George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 11

1. Structure

David and his enemies
Jehovah deals with the situation

2. Subscription

Sheminith (the “eighth”: a possible reference to circumcision? cp. Psalm 5) seems most likely to refer to the men’s choir in the temple: 1 Chron. 15:21. There may be a link with v. 4, but apart from this there seems to be no special reason for the psalm label.

The “eighth” may also imply association with certain especially solemn seasons of worship — on the eighth day (Lev. 23:36; Num. 29:35; Neh. 8:18).

3. Historical setting

Only two details help this identification:

v. 1:
David’s flight.
v. 4:
A “temple” of the Lord appears to be in existence; this must refer to some time in the reign of David after 2 Samuel 6.

The best possibility appears to be reference to Absalom’s rebellion, when flight from Jerusalem seemed to be the only option (2 Sam. 15:13,14). (If heykal, i.e. temple, means simply dwelling — a possible but not very likely meaning — then the reference could more simply be to heaven itself. In that case, the early wilderness years of David could just as well fit the historical context.)

The “foundations” (v. 3) of the nation — Kingship and Priesthood, Jachin and Boaz — were tottering. David attempted to maintain the influence of the latter by sending ark and high priests back into Jerusalem (Psa. 11:4; 2 Sam. 15:25-29). But the salvaging of the situation is really in God’s hands (vv. 4-7).

Alternatively, v. 3 may mean: ‘You, David, are the foundation of our nation. If anything happens to you, what will happen to our righteous cause?’ For this, compare 2 Samuel 18:3.

4. Allusions to Sodom

Flee as a bird to your mountains echoes Gen. 19:14,16-22.
Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest. “Rain snares” does not sound right. The smallest possible correction turns the noun into hot coals (NEB; AV mg.; cp. Gen. 19:24,28). Thus Sodom serves as a vivid example of sudden and irremediable divine judgment (Luke 17:28-32; 2 Pet. 2:6-9; Jude 7). (Also a possible allusion to Romans 12:20?)

5. Messianic fulfillment

The rejection of Jesus by his people corresponds to the rebellion against the authority of David (see the many details in Whittaker, Studies in the Gospels, pp. 730-732). As Lot and his family were saved from Sodom, so also the believers were saved from doomed Jerusalem: Luke 21:20,21. And as Sodom was desolated by fire, so also was Jerusalem. But that judgment and that escape will be repeated on a vaster scale in the Last Days: Luke 17:26-33; 2 Pet. 2:6-9; Isa. 26:19-21; Ezek. 38:22.

6. Other details

Put I my trust signifies to flee for refuge, as to a strong tower (Prov. 18:10).

Trust in the Lord, not in the mountains. Compare the antithesis in Psa. 121:1; see also Luke 13:31,32, where Jesus rejected similar “well-meaning” advice. The advice here (vv. 1b-3) seems well-meaning, but it is ill-founded, like Peter’s to Jesus in Matt. 16:22 and the brethren’s to Paul in Acts 21:12.
The wicked bend their bow. The same figure appears in Psa. 64:3,4, related to character assassination.

Privily. Heb. “in darkness” (AV mg.). “From the shadows” (NIV).
The foundations of God’s world are used as a figure of His solid and sure purpose with Israel (Isa. 51:13; cp. also Heb. 11:10). LXX reads: “What thou didst establish (as perfect), they have thrown down.” According to Paul, God’s purpose with the saints also rests on a sure foundation, having the guarantee that “the Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19). So, no matter what men might do for the moment, God is ultimately in control, and His judgment will at the last right all wrongs. In this profound sense, the true “foundations” can never really be undermined or destroyed (Booker, Biblical Fellowship, pp. 79,80).
The Lord is in his holy temple. The context seems to equate God’s temple with heaven itself (see Par. 3 above). But not a few Scriptures read, the other way round, as though the Holy of Holies was spoken of as “heaven”, being God’s dwelling place in the midst of His people (1 Kings 8:30,33; 2 Chron. 30:27; Psa. 20:2,6; Heb. 7:26; cp. 2 Chron. 7:1 with Lev. 9:24). Also, katapetasma, the veil, is a word which means ‘a thing spread out’: the exact equivalent of firmament: cp. also Jer. 17:12. Hab. 2:20 quotes v. 4a in precisely this sense.

His eyes behold. Ezek. 1:18,20. What a contrast with Psa. 10:4,11,13! In a like figure, Christ “the Word of God” can search the inner man, because “all things are naked and open [dissected, like a sacrifice on the altar] unto his eyes” (Heb. 4:12,13; cp. Rev. 1:14).

His eyelids try. The squinting, or contracting, of the eyes suggest close scrutiny.
Tempest. Hebrew ruach = also, the Spirit: s.w. Isa. 30:33.

The portion of their cup: contrast Psa. 16:5. The “cup” = that which a man receives from God. In the sense of judgment, see 75:8; Jer. 25:15-29; 49:12; Lam. 4:21; Hab. 2:16; Isa. 51:17,22.
RV (with RSV and NIV) reverses this idea: The upright shall be-hold his face (contrast 13:1). Consider the sequence: Exod. 33:20; 1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 22:4. See also Psa. 4:6; 16:8,11; 17:15; 23:6; 140:13; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2. Parallel in the related New Testament passage (see v. 3 note above): “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).

His face. The AV “shewbread” (Exod. 25:30; 1 Sam. 21:6) is actually “the bread of the face”. Surely this suggests the seriousness with which we should break bread today: “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face.”

7. Hezekiah reference

It is easy to see why the men of Hezekiah incorporated this psalm of David in the psalter they were compiling, for every detail fits the experiences of Hezekiah’s reign perfectly.
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