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Psalm 11

“To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. In the Lord put I my trust: How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, They make ready their arrow upon the string, That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. If the foundations be 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 try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous: But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, And an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright.” (Psalm 11, KJV 1900)

The Psalmist is advised, by friends or foes, to escape by flight from the inextricable difficulties in which he finds himself involved, ver. 1–3. This he refuses to do, as inconsistent with his faith in the righteousness and grace of God, ver. 4–7. The logical relation of these parts makes the form of the whole somewhat dramatic, although this peculiarity is much less marked than in the second psalm. The language is not so much that of an historical person as of an ideal sufferer, representing the whole class of persecuted innocents. There is no specific reference to any incidents in David’s life, although some of the images were probably suggested by his recollections, both of Saul’s persecution and of Absalom’s rebellion. The general resemblance of this psalm to that before it, and the special resemblance of ver. 2 to Ps. 10:8, 9, may account for its position in the Psalter. The very difficulties of this psalm are proofs of its antiquity and strong corroborations of the title, which ascribes it to David.

  1. To the chief musician, belonging to him as the performer, and to David, as the author. In Jehovah I have trusted, and do still trust. How will (or can) ye say to my soul, Flee (to) your mountain (as) a bird? The profession of confidence in God at the beginning is the ground of the following interrogation, which implies wonder and disapprobation. How can ye say so? really means, ye should not say so. The question seems to be addressed to timid or desponding friends, rather than to taunting and exulting enemies, as some suppose.—To my soul does not simply mean to me, but so as to affect my feelings. See above, on Ps. 3:3 (2). In the genuine text the verb flee is plural, because addressed to the whole class represented by the ideal sufferer in this case. Hence the frequent change of number throughout the psalm. See above, on Ps. 10:10. The exhortation to flee must be understood as implying that there is no longer any hope of safety.—To your mountain, as a customary place of refuge, not for birds, but for persecuted men. The comparison with a bird has no particular connection with this clause, but is a kind of after-thought, suggesting the idea of a solitary helpless fugitive. (Compare 1 Sam. 26:20, and Lam. 3:52). There may be an allusion to the words of the angel in Gen. 19:17, as there certainly is to one or both these places in our Lord’s exhortation to his followers, Matt. 24:16.

  2. For lo, the wicked will tread (i.e. bend) the bow; they have fixed their arrow on the string, to shoot in darkness at the straightforward (upright) of heart. These are still the words of the advisers introduced in the preceding verse, assigning a reason for the advice there given.—Tread the bow; see above, on Ps. 7:13 (12). Will tread, are about to tread, are treading. The preterite which follows refers to a later point of time. The speakers are supposed to describe what they see actually passing. “They are bending the bow, (and now) they have fixed the arrow on the string.” The graphic vividness of the description is impaired, if not destroyed, by giving both the verbs a present form.—Fixed, i.e. in its proper place. The same verb occurs above, in Ps. 7:13 (12). Make ready is too vague in the case before us.—In darkness, in the dark, in secret, treacherously. See above, Ps. 10:8. 9.—The straight of heart, the upright and sincere. We do not use the adjective in this sense; but we have the cognate substantive, rectitude, which properly means straightness.

  3. For the pillars (or foundations) will be (are about to be) destroyed: what has the righteous done, i.e. accomplished? The pillars or foundations are those of social order or society itself. These are said to be destroyed, when truth and righteousness prevail no longer, but the intercourse of men is governed by mere selfishness. The question in the last clause implies that the righteous has effected nothing, in opposition to the prevalent iniquity. The past tense represents this as a matter of actual experience, but as one which still continues. The substitution of any other form in the translation is gratuitous and ungrammatical. The true relation of the tenses is correctly given in the Prayer Book Version. For the foundations will be cast down, and what hath the righteous done?

  4. Jehovah (is) in his palace (or temple) of holiness; Jehovah (or as to Jehovah), in the heavens (is) his throne. His eyes behold, his eyelids prove the sons of men. He is so exalted that he can see, and so holy that he must see and judge the conduct of his creatures. By an equally grammatical but less natural construction, the whole verse may be thrown into a single proposition. “Jehovah in his holy temple, Jehovah whose throne is in heaven, his eyes,” &c.—For the meaning of the word translated temple, see above on Ps. 5:8 (7).—Eyelids are mentioned as a poetical parallel to eyes, being the nearest equivalent afforded by the language.—Try or prove, as if by seeing through them. With the whole verse compare Ps. 102:20 (19).

