Psalm 11, Don’t stop at verse 3!

Perhaps you have heard verse 3 quoted.

“when the foundations are being destroyed,

what can the righteous do.”

We hear it quoted with the thought by traditional people that morality has decayed beyond repair, and the institutions of faith and society are turning to dust.  OK, if that is your view of morality. (We tend to think that things are mixed – perhaps we have gained in the areas of race relations, while we have lost in the area of sexual responsibility.)  However, don’t stop at verse 3 because the Psalm does not either. 

Verses 1-3 present a dark picture.  The wicked crouch in the shadows to pick the good guys off one by one with their poison arrows.  There is a debate in verse 1 between the Psalmist and another, or maybe with himself – should I flee to the mountains like the birds? 

We have seen traditionalist take to flight.  They decide it is time to escape the culture – the schools, maybe even the electrical grid.  History would seem to show that when the floods come, no safe hill is high enough.

The Psalmist proceeds with the recognition that, even if our institutions are crumbling, God remains on his eternal throne.    The Lord sees and takes note of the wicked and the righteous.  He will certainly give the wicked their comeuppance.  It may not be today or tomorrow, but the judgment of God is coming.  It is like the Bob Dylan song, “Slow Train Coming”

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say loose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love, show me someone who knows how to live it
There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Verse 7 is interesting.  Instead of an inclusio– where he ends at the beginning point – the Psalmist takes us to a new thought.  He does not tell us that the foundations on the earth are in good shape, or are due to be rebuilt.  He seems to say, “Suppose the foundations are destroyed, all can not be lost.  The upright have God.”  God loves justice, and will bring it, we understand, on the earth.  The final thought is, however, that we will see his face.  This is not escapism – because the realism of the earthly fight is there.  He seems to say that there is Someone more that makes all this meaningful.

Don’t stop at verse 3, read the whole psalm.  it is not pessimistic, but ultimately and realistically optimistic.  It is optimistic because the world is not finally run by impersonal forces.  It is run by a Person.




One thought on “Psalm 11, Don’t stop at verse 3!

  1. Pingback: Blog Day 2008 — Reading, Learning, Hoping, Blogging, Being

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