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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 11

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 11:0


The Lord a Refuge and Defense MT Intro “For the choir director. A psalm of David” Psalms 11:1-3 Faith in the Lord's Righteousness Psalms 11:1-3 Confidence in God's Concern for Justice Psalms 11:1-3 Confidence in the Lord Psalms 11:1-3 The Confidence of the Upright Psalms 11:1
Psalms 11:2-3
Psalms 11:4-7 Psalms 11:4-6 Psalms 11:4-7 Psalms 11:4-5 Psalms 11:4
Psalms 11:5-6
Psalms 11:6-7
Psalms 11:7 Psalms 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.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 11:1-3 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?”

Psalms 11:1 “refuge” See notes at Psalms 2:12; Psalms 5:11. This (BDB 340, KB 337, Qal perfect) is a wonderful recurrent metaphor of protection and security (cf. Psalms 34:22; Psalms 37:40).

David's advisors (or enemies) said, “run” (Psalms 11:1b), but David said, “why run?” (Psalms 11:1a, Psalms 11:2-3). 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. Psalms 121:1). The phrase is, therefore, a taunt.

The UBS Handbook says verses Psalms 11:1 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 Psalms 11:3 is also parallel to “refuge” and “mountains.” They refer to the presence and truth of YHWH (cf. Psalms 87:1; Psalms 119:152) with His people, which the wicked deny.

Psalms 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 Psalms 11:3

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

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

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

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

3. shoot BDB 434, KB 436, Qal infinitive construct, cf. Psalms 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

Psalms 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. Psalms 10:4; Psalms 14:1; Psalms 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. Psalms 11:4-7), then the disobedient, wicked, self-centered human (pagan or Israelite) is the fool!

There is a possibility that the second line of Psalms 11:3 refers to God (i.e., “the Just One,” cf. AB, p. 69, and footnote in Jewish Study Bible, p. 1294). See Psalms 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) is uncertain. It is a rare word but consensus is that it refers to the covenant laws. KB has the latest scholarly speculations.

Verses 4-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 11:4-7 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.

Psalms 11:4-7 This strophe answers the implied question of the wicked in Psalms 11:3. As it happens, “the foundations” of Psalms 11:3 are not destroyed!

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


Psalms 11:4-5a 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; Psalms 7:9; Psalms 26:2; Psalms 139:1, Psalms 139:23) the sins of men (ben Adam), both the righteous and the wicked. The NT records the event in Matthew 12:36-37; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 10:42; Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10, Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 4:5; and Revelation 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!



Psalms 11:5 “His soul hates” This is anthropomorphic language. See Special Topic: God Described as Human. See Exodus 15:9; Isaiah 1:14; Jeremiah 5:9, Jeremiah 5:29; Jeremiah 6:8; Jeremiah 9:9; Jeremiah 32:41; Ezekiel 23:18 for the same use of nephesh (BDB 659, see note at Psalms 3:2 and Genesis 35:18).

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

The OT lists several things YHWH hates.

1. idolatry Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 16:22; Jeremiah 44:4; Hosea 9:15

2. all who do iniquity Psalms 5:5

3. one who loves violence Psalms 11:5

4-10. see lists in Proverbs 6:16-19 (also note Zechariah 8:16-17)

11. the false, sham worship of Israel Isaiah 1:14; Amos 5:21; Amos 6:8

1. divorce Malachi 2:16

Psalms 11:6

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, NJB, 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, MT, LXX“snares” NASB margin“coals of fire” NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB, JPSOA“coals”

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.

Psalms 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. Deuteronomy 32:22)

See SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?.

“fire” This is a recurrent metaphor of judgment and cleansing.


NASB, NKJV“burning wind” NRSV, TEV, NJB, JPSOA, NRSV, REB“scorching wind” LXX“a wind of a tempest” NET“whirlwind”

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

Psalms 11:1. Psalms 11:6 describing a wind

Psalms 11:2. Psalms 119:53 as burning indignation

Psalms 11:3. Lamentations 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. Psalms 58:9; Proverbs 1:27; Hosea 8:7; Amos 1:14; Nahum 1:3)

2. hot desert wind (cf. Psalms 90:5-6; Psalms 103:15-16)

“their cup” This is a Hebrew idiom for a person's destiny, usually negative (cf. Psalms 75:8, but occasionally positive, cf. Psalms 16:5). It is associated with drunkenness (cf. Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15).

This same idiom was used by Jesus in

Psalms 11:1. Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:38, Mark 10:39

Psalms 11:2. Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42

Psalms 11:3. John 18:11

Psalms 11:7 YHWH is characterized as righteous (see Special Topic: Righteousness, cf. Exodus 9:27; Ezra 9:15; Nehemiah 9:8; Psalms 119:137; Jeremiah 12:1; Lamentations 1:18; John 17:25; Revelation 16:5, Revelation 16:7).

Some of the actions of the righteous God are:

1. He tests the hearts of men Psalms 7:9; Psalms 11:5; Jeremiah 20:12

2. He judges in righteousness Psalms 7:11

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

4. He is gracious and righteous Psalms 116:5

5. He cuts the cords of the wicked Psalms 129:4

6. He is righteous in all His ways Psalms 145:7; Daniel 9:14

Psalms 11:7b “The upright will behold His face” One wonders if this is the source of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:8. God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). No one can see God and live (i.e., Exodus 33:11, Exodus 33:17-23), yet those who are pronounced righteous in Him/Jesus will have intimate fellowship with Deity (cf. Job 19:25-27; Psalms 17:15; Matthew 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 Psalms 11:3 in your own words.

3. From Psalms 11:4, where is YHWH, heaven or the temple?

4. Does YHWH test humans (Psalms 11:5)?

How and why?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 11". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-11.html. 2021.
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