“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.” (vs 1-7)
A young man came to see me one day, troubled and confused. Both his parents had passed away and the care of his younger brother and sister had fallen to him. He’d done his best for them, but they had to move several times, mostly into run-down housing, tiny apartments. They had given up friends and struggled to make new ones. Then one day his boss laid him off work and now they faced financial uncertainty. Some people suffer more than their share of discouragements and feel beaten down by life. Perhaps some of us feel that way as the current pandemic causes havoc in our lives. We aren’t the first.
King David led a victorious life, but he faced many discouragements too. His predecessor, Saul, chased him like a fugitive, causing him to hide like an animal in the wilderness. Later, David’s son Absalom schemed to take over the throne and succeeded temporarily. When David was forced to flee Jerusalem, old friends stuck with him, but others threw rocks! I’m sure he wondered what horrible thing he had done to Absalom that motivated him to rebel as he did. As David found out, leadership brings with it people who are anxious to bring you down. Critics seem to multiply, taking aim at all you do – like an arrow in the heart.
David wrote Psalm 11 to comfort us when we are discouraged. It’s short and powerful. He said, “For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart” (v2). He’d felt those arrows and they hurt! No matter what good thing he did for the people, there was always somebody ready to fire off another arrow. It gave him a sinking feeling. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (v3) Sometimes the supports in life seem to disappear, like it did for that young man who came to see me.
David had many good advisors, but this time they told him to “Flee as a bird to your mountain!” Get out of town and hide yourself! Haven’t we all felt that way when troubles grind away at us? It seems easier to run away than stand and fight.
I’ll never forget a drive we took into the foothills of Alberta, close to the Rocky Mountains. It’s cowboy country with lots of open land. Swooping down from high hills, bald eagles soar overhead. If anything frightens them, they just fly back into the mountains, out of reach. That’s what some people want to do when times get tough. But it seemed incredible to David that this should be the answer, so he refused the advice. In the very first phrase of the Psalm he declared his intentions: “In the Lord I take refuge.” There’s a sense of indignation in his statement; no way will I cop out! I’m not going to run!
The psalm gives us a better tactic: remember where God is and the way He works. “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (v4). The temple was the place where Israel met with God. They looked to it for strength and even prayed in its direction when in foreign lands. In a sense, the real temple is in heaven. It’s unshakable, reliable, available because God’s throne is there. He still reigns, even if our troubled lives make us feel otherwise.
From heaven “God’s eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men” (v4). The thought seems to be God’s concentrated vision from eyes that look like slits, scrutinizing the wicked, testing all men. He knows who is righteous and who is violent. The former He blesses; upon the latter He rains “snares, fire and brimstone and burning wind” (v6). Those who unjustly point their fingers and fire their arrows at the righteous are often consumed with their own troubles.
David trusted that God would set things right, that answers to human dilemmas would be found, and that discouragements would recede. Do we trust He will work that into our difficult lives?
David gives us one final thought: “For the Lord is righteous; He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (v7). To look upon the face of God is a wonderful privilege. Here in the psalm it speaks of knowing God, of trust and intimacy. We don’t need to run away when we are discouraged by life’s troubles, or when the arrows fly. We take refuge in God. Don’t let discouragements cause you to forget to look at Him. He’ll look back with compassion.
Isn’t that what people saw in Jesus? Whole crowds came to Him “…bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, dumb, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them” (Matt.15:30). This is a picture of God welcoming people who trust Him.
That’s what David learned to do when so much was against him. He advises that we do the same.