Theme: Where Should We Look?
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
Where is he that they might look to him? The answer is: “in his holy temple” and “on his heavenly throne” (v. 4). Whenever we see the word “temple” in the Old Testament we tend to think of Solomon’s great gilded temple or the later temple of Herod which was in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus Christ. But that is not what David is thinking of here. For one thing, the temple had not been built in David’s time. It was built by Solomon. And although it is true that the word “temple” is sometimes used of the wilderness tabernacle, usually in retrospect by those who witnessed the later temples and saw the tabernacle as their forerunner, the context of Psalm 11 makes clear that David is thinking of the temple of God in heaven from which the Almighty looks down upon “the sons of men” to “examine them.”
The temple was associated with the holiness of God; the earthly temple (tabernacle) contained the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. When David looks to the Lord, who is “in his holy temple,” he is looking to the Lord as the moral standard by which the thoughts and intents, words and actions of all men and women will be judged.
Which leads to the second directional statement: “the LORD is on his heavenly throne.” The throne is the place from which God, the judge of the earth, renders judgment. So when David looks to the Lord on his throne, he is looking to him to render just judgment, much as he has done in other psalms we have studied.
This important upward look convinces David of three things, all having to do with God.
1. God is observing all that people do. “He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them,” says David. The words remind us of the well-known Anglican collect which speaks of him “before whom all hearts are open, all desires known.” Or we think of Proverbs 15:3, which says, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” When David speaks of God observing people, he is reminding himself of God’s omniscience. This is particularly apt in a psalm which began with a warning against those who “shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart” (v. 2). They hide so they might not be seen or known. But the all-seeing God does see them. Their deeds are as apparent to him as if they were performed in bright daylight.
2. God is examining the upright. The word “examine” (bahan) in verse 5 is the same word as in the preceding verse (“his eyes examine them”), though some versions translate them differently. This is because it can have two meanings. It can mean “try” or “test.” If the latter is the meaning, it would involve God’s testing of the righteous by the difficult times the first verses of the psalm describe. Craigie thinks along these lines when he says, “The testing of the righteous (v. 5a), though it might involve great hardship, would culminate in purity and the removal of dross.”3 Spurgeon thinks the same when he writes that God “refines the righteous with afflictions.”4 On the other hand, the word can mean “try” in the sense of inspecting and approving. Leupold holds to this view when he writes, “The Lord…finds them to be what they claim and aim to be…His divine approval rests upon them.”5
The two ideas may be related, of course. But there is little in the psalm to suggest that David here views the temptations of the righteous as a trial by which they are perfected. Rather the context is one of judgment, and the contrast with the wicked (in the second half of verse 5) suggests a trial in which the righteous are approved and the wicked condemned. The verse teaches that God not only sees people’s deeds, which is what verse four affirms, but that he also pronounced a verdict on them.
3. God is preparing his judgments for the wicked. They may be preparing to shoot at the righteous from the shadows. But the Lord will protect the righteous, and in the end the wicked will themselves be shot at and destroyed.
None of this is fantasizing or mere wishful thinking on David’s part. For when he refers to God raining down “fiery coals and burning sulfur” on the wicked, he is thinking of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by that means and thus reminding himself that God’s judgments do come though they may often be delayed. David may even be reminding us that God sometimes spares the wicked for the sake of the righteous, as he promised to do in the case of Sodom if only ten righteous persons could have been found there (Gen. 18:22).
What makes God’s justice significantly different from man’s justice?
As David looks upward to the Lord, what does he say that God is doing?
Application: Knowing that the Lord observes all that people do, and that even the deepest recesses of their hearts are laid open before him, what ought we to do in response to his holy omniscience?
3Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 134.
4C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 130.
5H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 127.