“In the LORD I put my trust; how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain?’…If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:1–7

Some terrible trial had befallen David, God’s anointed King of Israel. His advisors are busy counseling him that the situation is all but lost, the enemy is closing in, and his life is in mortal danger. They encourage him to take steps of last resort, telling him to run for the hills. Hope for escape is quickly fading.

Throughout time, those who have trusted in the true God of heaven have been persecuted because of their faith. The prospect of threatened destruction of the good and the innocent has prompted many a heart to consider the option of running for the hills. The pages of Scripture and church history are filled with the names of believers who have refused to run and have taken their place among the heroes of the faith. There are many other believers who have chosen to pull up stakes and move. Our great nation was founded by descendants of such men and women. What biblical parameters are there that can assist a believer to discern God’s leading in these situations?

A quick review of the Bible identifies several passages where the option of running for the hills is considered. Luke 21:20ff records prophecy of our Lord concerning the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. He plainly tells those who are believers to run and escape because this is a terrible event at the beginning of the Dispensation of the Gentiles. Matthew 24:15ff records a similar sounding instruction from our Lord but it is tied to Daniel’s prophecy concerning the Abomination of Desolation which indicates the end of the Dispensation of the Gentiles. He once again tells believers to run from the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Another passage speaking of the same prophetical time is Revelation 12:5f telling of the Tribulation era saints running into the wilderness to escape Satan’s attempt to destroy the Jews. One last instance of running for the hills is found in Revelation 6:15ff where the ungodly in the Tribulation futilely seek to escape the wrath of God that is unleashed on the earth with the breaking of the sixth seal.

There is a time to run and there is a time to stay put. What gave David the courage to “stay by the stuff” and not run? Lest you think that his day was different than ours, take note of the provoking words of verse 3 in Psalm 11. The Hebrew words are notoriously difficult to discern in translation, and I believe when God authored texts such as this, He has stored away in the words themselves the multilayers of instruction He wants us to heed.

It may well be that the words reflect the faithless counselors declaring to David, “Run, because if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Obviously, once the foundation of a defensive tower is destroyed by earthquake then the tower is bound to crumble and all within will die. Similarly, if the foundation upon which society, order, and law depends is made unstable then society, law, and order will collapse under their own weight.

So, the logical question posed is, “What can the righteous do?” This sentence is where the translators have their field day. The text can be translated the following ways, each with a rich, thought-provoking layer: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the Righteous One do?” (a faithless question); “When the foundations are destroyed, what has the righteous one accomplished?” (a discouraging question); or “For the foundations are destroyed, what has the righteous one done?” (a productive question).

I am not all that sure we should automatically think the faithless counselors are the ones speaking in verse 3. It may well be David’s question arising from his resolve to stand right where he was, especially if it is a question of what God can do, which he quickly answers with the rest of the psalm. He will teach us that the decision to stay or to flee cannot be made without a healthy view of God and a foundational sense of hope resting in God alone.

Each verse of the psalm expresses a different ingredient to David’s confidence, hope, and final decision to remain where he was. His senses were filled with seven truths:

  • God’s reality in verse 1. God is David’s real refuge and trust.
  • God’s indignation in verse 2. The wicked cannot set his sights on the destruction of the Lord’s beloved, the upright (integrity) in heart, without God taking notice though they shoot from the shadows.
  • David’s mission and purpose is paired with God’s purpose for him in verse 3. This is the crucial and key concept that answers the question “Should I make a run for the hills?”
  • God’s Excellencies are majestic in verse 4. This verse is full of trust in God’s power.
  • God’s nature in verse 5. God has no affinity for evil or evil ones; they repel Him.
  • God’s justice prevails in verse 6. God will set the injustice right, do not doubt it.
  • God’s loyalty in verse 7. God is righteous, He loves righteousness, and the righteous are in audience with Him (meaning God delivers His own, they have close communion with Him, and they daily live in His blessed presence.

You cannot discern God’s direction about “running for the hills” without a vibrant, living, informed faith and a humble, obedient heart. Trust and obey.