The purpose of the observation stage is to maintain focus on the text at hand in accordance with the framework in which it was written: a framework which is defined by the normative rules of language, context and logic - rules which do not impose undue, unintended meanings to the text , and which largely limit the observer to the content offered by the Book of Psalms. In order for any passage from elsewhere to be considered, it must have a relationship with the context at hand, such as a Scriptural quotation or a specific cross reference in the passage at hand by the author. This will serve to avoid going on unnecessary tangents elsewhere; and more importantly, it will provide the framework for a proper and objective comparison with passages located elsewhere in Scripture.
Remember that something elsewhere may be true, but in the text at hand it may not be in view.
Psalm 11:1-3 (NASB)
In the LORD I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, "Flee as a bird to your mountain;
2 For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, They make ready their arrow upon the string To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?"
The historical setting of this psalm is unknown; apparently David was in desperate straits with his life in danger. The temptation to run from danger challenged his confidence in God. The psalm's message is as follows: faced with the temptation to flee at a time when lawful authority was being destroyed, the psalmist held fast to his faith in the Lord, who will ultimately destroy the wicked whom He hates and deliver the righteous whom He loves.
A Temptation to flee (11:1-3)
11:1. The psalm begins with the psalmist's repudiation of the temptation to flee from danger. David marveled at this suggestion from the fainthearted because it defied his faith in the Lord. His initial declaration, In the LORD I take (or have taken) refuge, counteracts their suggestion.
The fainthearted advised David to flee like a bird to a mountain where he would be safe. But instead he fled to the Lord for safety.
11:2. This temptation came because the wicked were out to destroy the righteous, including David. The wicked bend their bows to fasten the strings on them, and then. place their arrows on the strings to shoot in secrecy (cf. 10:8-9) at the upright. It may be that a literal attack is in view, but more likely the bows and arrows denote slanderous words that destroy, as is often true in the Psalms.
11:3. If the foundations of society are overthrown, what can the righteous do? These foundations refer to the Law and the order of society based on the Lord's rule. The temptation from the fainthearted, then, was based on a fear that the nation might crumble. Their view was experiential and earthward. David's view was higher.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty.
I. Refuge in God (11:1-3)
1-3 Confidence in the Lord describes the psalmist as he is surrounded by the wicked and receives counsel from his advisors. His confidence is grounded in years of walking with God. Therefore he is amazed at the lack of stability of his advisors. Where is their faith when they counsel him to flee? "Flee like a bird" (v.1) is an expression of quick escape in search of quietness (cf. 55:6; 124:7).
The psalmist quickly dismisses escape, even though it is a viable alternative. His advisors argue against him with facts. First, the wicked slander him as they stalk like predators for the kill (v.2). Their tongues are bent like bows; their words are "arrows" against the string. They lie in ambush and with their "tongues" hurl sudden abuse at the godly.
Second, the wicked lurk in the dark. The battle is not in the open, where one can see it. So it is with evil. It is pervasive and yet not easy to spot. The wicked are deceptive and filled with treachery.
Third, the foundations are destroyed. The word "foundations" (shath oth) occurs only here with this meaning (elsewhere "buttocks," 2 Sam 10:4; Isa 20:4). The "foundations" appear to be a metaphor for the order of society (75:3 [NIV, "pillars"]; 82:5; Ezek 30:4): the "established institutions, the social and civil order of the community" (Briggs, 1:89-90). This order has been established by the Lord at creation and is being maintained, as H.H. Schmid puts it: "All factors considered, the doctrine of creation, namely, the belief that God has created and is sustaining the order of the world in all its complexities, is not a peripheral theme of biblical theology but is plainly the fundamental theme" ("Creation, Righteousness, and Salvation: "Creation Theology' as a Broad Horizon of Biblical Theology," in Creation in the Old Testament ed. Bernard W. Anderson [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], pp. 102-117). God's justice and law are being replaced by human autonomy and its resultant anarchy.
Fourth, the wicked are fully intent on making anarchy the way of life. They haunt the "upright in heart" (yishre-leb), that is, those who are characterized by their integrity. The word "upright" (yashar) denotes the godly, who know and love the Lord (cf. 7:10; 36:10; cf. 73:1). They are not perfect, nor are they "upright" in their own eyes. They love the Lord and, therefore, do his will. They, as the "righteous" (saddiq vv.3, 5), constitute the opposite of the wicked, who are bent on ridding themselves of those who do God's will on earth. The wicked's hatred of righteousness matches their ability with the bow and arrow. The argument holds true because the wicked are likened to archers in ambush. They are treacherous, stealthy, and intent on maligning and making the godly fall (cf. 10:7-10; 37:14).
Perhaps David is disconcerted with his own thoughts, as he speaks to himself. A tension has developed. There are two kinds of responses to the immediate threat: escape or refuge. It seems that reason dictates escape. The godly seem to be powerless against such treachery. In view of this, he asks, "What can the righteous do?" This question is a more probable reading than the NIV marginal note: "What is the Righteous One doing?" The psalmist has already answered this counsel by his personal expression of trust: "In the LORD I take refuge" (v.1). The emphatic "in the LORD" is reflected in the NIV. Trust and confidence in the Lord mark this psalm (cf. vv.4, 7), not escape, but asylum with God!
For a brief discussion of the technical words and phrases in the superscription, see the Introduction.
1 The הַר (har "mountain") is a place of refuge from persecution (cf. 1 Sam 26:20). The MT reads "your" as a masculine plural. The pronoun "you" is absent in the LXX, Targum, and Syriac versions; instead, the one word in Hebrew, הַרְכֶם (harkem "your mountain"), is divided into two words: הַר כְּמֹו (har kemo "mountain like"; see J. Ridderbos, 1:96-97; Craigie, Psalms 1-50, p. 131). The NEB follows another possible reading, suggested by the LXX (cf. BHS): "Flee to the mountains like a bird" (cf. A.A. Anderson, 1:120).
2 In the Psalms the evil of the tongue is often metaphorically described in terms of deadly weapons such as the sword and the bow and arrow (cf. 37:14; 57:4; 64:3-4; see also Jer 9:8).
Expositor's Bible Commentary, The - Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.