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Psalm 11



The Lord a Refuge and Defense
MT Intro
"For the choir director. A psalm of David"
Faith in the Lord's Righteousness
Confidence in God's Concern for Justice
Confidence in the Lord
The Confidence of the Upright
11:4-7 11:4-6 11:4-7 11:4-5 11:4
  11:7     11:7

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



 1In the Lord I take refuge;
 How can you say to my soul, "Flee as a bird to your mountain;
 2For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,
 They make ready their arrow upon the string
 To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
  3If the foundations are destroyed,
 What can the righteous do?"

11:1 "refuge" See notes at Ps. 2:12; 5:11. This (BDB 340, KB 337, Qal perfect) is a wonderful recurrent metaphor of protection and security (cf. Ps. 34:22; 37:40; Ezek. 7:15-16).

David's advisors (or enemies) said, "run" (Ps. 11:1b), but David said, "why run?" (Ps. 11:1a, 2-3). God is our refuge and He knows what we are going through. He is with us and for us. Look at Him and not the circumstances!

▣ "flee as a bird to your mountain" The MT has the plural (BDB 626, KB 678, Qal imperative), but the Qere reading is singular.

It seems that the wicked (i.e., plural verb) are addressing the faithful to flee to YHWH's protection (i.e., "refuge" and "mountain" are parallel, cf. Ps. 121:1). The phrase is, therefore, a taunt.

The UBS Handbook says verses 1 and 4 occur at the temple and, therefore, it is the psalmist's friends/co-worshipers who call on him to flee in silence to a desert fortress.

I think "the foundations" of Ps. 11:3 is also parallel to "refuge" and "mountains." They refer to the presence and truth of YHWH (cf. Ps. 87:1; 119:152) with His people, which the wicked deny.

11:2-3 It is possible to view these verses in two ways.

1. the advice of (a) the wicked or (b) friends at worship continue through Ps. 11:3

2. the psalmist answers those who call on him to flee in Ps. 11:1b


11:2 This describes the malicious activity and plans of the wicked.

1. bend the bow — BDB 201, KB 131, Qal imperfect, cf. Ps. 7:12; 37;14

2. make ready the arrow — BDB 465, KB 464, Polel perfect, cf. Ps. 64:3

3. shoot — BDB 434, KB 436, Qal infinitive construct, cf. Ps. 64:6


▣ "the upright in heart" There are no sinless humans. However, there are obviously two kinds.

1. those who seek YHWH and live to please Him

2. those who live for themselves as if there were no covenant or covenant God


11:3 The righteous person's only hope is the truth and presence of YHWH. He is the only source of help! If there is no God (cf. Ps. 10:4; 14:1; 36:1) then the faithful follower is the fool, but if there is an ethical Creator before whom all conscious life must stand and give an account (cf. Ps. 11:4b-f), then the disobedient, wicked, self-centered human (pagan or Israelite) is the fool!

There is a possibility that the second line of Ps. 11:3 refers to God (i.e., "the Just One," cf. AB, p. 69, and footnote in Jewish Study Bible, p. 1294). See Ps. 11:5, where YHWH and righteous (BDB 843) may be in opposition; both are titles for the God of Israel.

▣ "foundations" The etymology of this word/root, שׁת (BDB 1011, KB 1666-1667). It is a rare word but consensus is that it refers to the covenant laws. KB has the latest scholarly speculations.

 4The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven;
 His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
 5The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
 And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
 6Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
 Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
 7For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
 The upright will behold His face.

11:4-7 This strophe answers the implied question of the wicked in Ps. 11:1b. As it happens, "the foundations" of Ps. 11:3b are not destroyed!

11:4 YHWH dwells in heaven (see Special Topic at Ps. 8:1), but He manifests Himself (i.e., makes Himself available) between the wings of the Cherubim over the ark of the covenant (cf. Isa. 66:1). Heaven and earth meet in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem.

11:4b-5a YHWH knows (imperfects which denote characteristic actions)

1. what happens on earth

2. the motives of the human heart

He tests (BDB 103, KB 119, Qal imperfect, cf. Job 7:18; Ps. 7:9; 26:2; 139:1,23) the sins of men (ben Adam), both the righteous and the wicked. The NT records the event in Matt. 12:36-37; 16:27; 25:31-46; Acts 10:42; Rom. 2:16; 14:10,12; 1 Pet. 4:5; and Rev. 20:11-15. God's testing is both in time (temporal) and beyond time (eschatological). Often we do reap in this life what we sow, but if not, a day is coming!



