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Psalm 11: The Power of Poetry

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 2, 2021 12:01 am

Psalm 11: The Power of Poetry

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 2, 2021 12:01 am

In difficult times, God's people must not let their thoughts be dominated by what they see happening in the world around them. Today, W. Robert Godfrey considers the way Psalm 11 teaches us to live by faith in truth that God has revealed.

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If you're a Christian, life must be going well, right? And we think we're sort of letting down the side if we express our frustrations, and part of what's so wonderful about the Psalter is it gives voice to those fears, to those struggles, to those difficulties, and then helps us move beyond them. The book of Psalms is unapologetically real.

It gets down to the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives. Whether we're rejoicing, grieving, or suffering, the Psalms provide an outlet for each emotion. Today and the rest of this week here on Renewing Your Mind, we're going to jump into Dr. Robert Gottfried's series, Learning to Love the Psalms. In the message before the one we're about to hear, Dr. Gottfried talked about how the Psalms are structured as poetry, and today he'll concentrate on Psalm 11. Well, we've had our brief introduction to the Psalter at a kind of speedy pace, and so I want to slow down a little bit now and look with you at one relatively short psalm from Book 1 and try to see how some of the things that we talked about in a general way can help us in reading this psalm. So I'd like you to take a look with me at Psalm 11.

Psalm 11 is a psalm of just seven verses. It's a psalm with a verse in it that may be familiar to you. It's a verse preachers like to quote when they're distressed about the world around us. Verse 3 of Psalm 11 says, if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? You've probably heard that verse before. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

It's a great question, but often I think misunderstood in the way it's used. So we want to step back and take a look at this psalm together, and the first thing we need to do whenever we read a psalm is to read through it, familiarize ourselves with the psalm. So we have some sense in a general way of what's going on with the psalm and what's taking place in it.

So let me just read Psalm 11, and then we'll take a look at it. In the Lord I take refuge. How can you say to my soul, flee like a bird to your mountain? For behold, the wicked bend the bow.

They have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple.

The Lord's throne is in heaven. His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let Him rain coals on the wicked.

Fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous. He loves righteous deeds. The upright shall behold His face. Now there's a rather clear movement in that psalm, isn't there? There's a movement from the distress, shall we flee like a bird to the mountain, to a confidence in the Lord as judge and vindicator of His people. But if we pause now and take a look at this psalm in a little more detail, if we pause and ask what's going on structurally in this psalm, we're not going to come up with radically different results from what we would see in reading through the psalm and reflecting on the psalm.

But I'm hoping that we'll begin to see how noticing the construction of the psalm will actually deepen our appreciation of it. If the psalm begins basically with a dilemma, a dilemma of a world tottering, the dilemma of God's King being advised to flee to the mountains for safety because the wicked are destroying everything in front of them, what is the center then of the psalmist's response to that reality? And what we see is that center in verse 4.

Now this brings us back to our pyramid. Verse 4 is that center, is that high point, is that organizing principle. In the middle of distress in this poem, what is the truth that the psalmist centers on? What is at the heart of this psalm?

The Lord is in His holy temple. The Lord's throne is in heaven. So if David's throne on earth is tottering, if the wise advice seems to be, flee away, what can the righteous do, David is saying in response to that advice at the heart of my faith is this confidence that the wicked are not in charge, that the wicked will never ultimately accomplish their purposes or succeed in the long run. And in the midst of distress then, I am comforted by looking above the present reality to the central truth that I believe that God is on His throne, that God is in heaven, and His throne cannot be troubled, cannot be toppled. And so this is the center of the psalm. This is the heart of the psalm. And, you know, the language is so vivid in the psalm, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, and then later, let him ring coals on the wicked, fire and sulfur and scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. Those images are so strong, so arresting that we may be tempted in reading this psalm to sort of just skip over verse 4, which seems kind of mild. You know, in all of this drama of arrows and sulfur, to say the Lord is in His holy temple, that seems the kind of thing we might say, yeah, yeah, we know that.

Let's get on to the good stuff. And the point here is to pause, to meditate and realize the good stuff is to remember that in the drama of life, God remains on His throne. God remains serene, in a sense, in the face of the fools who say, let us cast His yoke from us.

The Lord will have them in derision. That's here at the center of this psalm. And you see that's reinforced by other elements of the structure of the psalm. Notice how the psalm actually begins, in the Lord I take refuge.

That's the beginning point. I'm going to get to all the calamities of life, but I'm starting out with this point, in the Lord I take refuge. So there we have verse 1 down here. Actually, we could say 1a, the first part of verse 1. I sometimes think that gets a little silly to break down the Scripture into such tiny points, but it becomes maybe a little helpful here. So, verse 1a, and then if we have a center here in verse 4a and b, then we might well ask, well, is this really a very symmetrical pyramid? If it is a really symmetrical pyramid, then verse 1 ought to correspond to verse 7, particularly verse 7c, the last line.

Now, does it? In the Lord I take refuge, the first line. The upright shall behold His face.

