PSALM 11 OVERVIEW
Subject. Charles Simeon gives an excellent summary of this Psalm in the following sentences: -- "The Psalms are a rich repository of experimental knowledge. David, at the different periods of his life, was placed in almost every situation in which a believer, whether rich or poor, can be placed; in these heavenly compositions he delineates all the workings of the heart. He introduces, too, the sentiments and conduct of the various persons who were accessory either to his troubles or his joys; and thus sets before us a compendium of all that is passing in the hearts of men throughout the world. When he penned this Psalm he was under persecution from Saul, who sought his life, and hunted him `as a partridge upon the mountains.' His timid friends were alarmed for his safety, and recommended him to flee to some mountain where he had a hiding place, and thus to conceal himself from the rage of Saul. But David, being strong in faith, spurned the idea of resorting to any such pusillanimous expedients, and determined confidently to repose his trust in God."
To assist us to remember this short, but sweet Psalm, we will give it the name of "THE SONG OF THE STEADFAST."
Verse 1. These verses contain an account of a temptation to distrust God, with which David was, upon some unmentioned occasion, greatly exercised. It may be, that in the days when he was in Saul's court, he was advised to flee at a time when this flight would have been charged against him as a breach of duty to the king, or a proof of personal cowardice. His case was like that of Nehemiah, when his enemies, under the garb of friendship, hoped to entrap him by advising him to escape for his life. Had he done so, they could then have found a ground of accusation. Nehemiah bravely replied, "Shall such a man as I flee?" and David, in a like spirit, refuses to retreat, exclaiming,
In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? When Satan cannot overthrow us by presumption, how craftily will he seek to ruin us by distrust! He will employ our dearest friends to argue us out of our confidence, and he will use such plausible logic, that unless we once for all assert our immovable trust in Jehovah, he will make us like the timid bird which flies to the mountain whenever danger presents itself.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. The most probable account of the occasion of this Psalm is that given by Amyraldus. He thinks it was composed by David while he was in the court of Saul, at a time when the hostility of the king was beginning to show itself, and before it had broken out into open persecution. David's friends, or those professing to be so, advised him to flee to his native mountains for a time, and remain in retirement, till the king should show himself more favourable. David does not at that time accept the counsel, though afterwards he seems to have followed it. This Psalm applies itself to the establishment of the church against the calumnies of the world and the compromising counsel of man, in that confidence which is to be placed in God the Judge of all. W. Wilson, D.D., in loc., 1860.
Whole Psalm. If one may offer to make a modest conjecture, it is not improbable this Psalm might be composed on the sad murder of the priests by Saul ( 1 Samuel 22:19 ), when after the slaughter of Abimelech, the high priest, Doeg, the Edomite, by command from Saul, "slew in one day fourscore and five persons which wore a linen ephod." I am not so carnal as to build the spiritual church of the Jews on the material walls of the priests' city at Nob (which then by Doeg was smitten with the edge of the sword), but this is most true, that "knowledge must preserve the people;" and ( Malachi 2:7 ), "The priests' lips shall preserve knowledge;" and then it is easy to conclude, what an earthquake this massacre might make in the foundations of religion. Thomas Fuller.
Whole Psalm. Notice how remarkably the whole Psalm corresponds with the deliverance of Lot from Sodom. This verse, with the angel's exhortation, "Escape to the mountains, lest thou be consumed," and Lot's reply, "I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil take me and I die." Genesis 19:17-19 . And again, "The Lord's seat is in heaven, and upon the ungodly he shall rain snares, fire, brimstone, storm and tempest," with "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire out of heaven:" and again "His countenance will behold the thing that is just," with "Delivered just Lot... for that righteous man vexed his righteous soul with their ungodly deeds." 2 Peter 2:7-8 . Cassidorus (A.D., 560) in John Mason Neal's "Commentary on the Psalms, from Primitive and Medieval Writers," 1860.
Whole Psalm. The combatants at the Lake Thrasymene are said to have been so engrossed with the conflict that neither party perceived the convulsions of nature that shook the ground --
"An earthquake reeled unheedingly away, None felt stern nature rocking at his feet."
