Psalm 11:3
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
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(3) The foundations.—By this word must be understood the principles of morality, which are the foundation of society. Symmachus and Jerome render “laws.” But the rendering “What could the righteous do?” is doubtful. The image is of a house shattered by an earthquake (comp. Psalm 82:5); in such a case how find safety? The LXX. and Vulg. have “Since they have destroyed what thou hast established, what has the righteous done?” The order of the Hebrew words seems to support this rendering, “While morality has been overthrown, the righteous what has he done?” A suggested emendation, involving but a slight change in the Hebrew letters, would produce, however, a far better sense: “If the foundations be destroyed, what will become of the tower, or superstructure?”

Psalm 11:3. If the foundations be destroyed, &c. — This also is thought to be spoken by the same persons, discouraging David from making any further resistance, by the consideration that the foundations of religion and virtue were subverted, and therefore all was over, and what they urged, could a man, engaged in the most righteous designs, hope to do, when that was the case. Bishop Patrick paraphrases the words thus, “If men have no regard to laws and public decrees, which are the foundation of human society, but will boldly violate all known and standing rules of justice and truth; what can the righteous do? — What security can an honest man have? or what should he do, but make haste away from the place where they act so arbitrarily, and are so perfidious?”11:1-7 David's struggle with, and triumph over a strong temptation to distrust God, and betake himself to indirect means for his own safety, in a time of danger. - Those that truly fear God and serve him, are welcome to put their trust in him. The psalmist, before he gives an account of his temptation to distrust God, records his resolution to trust in Him, as that by which he was resolved to live and die. The believer, though not terrified by his enemies, may be tempted, by the fears of his friends, to desert his post, or neglect his work. They perceive his danger, but not his security; they give him counsel that savours of worldly policy, rather than of heavenly wisdom. The principles of religion are the foundations on which the faith and hope of the righteous are built. We are concerned to hold these fast against all temptations to unbelief; for believers would be undone, if they had not God to go to, God to trust in, and future bliss to hope for. The prosperity of wicked people in their wicked, evil ways, and the straits and distresses which the best men are sometimes brought into, tried David's faith. We need not say, Who shall go up to heaven, to fetch us thence a God to trust in? The word is nigh us, and God in the word; his Spirit is in his saints, those living temples, and the Lord is that Spirit. This God governs the world. We may know what men seem to be, but God knows what they are, as the refiner knows the value of gold when he has tried it. God is said to try with his eyes, because he cannot err, or be imposed upon. If he afflicts good people, it is for their trial, therefore for their good. However persecutors and oppressors may prosper awhile, they will for ever perish. God is a holy God, and therefore hates them. He is a righteous Judge, and will therefore punish them. In what a horrible tempest are the wicked hurried away at death! Every man has the portion of his cup assigned him. Impenitent sinner, mark your doom! The last call to repentance is about to be addressed to you, judgement is at hand; through the gloomy shade of death you pass into the region of eternal wrath. Hasten then, O sinner, to the cross of Christ. How stands the case between God and our souls? Is Christ our hope, our consolation, our security? Then, not otherwise, will the soul be carried through all its difficulties and conflicts.If the foundations be destroyed - These are still to be regarded as the words of the psalmist's advisers; or as an argument why he should make his escape. The word "foundations," here, refers to those things on which society rests, or by which social order is sustained - the great principles of truth and righteousness that uphold society, as the foundations on which an edifice rests uphold the building. The reference is to a destruction of those things in a community, when truth is no longer respected; when justice is no longer practiced; when fraud and violence have taken the place of honesty and honor; when error prevails; when a character for integrity and virtue affords no longer any security. This is supposed to be the case in the circumstances referred to in the psalm, when there was no respect paid to truth and justice, and when the righteous, therefore, could find no security. It is under these circumstances the advice is given Psalm 11:1, that the righteous should seek safety in flight.

