“That’s not what Psalm 11 is about!”
Part of my journey into the Psalms has been to make use of various commentaries, prayer-books, and devotional reflections on the Psalms. The Concordia Psalter is one of those resources (https://www.cph.org/p-33365-Concordia-Psalter.aspx). For each Psalm, The Concordia Psalter offers two suggestions for how you might sing or chant the Psalm, and it provides a prayer (sometimes several prayers) to guide your reading of the Psalm and to bridge the content into your own life of prayer in relationship with God.
I read Psalm 11. I sang Psalm 11. Then I prayed the prayer it offered for Psalm 11. As I prayed the prayer, I kept thinking: “That’s not what Psalm 11 is about!” There was nothing wrong with the prayer. It was true to Scripture, it was Christ-centered, it directed me to the promises of God’s Word…it was a good prayer. But it didn’t fit. Or, perhaps better stated: it didn’t fit with the way I was reading Psalm 11 that day.
Psalm 11 says this:
To the choirmaster. Of David.
11 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
2 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;
3 if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord's throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
I was reading Psalm 11 as a prayer about justice. I imagined David under attack from foreign armies, or perhaps members of his own house. I pictured real running to a real place of refuge, with real arrows whizzing past his head while real taunts were shouted or an internal monologue was really leading to physical, social, and political despair.
After all, David, like many saints of God throughout history, faced physical threats that were connected to his faith in God.
And then I read the provided prayer in my devotional resource:
“Lord Jesus, You came into this world to reveal to us the will of Your Father and to teach us the way everlasting. Behold how Your sacred Word is denied and corrupted in these perilous days. Have mercy upon us, save us from the snares of unbelief and the seductive teachings of the world, and grant us to abide in Your Word that, made free from error and sin, we be found Your disciples indeed. Amen” (34).
“That’s not what Psalm 11 is about!” But then I tried to slow down and think about what they meant (this is hard for me, but it’s something I’m working on right now…in fact, I imagine it’s something you could give a little more attention to as well…). And when I moved beyond defending my interpretation of Psalm 11 from the attacks of this printed prayer that challenged my thinking, I came to something I’ve believed before: the Psalms have such broad impact because they can be applied to a broad range of situations.
That’s not to say that the Psalms mean whatever we want or that they have not intended meaning. But the Psalms do have such broad impact because they can be applied to a broad range of situations.
David may have dodged literal arrows. Martin Luther may have prayed Psalm 11 while hiding in the Castle Coburg because he was being hunted as an outlaw for his expression of the Gospel. You might pray Psalm 11 when your daughter goes off to college and has her faith challenged by her atheist professor. Or there could come a day when the Christian Church in America is meeting in secret to avoid persecution, and Psalm 11 might become a staple of our covert gatherings.
God addresses our problems through his Word. He names specific problems. He often identifies problems that we didn’t even know we had. He validates our experience of problems we’re all too aware of. And more than all of that, he makes promises about our problems. He promises to save. To heal. To rescue. To redeem. To restore. To forgive. To provide. To bless. To shelter. To love.
Notice how each of those gospel promises (which are all fulfilled in Jesus) attend to a different sort of problem. Our problem of sin is met with forgiveness. Our problem of disease is met with healing. Our problem of danger is met with shelter.
So what’s your problem? I’ve got a list for myself: many from within, many from without. And what I’m finding in the Psalms is that a given Psalm might speak to a variety of problems at the same time. My problem of insecurity and your problem of racial discrimination and someone else’s problem of persecution for their faith…God is able to speak to each of them with a single Psalm. More than that, he meets each of us in his single Son, the Word and Promise of God made flesh: Jesus.
(If you'd like to track my progress in memorization, you can find the latest stats here.)