In the LORD I take refuge. So how can you say to me, "Flee to your mountain like a bird!
I. HERE IS A BELIEVER IN GOD EXPOSED TO PERIL FROM DESIGNING FOES. (Ver. 2.) Those who are upright in heart are hated by the wicked (cf. 1 John 3:12, 13). This is not to be wondered at, for righteous men by their righteousness are a standing condemnation of the ungodly (Hebrews 11:7). The Lord Jesus was pre-eminently the object of hatred by the world (John 7:7; John 15:18-24). In the time of the psalmist this hatred was expressed by plots for the destruction of God's servants (ver. 2). But, as if conscious of wrong and of the meanness and wickedness of their aims, men sought the cover of darkness for their designs (see ver. 2, Revised Version). What a mercy there is One to whom the darkness and the light are both alike!
II. HERE ARE WELL-MEANING FRIENDS GIVING THEIR ADVICE. (Ver. 1, "Flee as a bird," etc.) This is the counsel of timidity. There may possibly be circumstances in which it may be right to take flight (see Matthew 10:23). Although our Lord expected his disciples to be prepared, If Need be, to lay down their lives for him, yet he did not wish them unnecessarily to expose themselves to danger. So that at times, flight may be wise. But in the case of the psalmist, the whole tenor of his psalm indicates that it would not have been right, and that the counsels of his friends were those of timidity and even of cowardice. Note:
1. We may any of us be exposed at some time or other to this temptation
(1) to flee from the spot where we are placed;
(2) to quit the duty we have in hand, because of peril; or
(3) to resort to some safe nook, and thus consult our own ease and safety, regardless of the work in hand.
2. Such temptation may be even harder to resist when it comes from friends than if it came from foes. So our Lord Jesus found it; he felt Peter's effort to dissuade him from the cross far more acutely than he did Satan's (cf. Matthew 16:22, 23).
III. THIS ILL-JUDGED ADVICE MAY BE ENFORCED WITH PLAUSIBLE ARGUMENTS. (Vers. 1, 3.) The advice begins with the word "flee" (ver. 1), and ends with the close of the third verse. The arguments for flight are:
1. The secrecy of the designs of the wicked; since they work under cover of the darkness, it is best to be entirely out of their reach.
2. The grievous consequences of their success (ver. 3). If the men who are the strength and glory of a state are removed, the righteous therein will be dismayed, This is a more specious argument than the former: it is equivalent to, "If you care not to flee for your own sake, you owe it to others to guard yourself; for if you, as one of the supports of the state, are overthrown, what will the righteous people do?" The wicked would rejoice, and would seize the occasion for the purposes of rapine and murder; but the righteous would be in sore dismay.
IV. TO SUCH ADVICE, FAITH HAS A READY ANSWER. (Vers. 4-6.) The various features of this answer may be summed up in one sentence, "The Lord reigneth!" This is faith's rest and refuge in all times of trouble. Things are not left to the cross-purposes of man. There is a throne above all, and One sitting thereon. This fact has a manifold bearing:
1. On men generally.
(1) God sees all (ver. 4).
(2) God tests all (ver. 4).
2. On the righteous.
(1) God tries his people. He proves them to improve them (ver. 5).
(2) He loves the righteous; i.e. he approves them, and, in the midst of all confusion, he smiles upon them.
(3) He will crown them with honour at last (ver. 7, Revised Version).
3. On the wicked.
(1) He hates them; i.e. he disapproves their ways (ver. 5; Psalm 1:6).
(2) The time will come when that disapproval will be manifest (ver. 6).
The terrible figures used in this verse are probably drawn from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. What the dread reality may be, of which these words are symbols, God grant that we may never know! More fearful than any physical judgments is the adverse verdict of the Great Supreme (John 3:19). Note: It is all-important for a believer in God, in the midst of the greatest calamities, and of the most serious public disorder, so to maintain his calm serenity of soul, as to enable him thus to rest in what he knows of God and of his revealed mind and will.
V. KNOWING ALL THIS CONCERNING GOD, THE PSALMIST HAD ACTUALLY ANTICIPATED THE ADVICE OF HIS ADVISERS, though in another and a better way (ver. 1): "In the Lord put I my trust;" rather, "To the Lord I have fled for refuge." I need no other. He is mine. He will guard me. I am at rest in him. I will therefore stay where I am, and keep in the path of duty. I can calmly look on the raging storm, and wait till it has passed by. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Note:
1. The man who trusts in God has already a Refuge of which the ungodly man knows nothing.
2. That trust in God gives him the victory over his foes.
3. The God whom he trusts will be his Shield now and his exceeding great Reward hereafter and for ever! How much broader, deeper, and firmer should be our trust, now that we know God's love as revealed in Christ] "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4, 5). - C.
