According to Walter Brueggemann’s classification scheme, this chapter is a textbook example of a psalm of reorientation. David begins with praise to God, recalls a time when he was once again faced with death, then calls out to God, who arrives on the scene with ferocious fire and thunder to rescue David. As a result, David is a new person in a new place, able to praise God, his righteous deliverer. Thus, a reoriented man, David composes this song to brag on his savior, and also on himself.
Prayer is weird. God, being omniscient, already knows what we’re going to say, he already knows what we need, and there is absolutely nothing we could tell him that he isn’t already aware of. And I’m not here to de-weirdify prayer today, or explain what the point of it is if God knows everything that he and everything in the entire universe are going to at every single moment in time, but I wanted to point out a particular weirdness of David’s prayer in today’s psalm.
I memorized this psalm back in high school because it contained a Messianic prophecy about Jesus’ resurrection. That’s verse 10: “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” But as you can see, I’m a little rusty. Everything after verse 4 comes back to me now in snippets that are fuzzy around the edges, so for the rest of the psalm, I had to break out the actual Bible.
I’m gonna propose an idea here. Each of these behaviors that David lists in vv.3-5 constitutes “walking with integrity” and is pleasing to God because man is made in God’s image and derives his value from the Creator that he images. Let’s go, point by point.
You may be familiar with Psalm 14:1: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” And if you’re familiar with the rest of Psalms and Proverbs, you likely already know that the “fool” in Jewish wisdom literature is not simply an idiot, some slow-witted person with a head full of misconceptions. What separates the fool from a mere ignorant person is his willful stupidity, his unwillingness to learn and his commitment to acting on his misconceptions. The fool’s stupidity is moral and practical; the fool thinks he can do evil and prosper.
David’s got a lot of questions. Such as, “God, where are you?” and “How long will this go on?” You might well ask similar questions, if you too were faced with adversaries ready to gloat at your downfall and threatened with “sleeping the sleep of death” (3). This is a short psalm, but David has packed his distress into it; some two-thirds of it is questions punctuated with a reiterated “How long?” and imperatives pleading for an answer from God.
Hey, guys. Today I wanted to take a time-out from the main storyline and tackle a sidequest instead. I’ve noticed a recurring theme in the Psalms of the wicked man’s schemes coming back to bite him. David often describes the wicked man as getting caught in his own traps or finding himself the victim of the plans he’d laid for others. You can see the theme in other books of the Bible, such as in Esther when Haman is hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai, or in the book of Proverbs. It makes sense that Solomon, author of much of the book of Proverbs, would echo themes present in the works of his dad, King David.
If you ever feel like you’re surrounded by liars, today’s psalm is for you. When David looks around, he sees faithful men turning their tongues to prevarication. I’ll be honest: when I first read the opening line, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be” (1), I immediately thought of Monty Python’s “This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be!” I thought the liars and schemers of the psalm were killing off the righteous men with their deception. But upon further reflection, I think the “godly man” here is ceasing to be because he’s abandoning his godliness for a liar’s tongue.
David certainly spent a period of his life on the run and in hiding, chased by a jealous King Saul. But to Psalm 11’s off-camera critic, he offers a reminder: “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (4). What does it mean that the Lord’s throne is in heaven? It means that he rules from a vantage point where he can see everything. The wicked, who are alleged to strike at the righteous from the dark (2), do not escape God’s notice. He will rain snares, fire, brimstone, and burning wind on them (6), judging them for their evil actions. Invisible Sky King always has the higher ground, and those who do evil make themselves his enemies.
Whoa. What just happened? In yesterday’s psalm, David was declaring the unceasing faithfulness of God: “You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (9:10). And do you remember “The needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever” (9:18)? Yeah, well, today David is all “Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1). And then he launches into a ten-verse litany of the wicked man’s immoralities, his arrogance against God and abuse to humanity. Welcome back to disorientation, fam.