In the ancient days of Israel, the courageous King David had to endure what some leaders still face today, back-seat drivers frightened by enemies who don’t fight fairly.
Since every leader faces this situation, whether in government, business or the home, David’s example of leadership can provide insight and courage.
Psalm 11 – For the choir director. A Psalm of David.1
In the LORD I take refuge;
How can you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain; for, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; The upright will behold His face.
Arrows in the darkness
There are always those who release their arrows of slander and malicious accusations through indirect means. They refuse to bring their concerns and charges before the upright face-to-face and in the full light of day. They hope to get their way by fomenting discord and undermining support for those who try to honor God while avoiding personal accountability for their statements. They take advantage of the fact that when there is crisis and panic, the crowd can be manipulated to do things it wouldn’t in more reasonable situations. The Pharisees operated this way to get Jesus crucified. Such people are still with us, in business, in government, and, yes, in the church. Psalm 11 refers to them as people who shoot their arrows in the cover of darkness.
We see their work today in the United States. The foundations of the rule of law and a Judeo-Christian world view have been replaced. We have leaders who have undermined them through deceptive manipulations and boast of their accomplishement. They sabotage crucial Biblical teaching in classrooms and courtrooms of the nation while hiding behind cries of academic freedom and separation of church and state that are meant to deflect attention from their own rebellion against God. They cripple logical and open debate by warping the meaning of words and crying that since the idea of absolute truth is elusive to them, there can be no appeal to it. They mock the very concept of ultimate moral accountability to God.
Years ago these so-called progressives were bolstered by the headlines in Time magazine declaring that “God is Dead.” The pronouncement reflected the widespread hope that mankind was at last freed from moral accountability. It reminds me of Solomon’s comment that fools mock at sin2 as well as these words of David:
“Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; There is no fear of God before his eyes. For it flatters him in his own eyes Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it. The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit; He has ceased to be wise and to do good.” ( Psalm 36:1-3 NASB95)
In Psalm 11 King David’s advisers were worried that if devious and powerful enemies succeeded in undermining society’s respect for Godly principles and leaders who espoused them (“the foundations are destroyed”), the righteous would have no influence or effectiveness. We too might lament with them, “What can the righteous do?”
Should we yearn for the past as some insist?
The King’s advisers recommended retreat. Since David had prior success at surviving attack among the caves of the mountains, their advice was to go back there, take refuge in familiar surroundings. Similarly today some seek refuge in the hazy mirage of past days that seem more safe and comfortable. These folks decry our leader’s departure from the past and attempt to stir people to political and social action in the hopes of returning society to a time that seemed more “Christian.” But not only is that impossible, it is not advisable.
A central fact of this Psalm is that God has things in hand. The enemies of righteousness will face His judgment. Individuals as well as nations can always repent and receive mercy from God, but if not, there is no escape. The image in the Psalm of those who reject God being served a cup full of “fire and brimstone and burning wind” is one of circumstances just before the second revelation of Christ to the world. It also conveys a confidence that God brings to ruin, even now, individuals and nations who utterly reject His truth and His loving-kindness.
The clock cannot be turned back. Current battles are always fought in a different climate than ones of the past. The issues may be similar, the place familiar, but the circumstances are new. We must accept that human history is marching, not backward, but forward toward an appointment with the living God. So we must not be tempted to look for solutions to today’s evil in the transformation of society according to some image of the past, but only in what will happen at that divine future appointment.
God hasn’t left the building yet
David refused to retreat to the mountains, to shrink back into the trappings of yesteryear. His advisers had forgotten that even when David lived among the caves, it was God who protected him. But David knew it well. That’s why his opening and closing words of this song state his utter confidence in God. In saying that the Lord is still in His temple, he expressed his confidence that God was still around; He was still in charge. God was still working out His plan to establish righteousness and the righteous and still is today.
He has perfect eyesight too
The phrase “His eyelids test the sons of men” paint a picture of a judge squinting in careful examination. Every act of mankind will face careful account. Nothing is hidden from God. “This bold anthropomorphism stresses the precise omniscience of God.”3 He tries men to see what is in their heart; those who foment violence will be violently destroyed. Rest assured they will meet destruction by God’s action. Of course we don’t like the prospect of having to suffer in the fallout from their ruin.
Let’s face the future by trusting God today
What is David’s message to us? Like David, we must let God handle our situation His way. The people of God’s church need to accept that we are not of this world; we are aliens. We are called righteous only because we have appealed to God for grace to be declared righteous through Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and in grateful respect, seek to behave like Him.
Our task is to demonstrate God’s love through righteous behavior that, like Christ, sacrificially cares for those around us no matter what their economic status, their culture, race or anything else about them. Our purpose is to be used by God to present His Son to the world, to gracefully expose evil with the light of God’s truth and to gather those whom God has chosen into His family. Though the world bristles at our certainty, we are, in fact, it’s last hope to hear the message that reconciliation with God is possible. We are the last hope before that final appointment.
While we are about this task, let’s remember, as David did, that God is our only refuge. We must yearn, not for the past, not for more comfortable circumstances, but for God’s presence in our lives. (“The upright will behold His face”). Let’s consider the words of the Apostle Peter as our marching orders:
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”( 1 Peter 1:13-16 NASB95)
- New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. [↩]
- Proverbs 14:9 [↩]
- John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, 1:800 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985). [↩]