Psalm 11 “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?’ The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.”
David’s opening words express one of his unshakable determination – even though it is being sorely tested – “In the LORD I take refuge.” This is his message to us all, that there is a divine refuge, and David had found it and he wants you to know that he found it so that this refuge might be your refuge too.
- THE LORD IS A REFUGE.
Wales is full of castles, and we have the ruins of a castle in Aberystwyth. If marauders should be seen landing on the beach to plunder, steal and kill then warning trumpets would have sounded from the look-out tower and the people would have come fleeing in from their cottages and farms to take refuge in this fortress until the invaders were defeated or had set sail again. A refuge is a wonderful place when you are under attack from your enemies. Today there are houses with ‘safe rooms.’ There is a Norwegian cartoonist whose life has been threatened by Muslims because he drew a cartoon of Mohammed. Last week a Muslim with an axe tried to break into his house to kill him but the old cartoonist picked up his grandson and fled into the safe room, locking its strong door and there he was safe until the police whom he had called arrived and arrested the Muslim.
Christians know what their divine refuge is; Martin Luther understood it, didn’t he? A mighty fortress is our God, he wrote, and Christians know that they need one for we are engaged in a war against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. The evil one is always ready to attack us; he wants to drive us to despair so that we become good for nothing, no good to ourselves, no good to our family or friends, and no good to the church. We are simply sitting down enervated, in a long dark mood, suicidal, full of self-pity and bitterness. I am saying to you all that there is a refuge to which you may go where you will be delivered from the effects of those darts of depression. In the opening words of this psalm David tell us what or who this fortress is. He says, “In the Lord I take refuge.” That is the safest place in all the world.
David’s Lord was rich beyond all splendour, yet, all for love’s sake, becamest poor. He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall. See him clothed in the garments of flesh and blood! He laid his glory by; he wrapped him in our clay. Infant of days he here became and bore the mild Immanuel’s name. That same Lord grew up in Nazareth in the home of Joseph the carpenter. That same Lord was baptized by John the Baptist and began to preach through the land. He said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He promises to be a refuge for all of you who are in despair over your sins and weaknesses, for you who grieve over the loss of those you have deeply loved, for those bound round and round by the chains of guilt and shame. There is a refuge for you to go to. There is! Three thousand years ago King David spoke of him, and today millions speak of him as their refuge too. Many of us address Christ as their mighty fortress. We have sung from our hearts today these words, “O safe to the rock that is higher than I:”
“How oft in the conflict when pressed by the foe
I have fled to my refuge, and breathed out my woe:
How often, when trials like sea-billows roll
Have I hidden in Thee, O Thou Rock of my soul.
Hiding in Thee; Hiding in Thee,
Thou blest Rock of Ages, I’m hiding in Thee.” (William Cushing, 1823-1903).
In other words should we feel our lives are falling apart, that everything is too much for us, that we give in to temptation too easily and are full of guilt and shame, then what saves us is to get into Jesus Christ. Say to him words like this, “Accept me! Help me! Save me! Hide me O my Saviour hide, till the storm of life is past,” and keep saying them until you know you are in! We are knocking on the door of this great Refuge and we plead the promise, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” We will knock until we know he hears us and we are in!
Simon Barnes is one of the world’s leading sports journalist. He writes on all manner of sports for the Times. He was writing just four days before Christmas on one of the best footballer ever to have played for England, Paul Gascoigne, but like another brilliant footballer, George Best, Paul Gascoigne is a drunkard. And just before
Christmas he was fined yet again for being drunk and disorderly. How can you speak about such a person publicly without the greatest grief? What if Paul Gascoigne’s wife turned up in church today – or his children – and heard me speak about him? I speak with the greatest sadness about this likable, talented, generous man. So does Simon Barnes; he says he felt one of those uncomfortable lurchings of the heart as he stumbled over this small item of news. Paul Gascoigne had fallen off the wagon for the millionth time. A man of a billion good intentions: a man whose reforms have been outnumbered – by one – by his slippings up.
So what can I say? This, that there’s a refuge for Paul Gascoigne and his family. And one for Simon Barnes the sports journalist too, yet all he can write is this, “Gascoigne gave his genius to his sport and had nothing left over, absolutely nothing whatsoever, to help him through that stuff called life. It’s all very well to speak the truth, to acknowledge that to people like Gascoigne. There really is no answer. It’s all very well to brush a manly tear and wait for whatever grotesque and – for once the word will be appropriate – tragic conclusion awaits in this terrible story. But life shouldn’t be like that, and that’s all I can come up with: the useless notion that life should arrange things better for people such as Gascoigne.” I am saying that God has arranged it better. He has provided this Refuge.
