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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 11

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-7

Psalms 11:0

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

1          In the Lord put I my trust:

How say ye to my soul,
Flee as a bird to your mountain?

2     For, lo, the wicked bend their bow,

They make ready their arrow upon the string,
That they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.

3     If the foundations be destroyed,

What can the righteous do?

4     The Lord is in his holy temple,

The Lord’s throne is in heaven:

His eyes behold,
His eyelids try, the children of men.

5     The Lord trieth the righteous:

But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

6     Upon the wicked he shall rain snares,

Fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.

7     For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness;

His countenance doth behold the upright.


Contents and Composition.—The firm trust in God whilst the foundations of the State and social order are shaking, the manly rejection of the counsel of discouraged friends who advise to flee from the threatening danger, the cheerful confidence in sure help through the judicial government of God, correspond so well with the character of David, that there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the title, whether we think of the earlier period of the persecution by Saul (Ewald), or of the battles of David with the Philistines, with a reference to 2 Samuel 21:17 (Hitzig), or on account of Psalms 10:3, of the rebellion of Absalom (Maurer, Delitzsch). The vigorous brevity, and the fresh, lively movement of the language do not agree at all with the supposition that this is a Psalm of lamentation, composed by Hezekiah at the time of the siege of Sennacherib.1

Str. I. Psa 10:1.—With Jehovah have I refuge. [A. V. “In the Lord do I put my trust.” Hupf.: “With Jehovah have I taken or found refuge.” So Perowne: “I need no other refuge: how can ye say to me, etc.; my feet are on the true Rock, why should I look elsewhere for safety? This is the full force of the expression. There is, moreover, a force in the perfect, ‘I have found.’ It is an exclamation of joyful confidence in the thought that he has such a refuge, and is not yet to seek it. The advice here given, and which he repels, is that of timid and desponding friends, who would persuade him that all is lost, and that the highest wisdom is to yield to circumstances, and to seek safety not in resistance but in flight. But in fact the voice which thus speaks is the voice of the natural heart, of the selfish, and therefore short-sighted and cowardly instinct, which always asks first, not, what is right? but, what is safe? The advice may be well meant, but it is unworthy (comp. Psalms 3:3; Psalms 4:8). This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. But it is often a sorer trial for faith to have to withstand the pleadings of well meaning friends than to arm itself against open enemies.”—C. A. B.]

Flee.—Hupf. advocates the plural which includes those who are in similar circumstances and danger, in opposition to the interpreters who, with the Jewish critics, adopt the singular reading. The bird is used as a figure of the pursued, 1 Samuel 26:20; Lamentations 3:52; it is here a collective, and either as a vocative in apposition, or as a comparison. [Ewald regards this expression as a proverb in use among the Jews, not found elsewhere it is true, but yet natural as a figure of speech in those times. So Hupfeld:—To your mountain.—De Wette: “A figure taken from birds, which, when hunted upon the plain, flee back speedily to the wooded mountains; but it is likewise a proper idea. The mountains of Palestine being rich in caves afforded safe places of refuge from enemies who held possession of the plains. Thus Mattathias and his sons fled to the mountain, 1Ma 2:28.” So also David in his flight from Saul.2—C. A. B.]

Psalms 10:2. The see, [A. V., “Lo”], and the statements of Psalms 10:3 do not allow us to regard these words as an explanation of the poet (Calv.) It makes no difference in this respect whether we begin Psalms 10:3 with “for” or “if.” The hypothetical interpretation has nothing to do with the contents of the clause, but only with its structure. [There is a change of tense which is lost in the A. V., which is very dramatic, vid., Hupf. and Alexander in loco. Hupf.: “They span the bow, they have adjusted their arrow to the string.” Alexander translates they “have fixed” their arrow. The English “make ready” is too vague.—Privily, more properly “in darkness,” in the dark, in secret, treacherously.—C. A. B.]

