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. (Psalm 11:3–4—NKJV)

There are many events which can shake the very foundations of society, let alone the foundation of one’s individual life. The loss of a job, the diagnosis of a humanly unconquerable disease, the prevailing winds of societal decay, or the devolution of a life, a world, and a legacy which was sacrificially, faithfully, and carefully compiled and guarded, are all game-changers.

In David’s world, our verses bespeak the large picture of a world in which the foundations of national society were crumbling. He was being hunted down by bloodthirsty King Saul. He who loved his God and his country was being pursued as an enemy of the state. Any society’s cohesive underpinnings gain true durability in morality, a morality that is informed by solid character, and that character can only be shaped by faith. Remove faith and all the superstructure will divide and crumble. That is the way of man, and that is the way of sin.

The Psalm is divided into two parts:

  1. David is given cowardly advice to flee from treacherous foes (vs. 1–3).
  2. David takes refuge in the deeds of the eternally righteous God (vs. 4–7).

There are powerful lessons and applications for all men found in this short psalm.

David’s foundational principle is stated in the first phrase, “In the LORD I put my trust.” Once this directive is established, then all other thoughts and actions take secondary consideration. Saving faith is like that. To trust Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of His life in the sinner’s stead, and to fully rest all of one’s soul-welfare upon Him as the object of faith, is the Holy Spirit’s work as He bestows new birth (John 3:1–16). This faith is what allows David to see through the feckless advice given by, what appears to be, well meaning individuals. In the face of treacherous, and very personal, enemies they advise him to flee to the mountains (where the forests were in Israel). Take wing like a bird and flit to a safe harbor, while the light lasts and before the dusk sets in, far away from the searching arrows of the hunter—already strung in the bent bow, aimed for his vitals, and for his life. Evil always hates uprightness and will seek to destroy it, firing from the shadows.

While there are times to flee, as the Lord commands the faithful Jewish believers during the Tribulation (Matthew 24:16), He more often calls His believers to make a stand (Ephesians 6:13). This is the tack that David takes here in Psalm 11, and with good reason, as we are about to see.

The rest of the psalm explains David’s actions. His actions are known from biblical history. First, he remembers God’s Demeanor (v. 4). God is Sovereign, but not remote. He is transcendent and eminent, and yet intrusive. God’s throne is in the heavens, far from the tainting influences of mankind, while He closely monitors the affairs of men. He is ever present. Nothing escapes His notice, or His reckoning. The term “eyelids” is indicative of His glancing and piercing gaze. God inspects. God’s standard of morality cannot be subjected to endless debates of “fairness.” He holds court 24/7 on all activities of every individual, mortal man.

Second, he remembers God’s Dealings (v. 5). He states that God “seeks out” (the activity of a metal smith in his artistry) the righteous but hates (illustrates vigor in opposition) the lovers of violence. One of the defining differences between the fruit of righteousness and the fruit of evil is the ease with which one incites and can be incited to violence. Evil violence is always “sharp and blunt,” (to use the terms employed by Leupold in his commentary). Saul’s kingship was characterized by evil violence upon the innocent.

Third, David observes God’s Deeds (v. 6). God always sets the record right. “Coals” is literally “slings,” meaning snares that catch, impede, and entangle. The lot of the wicked is sulfurous fire and scorching wind that will shrivel and consume.

Finally, he remembers God’s Devotion (v. 7). God is the standard of righteousness and He is keenly drawn to it wherever it appears. The psalm ends with the promise that the upright (straight and level) will behold His face, implying deliverance from adversity, close communion, and obtaining the real blessings of being in God’s presence.

“What can the righteous do?” The Hebrew structure of verse 3 is literally, “the righteous, what can he do?” The answer is in the question. Strengthen your resolve to pursue righteousness, for that is where the blessing of God resides. Forevermore be a lover of truth. In these dangerous times know God through Jesus Christ and love only what He loves. Trust and obey.