“In the Lord I Take Refuge” (Psalm 11)

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1 In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, 2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; 3 if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” 4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. 5 The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. 6 Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7 For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11)

No matter which generation we come from, we’ve all heard our share of doomsday theorists calling us to run and hide. I remember when I first heard about Y2K. Even some in the mainstream media warned us about the “Y2K millennium bug,” which would create panic as older computer programs would be unable to distinguish the years 2000 and following from 1900-1999. We were told that national and international computer systems would collapse, and that banks, government, utilities, and essential businesses would shut down, leaving us essentially “in the dark” as we began the new millennium. But Y2K came and went, and all was well.

This once-serious concern almost seems embarrassing today. Yet, in more recent days, we’ve heard about the threatening possibility of economic collapse, martial law, mass starvation, forced immunization, and so on. The temptation is still to turn and run! This leads us to ask: What should we do when tempted to do so? Psalm 11 helps us answer that question with overwhelming clarity.

Scholars are unsure about the historical setting of this Psalm. David may have written it during his experience with either King Saul or his own rebellious son, Absalom, or another, unknown incident. But we do know that David was often in danger.

There were times when David stood his ground, and times where fleeing was wiser than fighting. David fled Saul’s court, and hid in the wilderness for several years. Even during Absalom’s rebellion, David took refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Both of these proved to be wise moves. However, during the unknown crisis described in this psalm, David did not run from his post but remained on duty, trusting the Lord to protect him as his refuge.

All of us face moments of fear in which we are tempted to simply run away from the trouble. It is in these moments that  Scripture calls us to hide ourselves in God. Only God can offer true refuge from life’s dangers and the misery of our sin. Whatever our crisis may be, the psalm teaches us that we must choose between fear and faith; timidity and trust; listening to mere human counsel, and obeying the Lord’s wisdom. 

David’s Trust

“In the Lord I take refuge.” (Psalm 11:1a)

David begins this Psalm with a declaration of his trust in God: “In the LORD I take refuge.” As he had done throughout his life, David fled to God as his fortress of protection as he faced this crisis. David didn’t look to others or even himself, but he placed his trust exclusively in the Lord.

What is trust? Author Jerry Bridges provides an excellent definition: “Trust is not a passive state of mind—it is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.”

Trusting God means that…

LIFE MAY NOT GO THE WAY YOU WANT IT TO

Some have the false belief that following Christ entitles them to a problem-free life. And if they do have problems, they think either they don’t have enough faith, or God is not keeping up his end of the bargain. But the Bible firmly contradicts that false belief: “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). It’s not a matter of if, but when. Many godly people both in the Bible and in church history suffered tremendously. Issac Watts asks,

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?

GOD DOES NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE

God didn’t answer Job when he essentially asked “Why me?” We can get into trouble when we persist in asking, “Why me?” “Why this?” “Why now?” “Why not them?” (see Psalm 73). We can wrestle honestly with our emotions before God, but mature trust in God teaches us to ask other questions: “Lord, what are you trying to teach me?” “Lord, how can this trial make me more like Jesus?” “Lord, how can I draw closer to you during this trial.” “Lord, how can I comfort others during my trial?”

YOUR PAIN HAS A PURPOSE

Your pain is not pointless; your misery is not meaningless. The pain and suffering of God’s people has a purpose. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “Our light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.” In other words, God will use our pain to prepare, to bring about, and produce something beautiful in our lives that we can gain in no other way.

When pain comes into your life, don’t say that it is meaningless. It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Our earthly pain produces eternal gain. Jerry Bridges writes,

That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and he brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for his glory and our good.

WE REMEMBER GOD’S CHARACTER NEVER CHANGES

I remember, when my kids were little, I would stand them up on the kitchen counter and they would fall or jump into my arms. The first few times they tried it they were terrified! They were afraid that I wouldn’t catch them. But for all three of my children, I never once missed them. The time came when they were no longer scared, because they knew I wouldn’t let them fall. This is why David could trust in the Lord. God had proved to be his refuge time and time again. How do I grow in trusting God? By actively calling to mind His faithful, steadfast character.

David’s Temptation (vv. 1b-3)

“…how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’” (Psalm 11:1b-3)

Apparently, David was surrounded by people who advised him to leave Jerusalem and escape the upcoming danger. In response, he said to them, “How can you say to me: Flee like a bird to your mountain?” David’s counselors looked with terror at the wicked who were bending their bows and setting their arrows to shoot at them. In today’s language, David’s counselors would say, “Look! There is a loaded gun pointed at your head, and you have to run!” They saw enemies lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to spring their deadly ambush upon David (vs. 2). In the face of this danger, David’s supporters were fearful, saying, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (vs. 3). “Foundations” here is a metaphor for social order—it could refer to people, or the principles of justice upon which Israel was founded. “Destroyed” describes the turbulent upheaval of the moral values and civil order of their day. These advisers could no longer live in a culture in which evil prevailed, and thus their counsel to David was to run and hide from the danger.

Are you ever tempted to run? The foundations, the social order of our culture, is eroding, and the temptation to run and hide is strong at times. But the next few verses give us a perspective that will encourage us to trust God just as David did.

David’s Triumph (vv. 4-7)

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.(Psalm 11:4-7)

In David’s reply to his fearful followers, he helps them to redirect their focus to the Lord. He did this by reminding them of four things:

DAVID REMINDS THEM OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

“The LORD is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (v. 4)

The physical tabernacle was a constant reminder of God’s presence among his people. One could simply look at the temple to know that God was with his people. David is saying here that the presence of God has not moved from the temple. Furthermore, God was still upon his throne, ruling and reigning over the painful trial they were experiencing. Nothing is out of control—because God is in control! David’s advisors asked: What can the righteous do? But in reality that’s the wrong question. The right question is: “What can’t the righteous do since God is still on his throne?”

This is not to suggest that God is unconcerned by what we face; rather, He is not overwhelmed or panicked by what overwhelms us. Instead, God remains unshaken and eternally in power. Not once has God ever wrung His hands or paced the “floor of heaven” in a panic. In spite of pandemics and economic depression, God is still in control! In the midst of social distancing and face masks, God is still on the throne! Psalm 75:3 reminds us of this truth with overwhelming certainty: “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.”

DAVID REMINDS THEM OF GOD’S SCRUTINY

“His eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous,” (Psalm 11: 4b-5a) 

God sees all that people do; their deeds are apparent to Him. As Proverbs 15:3 reminds us: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” Because it seems that the wicked get away with so much, we often forget this reality. By forgetting that God is watching, we may think that He does not know what the wicked world is doing. But the next section of Scripture puts that misconception to rest.

DAVID REMINDS THEM OF GOD’S SEVERITY

“but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup” (Psalm 11:5b-6) 

Don’t lose hope because you see the evildoers of this world appearing to succeed. In time they will fall in judgment. God will not allow them to go on without punishment. But what does He have planned for His own people? The final verse answers that question.

DAVID REMINDS THEM OF GOD’S SUPPORT OF THE RIGHTEOUS

For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” (Psalm 11:7) 

This is the Christian hope: seeing the face of God. But there is a greater depth implied in these words: our ability to see God’s face. Remember, God said to Moses, “You cannot see my face; for no man shall see me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). No human can be in God’s presence and see Him for who He is. But there is a great promise given to us through Christ: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).”

Travis Johnson
Travis Johnson is Lead Pastor of the Findlay Bible Methodist Church.