Our Pages

Psalm 11: When God tests His people

Psalm series

Psalm 11: When God tests His people
Posted on January 12, 2020  - By Dr. David Brooks

Many of us live in cities where officials demand bribes to do their duties, the national government penalises biblical behaviour, social pressure is for promiscuous fornication, merchants promise quality and sell worthless merchandise, contracts are not honoured, courts condone injustice, victims are condemned as guilty, evil is perpetrated and responsibility cannot be proven. That is, many of us can see that the foundations of society have been or are being destroyed. David faced this kind of problem in Psalm 11:

1 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 psalmist was beset by people who probably held to his moral and spiritual values but who said, “There is nothing we can do. We will perish in this environment. We can’t even predict where the next attack will come from. We need to either shut up and hide or escape while there is time. You need to wake up and escape yourself.”

It is true that many times things look hopeless for those who follow Christ. But David prefaced this report of others’ urging with his response in v1: In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain…” He would not be silent, hide, or flee. He was trusting God in turbulent times, exemplifying the type of people John spoke of in 1 John 5:4, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.”

Faith through fire

After quoting their exhortations, David gave his reasons for his response. First, he said, “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 (vv.4-5).”

God tests those who worship Him and live in accordance with His ways. Why would God test His own people with such difficult challenges? There are probably many answers, for God can have more than one reason for doing something. After all, He is the Creator and has many unique and surprising ideas. One reason is revealed in the book of Daniel.

Daniel was urging the Jews to be faithful to the Lord in difficult and dangerous times (see Daniel 3, 6, 8). Although the end of the 70-year exile (Jeremiah 29:10) was nearly over (Daniel 9:1-2), there was another long period before full deliverance would come (Daniel 9:24-27, regardless of how one interprets the 70 weeks or years). When the Son of Man (Jesus called Himself this many times; it essentially means He is the human that we all were supposed to be like and the human who would defeat the serpent-Satan [Genesis 3:15], but in Daniel, it identifies one particular person — though some say the term represents all humans who are faithful; the point of faithfulness still remains) receives the kingdoms of the world as the ruler (Daniel 7:13-14), those who have been faithful will administer his kingdom under his leadership (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27).

In 2 Timothy 2:12-13, Paul agrees: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful — for He cannot deny Himself.” We see in v. 13b that those believers who are unfaithful will not lose their promised eternal life, but they will not be elevated to rulership (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). You are saved eternally through your faith in Christ, and it is by the grace of God that it is so simple (Ephesians 2:8-9), but higher, more responsible status in the kingdom of Christ requires faithfulness.

You are saved eternally through your faith in Christ… but a higher status in the kingdom of Christ requires faithfulness

Notice that from early in the Bible, even though Abraham was justified before God by God because of his faith (Genesis 15:6), God expected him to live a life of integrity (Genesis 17:1), and the man did (Genesis 26:5). Abrahams’s faith was severely tested (Genesis 22:1-12), so much so that God has been roundly criticised for administering the test and Abraham has been criticised for accepting the challenge. But as a result of proving that he believed God would keep His promises through Isaac (Genesis 21:12) — either by not going through with the test (Genesis 22:8) or by raising his son from death (Hebrews 11:17-19) — he has the status of being the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11, 16), the only person individually called the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23; 4:4), and had paradise named after him (Luke 16:22). So, in Psalm 11, David says the seemingly impossible times we endure are God testing us for present faithfulness and future prosperity.

What are you really like?

The psalmist then states a second reason for the extreme circumstances in vv.5-6: “…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.”

The sense here, as I understand it, is that God permits the wicked to show what they are really like. Then on Judgment Day, He will judge them on the basis of what they did, not merely on what they believed or thought (see Revelation 20:12). The time that they are behaving wickedly is very difficult for God’s people, but it reveals why they should be rewarded and why the wicked and violent should be punished. God will give us opportunity to show what we’re really like.

That God’s soul hates the wicked and the violent means that He Himself, personally, inwardly, naturally hates them. That God should hate anyone is repulsive to many people. They think of Him as holding animus, hostility, viciousness and a lack of forgiveness toward them. But look a little closer.

That God should hate anyone is repulsive to many people… but look a little closer

The prophet Malachi said that God hated Esau but loved Jacob (Malachi 1:2-4). In this section of Scripture, God elaborates, Esau turned against Him and His people, so he would be destroyed and left desolate. If he tried to rebuild, God would prevent it. Esau would be finished. Jacob, on the other hand, rebelled against God but would be restored after judgment. What made the difference?

Paul cited this text in Romans 9:10-13: “And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call — she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Notice that he added the quote from Genesis, showing — in the context of the covenant with the boy’s grandfather (Genesis 12:2-3; 21:12; 25:23) — which one was chosen to further the fulfilment of the covenant.

In order to fulfil the covenant, when Israel (Jacob) revolted against God’s plans, God would restore them, or the covenant promises would fail. Esau had no such promise, no such assurance. If they rebelled, they would lose the opportunity to be among those blessed by Abraham’s offspring (cf. Genesis 12:3). For all those who reject the blessing that God offers through Abraham’s offspring (primarily Christ, see Romans 9:4-5), they will receive God’s judgment. According to Psalm 11:5-6, God’s judgment for wickedness and violence is fierce. Since most sins involve mistreatment of other people, God’s concern is for those who are oppressed and rendering justice to them and to the oppressors (e.g. Psalm 58:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9).

David does not end on a note of destructive judgment. In v.7, he says, “For the LORD is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face.” God’s ultimate purpose with the covenant with Abraham and His plan of redemption that comes from it is that people enter a healthy relationship with Him and receive His blessings. So, David would trust the Lord in the distressing times and wait for God to show Himself strong on His behalf. The Lord, by preserving Psalm 11, wants us to do the same.

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.