11:5 "His soul hates" This is anthropomorphic language. See Special Topic at Ps. 2:4-6. See Exod. 15:9; Isa. 1:14; Jer. 5:9,29; 6:8; 9:9; 32:41; Ezek. 23:18 for the same use of nephesh (BDB 659, see note at Ps. 3:2).

It is possible that this verse deals with only the wicked and that "the righteous" is a title for God (cf. Ps. 11:3b). If so, YHWH and "the Just One" are in apposition (cf. Ps. 11:3b, 7a).

The OT lists several things YHWH hates.

1. idolatry — Deut. 12:31; 16:22; Jer. 44:4; Hos. 9:15

2. all who do iniquity — Ps. 5:5

3. one who loves violence — Ps. 11:5

4-9. see lists in Pro. 6:10-19 (also note Zech. 8:16-17)

10. the false, sham worship of Israel — Isa. 1:14; Amos 5:1; 6:8

11. divorce — Mal. 2:16



LXX"He will rain"
NET Bible"May the Lord rain down"

The verb (BDB 565, KB 574) is a jussive which the NET Bible and the Anchor Bible translate accurately, but the other translations assume it is jussive in form but not in meaning.

NASB margin"coals of fire"

The context seems to demand an emendation from "snares," פחים (BDB 809) to "coals," פחמי (BDB 809). The UBS Text Project gives "snares" a "B" rating.

11:6b Does this refer to

1. hyperbolic poetic imagery about the circumstances of this life

2. the reality of judgment in the afterlife (cf. Deut. 32:22)

See SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead? at Ps. 1:6.

▣ "fire" This is a recurrent metaphor of judgment and cleansing.


NASB, NKJV"burning wind"
NRSV, REB"scorching wind"
LXX"a wind of a tempest"

This rare term (BDB 273) basically means "heat." It is used in

1. Psalm 11:6 — describing a wind

2. Psalm 119:53 — as burning indignation

3. Lamentation 5:10 — as burning famine

The interpretive question is, "Does this term continue the series of nouns (BDB 809, 77, 172, cf. Job 1:16) or start a new metaphor?"

1. destructive whirlwind (cf. Ps. 58:9; Pro. 1:27; Hos. 8:7; Amos 1:14; Nah. 1:3)

2. hot desert wind (cf. Ps. 90:56; 103:15-16)


▣ "their cup" This is a Hebrew idiom for a person's destiny, usually negative (cf. Ps. 75:8, but occasionally positive, cf. Ps. 16:5). It is associated with drunkenness (cf. Isa. 51:17; Jer. 25:15).

This same idiom was used by Jesus in

1. Matt. 20:22; Mark 10:38,39

2. Matt. 26:39,42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42

3. John 18:11


11:7 YHWH is characterized as righteous (see Special Topic at Ps. 1:5, cf. Exod. 9:27; Ezra 9:15; Neh. 9:8; Ps. 119:137; Jer. 12:1; Lam. 1:18; John 17:25; Rev. 16:5,7).

Some of the actions of the righteous God are:

1. He tests the hearts of men — Ps, 7:9; 11:5; Jer. 20:12

2. He judges in righteousness — Ps. 7:11

3. He loves righteousness — Ps. 11:7; 33:5; 146:8

4. He is gracious and righteous — Ps. 116:5

5. He cuts the cords of the wicked — Ps. 129:4

6. He is righteous in all His ways — Ps. 145:7; Dan. 9:14


11:7b "The upright will behold His face" One wonders if this is the source of Jesus' words in Matt. 5:8. God is holy (Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48). No one can see God and live (i.e., Exod. 33:11,17-23), yet those who are pronounced righteous in Him/Jesus will have intimate fellowship with Deity (cf. Job 19:25-27; 27:4; Ps. 17:15; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2)!


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What does "take refuge" mean?

2. Explain verse 3 in your own words.

3. From verse 4, where is YHWH, heaven or the temple?

4. Does YHWH test humans (Ps. 11:5)?

How and why?


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