From a nobler cause, it is thus with the soldiers of the Lamb. They believe, and, therefore, make no haste; nay, they can scarcely be said to feel earth's convulsions as other men, because their eager hope presses forward to the issue at the advent of the Lord. Andrew A. Bonar.
Verse 1. I trust in the Lord: how do ye say to my soul, Swerve on to your mountain like a bird? (others, "O thou bird.") Saul and his adherents mocked and jeered David with such taunting speeches, as conceiving that he knew no other shift or refuge, but so betaking himself unto wandering and lurking on the mountains; hopping, as it were, from one place to another like a silly bird; but they thought to ensnare and take him well enough for all that, not considering God who was David's comfort, rest and refuge. Theodore Haak's "Translation of the Dutch Annotations, as ordered by the Synod of Dort, in 1618." London, 1657.
Verse 1. With Jehovah I have taken shelter; how say ye to my soul, Flee, sparrows, to your hill? "Your hill," that hill from which you say your help cometh: a sneer. Repair to that boasted hill, which may indeed give you the help which it gives the sparrow: a shelter against the inclemencies of a stormy sky, no defence against our power. Samuel Horsley, in loc.
Verse 1. In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? The holy confidence of the saints in the hour of great trial is beautifully illustrated by the following ballad which Anne Askew, who was burned at Smithfield in 1546, made and sang when she was in Newgate: --
Like as the armed knight, | On thee my care I cast, Appointed to the field, | For all their cruel spite: With this world will I fight, | I set not by their haste; And Christ shall be my shield.| For thou art my delight. | Faith is that weapon strong, | I am not she that list Which will not fail at need: | My anchor to let fall My foes, therefore, among, | For every drizzling mist, Therewith will I proceed. | My ship substantial.
As it is had in strength | Not oft use I to write, And force of Christe's way, | In prose, nor yet in rhyme; It will prevail at length, | Yet will I shew one sight Though all the devils say nay.| That I saw in my time.
Faith in the fathers old | I saw a royal throne, Obtained righteousness; | Where justice should have sit, Which makes me very bold | But in her stead was one To fear no world's distress. | Of moody, cruel wit.
I now rejoice in heart, | Absorbed was righteousness, And hope bids me do so; | As of the raging flood: For Christ will take my part, | Satan, in his excess, And ease me of my woe. | Sucked up the guiltless blood.
Thou sayest Lord, whoso knock,| Then thought I, Jesus Lord, To them wilt thou attend: | When thou shall judge us all, Undo therefore the lock, | Hard it is to record And thy strong power send. | On these men what will fall.
More enemies now I have | Yet, Lord, I thee desire, Than hairs upon my head: | For that they do to me, Let them not me deprave, | Let them not taste the hire But fight thou in my stead. | Of their iniquity.
Verse 1. How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? We may observe, that David is much pleased with the metaphor in frequently comparing himself to a bird, and that of several sorts: first, to an eagle ( Psalms 103:5 ), "My youth is renewed like the eagle's;" sometimes to an owl ( Psalms 102:6 ), "I am like an owl in the desert;" sometimes to a pelican, in the same verse, "Like a pelican in the wilderness;" sometimes to a sparrow ( Psalms 102:7 ), "I watch, and am as a sparrow;" sometimes to a partridge, "As when one doth hunt a partridge." I cannot say that he doth compare himself to a dove, but he would compare himself ( Psalms 55:6 ), "O that I had the wings of a dove, for then I would flee away and be at rest." Some will say, How is it possible that birds of so different a feather should all so fly together as to meet in the character of David? To whom we answer, That no two men can more differ one from another, that the same servant of God at several times differeth from himself. David in prosperity, when commanding, was like an eagle; in adversity, when contemned, like an owl; in devotion, when retired, like a pelican; in solitariness, when having no company, (of Saul), like a partridge. This general metaphor of a bird, which David so often used on himself, his enemies in the first verse of this Psalm used on him, though not particularising the kind thereof: "Flee as a bird to your mountain;" that is, speedily betake thyself to thy God, in whom you hope for succour and security.
