You’ve spent half a lifetime making the house you live in your castle. Then one day you see a crack in the family room ceiling, or suddenly three days before Thanksgiving the oven quits on you. You experience distress but you recover because you know these are problems that can be fixed and life will go on.
But on another day you come home to discover the main floor of your house slants at a frightening angle, doors hang limp on their hinges, and the basement is filling with water from broken pipes. The whole foundation of the house has shifted.
The psalmist, David, knew that life brings lesser and greater crises. On the one hand, setbacks come to all and they may be annoying, costly to fix, even distressing, but in due course all will be well.
But, there are situations that rumble like an earthquake, shaking the very foundations of life. One’s name may be maligned at great personal cost, integrity may be questioned, employment threatened, a friendship shattered and one sees no way to safe footing. Life seems suddenly beyond repair, and headed toward collapse.
The psalmist, David, had the latter experiences that shook his foundations. He was made a fugitive in the wilderness for long periods by King Saul’s murderous rages. His son, Absalom, nearly succeeded in wresting the kingdom from his rule and driving him away as an outcast. This to David was a shock of near tectonic proportions
In such crises, David could have thrown up his hands in despair, saying, “I quit.” In fact, in Psalm 11 some timid counselor appears to have offered that very solution: “When the foundations are being destroyed,” the counselor suggests, “what can the righteous do?” It’s the counsel of hopelessness; there’s no out.
David rebuked such a hand-wringing solution outright.
He declares his stand in the first words of the psalm: “In the Lord I take refuge.” Everything following flows from that. So the rebuke he delivers to this cringing counselor is clear:
How then can you say to me:
Flee like a bird to your mountain,
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
They set their arrows against the strings
To shoot from the shadows
At the upright in heart.”
In brief, David replies: Shame on you! Yet his own answer to the question, “What can the righteous do?” is not spoken with bravado or bombast. Instead, you will see from the psalm that David has a more humble, faith-based answer. First, he says,
God is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (Psalm 11:4).
In other words, God reigns! In this world one’s foundations may seem to be shaken but the house built on faith will not collapse because God is sovereign over all.
He goes on:
He observes the sons of men;
he examines the righteous
but the wicked and those who love violence
his soul hates” (Psalm 11:5).
In other words, God sees to the finest detail what’s really going on when one of his own is under evil attack; he is on the side of the righteous even though he may not give instant deliverance. The implication? Move up close to him. Hold on.
Then comes David’s summary assurance:
For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
upright men (and women) will see his face” (Psalm 11:6).
In the case of the believer today whose foundations are being shaken, this promise may not be satisfied immediately. Think of the pastors in Vietnam who are held in prison for their faith, or of believers driven from their demolished homes in Iraq.
Yet in all of these scenarios, God’s promise will be fulfilled for people of faith. Whether sooner or later God’s faithfulness will be revealed.
In the closing words of the psalm the believer is promised “to see God’s face.” This means in Hebrew thought that the true believer will have intimate communion with God and will sense his approval and his ultimate protection, even as for a time the foundations continue to shudder and rumble.
Photo credit: Thomas Quine (via flickr.com)