# 73 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Nineteen: Psalm 11 God the King rules from heaven.

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I had thought I would move on to Psalm 12 when I realized that there was an incredibly important truth in Psalm 11 that I had only really mentioned briefly in passing. That was the remarkable words of verse 4 which states:

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.”

Just stop for a moment, as I did, and meditate on these words.

These words are teaching us about the God we worship. These words are a revelation concerning the One who created all things and the One who sustains all things. The One who rules, who is everywhere, knows everything and is all-powerful. And the psalmist suggests here that this One “is in his holy temple…on his heavenly throne.” Words that gave him great comfort and the courage to not run from his troubles or his troublemakers.

Why? Are these just nice words or does God really “sit on his heavenly throne” ruling over his creation?

Rather than going first to see what commentaries say, I checked out some very interesting cross-references to verse 4 as follows:

Solomon in his prayer to Yahweh, the “Sovereign Lord” (I Kings 8:53), asks that when he and his people call out to him that from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.” (1 Kings 8:49)

Prior to this, Solomon’s father David, “sang to the Lord…when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies…” and said these words:

In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his [heavenly] temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)

Then there is that remarkable vision of Isaiah’s when he “saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim …And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”    (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Later on he quotes this same Lord as saying:

Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.”   (Isaiah 66:1)

Micah speaks of “the Sovereign Lord … bear[ing] witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.” (Micah 1:2)

And then Habakkuk has a serious suggestion for us all:

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.    (Habakkuk 2:20)

When we turn to the NT, the writers confirm what their OT counterparts wrote about. For example, Matthew, quoting Jesus, says,

34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool.”  (Matthew 5:34) – A quote from Isaiah 66:1 above.

But then to top all this off is the Revelation of John chapter 4-5, tiltled “The Throne in Heaven” in the NIV. If you have time, read it now. Here are just a few snippets:

“After this I looked … At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders … In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures … Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”   (Revelation 4)

What John saw was what the psalmist had mentioned when he said, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” And this is our God!

So, I guess, these are not just nice words to bring some comfort in trouble. Not just nice words to give courage against those who oppose us. But, the reality! The OT writers understood this. Some of them had a vision of God on his “heavenly throne”. Jesus in the NT affirms its truth and he should know! Then we have John’s vision just to complete the picture.

Of course, the point is not where this heavenly throne is, because we don’t know, and we don’t know because we aren’t told and most probably we are too earthbound to understand anyway!  As Wilcock comments, “it is not a matter of location; it is a matter of function…heaven…is where God welcomes all to his eternal presence and governs all by his eternal power.” (see references # 5)

Remember, according to the psalmist,  it is from here that God “observes the sons of men, his eyes examine them…the Lord [who] is righteous, [who] loves justice…[and whose face] the upright ones will see…” (Psalm 11:4-7)

A couple of other thoughts from commentators are:

In verse 3 the psalmist draws our attention to “foundations [that] are being destroyed”. Broyles suggests that the psalmist then points to “a building whose foundations will never be destroyed. It is the supreme image of stability and order….this statement does not merely locate God’s presence ; rather it affirms that he has assumed his role as universal Judge and is about to exercise that role. There is the sense that the entire world stands before him in his court.” He continues, “In the minds of the ancients the earthly temple was an immanent symbol participating in the transcendent reality.” (see references # 4)

And finally, Longman suggests that the psalmist “explains why he has such confidence in God in the face of armed attackers. [He] simply states that God ‘is in his holy temple’. In other words, he has made his presence known among his people…[and He is]  ‘on his heavenly throne’. The temple is an earthly manifestation of a heavenly reality….[and the point being] that God the King rules from heaven. From this heavenly vantage point, he observes everyone [the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’].”   (see references # 30)

One day, we too, if we can be described as “righteous” (11:4) and “upright” (11:7), will “see his face” as we enter the heavenly throne room. How that is possible is found in John’s revelation chapter 5.

John here describes what he saw next, which was “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders… [and] the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. …  And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Thanks be to God that Jesus, here described as “The Lamb who was slain”, is the only way we will ever enter into God’s presence and “see his face”!

Father, this is all a bit too much to take in, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less the reality.  Thank you that you reign supreme and “love justice”. Help us to also “act justly…love mercy and to walk humbly with [you] our God.” (Micah 6:8) Amen

# 72 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Eighteen: Psalm 11 “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

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My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”     (Psalm 55:4-8)

Ever felt like this?

I wonder what was happening in David’s life to make him feel that all he wanted to do was run away (or “fly away”) to a place of safety. Knowing his story, there were plenty of occasions it could have been, but we are not told. But, in this psalm, there is no indication that this is what he actually did.

Well, that’s Psalm 55! It’s interesting though that in today’s psalm, Psalm 11, he rebukes his counselors who suggest that this is what he needs to do. Here David says:

In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

Why so positive here? Because, it seems,  he knew without a doubt that:

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.

So, why such a different reaction to what seems to be a similar situation?

Well, obviously with no background information, we may never know.

