While still a young shepherd from Bethlehem, David came to the attention of Saul, King of Israel, when he offered, in the name of God, to fight Goliath, the Philistine warrior-giant. He proved both his faith in God and his unusual skill with his sling when the first stone he released brought the giant crashing to the ground, killing him (1 Samuel 17:48-53).
Israel’s soldiers were ecstatic. The Philistine army panicked and fled. Even the dwellings of the Philistine soldiers were plundered.
David came later into King Saul’s service at the palace. There, he saw that Saul was given to dark moods and murderous impulses. Twice the king tried to pin David to the wall with his spear.
As a loyal servant of the king, David could not understand. Why would the king want him dead? In it all he became a fast friend with the king’s son, Jonathan. David told Jonathan: “… there is only a step between me and death” (20:3). Jonathan attempted to protect David from his father’s rages.
David fled the palace to live as a fugitive throughout the land. A natural leader, he gathered a defensive band of followers, up to 600 in number. They hid in wilderness areas from Saul’s armed forces.
It is easy to imagine that such constant flight prompted an intense debate between David and some of his followers. That debate may well be reflected in the three parts of Psalm 11. In the first section, David declares his intention to be courageous in the face of undeserved hatred. In the second section he summarizes what some of his more timid followers were apparently advising. And in the third, he gives reasons for being steady under false charges and perils.
David declares: “In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm 11:1a). Coming before all other declarations this is David’s bottom-line understanding of how he must gain strength to survive his predicament.
The reader can speculate that the timid and hopeless in his band may have said something like: “For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:2-3). That’s how they saw the situation.
He chides such fearful followers with a metaphor: “How then can you say to me: Flee like a bird to your mountain?” (11:1b) Living in the outdoors as he and his men were doing, David had seen little birds fleeing a bird of prey. Such a little bird might eventually flee to the mountains where there is the protection of solitude.
We may rise to the challenge of lesser threats, but when life’s foundations seem about to crumble we become vulnerable to the temptation to fly to a safe hiding place in the mountains.
With every reason to descend into helplessness, David declares: “In the Lord I take refuge.” And in answer to a feeling of victimization he elaborates: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (4a). The worship center of the Holy City is intact; heaven is not under attack.
Psalm 11 also tells us that the Lord observes everyone on earth (4b); his eyes examine not only the righteous, whom he allows in this life to be tested; the Lord also sees (and despises) those who love violence. That God sees, and knows, and will judge righteously, encourages us, too.
David’s final reason to be courageous tops them all: “For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face” (7). The hidden jealousy of a close associate can create a storm in one’s life, but a steady faith in God will bring a believer safely through the storm.
Photo credit: Mike Prince (via flickr.com)