They do correspond, don't they? It's almost like that repetition that you find in the Psalter of one line after another. And so suddenly, because David in faith takes refuge in the Lord, it leads him to the conclusion that he, as one of the upright people of God, will see the face of God. However the wicked may try to destroy him, he will not be destroyed by the wicked. So suddenly this psalm that has such energy and drama in it is bracketed by this sort of calm confidence. In the Lord I take refuge, the upright will behold His face.

And why is that? Why can I take refuge in the Lord? Why do I know I will behold His face?

It's because the Lord is on His throne, because the Lord's purposes cannot be overthrown, cannot be overcome. And so you see how this structure of the psalm begins to help us see more of what's going on, enter more into the heart of David, and be blessed by what he is arguing here. And then we see that verse 1b really is a shift in a different direction from 1a. 1a is this beginning confidence in the Lord I take refuge. And then verse 1b is the psalmist moving away from contemplating his refuge and security in God to responding to his advisers. In light of the fact that I take refuge in God, how can you say to my soul what you've said?

In other words, this is a point at which David shifts from his faith confidence to responding to his royal advisers. How can you say to my soul, and then follows what that bad advice is, because that's really what he's saying, isn't it? You're giving me bad advice. What is the bad advice?

Well, that raises a question, doesn't it? Because then we have to figure how many of the next verses are bad advice. And I think the right way to understand it is the way we have it in our ESV Bibles.

It's in quotations there from verse 1c down through verse 3. The bad advice is a prediction of what's going to happen if you don't flee like a bird to the mountain. So that's the bottom line advice. Flee, get out of town, go into hiding. David knew all about being in hiding, didn't he? He'd spent a long time hiding from Saul in the wilderness. And this is more Saul-like or Saul times advice. Get out of town, hide away. That's the way to deal with this distress.

Now, why do you need to fly out of town? Well, because the wicked bend their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart, namely you, David. David's not always upright in heart, and we'll later talk about what it means when David insists that he is upright in heart. But here's the advice you see. They're after you. They're after you with weapons.

Now sometimes, you know, it's hard to know how much stress to put on something. It is at least interesting that the wicked appear to have one arrow, and maybe in a backhanded sort of way that's meant to comfort David. They have a bow, and they have an arrow, and they're going to shoot at you, but after all they only have one. I'm not sure that's the major point here, but it is kind of interesting that the one arrow here in verse 2 is in a sense contrasted with the coals and the fire and the sulfur and the scorching wind that God is going to pour on the wicked. I think maybe part of the point here is God has more resources.

God has the bigger arsenal. The wicked may seem very impressive with their bow and arrow in the night, but in the long run, the scorching coals from heaven are going to win the day, and we have to bear that in mind. So the wicked bend the bow.

They have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. And then I think verse 3 remains the bad counsel of the fearful counselors. Why not flee to the mountain? If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do anyway? So this is not a general sort of observation about reality.

This is bad advice. Now the bad advice is not that there are not times when the foundations are destroyed, and the bad advice is not that there aren't times when the righteous can't do anything, but the bad advice is that David should lose confidence in God, leave his capital, leave the temple, and flee away into the mountains because things seem so hopeless. And so this bad counsel is the counsel of hopelessness. And I think David records it to us in this rather powerful way because I think we often are people who counsel ourselves with counsels of hopelessness. We allow the visible reality to dominate the way we think.

And all through the history of Christ's church, there have been times at which the righteous look around and say, surely the foundations have been destroyed, what can anybody do? Maybe some of us feel we're living in those times. We live in frustrating times, in difficult times. We look around the world and we see all kinds of troubles and difficulty.

And if we just focus on who seems to be winning today, the righteous may well conclude, everybody but the righteous seems to be winning today. So, part of the glory of the Psalter, it seems to me, is its unflinching truthfulness. It tells the truth, and that means it tells the truth about feelings. And I think often as Christians, we're not good about telling the truth about feelings. We think it's our obligation to smile all the time. If you're a Christian, life must be going well, right?

Every moment's a blessing. And we think we're sort of letting down the side if we express our frustrations and our fears and our struggles. And part of what's so wonderful about the Psalter is it gives voice to those fears, to those struggles, to those difficulties, and then helps us move beyond them. So, it's not that the foundations are never shaken. They are sometimes shaken, sometimes for us personally, sometimes for the church, sometimes for the state, sometimes for the world, but in facing the reality of that shakenness, there's a word from God, a central word from God. God is in His holy temple.

The Lord's throne is in heaven. Lift up your eyes beyond what you can see. That's what living by faith is in part, to remind ourselves it's not just what we see that's true, but what is unseen is more true. That's part of the struggle of living by faith, isn't it? It's a lot easier to live by what you see. Everybody else is doing that.

It seems so reasonable. But the call of Christianity is often to live by what we don't see, to live by faith in what God tells us is true. And the truth is, you see here, that although it appears the foundations are destroyed and the righteous can do nothing, the truth is that God's eyes see. That His eyelids test the children of man.

