The question I have been seeking to answer over the past several weeks is how can we praise the Lord in the midst of a wicked world, and I’ve suggested that answering that question is one of the fundamental purposes of how the Book of Psalms is organized. The book ends with all creation praising the Lord without exception and without hindrance in Psalm 150, but the book doesn’t start there; the book gives much attention to the reality of wickedness around us and sin within us, and one of the functions of how this book is organized is to help us progress from lament over this wickedness to praise in the midst of it.
And what we have seen from the first two introductory psalms is that the primary factor that will determine your ability to praise the Lord in the midst of wickedness is your image of blessedness, the good life, what it means to flourish and prosper in the present world. A truly blessed, righteous person will not allow his image of prosperity to be shaped by wicked counsel, by their image of blessedness. And we saw from Psalm 2 what that image is—it is an image of prosperity apart from God, a conception of his rule that sees it as burdensome, that casts off his rule in favor of what they wicked consider true freedom and flourishing. If that’s your image of what it means to prosper, then Psalms 1 and 2 promise that you will not stand in the judgment—the way of the wicked will perish.
Rather, a truly righteous person will delight in the law of the Lord, he will muse on the music of God’s Word, allowing God’s Word to shape his image of blessedness; he will have an image of life under God’s rule as one of true flourishing, like a fruitful tree planted by streams of water. He will not see God’s rule as burdensome or constraining, but as that which actually leads toward blessing. The righteous person will, as that final, bookend verse in Psalm 2 says, take refuge in the Lord.
But as we have already seen, this image of prosperity under God’s rule is not one in which we ignore the reality of the wickedness around us; we don’t try to escape that reality; instead, we prosper and praise through that reality. And that’s what the entire Book of Psalms helps us to see; it is composed to help shape a proper image in our hearts of blessing and worship through the pain, in the midst of persecution and adversity, with hope-filled anticipation of the day when we will be able to do this without opposition, without our own sinful flesh, forever and ever.
That’s what the whole book is doing, and I would like to look for the next couple weeks at just one little piece of that in Psalm 11.
Psalm 11 is positioned in the middle of a series of laments about the wicked that extends from Psalm 10 through Psalm 14. Remember, the editors organized these psalms in a particular way for a particular reason, and so these laments are meant to work together to contribute to the image that God wants us to have of life under his rule in the midst of a wicked world.
Look with me just briefly at the image that God is painting in this series of psalms. Psalm 10 opens this way:
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
Do you ever feel that way? You look around you, wicked seems to be flourishing, and you wonder, where is God in all this? We’re going to focus on Psalm 11 in a moment, but look at the opening verse of Psalm 12:
Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Does that not describe our present age? The wicked are flourishing, God seems to be far away—Psalm 10, and even worse, Psalm 12, the godly one is gone; the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Does is seem like that today? How does that make you feel? Look at Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
These laments are painting an accurate picture of reality, are they not? And as we saw from Psalm 2, this reality is not only true some times, it describes the entire history of humankind after the Fall. And this point is emphasized in Psalm 14:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
In fact, do you recognize a couple of phrases in this psalm from anywhere in the NT? The apostle Paul quotes these very verses in Romans 3 to argue for the fact that this is true of whom? All people. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. That’s the reality for all humanity in all of human history.
And so what are we to do? How can we praise the Lord when this is the reality? What are we to do?
Well, this is exactly the question Psalm 11 asks. Look at verse 3:
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Now, what does David mean here by “foundations”? This is an image. Again, psalms don’t just come out and state things like more prosaic passages of Scripture do, because the purpose of the psalms is to shape our image of reality, our hearts, and so psalms use imagery to do so. What does this image of “foundations” picture?
Well, this image is often used in the psalms and throughout Scripture as a metaphor for the order of society, an order that God established at creation, that he established in Genesis 9 for societies, and that provides the basis for the flourishing of society. A system of righteousness that provides the basis for a civilized society that will work. A system in which, as God commanded in Genesis 9, when man sheds man’s blood, but man shall his blood be shed. Righteous laws. A basic culture of morality. The kind of order in a society such that, when yo go to court, you can count on a righteous verdict. Sin will be punished, as God intended, righteousness will be rewarded, as God intended.
This is how God designed things to be: when a society is built on righteousness, it will flourish. Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation.” Proverbs 16:12 says a king’s throne is established in righteousness. These are universal principles established by God that apply to all societies. And when societies destroy that foundation, they crumble.
Which is exactly what this series of laments is describing. In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor, Psalm 10. The faithful have vanished, Psalm 12. God seems to be absent, Psalm 13. There is none who does good, not even one, Psalm 14. Or as verse 2 of Psalm 11 describes it, “the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.”
The foundations are destroyed; what can the righteous do?
God’s people have often lived through times like this, civilization after civilization. And do we not live in a similar age? We have been in many ways spoiled in this nation. America is not a Christian nation, but the nation was built on foundations that were, for the most part, consistent with the way God designed things to work, and as such, this nation has flourished.
But the foundations are crumbling, are they not? This nation is being driven today, not just by Deists, like the founders, or even Atheists, but Anti-theists, people who set themselves against the Lord and his Anointed.
What can the righteous do?
And perhaps even worse, like Psalm 12 says, it appears that the faithful have vanished. What can the righteous do?