Let his days be few; and let another take his office
Plain Sermons by contributors to the "Tracts for the Times."(for St. Matthias' Day): — The words in themselves sound simple enough; they might seem to speak of no more than all human beings must undergo, by the necessity of their mortal nature. All our days are few: they are but as grass, they are gone almost before we can count them. All our places, stations, and offices, whatever they may be, must soon pass away from us, and another take them in our place. But this, the common lot of all, is here turned into a fearful and peculiar curse, for those who slight high privileges, and betray sacred trusts. The instance of Judas is a very plain one, for showing forth the dealings of God's providence in this respect. His short life as an apostle would have been a blessing, had he been such as St. James, the first of the twelve who came to his great reward: he would have departed, and been with Christ so much the sooner. But as it was, what judgment could be more fearful? Thus his days were signally cut short; and as to another taking his office, St. Peter reminded the disciples that the Scriptures concerning him were of course to be fulfilled, especially two which he specified: "Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein;" and, "His bishopric let another take." Now, it is a serious thought for us all, If Judas Iscariot, who, favoured as he was, had never received the Holy Ghost; if the Jewish people, whose highest privileges were but a shadow of what we receive in Baptism, — if they had their days cut off by so dreadful a sentence, and their place in God's world given over to others: what are Christians, what are Christian pastors to expect, should they prove, after all, unclean and unworthy? The nearer Christ has called us to Himself, the more dangerous surely are the first beginnings and whispers of sin; and the nearer we have ventured to approach, the greater advantage have we given to Satan, except we tried in earnest to purify our hearts and desires. No doubt, St. Matthias himself may have had trembling thoughts like these, wherewith to keep himself lowly and humble, when he was called to so great an honour, so high a place in the Church. What must have been the new apostle's thoughts, when he was thus put in mind of Judas's place! How earnestly must he have prayed in his secret heart, that such place, or a worse, might never be his own! I say a worse; for must it not be worse for those who, besides Judas's other privileges, have also that which is above all, union with Christ by His Holy Spirit, and yet fall away as Judas did? That privilege Matthias received within a few days, when the Holy Ghost came down upon the assembled apostles, and he never forfeited its; he went on glorifying God as an apostle, until he was permitted to glorify Him as a martyr. Or how can a sinner ever be thankful enough that it is not yet over with him; that he has still time, he knows not how much, to humble and punish himself heartily for his great imperfection and unworthiness; to watch and break himself of all beginnings of sin; to subdue the flesh to the Spirit; in all things; to acquaint himself with God in all the ways of His Church; to fear always; and to be more faithful and true in every part of his calling towards God and man?
(Plain Sermons by contributors to the "Tracts for the Times.")
1. It is remarkable that the sin of Judas was amongst those particulars of the life and sorrows of the Saviour of the world which were not obscurely predicted in the Old Testament. He was placed upon his trial; a certain position given him, a position of vast privileges. These Scriptures were amongst the means vouchsafed to enable him to maintain his station in the spiritual world, and finish the work given him to do. Now, the state of Judas thus viewed is a very correct type of our own. Consider for a moment the Christian Church itself. It stands indeed to the Jewish race, as Matthias to Iscariot. The Israelites were the first called to be God's special servants; to them was the commission given to keep alive the remembrance of His name, to make His praise to be glorious. They betrayed the trust; they adhered not to His worship; they gave His honour to another; they stoned His prophets; they rejected His Son! And then went forth the decree, "Let their days be few, and let another take their office." There is a voice from the past to the present, from the old Israel to the new, which bids us not be high minded, but fear, as those who fill a traitor's place. And when we extend our thoughts from the Christian Church to the whole human race, we find the same to hold good. There is much to confirm the idea, that the creation of man had its origin in the fall of Satan and his angels. Before us is now placed the choice which ages ago was given to Satan and his legions — the choice whether in sincerity and truth we will be the servants of the Son of God. We are on our trial now, as they were before the pillars of the earth were set up; but with this advantage, that like Judas, who sinned after their manner, we have warnings against the consequences of rebellion. He with the example of their sin and punishment, fell into the same sin, viz. the disowning the Only Begotten. We, with his example also, are called to stand where they stood, and exhibit the obedience which they withheld.
2. But there are deducible from the foregoing remarks, certain truths touching our relation to God.(1) For example, we learn in a most striking manner from what has been advanced, the sureness with which God's will is accomplished, sooner or later. God has no need of our services; He requires not our obedience; our very sins help on His designs. If we are obedient, He will work through us; if disobedient, He equally bends us to His purpose; or it may be, blots us out of the book of the living, and calls others into existence to do that which we refused; and all without the least pause in the majestic march of His providence. If we resist, it costs Him nothing to say, "Let another take His office."(2) Again, we cannot but press upon you the wonderful uniformity of the test to which God has subjected all His creatures; the test is simply, loyalty to the Only Begotten Son. There are but two kingdoms, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness; but two monarchs, the Lord Jesus, upon the right hand of the Father, and the outcast archangel, in the fiery abyss. And all choice between good and evil, right and wrong, is a choice between these.
(Bishop Wood ford.)
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