But, just maybe we have both psalms as a gift from God to be able to relate to both these times in our lives.

Psalm 55 for the times when we are feeling very weak and vulnerable and completely overwhelmed by all that is happening to us and we say (or maybe sing!) to ourselves, “O for the wings of a dove…” And yet, despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation maybe we are still able to say in faith:

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
23  …But as for me, I trust in you.

Then Psalm 11 for the times when, despite all that is happening, our confidence remains strong that God is on the throne and he can be trusted as we find our “refuge” in Him.

Like David, our feelings fluctuate. Some days we are feeling full of faith and confident that God is “on the throne”. Other days we may be not so sure of things, crying out to God, just as the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit did to Jesus when he said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Paul certainly understood tough times and he too cried out to God for the strength to go on. Listen to one occasion as mentioned in 1 Corinthian 12:7-10:

“I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Not exactly fun times, and certainly not what we would desire naturally, but opportunities to rely upon our God rather than upon ourselves or others. Opportunities to strengthen our faith in him and allow him to transform us to become more like Jesus.  And so David confidently ends this psalm with:

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7)

Father, thank you that no matter what the circumstances of our lives, you are with us, you are good and your ways are good. Thank you that in the tough times your grace is all sufficient. Thank you that, like Paul, we have experienced those times when your power is made perfect in our weakness. Amen.

 

# 71 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Seventeen: Psalm 11 The Psalms – full of “refugees”!

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“In the Lord I take REFUGE.” (Psalm 11:1)

According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary the definition of refuge is:

  • shelter or protection from danger or distress
  • a place that provides shelter or protection

and the definition of refugee is:

  • one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.

Recently I read a book called “Walk in my Shoes”, the story of Afghan refugees arriving by boat from Indonesia to Australia (before the present policy of off-shore detention). On arrival at the detention centre in Australia, Gulnessa, the young woman telling her family’s story, describes the scene:

“I heard a man’s voice, low and slow at first, and then his song increased in strength and tempo, until it filled the room. Then Abdul’s and other voices joined the chorus, passionately, jubilantly, until the room rang with sounds of celebration…We pushed back tables and formed circles to dance…there had been few [such] celebrations at home [in Afghanistan] for a long time. But this was an occasion for rejoicing. We’d been through hell and had reached a safe haven alive…Here there were no gunshots and explosions. No Terror [referring to the Taliban] to torture us or to kidnap our loved ones…That night I felt safe – for the first time [in ages]…we slept, soundly, dreamlessly.” (Alwyn Evans Walk in My Shoes Penguin Books 2004)

Most of us reading these words know little of such an experience, although some of us who have lived overseas have also seen some of the sorts of atrocities that occur and therefore have some understanding of why people often need to flee their homes for a safer place.

The psalmist’s though, and maybe especially David, understood the feeling. In his early years David had spent many years it seems fleeing from Saul and needing to find refuge in caves and other such places. But generally the references in the Psalms are not referring to these places of physical refuge.

The word refuge occurs about 40 times in the Psalms and numerous other times in the rest of the OT. And in the Psalms it most often uses similar words to how David commences this psalm: “In the Lord I take REFUGE.” (Psalm 11:1) and then other verses speak of “God … our REFUGE.” (Psalm 62:8)

A few others psalms elaborate even more:

The Lord is a REFUGE for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take REFUGE, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  (Psalm 18:2)

But how does this apply to us today? We can so easily quote these verses or sing them in our songs of worship, but what does it really mean for us in our everyday lives?

When was the last time you really sensed that you needed God to be your “refuge” considering that the meaning of the Hebrew, it seems, could also be translated as “to put your trust in” or “find protection in” the Lord.

The first time I had any idea that I needed God to be my “refuge” was at 19 when I was overwhelmed by my sense of guilt, dissatisfaction with my life, fear of the future and longing for meaning and hope. The day I “put my trust in” Jesus was the day I found God to be my “refuge, my stronghold, my fortress”, my Saviour from sin, my hope for now and all eternity.

I now recognise our constant vulnerability in this world we live in. A world spoilt and broken in so many ways, and where too often, so it seems, evil triumphs over good. It seems to me that there has actually never been a time when our need for God to be our “refuge” was greater!

David understood this when he wrote Psalm 11 and verse 3 summarizes the crisis both in his day and in ours:

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

“The sociologist Peter Berger argues that Western culture has undergone a seismic shift in the past fifty years…our culture has become hostile towards its Judeo-Christian foundations… (see references # 36)

Knowing this,  David gives us some good advice in Psalm 11 – we don’t need to panic or give up! Why? His answer is simple: “The Lord is…” (verse 4)

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” (11:4) He reigns!

In the beginning, God!  In the present, God!  In the future, God!

And so we, like David, no matter what our present circumstances, are able to say confidently, “In the Lord I take refuge.”

Father, in one sense, nothing much has changed since David first wrote these words. And best of all, You are still “in [your] holy temple…on [your] heavenly throne…”, and so in times of trouble we can run to you and find in you our refuge. You are “our hiding place”. Amen.