 For YHWH is righteous, he loves righteousness; the righteous will behold his face.
The author of Hebrews exhorted those whose faith in Christ was wavering, "Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Hebrews 10:35). He went on to point out that the Lord would perform His promises, but that the Righteous need to live by faith to the fulfillment of that promise (vs. 37-38). Confidence in the power and goodness of God are absolutely essential to the life of a godly man or woman. Confidence is the by-product of the faith, much as fire is the result of an initial spark. Psalm 11 is an account of one manís confidence in YHWH.
This psalm 11 is classified as "trust of the individual." In this psalm, only one person is in the foreground. Although there are a group of people who are represented as the antagonists to faith in God, there is only one man who is expressing trust in God. The focus of the psalm is on the trust of this one individual, presumably David.
That David is the author is taken from the Hebrew superscription at the beginning of the psalm, lamnatseach ldawid. The lameds (l) at the beginning of both words seem to indicate to and from. Habakkuk 3:1 uses the lamed in this fashion. Extrabiblically, the Samaria Ostraca and Lachish Letters, which are potsherds and dockets from the days of the divided monarchy, also verify this usage.8 According to the superscription then, this psalm was written to the chief musician, from David.
From the internal evidence of the psalm, we are able to construct the basic situation which lay behind Davidís writing of this psalm. The wicked enemies of David were preparing to attack his armies. There were those in Davidís own camp (the Righteous) who were saying to him that he should run to his mountain, presumably Jerusalem (Mount Zion). The psalmist rejects the advice to flee from his dangerous enemies, even though it looked like the Righteous had no foundation to stand on. In response to their question of what the Righteous would do if their foundation were destroyed, David asserts that the Righteous would stand. Instead of fleeing from the ensuing battle to seek refuge in the safety of his mountain, David chose to seek refuge in the YHWH. David reminded his advice-givers that they need not fear because their Godís throne was in heaven, in His holy temple. He was aware of the Israelitesí situation, and was on their side. God would test the Righteous, but he hated those who were evil, loving ethical violence. David affirmed his confidence in Godís just character. Finally David, by faith, wishes that God would judge his enemies, and calls down judgment on evildoers. He had confidence that this desire of his would come to pass because YHWH loves righteousness. The Israelites could rest assured that those who were righteous would behold Godís face in the time of their calamity. He would show them favor and mercy, delivering them from their calamity.
The following synthesis will provide a basic overview of the psalm:
Even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, including evil oppression and ill-advice, we need not flee to our earthly fortresses of safety. We can take refuge in the YHWH to see that the righteous are upheld, and the wicked are punished for their evil.
III. The Psalmist states the outcome of the fate of the Righteousóthey will behold Godís face (7b).
YHWH is Our Refuge in Whom We Can Trust
The opening phrase of the psalm expresses trust in YHWH. David does not start His psalm with the doubt of the Fearful Righteous, but with an expression of His confidence in God. He openly and boldly sets the stage for the verses to come. There is no mistaking the faith of the Psalmist. We are not presented first with the problem, and left wondering what the Psalmistís response will be, but are told right up front the spiritual vision of the Psalmist.
David claimed that the Lord was his refuge. The Hebrew word translated as refuge is gasah. This word is used sometimes in a literal sense, meaning to take shelter or refuge (Isaiah 4:6; 25:4; Job 24:8), but is more often used figuratively of seeking refuge in God, putting confident trust in Him. The Septuagint (LXX) translates this Hebrew word with peitho, meaning "trust" or "confidence." David sought refuge in YHWH, putting His trust in Him.
The Fearful Righteous Lose Confidence in Their God
When seeing the array of the enemy, some within Davidís camp thought of turning back to seek refuge in Mount Zion, and desired to persuade David to think the same. They said to him, "Flee to your mountain like a bird." When a bird is in danger, it never tries to fend for itself on the ground, but immediately and swiftly flies away seeking a safe place to land away from harmís way. The Fearful tempted David to turn his back on his trust in YHWH and fend for himself. The reason for such a statement to David could only come from those who were not looking to the God in heaven, which is where their help would come from (Psalm 121:1-2).
The Wicked Prepare an Attack on the Righteous
Having stated their case to David to flee, the Fearful Righteous begin to frantically state their case. They see the impending danger coming to meet them face to face, and realize there is not much time left. If David is going to flee, he must do so quickly. The wicked have prepared their bows, are placing their arrows on the string, and are ready to fire. They are at the last stage before discharging their attack.9
There is a sense of despair in the speech of the Fearful. They are ready to flee, and David probably contemplates doing so himself. The enemies are already arming their weapons. To stand firm and courageous would be to offer a target to the Wicked.10 Surely it would be easier to flee from the arrows shot in the dark than to stand and face them.
