“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
It is disappointing at times not to know the historical context of many of David’s psalms. Take Psalm 11, last evening’s set psalm, for example: from the superscription we know that it is a psalm of David handed over to the choirmaster—set to be sung at worship in the temple—but otherwise we are in the dark as to its setting.
From the psalm itself, however, the context is pretty dire. David tells us that his friends “say to my soul”—that is, counsel him directly—to “flee like a bird to your mountain” – why? –‘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’. THAT is a dire situation; the powerful have risen up with conspiratorial intent towards David and others who are ‘upright in heart.’ It is that context which leads to their helpless question, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
If I had to guess as to the historical situation, I would argue that the time following David’s secret anointing by Samuel AND the divine choice to remove the Spirit from King Saul (leading to his descent into paranoia and defeat) gives the most logical context. Such a time would give the ‘upright’ the feeling that “the foundations are destroyed”—after all, IF Israel’s current-yet-rejected King is murderously intent to eliminate Israel’s divinely chosen future King, then the foundations are shaking indeed.
So what does this have to do with us?
Please do not misunderstand me; I do not equate our present circumstances to that of the young David. However, I do feel like our “foundations are being shaken”. At the beginning of the summer I read a number of books lamenting the loss of the Christian foundations of our society (the best of which was Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option). Furthermore, as I reflect on our current political situation, regardless of how you feel about the future direction of our President’s policies, it is safe to say that his ascendancy has heightened, rather than healed, the fissures already present within our society. Our foundations are being shaken, for good or for ill.
So, in such a situation, “What can the righteous do?”
Well, look at what David did.
“In the Lord I take refuge.”
Those are not only the first words of the psalm, but the first act of his day! In the dire situation he faced, where the “foundations were destroyed”, he daily (hourly?) placed himself confessionally and personally “in the Lord”. It was from this consciously chosen place that he could say to his advisors, “How can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain…”
Then, having described in detail the reality that his counselors saw (the dire situation that David and they faced), David then describes –again in a confessional way—the larger and truer reality:
“The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven, his eyes see, his eyelids test, the children of man.”
This undoubtedly is a confession of faith, but to David’s mind is surely a statement of reality! THIS is the ‘Bigger Picture’ that contextualizes all other ‘smaller pictures’ of reality—including the one wherein “the foundations are destroyed!” It is this ‘bigger’ reality that shapes his response to his present circumstances.
And what is that response? To be sure, David calls down God’s judgment upon the wicked (“Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”), but he does something more. Note how he ends the psalm:
“For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”
He confesses ‘who’ the LORD is (‘righteous’), and ‘what’ the LORD loves (“righteous deeds’); thereby committing himself to the doing of such deeds, even in the face of dire circumstances!
And to what end? The hope that “the upright shall behold his face.”
I found David’s psalm both challenging and encouraging.
I commend his response to all of us who face such times.