  5. Jehovah the righteous will prove, will prove the righteous, and the wicked and the lover of violence his soul hates. The sentence might also be divided thus: Jehovah will prove the righteous and the wicked, and the lover of violence his soul hates. Different from both is the masoretic interpunction, which seems, however to be rather musical than grammatical or logical.—The divine proof or trial of the righteous implies favor and approval like the knowledge spoken of in Ps. 1:6; but in neither case is it expressed. Violence, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty. See above, on Ps. 7:17 (16). His soul has hated and still hates. This is not simply equivalent to he hates, but denotes a cordial hatred. Odit ex animo. He hates with all his heart.

  6. He will rain on wicked (men) snares, fire and brimstone, and a raging wind, the portion of their cup. The mixed metaphors shew that the whole description is a tropical one, in which the strongest figures elsewhere used, to signify destruction as an effect of the divine wrath, are combined. Rain is a natural and common figure for any copious communication from above, whether of good or evil. Snares are a favorite metaphor of David for inextricable difficulties. See above, 7:16 (15), 9:16 (15), 10:9.—Fire and brimstone are familiar types of sudden and complete destruction, with constant reference to the great historical example of Sodom and Gomorrah. See Gen. 19:24, and compare Ezek. 38:22, Job 18:16.—Raging wind, literally wind (or blast) of furies, is another natural but independent emblem of sudden irresistible inflictions. The second Hebrew word is elsewhere used for strong indignation (Ps. 119:53), and is once applied to the ragings (or ravages) of famine. (Lam. 5:10.)—The portion of their cup, or their cup-portion, something measured out for them to drink, according to the frequent Scriptural representation, both of God’s wrath and favor, as a draught, or as the cup containing it. Compare Ps. 16:5, 23:5, with Mat. 20:22, 23, 26:39. The meaning of the whole verse is that, notwithstanding the present security of the ungodly, they shall, sooner or later, be abundantly visited with every variety of destructive judgment.

  7. For righteous (is) Jehovah; righteousness he loves; the upright (man) shall his face behold. The 'for' suggests the intimate connection between God’s judgment on the wicked and his favor to the righteous. The second clause is a necessary inference from the first. The nature of God determines his judgments and his acts. He who is righteous in himself cannot but approve of righteousness in others. The righteousness of others is in fact nothing more than conformity to his will and nature. Nor does he merely approve of righteousness in the abstract; he rewards it in the person of the righteous man. This idea is expressed in the last clause, which admits of the several constructions. It may mean that the upright shall behold his face, i.e. enjoy his favorable presence, as in Ps. 17:15. But the collocation of the singular noun and the plural verb, with the analogy of ver. 4 above, is in favour of a different construction: his face shall behold (or does behold) the righteous, i.e. view them with favor and affection. Because the original expression is not properly his face, but their face or faces, Luther explains this as a reason why God loves the righteous, to wit, because their faces look upon (the) right, or that which is right. Another construction, founded on the same fact, is, the righteous shall behold (it with) their faces. It is better, however, to regard this as an instance of that remarkable idiom in Hebrew, which applies to the One True God, verbs, nouns, and pronouns in the plural, and which some explain as a pluralis majestaticus, like that employed by kings at present, and others as a form of speech transferred from polytheism to the true religion. Most probably, however, it was intended to express the fulness of perfection in the divine nature, not without a mystical allusion to the personal distinction in the Godhead. The most remarkable examples of this usage may be found in Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, Job. 35:10, Ps. 58:12, Eccles. 12:1, Isa. 6:8, 54:6.—The face is here, like the eyelids in ver. 4, a poetical equivalent to eyes, and the same parallelism reappears in Ps. 34:16, 17 (15, 16): “the eyes of Jehovah (are) towards the righteous;” “the face of Jehovah (is) against evil-doers.”[1]


[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 52–55). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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