He sees what's going on. I think we could almost say that the greatest single struggle of faith is to think that God is not paying attention. In Book 3 of the Psalter, the book of crisis, Psalm 74 is about the destruction of the temple, and you can imagine how overwhelming a spiritual calamity that was for the people of God in the old covenant. Our temple is destroyed.

The place of our worship, the place of our meeting with God is destroyed. And one of the things that is said there in Psalm 74, the psalmist says to God, this is the God-free translation slightly paraphrased, the psalmist says to God, why are you standing around with your hands in your pockets? Now, it's hands in your robe. But the sense is, why are you standing around with your hands in your pockets? Don't you see that there are things to be done here? And I can tell this group is way too pious ever to have had those sorts of thoughts, but for most Christians, those kinds of thoughts go through the mind sometime. Why are you letting this happen?

It doesn't make any sense. And what this Psalm is saying, God is not only on His throne, but He knows what's going on. His eyes are everywhere. And His eyes are not just seeing, His eyes are judging.

His eyes are evaluating. And so verse 5, God's eyes are testing the righteous, but His eyes are also on the wicked, and His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. We tend to live in an age where Christianity is all about love and never talks about hate.

And we can all understand how that's happened and even why there are some things that are right about that. But the message of the Bible as a whole is that God hates the wicked and that there will be judgment one day on the wicked. And if you don't like that idea, you really have to cut a lot of the Bible out of your Bible. Now, there are Christians who do that, not literally but figuratively, and I understand that. You know, I think we should understand that motive because in the Bible, the love of God is so strong, so powerful, so present that we sort of wonder, how could the God who gave His own Son to die for our sins then still hate the wicked and judge the wicked? But of course, the cross is exactly the place where love and hate meet. Jesus is hated, in a sense, on the cross by God, so that those in Jesus will be spared the wrath to come. And if we don't see both the judgment as well as the redemption of God, we lose any real significance to the death of Christ.

And that's why we have to maintain this, however uncomfortable it may be for us at points. There's a judgment coming on the wicked. Now, the wicked have done a wonderful job turning the theme of judgment into a joke. It's always a cartoon with a man looking seedy, standing on the street corner with a sign that says, repent, judgment is coming.

Ha, ha, ha. Well, it won't be so funny one day, is what the Bible says. We have to think about that because the judgment is really pretty bad. Verse 6, let him rain coals on the wicked. Now, there's an alternative translation possible there.

Coals is usually what's translated because it fits in so well with the fire and sulfur and scorching wind, but it's also possible that what's being said there is, let traps rain on the wicked. The wicked have been out to trap the righteous. They've been out to shoot them.

They've been out to drive them out of their capital. Well, God has traps for the wicked. That's another way of reading this here, and it's judgment. And then verse 7, for the Lord is righteous and He loves righteous deeds. He loves the upright to do their duty and leave reigning, ruling, being in charge to Him. And that's what this psalm is really all about. I find my refuge in God, and I know I will one day behold His face, and in the meantime, in the mess of this world, I know He's on the throne.

I know He's seeing what's going on. I know He's one day going to make all things right. And you see, this little psalm, it is worth pausing over. You know, you could read this psalm in probably a minute, and then you could summarize this psalm. God's in control, and you could move on.

And you'd have had a blessing that God is in control, but look how carefully God has inspired this and put it together. So almost at every point that we pause and reflect and meditate, we find a deeper truth and a more blessed reality. Now, fearing that maybe I haven't offended everybody, let me pause and say, what does this say about the music we should sing to God? If God has spent time inspiring such beautifully crafted, profound, wonderful poems, doesn't that say that God loves beautifully crafted, wonderful songs that should be sung to Him? I think we've made a mistake in the church singing simple, obvious, shallow songs to God.

I think the book of Psalms says that's really not what God delights in. So sing a psalm from time to time. As we close, think for a minute just how often do you sing psalms in your church, and encourage the church to sing more psalms because there's such wonder and strength and comfort and blessing there.

An important challenge to consider, isn't it? The Psalms are songs approved and inspired by God. This week on Renewing Your Mind, we're featuring Dr. W. Robert Godfrey's teaching series, Learning to Love the Psalms.

In 12 messages, he provides an overview of the themes, the structure, and the beauty of the Psalms. Each message is about 23 minutes in length, and we'd be happy to send you the two-DVD set when you contact us today with a donation of any amount. There are a couple of ways you can reach us. That is by phone at 800-435-4343, but you can also give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. Every time you request a teaching series from us here at Renewing Your Mind, it's added to your learning library online through your Ligonier account. That means you have access to the video series at any time on your computer. You can also view them on the free Ligonier app. So request this series with your donation of any amount, and we'll add all 12 messages to your online learning library and send you the two-DVD set.

Our number again is 800-435-4343, and our web address, renewingyourmind.org. Well among the Psalms that Dr. Godfrey will be looking at tomorrow is Psalm 50. This is a Psalm really about worship. God is passionate about His worship, and this should really alarm contemporary Christians because we tend to think God's perfectly happy with whatever we happen to offer, and it is not true. That's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. God bless.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-28 23:15:01 / 2023-07-28 23:24:07 / 9

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