2019 has been a distressing year in the West. New York State passed legislation sanctioning pregnancy termination at any point in gestation. A Northern Ireland court, just last week, handed out a custodial sentence for the brutal claw-hammering-to-death of a chihuahua cross pup. Correctly such cruelty was punished by the judge. Yet very few even blink at more barbarous crushing of skulls of a viable human fetus by the forceps of a qualified obstetrician. Tears of water should stream like rivers from our eyes – man’s inhumanity to man has trampled divine law. This is but one example of the destruction of foundations of any civilized, godly, society.
It is tempting at such times to bury our heads in our hands, run away in fear, or cave in to compromise. Christ’s call to God’s Church in these days is to stand firm in truth. Psalm 11 captures the thought – David is clearly shaken up by the events that have taken place. It fits quite well, contextually, with the attempted coup d’etat of Absalom.
On balance, probably the advice is not to fly away to some height, but to hold fast in trust (though a good case can also be made for the flee-to a fortress view): like an eagle on a cliff, or a fledgling stowed safely in a nest in some granite or basalt cleft, the message is clear - take refuge in Yahweh the Rock then when the earthquake comes, and throughout the after-shocks, whatever you do stay put!
It is in Yahweh (emphatic position) that I have already taken refuge (or run for cover and protection – bringing out the sense)! How is it that you people (plural) keep on saying (continuous tense) to my soul (repeatedly or constantly): “Flutter-off (or fly away) from your mountain, O bird.” (Italics are mine to give the sense).
The gloom merchants, scare-mongering, headless-chicken-counselors, have their reasons of course. “Can’t you see, O king, there is danger on all sides.” The problem with ‘worldly wisdom’ is that it only looks at the outward aspect of visible circumstances. It is not words of faith that visualize archers lining up to take pot-shots at God’s prince. Watch them put their boots on the bronze to bend the bow. In slow-motion they draw a dart from the quiver of feathered arrows with sharp, metallic, arrow heads, and then place it on the string. See them lurking in ambush in some thicket, ravine or cave – in the dark they wait until the upright monarch appears: these deadly assassins have targeted David, and they are determined to get their man.
The Psalmist sees their point – please excuse the pun! How tempting it is to run away in unbelief! Immediately, however, some questions enter his brain: What should he do? Which way and to whom should he turn? Is he really safer running from his rock of refuge? Would that not be to come out into the open and expose his life to greater danger?
When core, foundational, elements and basic building-blocks of society are destroyed – a righteous man, what on earth is he to do? (My paraphrase to bring out the sense).
Psalm 11 is all about perception! The first two verses are about faithless perceptions or misconceptions (only seeing things from a human perspective and point of view): the last five verses are about faith perception – when thinks look bleak and fundamental tenets appear to be undermined, shaking or crumbling, things are not-at-all as they might think or seem to an undiscerning eye or outward viewpoint!
The message of Psalm 11 could be summarized as follows: if we are going to respond in faith when we are tempted to flight then we must know, realize, perceive and see that Yahweh knows, realizes, perceives and seeds - and as the Righteous Judge of the world, He constantly takes all these things into his notice and rewards them in justice. Only believing this do we stay put!
The clue to the whole point, and key to this psalm, is a double use, by David, of two identical verbs and grammatical forms in verse 4 and verse 7, one used of the LORD, and the other used of the upright.
His eyes see continually, repeatedly, perceptively, discerningly and penetratingly (this is not just sight, but perception of the reality behind what is observed – it is deeper sight that looks beneath the surface and sees things for how they really our – it speaks of divine insight) verse 4.
The LORD is watching vigilantly from His Holy, Heavenly, House. It is from a lofty, royal, perch which God enjoys His vantage point. It is the gaze of a judge who surveys, pours over, picks through, and analyses, in-detail, every minute bit of evidence.
Yahweh is in His Holy Temple (or Palace), Yahweh, Himself, in Heaven is His Throne. His very own eyes – they perceive. His very own eyelids – they constantly scrutinize the sons of men.
One of my children has dark, deep, discerning eyes. From he was a little boy, we frequently noticed something that happened during conversation, or when he got particularly animated - we know it affectionately as his ‘long, slow, blink’: well there is a striking depicting of the intense stare of Yahweh as He constantly acts as judge. His eyelids blink, or move up and down, as his eyeballs roll over the documents and deeds of the evidence of their acts and attitudes of both the righteous and the wicked. Nothing escapes God’s notice. To Him, all the peoples, whether as nations or individuals, both in private or public, are like an open book.
