The Lord is in his Temple – Psalm 11

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

The title of this psalm in the ESV is spot on. It says “The Lord Is in His Holy Temple,” which is in line with the chiastic structure of this psalm, which shares its structure with Psalm 23, which I will be looking at later but where Psalm 23 is personal Psalm 11 is philosophical, taking its ideas from Wisdom literature such as the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

The east window in Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, depicts in the upper panels the ascension into Heaven of Jesus Christ.

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

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,

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;

if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord’s throne is in heaven;

his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,

but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulphur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 11 ESVUK with paragraphs and colours by me.

I keep on saying this: The psalms are lyrics to songs and songs have structure. The commentaries I have read on Psalm 11 deal with the song in a linear way, some even one word at a time but while a lot of songs are linear, some even tell stories. But with songs, we need to establish whether they are linear.

Psalm 11 has the same structure as the well-known Psalm 23, which is a chiastic poem, a form of poem or story structure which introduces its themes in one order leading to an optional central focus then deals with the themes in reverse order. I have slit the psalm into paragraphs and used the colours above to reveal the structure, which is A, B (in red), C (in blue), central focus (in bold), C’, B’ and A’.

Like Psalm 23 the first and last theme, the A sections, are about the Lord. The other sections are:
B, about wicked people,
C, about righteous people.
The central theme.

Starting from the centre, the theme of Psalm 11 is That God is in charge.

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;

God is on the throne in heaven is the focus, using the language of the temple, although the Jerusalem temple had yet to be built, it is always better to talk in terms of things that people can imagine, known as concrete nouns than to use abstract ideas which are easily misunderstood, this is common in the Biblical wisdom literature. But God is not remote by being in Heaven, one of the themes running through the first book of psalms, Psalms 1 to 41, is that God is beside us. God on his throne means that God is in control.

The B and C parts of the psalm are in the voice of those who look on the might of wicked people and feel helpless, “What can the righteous do?” The psalm is emphatic that it is God who is in control, and not wicked people. God will reward good people and punish the wicked people. God’s justice will happen.

We do not have to take the punishments here as literal. Wisdom literature used hyperbolae, and the imagery points back to the destruction by a volcano of Sodom and Gomorrah and to the volcanic activity of Mount Sinai when Moses was given the law. It may be symbolic, but God’s justice will happen.

All in all Psalm 11 is a song of praise for God’s protection and justice.

< Psalm 10 | Psalm 11 | Psalm 12 >
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