Psalms 10:3. The foundations here are not persons (Gesenius, Hitzig) as Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 19:10; Galatians 2:9, but the laws and ordinances of public justice, 1 Samuel 2:8; Psalms 75:3; Psalms 82:5; Ezekiel 30:4. Calv. et al., following the Sept., Vulg. Aquil., Symm. translate: What has he done? namely, wrong; wherewith has he done wrong? The perfect, however, does not force us to this; but it prevents the usual interpretation: What shall he do? namely, otherwise than flee. The perfect in interrogative clauses is often used in the sense of the Latin subjunctive = what could he do? (Seb. Schmidt, Hupf., Delitzsch), or it expresses the result of experience (Ewald, et al,) [The Anglican prayer book translates: “For the foundations will be cast down, and what has the righteous done?” So Alexander. Hupf.: Whilst he grants the possibility of the above, yet translates: “For the pillars are destroyed; the righteous—what has he done (accomplished)” that is “what has he done, accomplished according to his previous experience?” And thus he states his agreement with Ewald and Böttcher (N. Æhrenl., who compares with συνήρτακεν, Xen., Cyrop., iv. 2, 26). This seems to be the better view.—C. A. B.]

Str. II. Psa 10:4. Jehovah in his holy palace,etc.—[A. V., “temple.” Delitzsch: “Above the earth are the heavens, and in the heavens is Jehovah’s throne, the King of kings. And this heavenly temple, this palace, is the place from whence all earthly things are finally decided, Habakkuk 2:20; Micah 1:2. For the royal throne there is also the judgment seat above the earth, Psalms 9:7; Psalms 103:19. Jehovah, who is seated there, is the all-seeing and the all-knowing. חָזָּה = cernere, of a penetrating glance. בָחַן = trying metals by fire, of a searching glance into the innermost nature of things. The eyelashes are mentioned designedly. When we consider and investigate sharply, the eyelids approach one another in order that the glance may become more single, direct, and like a flash penetrating through the object.”—C. A. B.]3

Psalms 10:6. Rain.—Hupfeld holds fast strongly to the optative, and makes “fire and brimstone as nets” depend upon “He makes to rain.” According to Delitzsch the future in the jussive form states a fact of the future resulting with necessity from facts of the present. “Rain” denotes the abundance in which the means of punishment descend. If the accents and pointing are not altered in order to find stated something corresponding to fire and brimstone, e.g. coals (Ewald, Olsh., now also Böttcher), or ashes (Hitzig), then this means of punishment consists either of masses (Böttcher previously), lumps in general, pieces (Aben Ezra, Geier, Mich.) or slings which most interpreters regard as figurative of lightning; others, following Calvin, as a means of holding them fast in order that they may not escape the punishment.

The fiery wind” [A. V., “Horrible tempest”] is the hot east wind, Arab. samûm = the poisonous. Hupf. does not consider that the meaning fire has been proved, but rather that of rage, and translates: Blast of wrath. So likewise Hengst.4 [Wordsworth: “The Psalmist refers to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a prophetic emblem of what awaits the ungodly; and he anticipates the language of St. Jude concerning those cities “as set forth for an example suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Judges 7:0). And he anticipates the imagery of the Apocalypse Revelation 19:20; Psalms 21:8.”—Portion of their cup.—Alexander: “something measured out for them to drink, according to the frequent Scriptural representation, both of God’s wrath and favor as a draught or as the cup containing it. Comp. Psalms 16:5; Matthew 20:22-23; Matthew 26:39. The meaning of the whole verse is that notwithstanding the present security of the ungodly, they shall sooner or later be abundantly visited with every variety of destructive judgment.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 10:7. Righteous acts [A. V., “righteousness”], literally, “righteousnesses,” that is, acts of righteousness.—The upright shall behold His face.—The adjective in the singular is collective as subst., hence the plural of the predicate. The suffix is in a poetical, solemn form of the singular (Ewald, Olsh.) and is not necessarily plural of majesty, or an inexactness (Hupf.). Since the face is elsewhere only the object, and not the subject of seeing, the translation which is certainly possible here, “his countenance doth behold the upright,” (Isaki, Kimchi, Geier, Mich., Hengst. [A. V.]) is not to be recommended, although in the other clauses God is the subject, and the plural forms in the suffix and verbs are very well explained whilst the object remains in the singular. Luther, et al., following most of the ancient translations, regard this as abstract = uprightness. [Almost all recent commentators adopt the rendering of the author. Thus Hupfeld: “’To behold God’s face’ is figurative of the highest favor with God and blessedness, as Psalms 17:15, like sitting and standing before the face of God, Psalms 41:12; Psalms 140:13; Job 33:26, etc.; borrowed from the privilege of oriental magnates to appear before the king, and be favored with the constant sight of majesty, and so transferred to the relation of the pious to God, who alone are worthy of this sight, and are capable of it, so far as only the pure can bear the sight of the Holy One; but sin excludes from the privilege; comp. the promise, Matthew 5:8, that ‘the pure in heart shall see God,’ and the corresponding figure of spiritual reception in the house of God, which only the pious have, Psalms 5:5; Psalms 15:1.”—C. A. B.]5