This Psalm is all about sight – the 20/20 vision of the understanding Judge, the LORD, continues to be referenced in verse 5. His eyes examine, test, sift, scrutinize and observe the righteous man. Equally, but by contrast, His distaste is provoked by the sight of the wicked and lovers of violation of divine laws.
Yahweh, Himself, a righteous man examines – but the wicked, and lover of violence… His soul hates.
Now, with the evidence all surveyed, the court stands to its feet, as the Judge returns to read out His guilty verdict and pass sentence, which is not custodial but fatal, fearful, and fiery verse 6:
He will continually and perpetually rain down upon the wicked snares (or bird-traps – here we see the symmetrical perfection and propriety of the justice which rewards the archers according to their crimes who would have shot arrows at a bird).
In language reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah we are then warned of the second terrible, unremitting, woe:
Fire and brimstone and a wind of raging-furnace heat will be the portion of their cup.
Do you see? Yahweh, as judge, perceives the evil done, and now meets out justly the punishment for their crimes. That is why, when the godly reside in God their Rock, there should not be a flight-risk, nor should they act in hast, for Yahweh their judge is sure to see and act.
There is a remarkable example of this in Ezekiel chapter 8-18: the prophet is lifted by his sideburns and transported to Jerusalem, then told to dig through the wall, to see what is going on with the princes in private behind closed doors. The walls of the temple rooms are covered with carved idols. There are seventy elders who think that the LORD has abandoned Zion and does not see their actions:
Then he said to me: "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the House of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, 'The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land' ...Therefore I will act in my wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them" - Ezekiel 8:12, 18.
The final verse 7 of the Psalm captures this thought - it gives a second, stunning, reminder of the need to perceive the truth, with the use of an identical verb and form.
Because, you see, Yahweh is righteous (he acts in accordance with His own stated standard)! Yahweh always continually loves perfect righteousness. An upright man will continually and constantly see and perceive His face.
Not only, then, will a person whose ways are morally upright gain insight into God, and how He justly governs the world, but He will also be admitted into the courtroom of the Heavenly King of kings: he can make his petition, he can address the holy judge, and expect to have his plea heard and his case righteously judged.
Psalm 11 reminds believers to stay put. It also reminds sinners – and that includes all saints in their natural condition outside of Christ – that the LORD perceives their lives, and looks into the dark, where all kinds of wickedness (potential or performed) are acted out, away from human purview and gaze.
Verse 6 comes as a jolt to shake us from sinful sloth – here we can see what all evil-doing deserves: any time we plot or put people in our sights there is should be a snare for us which is also our fair desert: sulfuric scorching should justly be our lot – the portion of our due cup is unremitting and incinerating eternal flames of perdition.
O matchless mercy, then, that instead of perdition there is a redeeming solution – that the Son of God, sweating blood in Gethsemane, and on the Cross at Calvary, should drink and drain-to-dregs the potion and portion of our cup. Snare, fire, brimstone, and the furnace was His lot: with what maddening, tormenting, agonizing, burning the wine roasted and scarred his lips, tongue, throat, esophagus and stomach as he drank its fuming brew – His cup and cross of curse is now our Christ of blessing and freedom from any condemnation, by a miracle of grace, through the sovereign gift of faith.
So, brother and sister believers, do you see?
It is for this very reason we have access to His face, and are able to make our case, when the foundations are undermined. It is the sight of the Savior that enables the saints to stay put and not to leave the nest.
Are you bothered by society? Does the state of the nation perplex? Are aborted infants slaughtered and millions of minors flushed down toilets? Does the LGBT cause seem to burgeon, prosper or thrive? Are the accepted norms been daily banned or torn down? Do the godly lose their voice? Are you being or have you been wronged at work? Have some troubled or attacked you spitefully or malevolently? Has an old friend that you helped inexplicably turned turncoat? Is the result a broken heart? Do you not know where to turn? Panic not if you are the target of fiery darts! Wait, stand, trust - see Yahweh sees & Acts! Sooner or later he’ll answer your case with a blessed thunderbolt! And for any part you’ve played or any sin you’ve made run to hide in Christ.