To the choirmaster of David.
1 In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” 4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. 5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. 6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. 7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
Shaken, not Stirred
This Psalm is not too different from the lyrics of the award winning Scottish singer Emeli Sandé:
When the skies are grey and all the doors are closing
And the rising pressure makes it hard to breathe
When all I need’s a hand to stop the tears from falling
I will find him, I’ll find him next to me
What do we do when our foundations are shaken?
David does not give us much of a historical context for where this Psalm falls. He hints at arrows being “fitted…to the string”(v.2) and a sense of flight. We do not have a helpful superscript telling us it was a coup attempt like Psalm 3 with Absalom, or fleeing from Saul as in Psalm 57. However, it is not unlikely that he routinely faced physical, spiritual and even social threats during his life. It is precisely this lack of superscript that makes it a timeless treasure.
The psalm contains two basic sections: (1) the sense of despair (11:1–3); and (2) the restoration of confidence (11:4–7). Verses 2 and 3 most commentators place in quotation as statement from counselors. It is verses 1 and 4-7 that are David’s response. The sense of despair asks two questions 1. Where is our Foundation? And 2. Who is on the throne?
With everything going awry David’s counselors speak of this lack of any foundation. David’s response is a heartfelt praise in prayer to God. Though it feels like the foundations are shaking socially, economically, politically or even physically as he fears for his life, the sweet singer of praises of Israel confidently replies to his advisers, “The King, The LORD, is in residence, not in flight: his city ‘has foundations’ (v.4).”
The Psalmist has discovered that the biggest source of his stress and worry has come when he has not recognized that the King is in residence and enthroned. It is precisely when David sat on the throne of his life and tried to run his world that he became the very source of his own stress. Martin Luther once told his good friend and worry-wart Philip Melanchthon, “Let Philip cease to King” and let God reign.
It is precisely because we have other foundations than Christ and others sitting on the thrones of our life that we experience stress. There in the middle of our stress, God is both immanent, and therefore present with us in crisis, but also transcendent, and therefore in control of the apparent chaos of that crisis. It is this God who will not hide his face from us, even if we hide our face from him (Is 53:3)
Let us seek his face. Let us look for that unshakeable city “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)