Theme: Faith’s Response to Fear’s Counsel
In this week’s lessons we see how David dealt with injustice, and learn of our own need to find our refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
Scripture: Psalm 11:1-7
Psalm 11 contains faith’s response to fear’s counsel. The psalmist is in danger, and either his friends or enemies are advising him to take refuge in flight. “Flee to the mountains,” they say. But he refutes their advice, asserting that his true refuge is in God.
In the midst of this psalm, probably as a despairing question asked by David’s fearful but well-meaning friends, we have a classic question. You have probably heard it many times: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do” (v. 3)? Fifty years ago the great Bible teacher Arno C. Gaebelein called this “the burning question of our day.”1 But if that was so in 1939, when his study was copyrighted, it is a thousand times more true today. What shall we do when the laws are not upheld, when morality is undermined and evil sweeps on unchecked? What shall we do when the Bible is undermined, its teachings disregarded, and even churchmen seem to support the rising tide of secularism? What can we do when everything about us seems to be giving way? Some counsel hiding. David’s response is to take refuge in the Lord, and it is this we must consider.
Was there a situation in David’s life that fits this psalm? There are two possibilities: first, the years in which David was opposed by King Saul; and, second, the time of his flight from Absalom. Charles Simeon and Charles Haddon Spurgeon suggest the first possibility. Franz Delitzsch prefers the second. Neither of these really fits, however, since in both cases David actually fled to the mountains rather than resisting the advice of his friends to do so. Probably we cannot fix upon a single appropriate setting in David’s life. Yet this is not bad, because it opens the possibility of interpreting the psalm more broadly.
There are three parts to the psalm: 1) verses 1-3 describe the temptation David faced; 2) verses 4-6 describe his reaction to it; and 3) verse 7, the last verse of the psalm, describes the result.
As I say, we do not know what this particular crisis in David’s life was, but the nature of the crisis is made clear enough by the image of hidden enemies and the advice of his friends to flee to the mountain strongholds. We would say, “Your enemies are lying in wait for you. You won’t even see the blow coming. The best thing you can do is get out of their reach for the time being.”
The most intriguing thing about the opening stanza of this poem (vv. 1-3) is the classic question: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It is intriguing because it is a question the righteous have asked again and again in bad times because it is hard to find a good answer. In times of stable government or strong faith the righteous appeal to the law or to established standards of faith and morality. But in bad times these do not exist, and “What shall I do?” becomes a big question.
What times in David’s life have been suggested for the context of this psalm? Why might neither of them be the actual setting?
If you were going to teach this psalm for a Sunday school class or group Bible study, how would you outline it? What applications would you make from it?
1Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 57. Originally published in 1939.