This phrase "to shoot in the darkness" implies that the enemy hoped to accomplish the defeat of David and his men without being seen.11 Although this was their plan, David knew that the eyes of the Lord were beholding their plans (v. 4). Surely the devices of the enemy would fail.
The "upright in heart" which the Wicked desired to shoot were none other than the children of Israel. The heart is here viewed as the seat of oneís moral character and motives. The "pure of heart" are Godís faithful followers who trust in and love the Lord and, as a result, experience his deliverance (Psalm 7:10; 32:11; 36:10; 64:10; 94:15; 97:11).
The dread of the Fearful was that the foundations were being overthrown. Overthrown is in the imperfect, indicating that the action was in process. These foundations seem to be that of the society of the righteous. I say seem because the Hebrew word translated foundations is not common.12 It is the name Seth, which accounts for nine of its twelve occurrences. It only appears elsewhere in the OT in II Samuel 10:4 and Isaiah 19:10 where it is translated as "buttocks." An Aramaic cognate of this word is used to describe the base of a mountain. Davidís men believed that these Wicked men were about to destroy the very foundation of all that the righteous knew. It was in the wake of this fear that the Fearful asked, "What can the righteous do?"13
Confidence in YHWH Proclaimed
During Davidís exposition of confidence in God, it should be noted that he never spoke to God directly. He only spoke about God to the Fearful. David never uttered a prayer to God for deliverance, but did express to the Faithful, his desire for the outcome of the Wicked.
David begins to give reasons for trusting in YHWH. First, David is assured that YHWH is in his holy temple, where His throne is too. The reference to the temple is not based off of the Temple in Jerusalem, for it had not yet been built. The Mosaic tabernacle was still being used at this time. This imagery of God on His throne in heaven signifies Godís transcendence over the affairs of man.14 His throne signifies His royal rule over all mankind. He is in control of the chaos that David is being presented with.
God is not blind to what is going on, but "His eyes are beholding, and His eyelids are examining the sons of men." The Hebrew word bachan, translated as examine or test, is used of the process silver or gold undergoes for purification (Jeremiah 6:27-30; 9:7; Psalm 7:9).15 Furthermore, this Hebrew word appears in the imperfect, stressing the process of examining men. God is continually examining the sons of men to see whether they are righteous or wicked. Because God is examining and testing men, He knows who is on His side and who is not.
David relied on this truth for assurance that God would be against the Wicked. God examines everyone including the Righteous, but it is with the Wicked and those who love violence that God hates. When the Wicked are observed and tried by God, the result is far different than when He tries the Righteous.
David, knowing that YHWH was against the Wicked, expresses his desire that YHWH would pour out on the Wicked, traps, fire and burning sulfur, and a scorching wind. The traps are figurative of difficulties and troubles that would befall the Wicked that would hinder their plans.16 The fire and burning sulfur would be used to destroy Davidís enemies in the same way that God used fire and burning sulfur to destroy Sodom and Gomorra. The scorching wind seems to be a reference to scirocco winds which blow through Israel during the seasonal changes from spring to summer, and from summer to fall. It brings in oppressive heats from the desert.17 Itís effects are devastating, destroying vegetation by turning it into parched, withered plants overnight.18 This hot wind is known in Israel today as hamsin (Arabic) or sharab (Hebrew). This scorching wind is what the Wicked deserve. Their judgment is compared to an allotted portion of a beverage that is poured into someoneís drinking cup. This same imagery is used in other Scriptures also (Psalm 16:5; 23:5; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). The portion that the Wicked would receive would be that which was due them.
The Righteous Will Behold Godís Face
Davidís final reason for believing that YHWH would deliver him from the Wicked was rooted in Godís character. YHWH is righteous, and he loves righteous deeds.19 Since David and the Israelites were righteous, they could be assured that God would side with them, and against the Wicked and lovers of violence. Godís character would not allow the Righteous to be destroyed by the Wicked.
Davidís final words consist of a confession of faith that "the righteous will behold his face."20 The words do not necessarily mean that the Israelites would see a theophany of God, nor do they meant that this beholding of Godís face was to be in the eschaton.21 To "see" Godís "face" means to have access to his presence and to experience his favor (Psalm 17:15; Job 33:26). This phrase seems to be speaking of the impending vindication that the Righteous would receive from God. It would be in this deliverance from the Wicked that the Israelites would behold the face of God. At that time they would see a clear vision of His righteousness and power.
Sometimes there are circumstances in which it would be wise to flee from adversity. Jesus Himself fled from His enemies, and instructed His disciples to do so likewise (Matthew 10:23; John 10:39). At times, flight may be the will of God. Fleeing from the Wicked or evil does not always indicate a lack of confidence in Godís ability to deliver. On this occasion David was assured that it was the will of God that he stay and face the Wicked. Even though the Fearfulís advice to flee was logical and reasonable, David had an eye of faith that could see beyond the reasonable. He believed in God, and thus spoke of his confidence to all those who doubted YHWH (Psalm 116:10).