1. Those are not true friends who, in dangerous times, put the duty of self-preservation before that of duty to the community, and then when the foundations of the State are rooted up, and the pillars of social order begin to shake, advise to flight instead of to the conflict which should be waged in the name of God, and with the assurance of Divine assistance. Indeed every courageous man and brave warrior rejects such imputations as cowardly and shameful; how much more the Sovereign, who is called of God, and who trusts in God?

2. That God is enthroned in heaven does not prevent His government on earth, but rather is presupposed as well for His government of the world in general as for His special dealings with individuals, and therefore it is the foundation of the believer’s confidence that even in the worst times, he will receive seasonable help from the Lord.

3. It is not stated here how a man is justified, but how it fares with the righteous. He may indeed on earth fall into the greatest dangers and needs, and be surrounded by timid, unsafe, and false friends, and be oppressed by mighty, crafty, and merciless enemies; but God does not forsake those who trust in Him with living faith. He tries them, it is true, as a discerner of hearts, but the upright, whom He has found faithful, He causes to experience His love, and helps them out of all their needs.


He who has faith does not flee.—The King of heaven is not only an almighty but likewise an omniscient God and the just Rewarder.—Where even the strength of the righteous fails, the arm of Him who is enthroned in the heavens helps.—The rulers of the earth have likewise to reflect that they have a Lord in heaven.—The wicked have to reckon upon no lasting success; it only remains for them to wait for the terrible judgments of God whilst the righteous may hope in the assistance of God and at last will behold His countenance.—In times of danger we must not hearken to the advice of weak and cowardly men, but trust in the word and assistance of God. Not to flee from God but to God brings deliverance, salvation and peace.

Calvin: Although all alike confess that the world is ruled by God, yet there are but few, when a sad complication of affairs surrounds them with darkness, who have this conviction confirmed in the innermost part of their souls.

Starke: Whenever any one turns to fearing God, there are ever wicked decoy birds which think to prevent him.—No hunter can pursue the game more hotly than the ungodly are greedy for the ruin of the pious.—It is well for those who are well-grounded, especially at this last time, when the ground is not destroyed, yet is made to shake in many ways and when so many fundamental truths are contested. There are two ways in which God is present; one in which He fills heaven and earth, the other when He is present in the word and sacrament, yes, in the hearts of believers.—The omnipresence and omniscience of God are a very strong consolation to the believer when oppressed.—There is a difference between the cross of the pious and the punishment of the ungodly, the former are preserved by suffering, the latter are entirely destroyed.—He who loves God and will be loved by God must love righteousness.—Speak what is right, maintain the right and deviate not a finger breadth from righteousness and the Lord will be favorable to you.

Osiander: Although we do not in all ways serve the law of God after the flesh, yet we should do it with our souls and have pleasure therein after the inner man (Romans 7:22) in order that God may not be hostile to us.—Selnekker: The favor of God and the favor of wicked men are wider apart than heaven and earth.—Moller: What comforts and encourages the pious, fills the ungodly with fear and terror.—Arndt: The reward of the pious is the love of God, yea God Himself.—Herberger: The more defiant the ungodly are in favorable times, the more dejected and discouraged they are in misfortune.—Rieger: It is well for those, to whom all in God is so dear, that they can gain for themselves a basis of good hope from His holiness, His power, His omniscience, and His zeal against wickedness.—Stiller: Sighs ascend and consolation descends.—Guenther: There are two kinds of enemies, the open and the secret; the former persecute us, the latter give us the so-called good advice.—Diedrich: Make no peace with the world until after a decisive victory, and let your daily confession be this only: I trust in the Lord.

