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"Help, Lord, for the Godly Man Ceases!" (Psalms 11-14) May 25-28

David composed Psalm 11 when others around him (the "you" in verse 1 is plural) were counseling him to flee from encroaching enemies. The NKJV closes the quote of the counselors at the end of verse 1, but it makes more sense to close the quote at the end of verse 3, as the NIV does. It is not clear whether the threat of enemies secretly shooting with arrows in verse 2 is literal or figurative (see 64:3-4), though the advice of flight would seem to imply mortal danger.

The advisers see no alternative to a hiding out in the hills because they believe "the foundations are destroyed" (verse 3). The Expositor's Bible Commentary says: "The word 'foundations' (shathoth) occurs only here with this meaning.... The 'foundations' appear to be a metaphor for the order of society (75:3 {NIV, 'pillars'}; 82:5; Ezek 30:4): the 'established institutions, the social and civil order of the community'.... This order has been established by the Lord at creation and is being maintained.... [Yet to the advisers it now appears that] God's justice and law are being replaced by human autonomy and its resultant anarchy" (note on Psalm 11:1-3).

David counters that the foundations are not destroyed because the Lord Himself is the true foundation. God may be testing the righteous at this time (verse 5), but He is in charge and sees what is going on (verse 4). David knows that "God is alive and at work in His holy temple [not the one in Jerusalem that was yet to be built but the one in heaven, as made clear by verse 4]; that He is hearing prayer, forgiving sins, welcoming home sinners, waiting for people to flee or to take refuge in Him, and not away in the mountains; that God is ruling His world from on high, noticing and testing every little detail of human life" (George Knight, Psalms, OT Daily Bible Study Series, 1982, comments on 11:1-7).

God hating the wicked and lovers of violence in verse 5 refers to His ultimate rejection of them (see the Bible Reading Program comments on 5:5). The phrase "the portion of their cup" (11:6) refers to "their lot" (NIV; see 16:5). The cup for the wicked is one of punishment (see 75:8; compare Jeremiah 25:15-29). It is shown in Psalm 11:6 to contain fire, brimstone (sulfur) and burning wind—images we later see in John the Baptist's warning of God's "winnowing fan" and "unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12) as well as the book of Revelation's prophecy of the future "lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (21:8). The unrepentant will be completely burned up in this fire, not tormented forever (see our free booklet Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?).

Yet God faithfully loves the righteous and will in His righteous justice ultimately preserve them. The concluding phrase "His countenance beholds the upright" (Psalm 11:7) could also be rendered in reverse, "Upright men will see his face" (NIV), implying free access to God's throne.

In the superscription of Psalm 12, the word sheminith, as in Psalm 6, is likely properly translated in the NKJV as "eight-stringed harp." As to substance, David in Psalm 12 laments the perversion of language he witnesses everywhere, with people using words to hurt each other. Conversation is filled with lies, flattery, deception, boasting, idle words (verses 2-4). "Everyone lies to his neighbor" (verse 2, NIV). The wicked say whatever promotes their own interests (verse 4). "We'll talk our way to the top, we'll outtalk the simple; no one can stop us" (Knight, Psalms, comments on 12:1-8). Christ warned his followers to be careful about what they say: "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).

God doesn't speak meaningless, idle words. He backs up what He says. Therefore, when God states that He will rise up on behalf of the oppressed and provide a safe refuge (Psalm 12:5), the oppressed can confidently count on His help. "In contrast to the idle words of the wicked (vv. 1-4), the words of God are altogether trustworthy. The eternal and steadfast nature of the Lord Himself stands behind His words" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 5-7). The words of God here can denote the whole of Scripture. The comparison of refining silver demonstrates how carefully chosen His words are. That they are purified seven times demonstrates how complete and perfect they are. It may also hint at numerous patterns of seven, signifying completeness and perfection, within the Bible.

The psalm ends in verse 8 with the sobering reminder that though God will be faithful to His promises in taking care of His people, we still in the meantime must be on guard against the reality of living in an evil world.

Psalm 13. In the throes of anxiety over a situation that could spell death for David, he asks God four times how long He will refrain from intervening to help (verses 1-2). The question "How long shall I take counsel in my soul...?" (verse 2) could also be phrased as "How long must I wrestle with my thoughts...?" (NIV).

David appeals to God's honor, for his death would mean to his enemies either that David was not a legitimate servant of God contrary to God's own testimony or that God was unable to save Him. "The enemies' rejoicing [over David's fall] would be intolerable because it would be aimed in part against God in whom the psalmist has trusted (35:19)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 13:4).

In verse 5 we come to a turning point. It appears that God has now granted David a proper perspective. He thus ends the psalm confidently by focusing on God's mercy (hesed)—His covenant faithfulness, His unfailing love—remembering God's goodness to Him in the past (verse 6).

Psalm 14, of which Psalm 53 is a somewhat revised duplicate, is a lament about the foolishness of "practical atheism." The fool (nabal, wicked, impious person) convinces himself, "There is no God" (14:1)—or at least no God who would deign to impact his life. Determining the concept of God to be essentially irrelevant, the fool "intentionally flouts his independence from God and his commandments" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 1).

The Zondervan NIV Study Bible comments on Psalm 14: "This psalm brings to closure the collection of prayers that began with Ps 3.... Five psalms (and 64 Hebrew poetic lines) after Ps 8's surprising evocation of humanity's 'glory and honor' (8:5), this psalm highlights their disgrace.... In this it serves as a counterpoint to that earlier recollection of humanity's high dignity and thereby exposes more sharply the depth of their disgrace—from which the petitioners in this and the preceding psalms have suffered."

While fools go about denying God's existence, He looks down on humanity, assessing its wickedness (14:2). David says that God has found everyone corrupt (verses 1-3). The apostle Paul will quote this verdict in Romans 3:10-12. It is not clear if David intends to include in this indictment those he refers to as "the generation of the righteous" (verse 5). No doubt he realizes that they were not righteous to begin with but had needed to come to God in repentance. Paul's use of this passage is to show that all are guilty of sin and in need of God's grace. Yet those who respond in faith become the godly in contrast to the godless hosts of mankind.

Eventually the wicked of every age who refuse to repent will face the consequences of their foolishness. "There," at a specific time of judgment, they will greatly fear (verse 5). And at that time, God's people, those who repent of their wayward human nature, will be saved (verses 6-7).

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