What can the righteous do? - What source of safety or confidence has he? His trust for his own safety, and for the good of society, has always been in the prevalence of just principles, and he has no other resource. Whatever others may do; whatever reliance they may place on such things, he can have no confidence in fraud, dishonesty, and error - in secret machinations and plans of treachery and deceit. His reliance is, and must be, in the prevalence of just principles; in the observance of law; in the diffusion of truth; in plans and deeds which are honorable and pure. When these no longer prevail, the argument is, there is nothing on which he can repose confidence in executing the plans on which his heart is fixed, and his proper course would be to flee Psalm 11:1. Part of this is true; part not. It is true that all the hope of the righteous is in the prevalence of principles of truth and justice, and that for the success of the objects nearest to his heart, whether of a private or public nature, he has no other resource or hope; but it is not always true, even when injustice, fraud, and error prevail, that he, should withdraw from society and seek his safety in flight, and leave the world to its own course. His presence may be the very thing to counteract this; his duty may be to remain and face the evil, and to endeavor to secure a better state of things. So the psalmist understood in his case.

3. Literally, "The foundations (that is, of good order and law) will be destroyed, what has the righteous done (to sustain them)?" All his efforts have failed. If; or, for; or, when.

The foundations, i.e. piety, and justice, and fidelity, and mercy, which are the pillars or foundations of a state or kingdom, as they are called, Psalm 75:2,3 82:5; by which they are established, Proverbs 29:14, and which Saul and his courtiers had manifestly violated and overthrown in persecuting David and his friends. The sense is, There is nothing in public administrations but disorder and oppression, and right can take no place.

What can the righteous do? the condition of all righteous men (whom thou hast engaged thyself to protect and deliver) will be desperate; which will not be for thine honour. Heb. what hath the righteous done? As for me and my friends, upon whom all the blame is laid, what have we poor, but righteous, persons (for such thou thou knowest us to be) done? namely, to cause all these calumnies and persecutions, or to occasion all these commotions and disturbances of public peace and justice. It is easy to slander us, but let them prove their accusations by any one of our actions. If the foundations be destroyed,.... Or, "for the foundations are destroyed" (s); all things are out of order and course both in church and state; the laws, which are the foundations of government, are despised and disregarded; judgment is perverted, and justice stands afar off; the doctrines and principles of religion are derided and subverted; so that there is no standing, either in a political or religious sense. Jarchi interprets this of the priests of the Lord, the righteous, who are the foundations of the world, particularly the priests of Nob, slain by Doeg. Other Jewish writers, as Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and Ben Melech, understand it of the purposes and counsels, nets and snares, laid by the wicked for the righteous, which are broken and destroyed; not by them, for what can they do? but by the Lord, who is in his holy temple. So it

what can the righteous do? or "what does the righteous one do" (t)? that is, the righteous Lord, he sits in the heavens, he beholds all the actions of the wicked, he distinguishes the righteous from them, and rains a violent storm of wrath upon them, as in the following verses; or "what has the righteous man done" (u)? what has David done, that the priests of Nob should be slain? nothing that was criminal; nor shall he bear the sin, but they, according to Jarchi's sense; or rather, what has he done that the wicked should bend their bow, prepare their arrow, and attempt to shoot privily at him, and to overturn the foundations of justice and equity? nothing that deserves such treatment: or if the fundamental doctrines of true religion and everlasting salvation be subverted, what can the righteous do? he can do nothing to obtain salvation, nor do any good works of himself; the Chaldee paraphrase is, "wherefore does he do good?" he can have no principle, motive, or end to do good, if fundamental truths are destroyed: or "what should he do" (w)? something the righteous ones may do, and should do, when men are attempting to undermine and sap the foundation articles of religion; they should go to the throne of grace, to God in his holy temple, who knows what is doing, and plead with him to put a stop to the designs and attempts of such subverters of foundations; and they should endeavour to build one another up on their most holy faith, and constantly affirm it while others deny it; and should contend earnestly for it, and stand fast in it.

