The title tells us both the author and the audience of the psalm: To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Some believe that the Chief Musician is the Lord GOD Himself, and others suppose him to be a leader of choirs or musicians in David’s time, such as Heman the singer or Asaph (1 Chronicles 6:33, 16:5-7, and 25:6). This psalm records well-intentioned, but faithless advice of David’s friends when he was a fugitive from King Saul. David lifted his eyes to the LORD to find faith in a time of testing. He knew the safest place to stand was in radical trust in God.
A. The advice of fear.
1. (1) David reacts to the advice to flee.
In the LORD I put my trust;
How can you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain”?
a. In the LORD I put my trust: In the years before he took the throne of Israel, David lived the life of a fugitive. He was constantly hunted by King Saul and lived in constant danger. In such a time, his friends advised him, “Flee as a bird to your mountain.” His friends meant well, but David knew it was the wrong thing to do.
b. How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain?”: This expressed the near outrage in David’s response to his friends. No matter how well-intentioned his friends were, they gave him the advice of fear. The advice of fear couldn’t stand with the position of trust David had in the LORD.
i. “He would rather dare the danger than exhibit a distrust in the Lord his God.” (Spurgeon)
2. (2-3) David remembers the words of fear in the mouths of his friends.
For look! The wicked bend their bow,
They make ready their arrow on the string,
That they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?
a. For look! The wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow on the string: In today’s language, David’s friends would say, “Look! There is a loaded gun to your head, and you have to run!”
b. For look: The advice given to David was well-meant, but ungodly. It was like when Peter advised Jesus to not go the way of the cross (Matthew 16:22-23). Peter meant well, but he was really being used by the devil.
i. We must always be careful with the advice we give to others. First, we must always mind our own business and not be busybodies (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Timothy 5:13). Second, we can be too confident in our own perception of a situation. Job’s friend confidently said, “I will tell you, hear me; what I have seen I will declare” (Job 15:17), but he was wrong. Our motive is good and right, but the advice is wrong.
c. That they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart: Here, David’s friends are trying to make him afraid of a secret attack. When we fear the things we can’t see, we are really walking in fear!
i. David’s friends may have been using an element of manipulation here. They may have reasoned like this: “Look, for his own good, we have to get David out of here. It’s justified for us to exaggerate things a little bit to get him to do what is right.” But it wasn’t justified. Manipulation is never right, even if it is for a good cause.
d. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? These words in the mouths of David’s friends were meant to be a warning. The idea was, “The very foundation of Saul’s government is destroyed. What can a righteous one like you do, except flee?”
e. What can the righteous do? When David heard these words from his friends, his head probably told him there was something to them. But his heart told him that to heed this advice and to flee would be to compromise.
i. “He will use such plausible logic, that unless we once for all assert our immovable trust in Jehovah, he will make us like the timid bird which flies to the mountain whenever danger presents itself.” (Spurgeon)
B. The answer of faith.
1. (4a) David answers by remembering where God is.
The LORD is in His holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven;
a. The LORD is in His holy temple: Probably, David had in mind both the LORD’s temple on earth (the tabernacle) and the LORD’s temple in heaven. David reminded himself and his friends, “God hasn’t gone anywhere. You can go to His temple and meet with Him.” He may also have had the thought, “The LORD isn’t going anywhere, so I won’t either.”
i. When the advice of fear comes upon us, we can only arrive at the answer of faith by spending time with the LORD. When we think about our problems, the advice of fear often overwhelms us. When we pray about our problems, the answer of faith assures our hearts.
ii. When we think of Jesus in the temple of heaven, we remember that He is praying for us. “What plots can men devise which Jesus will not discover? Satan has doubtless desired to have us, that he may sift us as wheat, but Jesus is in the temple praying for us, and how can our faith fail?” (Spurgeon)
b. The LORD’s throne is in heaven: This was the source of David’s confidence. It was not foolhardiness or self-reliance. Instead, David had confidence in a holy, all-powerful, all-knowing God.
i. David was asked, What can the righteous do? David answered with another question: “What can’t the righteous do when the LORD God is still on His throne?”
ii. The problems were indeed bad. “But what were all these things to a man whose trust was in God alone?” (Spurgeon)
2. (4b-5) David answers by remembering what God sees.
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
The LORD tests the righteous,
But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
a. His eyes behold: David didn’t need to take the advice of fear, because God saw his situation. David had a greater cause than self-preservation, because he knew that God was looking at him and taking care of him.
b. The LORD tests the righteous: Again, David answered the question, If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? David answered, “The righteous can know that the LORD is testing them, and because a loving God is testing them, they can know they will not be pushed too far or forsaken. The righteous can know the LORD is in control.”
c. But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates: As God sees, He is not a detached observer. He cares; He sees the wicked and hates them. David is saying, “I don’t need to flee to protect myself, because God in heaven is watching me and sees how sinful the conduct of my enemies is.”
3. (6) David answers by remembering the destiny of the wicked.
Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup.
a. Upon the wicked He will rain coals, fire and brimstone and a burning wind: God will punish the wicked. This gave David confidence in the midst of the advice of fear. After all, if the ungodly persecute the righteous, how much more will the righteous God persecute the ungodly?
b. Fire and brimstone: This gave the image of ultimate, eternal judgment. What did David have to fear from men destined for hell?
c. This shall be the portion of their cup: The image of the cup as a container of judgment reminds us of Jesus’ prayer in the garden: O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will (Matthew 26:39). The cup Jesus dreaded was the cup that contained the wrath of God against sin, wrath that we deserved, but Jesus drank for us.
4. (7) David answers by remembering the love and favor of God.
For the LORD is righteous,
He loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.
a. For the LORD is righteous: This was a comfort and encouragement to David. When we are rebelling against the LORD, His righteousness is no comfort to us. But David knew he was the innocent victim of persecution, and he knew the righteous LORD would take up his cause.
b. He loves righteousness: David knew that as he walked righteously, he would keep [himself] in the love of God (Jude 1:21). It isn’t that we must earn God’s love by our personal righteousness; instead, our pursuit and practice of righteousness keeps us flowing in the benefits of God’s love.
i. God’s love extends everywhere. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, and He loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). But we can deny ourselves the benefits of God’s love.
ii. People who don’t keep themselves in the love of God end up living as if they are on the dark side of the moon. The sun is always out there, always shining, but they are never in a position to receive the light or warmth of the sun. They are like the Prodigal Son of Luke 15, who was always loved by the father, but for a time he did not benefit from that love.
c. His countenance beholds the upright: Scholars and translators debate if this means “God’s upright people see Him” or “the LORD sees His upright people.” Most modern translations think it speaks of God’s people seeing Him: Upright men will see his face (NIV), The upright will behold His face (NASB),The godly shall see his face (LB). However, it really doesn’t matter, because both are true.
i. God shines His face on His people. This speaks of “an eye of approbation, and true and tender affection, and watchful and gracious providence; which is oft signified by God’s beholding or looking upon men.” (Poole) In fact, the last line of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:26 is, The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.
ii. God’s people will see Him. I will see Your face in righteousness (Psalm 17:15). Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). In fact, the desire to behold God is one of the greatest motivations to an upright life and heart.
iii. All in all, when David considers the greatness of God, the care of God, and the vision of God, it all outweighs the danger. For David, trusting God was the safest move of all. His friends may or may not have meant well, but David would not receive their advice of fear. Instead, he would answer with faith.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org