Seeing this counsel was both good in itself, and good at this time, why doth David seem so angry and displeased thereat? Those his words, "Why say you to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?" import some passion, at leastways, a disgust of the advice. It is answered, David was not offended with the counsel, but with the manner of the propounding thereof. His enemies did it ironically in a gibing, jeering way, as if his flying thither were to no purpose, and he unlikely to find there the safety he sought for. However, David was not hereby put out of conceit with the counsel, beginning this Psalm with this his firm resolution, In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye then to my soul, etc. Learn we from hence, when men give us good counsel in a jeering way, let us take the counsel, and practice it; and leave them the jeer to be punished for it. Indeed, corporal cordials may be envenomed by being wrapped up in poisoned papers; not so good spiritual advice where the good matter receives no infection from the ill manner of the delivery thereof. Thus, when the chief priests mocked our Saviour ( Matthew 27:43 ), "He trusted in God, let him deliver him now if he will have him." Christ trusted in God never a whit the less for the fleere and flout which their profaneness was pleased to bestow upon him. Otherwise, if men's mocks should make us to undervalue good counsel, we might in this age be mocked out of our God, and Christ, and Scripture, and heaven; the apostle Jude, ( Jude 1:18 ), having foretold that in the last times there should be mockers, walking after their own lusts. Thomas Fuller.
Verse 1. It is as great an offence to make a new, as to deny the true God. In the Lord put I my trust; how then say ye unto my soul (ye seducers of souls), "that she should fly unto the mountains as a bird;" to seek unnecessary and foreign helps, as if the Lord alone were not sufficient? "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and he that delivereth me, my God, and my strength; in him will I trust: my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so shall I be safe from mine enemies." "Whom have I in heaven but thee," amongst those thousands of angels and saints, what Michael or Gabriel, what Moses or Samuel, what Peter, what Paul? "and there is none in earth that I desire in comparison of thee." John King, 1608.
Verse 1. In temptations of inward trouble and terror, it is not convenient to dispute the matter with Satan. David in Psalms 42:11 , seems to correct himself for his mistake; his soul was cast down within him, and for the cure of that temptation, he had prepared himself by arguments for a dispute; but perceiving himself in a wrong course, he calls off his soul from disquiet to an immediate application to God and the promises, "Trust still in God, for I shall yet praise him;" but here he is more aforehand with his work; for while his enemies were acted by Satan to discourage him, he rejects the temptation at first, before it settled upon his thoughts, and chaseth it away as a thing that he would not give ear to. In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? And there are weighty reasons that should dissuade us from entering the lists with Satan in temptation of inward trouble. Richard Gilpin.
Verse 1. The shadow will not cool except in it. What good to have the shadow though of a mighty rock, when we sit in the open sun? To have almighty power engaged for us, and we to throw ourselves out of it, by bold sallies in the mouth of temptation! The saints' falls have been when they have run out of their trench and stronghold; for, like the conies, they are a weak people in themselves, and their strength lies in the rock of God's almightiness, which is their habitation. William Gurnall.
Verse 1. The saints of old would not accept deliverances on base terms. They scorned to fly away for the enjoyment of rest except it were with the wings of a dove, covered with silver innocence. As willing were many of the martyrs to die as to dine. The tormentors were tired in torturing Blandina. "We are ashamed, O Emperor! The Christians laugh at your cruelty, and grow the more resolute," said one of Julian's nobles. This the heathen counted obstinacy; but they knew not the power of the Spirit, nor the secret armour of proof, which saints wear about their hearts. John Trapp.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. Faith's bold avowal, and brave refusal.
Verse 1. Teacheth us to trust in God, how great soever our dangers be; also that we shall be many times assaulted to make us put far from us this trust, but yet that we must cleave unto it, as the anchor of our souls, sure and steadfast. Thomas Wilcocks.
Verse 1. The advice of cowardice, and the jeer of insolence, both answered by faith. Lesson -- Attempt no other answer.