(s) "nam fundamenta destruuntur", Piscator, Michaelis; "quoniam", Pagninus, Montanus; so Ainsworth. (t) "justus quid operatus est?" Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Gejerus; "quid facit?" Syr. Arab. (u) "Justus quid fecit?" V. L. Munster, Tigurine versiom, Piscator; so Ainsworth. (w) "Quid fuerit operatus justus?" Junius & Tremellius; "quid fecerit?" Schmidt.

If the {b} foundations be destroyed, what can the {c} righteous do?

(b) All hope of help is taken away.

(c) Yet am I innocent and my cause good.

3. The state, or society, is compared to a building. The foundations upon which it rests (or the pillars which support it) are the fundamental principles of law and order and justice. The figure sometimes denotes nobles, or chief men, as in Isaiah 19:10 (R.V.), but the more general explanation is preferable here. Cp. Psalm 75:3; Psalm 82:5; Ezekiel 30:4. When these principles are being subverted, ‘what,’ asks the voice of despair, ‘can the righteous do? and the form of the question in the original seems to be intended to exclude the possibility of an encouraging answer.

But the verse should probably be rendered (cp. R.V. marg.), For the foundations are being overthrown; what hath the righteous wrought? The efforts of the righteous have availed nothing to avert the general anarchy. What then, it is implied, can he hope to effect by remaining in the midst of it at the peril of his life?Verse 3. - If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The word translated" foundations" is a rare one, only occurring here and in Isaiah 19:10. The meaning of "foundations," first given to it by Aquila, is now generally adopted. We must suppose the timid friends to be still speaking, and to mean that, under the lawless rule of Saul, the very foundations of society and of moral order were swept away; the righteous (צַדִּיק, a collective) had done and could do nothing to prevent it. What remained for David, but to withdraw from a community where there was neither law nor order, where the first magistrate commanded (1 Samuel 19:1) and attempted (1 Samuel 19:10) assassination? The desire for Jahve's interposition now rises again with fresh earnestness. It is a mistake to regard דּרשׁ and מצא as correlative notions. In the phrase to seek and not find, when used of that which has totally disappeared, we never have דּרשׁ, but always בּקּשׁ, Psalm 37:36; Isaiah 41:12; Jeremiah 50:20, and frequently. The verb דּרשׁ signifies here exactly the same as in Psalm 10:4, Psalm 10:13, and Psalm 9:13 : "and the wicked (nom. absol. as in Psalm 10:4) - mayst Thou punish his wickedness, mayst Thou find nothing more of it." It is not without a meaning that, instead of the form of expression usual elsewhere (Psalm 37:36; Job 20:8), the address to Jahve is retained: that which is no longer visible to the eye of God, not merely of man, has absolutely vanished out of existence. This absolute conquest of evil is to be as surely looked for, as that Jahve's universal kingship, which has been an element of the creed of God's people ever since the call and redemption of Israel (Exodus 15:18), cannot remain without being perfectly and visibly realised. His absolute and eternal kingship must at length be realised, even in all the universality and endless duration foretold in Zechariah 14:9; Daniel 7:14, Revelation 11:15. Losing himself in the contemplation of this kingship, and beholding the kingdom of God, the kingdom of good, as realised, the psalmist's vision stretches beyond the foes of the church at home to its foes in general; and, inasmuch as the heathen in Israel and the heathen world outside of Israel are blended together into one to his mind, he comprehends them all in the collective name of גּוים, and sees the land of Jahve (Leviticus 25:23), the holy land, purified of all oppressors hostile to the church and its God. It is the same that is foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 52:1), Nahum (Nahum 2:1), and in other passages, which, by the anticipation of faith, here stands before the mind of the suppliant as an accomplished fact - viz. the consummation of the judgment, which has been celebrated in the hymnic half (Psalm 9) of this double Psalm as a judgment already executed in part.
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