In this journey of faith, we do not walk by sight, but by faith (II Corinthians 5:7). David understood this well. He looked to the God who dwells in the heavens for his help. He would not trust in the natural world, but looked to the spiritual world. He was faced with a choice as to who he would put his confidence in: man or God? David chose to put his confidence in YHWH. His confidence was not based in man or self, but in the omnipotent God who loves righteousness. David did not cast off his confidence, but remained steadfast to the end, trusting in YHWHís powerful hand, rather than in His own.
Craigie, Peter C. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.
Rawlinson, G. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. 8: The Psalms. H.D.M. Spence, Joseph Exell, eds. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Reprint 1984.
Ross, Allen P. Principles of Hebrew Exegesis in the Psalms. Vol. 2. Unpublished notes from Hebrew Exegesis class taught at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, TX, 1983.
Van Gemeren, William A. Expositorís Bible Commentary. Vol. 5. Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.
1. The Masoretic Text (MT) reads "flee [masculine plural] to your [masculine plural] mountain, bird [feminine singular]." Taking "bird" to be a vocative, the literal reading of the MT is, "Flee, O bird, to your mountain. Some have suggested that this is a proverbial expression used when warning a man to flee from impending danger (The Pulpit Commentary). This does not seem likely because there is no grammatical agreement between "bird" and "flee" and "mountain." "Bird" is singular, whereas the pronominal suffix and verb are plural. The Qere (marginal reading, which shows how the Jews were supposed to say the word) of the MT has "flee" in a feminine singular form, which agrees grammatically with the addressee, "bird." The Jews understood "bird" to be used as an accusative of manner, indicating how David and his army were to flee. This understanding is sustained in the reading of the LXX. The translators understood "flee" as a 2nd person singular verb, agreeing with the singular "bird." They understood "bird" to be used for comparison, using the particle hos. This reading is also held by the author. <back>
2. In the Niphil haras carries the idea of "overthrow." See Proverbs 11:11; Jeremiah 31:40. This word is in the imperfect stressing the progress of the action. The foundations were in the process of being overthrown. <back>
3. This verb appears in the qal. The qal form only appears in the poetic literature. <back>
4. The LXX adds the word eis ton peneta, meaning "the poor or needy person." This may represent an earlier Hebrew text that dropped out of use, or a variant reading of the Hebrew that was translated into the LXX. <back>
5. Some versions render connect this phrase to the end of the prior phrase so that it reads, "The Lord examines the righteous and the wickedÖ". I believe the context, along with the fact that there are two waw particle conjunctions in a row, indicate that there is a contrast being made between what God does with the righteous and what He does with the wicked. The "wicked" and "those who love violence" are synonymous parallels, both indicating the class of people that the Lord hates. <back>
6. This is a jussive form, indicating the wish of the author. <back>
7. Literally "the portion of their cup," meaning that portion which is rightfully deserved. <back>
8. Allen P. Ross, Principles of Hebrew Exegesis in the Psalms, Vol. 2 (unpublished notes from Hebrew Exegesis class taught at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, TX, 1983), 22. <back>
9. G. Rawlinson, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8: The Psalms, H.D.M. Spence, Joseph Exell, eds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Reprint 1984), 71. <back>
10. Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 133. <back>
11. Ibid. <back>
12. The LXX does not use a noun for foundations, but the verb katariso, meaning "made." It reads, "That which you have made they have destroyed." It seems that the translators did not understand exactly what the foundations were, but figuring that they must have been created by God, chose to translate it in this generic sense. <back>
13. Most English translations agree with this rendering, however some render the Hebrew
tsadiq mah-pa'al as "What has the righteous done?". The LXX rendered the Hebrew phrase this way too. Grammatically this rendering is possible, but contextually the traditional rendering makes more sense. The Fearful were not questioning what they had done to deserve oppression from the Wicked, but were expressing their plight in the present situation. If they did not flee, the ready armies of the Wicked were about to destroy the foundations of the Righteous. The Fearful Righteous could not contemplate what they were going to do if this were to happen. They saw no other option than to flee from the Wicked. <back>
14. Ibid. <back>
15. William A. Van Gemeren, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 133. <back>
16. The Pulpit Commentary, 72. <back>
17. Word Biblical Commentary, 134. <back>
18. Expositor's Bible Commentary, 133. <back>
19. The Hebrew word tsadiqoth is sometimes rendered simply as "righteousness." Although this rendering is acceptable, it seems better to understand this as "righteous deeds" because the word is in the plural, speaking of many 'righteousnesses' so to say. It seems apparent that it is many acts of righteousness, or righteous deeds. <back>
20. The singular subject ("upright") does not agree with the plural verb. However, collective singular nouns can be construed with a plural predicate. <back>
21. Word Biblical Commentary, 134. <back>
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