“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…For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness, His countenance beholds the upright.” Psalm 11:3–7

It is probably the rule, rather than the exception, that believers have regularly felt restricted, threatened, and besieged by the world. Americans have been blessed to have lived in a land that has not generally persecuted Christians, but has cherished the doctrine of Individual Soul Liberty since its founding. Christians have been free to worship and witness. They have been free from despotic men. Do you realize how blessed you are to have been born here and to live your life here? Rarely has any nation celebrated Christianity and encouraged biblical Christianity to thrive within its borders.

Our generation may be witness to the closing of the window of freedom of conscience through which we have been able to enjoy the fresh, revivifying air of liberty. Voices from many quarters of society are calling for the throttling of freedom of speech and thought. Believers are feeling the effects of being crowded out by an increasingly godless society.

It is growing commonplace for Christians to quote and misapply our passage, “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” They tend to sigh wistfully as they speak. They seem to throw up their hands in despair. They opine that as our society walks away from God, dismantling what our founders sought to protect in our limited-government Constitution, believers must resign themselves to powerlessness in the face of increasing opposition. After all, isn’t this what Psalm 11:3 foretells? A closer look at the context is warranted because context is everything in interpretation.

The King James Version and the NKJV place quotation marks which tend to detract from what David was communicating. You will notice that the quotation marks are only used in verse one, but I think they should have begun in verse one and continued through to the end of verse 3. That generally seems to suit the context the best in clarifying the meaning of the whole Psalm.

Let me explain. David is the author of the psalm and was apparently in quite a tight spot. Two particular times are revealed in Scripture when he was surrounded by enemies. One was when he was in Saul’s court. Another was when he was being challenged by his own son, Absalom. The enemies sought his life and verse 2 talks about bow snipers lurking in the dark alleys of the city seeking an opportunity to shoot from the shadows and snuff out his life. The very foundations of society were moving under his feet and his life was hanging in the balance.

Right off the bat, David declares his intended message of the psalm. “In the LORD I put my trust.” His declaration sets the stage for the interpretation of the next two verses because He will counter the enemy message of “Run for the hills” with his reality of “I have asylum with God, looking for escape is not an option!” He puts his trust (“I take my refuge”) in the Lord Jehovah, the Covenant Keeping God. His unfaltering trust in the righteous God is why the solution of running for the hills cannot work. To his surprise his advisors are counseling a different tack.

They tell him him to be like a bird seeking escape. The word “flee” insinuates an aimless kind of wandering back and forth, fruitlessly flying among the wilderness wastes. They tell him to escape for two reasons.

First, his life is in danger. The wicked are visibly bending the bow to string it and then to use it to shoot secretly from the shadows at anyone who walks on the straight and level (the “upright” characterized by integrity). It is never a happy circumstance to know that you are being targeted!

The second reason is the feeling of hopelessness that pervades the times. The third verse contains the words of the treacherous, rather than the faith-filled. This certainly places a different emphasis in the meaning of, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The treachery is seen in magnifying the destruction and emphasizing the weakness of the righteous man. David actually quotes them as saying, “What can the righteous one do?” It is not a very big leap from seeing through the powerless righteous man to assuming His righteous God is powerless as well. These are never the words of faith, but of panic and despair. For this reason I believe the quotation marks should be place at the end of verse three.

The rest of David’s psalm, the meditation of his heart (and devotion for yours) is a declaration of the truth that though the society’s foundation is crumbling the true foundation can never be destroyed! As Isaiah declared, in the days of a similar situation (Isaiah 6:1ff), “The Lord is in His holy temple.” God’s throne is in heaven. Our hope is in the unchangeable God! His eyes see everything, scrutinizing all men, good and bad alike. He employs the metal smith’s artisanship in testing the righteous man, especially in the tough times.

David declares that treachery and the treacherous will come to a bitter end for they are enemies of the righteous One (Psalm 11:7). God loves righteous deeds, especially in the face of adversity! The righteous man will see His face! Fear not, be mighty in the Lord. Trust and obey.