[Matth. Henry: The confidence and comfort which the saints have in God, when all the hopes and joys in the creature fail them, is a riddle to a carnal world, and is ridiculed accordingly.—Good people would be undone if they had not a God to go to, a God to trust to, and a future bliss to hope for.—In singing this Psalm we must encourage and engage ourselves to trust in God at all times, must depend upon Him to protect our innocency, and make us happy; must dread His frown as worse than death, and desire His favor as better than life.—Barnes: The wicked have everything to fear; the righteous, nothing. The one is never safe; the other, always. The one will be delivered out of all his troubles; the end of the other can only be ruin.—Spurgeon: When prayer engages God on our side, and when faith secures the fulfilment of the promise, what cause can there be for flight, however cruel and mighty our enemies?—Is it suggested to us that there are ways of avoiding the cross, and shunning the reproach of Christ? Let us not hearken to the voice of the charmer, but seek an increase of faith, that we may wrestle with principalities and powers and follow the Lord fully, going without the camp, bearing His reproach. Mammon, the flesh, the devil, will all whisper in our ear, “Flee as a bird to your mountain,” but let us come forth and defy them all. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”—The advice of cowardice and the jeer of insolence, both answered by faith. Lesson—Attempt no other answer.—If all earthly things fail, and the very State fall to pieces, what can we do? We can suffer joyfully, hope cheerfully, wait patiently, pray earnestly, believe confidently, and triumph finally.—C. A. B.]


[1][This Psalm may have been composed at that critical period mentioned, 1 Samuel 29-31, and 2 Samuel 1-3. David lost the confidence of the Philistines, was in trouble with his own men, 1 Samuel 30:6; 1 Samuel 30:22-24; 2 Samuel 3:39, and all the religious as well as the political institutions of Israel were disturbed and in danger of dissolution.—C. A. B.]

[2][“Your” is significant; it refers to the well-known mountain stronghold, the familiar hiding places of David and his friends; some such one as the cave of Engedi, 1 Samuel 24:0, or the hill Hachilah, Psalms 26:1. This Psalm was composed when these remembrances were fresh in the minds of David and his adherents.—C. A. B.]

[3][Delitzsch: “Thus men are manifest to the All-searching eye, the all-trying glance of Jehovah: righteous and unrighteous. He trieth the righteous, that is, He recognizes in the depths of their souls their righteous nature, which stands the test (Psalms 17:3; Job 23:10) so that He protects them with love as the righteous cling to Him in love; but the wicked and he who uses violence against the weak. His soul hates, and He hates them with all the energy of His holy being. The more intense this hate is, the more fearful will the punishment be which He sends down upon them.”—C. A. B.]

[4][There is here probably a reference to the Sirocco of the Holy Land thus described by Thomson. “The air becomes loaded with fine dust, which it whirls in rainless clouds hither and thither at its own wild will; it rushes down every gorge, bowing and breaking the trees, and tugging at each individual leaf; it growls around the houses, romps and runs riot with your clothes.”—“The eyes inflame, the lips blister, and the moisture of the body evaporates, under the ceaseless application of this persecuting wind; you become languid, nervous, irritable, and despairing.” Vid., still further Thomson, Land and the Book, pp. 295 and 537.—C. A. B]

[5][Delitzsch: “To behold God’s face is in itself impossible for mortal man without dying. But when God graciously allows Himself to be seen, He makes it possible for the creature to look upon Him. This enjoyment of the Divine face when it is softened in love, is the highest honor which God’s grace can bestow upon man, it is the blessing of the upright, Psalms 140:13. We cannot say that this means beholding His face in the world to come, or that it is exclusively in this world. The future עולם is lost to the Old Testament idea in the night of sheol. But faith breaks through this night, and consoles itself with a future beholding of God, Job 19:26. The New Testament redemption has realized this postulate of faith in that the Redeemer has broken through the night of the realm of the dead, raised up with Himself the pious of the Old Testament, and transported them into the sphere of the Divine love which is revealed in heaven.” Perowne: “Thus Faith kindles into hope. Not only does David make Jehovah his refuge in calamity, but he can rejoice in the thought that he shall behold the face of God,—behold now the light of His countenance even in the midst of gloom and darkness. Did his hope reach beyond this, and are we to suppose that here he looks forward to seeing God in the resurrection? We cannot tell. But see Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15. To us, however, his words may be the expression of a ‘hope full of immortality.’ ‘We know that our light affliction worketh out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ ‘We know that when He shall appear … we shall see Him as He is.’ We can take this Psalm likewise to ourselves, and think upon ‘seeing God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ ”—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 11". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-11.html. 1857-84.
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