Simon Barnes shows that he doesn’t know of a refuge. What does he say? He pontificates as post-modernists love to do. It is laughable because these are the people who say, “There are no absolutes. You cannot say that there is truth and error, right and wrong. Everything is relative,” and yet they’re always making absolute statements like this, “There really is no answer.” Let Simon Barnes say, “I don’t know of the answer, and I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the answer” and then he would be speaking truthfully. But life is far more than the life that Simon Barnes and Paul Gascoigne live and that George Best lived. They are living that incredibly narrow, restricted, blinkered life without the living God, life without grace; living life in defiance of the Creator who became created and preached the word of God to us, and lived it out himself. He died as the Lamb of God to make atonement for our sins, and rose on the third day, and now lives in heaven at God’s right hand and saves to the uttermost those who come to God by him. He breaks the power of alcohol and sets the prisoner free. There’s a refuge for Paul Gascoigne and for Simon Barnes and for you, that refuge is the Lord Jesus Christ. David in our psalm doesn’t say, “Find your own refuge.” He doesn’t say, “I found a refuge that helps me personally.” Well good for you David. No. He says, “In Jehovah I take my refuge.” The God with a name is the refuge.
I was reading this past week words of the 66 year old managing editor of Fox News in the USA, named Brit Hume, a well known American TV personality, like Jeremy Paxman. He was speaking about the fall of another famous sportsman, Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer, the most famous sportsman in the world. He’s another man who doesn’t know that there’s a refuge for him at this time of terrible crisis. This is what Brit Hume said on American TV last week, “Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person I think is a very open question, and it’s a tragic situation for him. I think he’s lost his family, it’s not clear to me if he’ll be able to have a relationship with his children, but the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal – the extent to which he can recover – seems to me to depend on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist; I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”
Grand words! Surprising words. It is as if someone like Jonathan Ross said them on the BBC. “Not Buddhism,” says Brit Hume. “No hope in Buddhism; no redemption.” What Buddhism does is to turn you in and in and into yourself, on a vain search for the hero inside yourself, and simply bite the bullet of guilt and shame, but Christianity speaks of a living Redeemer who comes alongside and loves us though he knows all about us. Turn to him! Turn to the refuge, Tiger! This is reality! This is true! Why go through life pretending that no such refuge exists. Satan would say to you, “It is too good to be true.” Here he is! The living risen Lord Christ saying, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” He is a Refuge and the door is open now for you to enter and for everyone. Don’t you want a Refuge? Don’t you need a Refuge? He is here today, and you can move into him as the Holy Spirit takes these words and moves you to join yourself to Jesus Christ. If any man is in Christ Jesus, this refuge, he is a new creation. Tiger Wood, Paul Gascoigne, Simon Barnes and all Aberystwyth sinners the door of this refuge is open for you today!
- DAVID WAS BEING ENCOURAGED TO FLEE TO ANOTHER REFUGE
David’s friends and counselors didn’t have his faith and they were advising him to find another refuge. How could they makes such a suggestion? David was aghast! Another refuge other than the Lord? They were saying to him, “Flee like a bird to your mountain” (v.1). The verb is in the plural form and so David and those who simply trusted in the Lord were all being urged to find another retreat, like a mountain hideout. David’s counselors could have reminded him of what Lot had to do when destruction was about to come to the city of Sodom, how he was told to flee to the mountains. To these jeremiads there seemed no hope for David, no deliverance, everything was so threatening while David’s Lord was helpless to protect him. Flight was the only hope. For example, there were murderers about who, to please King Saul, would have killed David. These men would be crack archers who would be waiting in the shadows for David to show himself and then, without the noise of a gun, could send an arrow hissing through the air towards him.
I was once staying with a friend in the USA who was a hunter and he showed me his guns, and then he brought out his bows and arrows. The bows were made of some composite of fibre-glass with wheels and pulleys. A hunting bow is amazingly light. You could pull the string back to the tip of your nose with considerable effort but then the bow went into a kind of resting position so that you no longer had tremendous pressure on your arm as you held back the arrow on the string and you waited for the target to appear. You could hold the arrow back easily, but when you released it the power of the bow was enormous. My friend told me that he had shot a deer and that the arrow had passed right through the buck, and on and on for some distance. The deer had seen and known nothing of what had happened except that it was hurt and it began to run away; you had to follow the drops of blood to finally find it fallen.
King David was being urged to find another refuge who would protect him, as quickly as possible, like a hunted bird swoops and zoom as fast as it can from the hawk or the hunter. Flee like a bird to your mountain, “For look, the wicked bend their bo
ws. They set the arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows” (v.2). “The Lord whom you believe in is unable to protect you. You must find another refuge; you must find another Lord. You must find another Jehovah!” These men were moved by love, human love, and no more. “Isn’t that enough?” you ask. No, it isn’t enough. Those who love us best on a merely human level may often be our greatest enemies and the biggest hindrances of our spiritual life. These people wanted to shield David, and protect him. They wanted to shelter him from what they thought was an inadequate God, what they judged to be inevitable disappointment. “Being a believer in the Lord doesn’t work,” they were saying. “So find another refuge.”
Then they were also using this argument, “the foundations are being destroyed,?” (v.5) and so another Refuge was needed with sturdier foundations. It is wild language. Were David’s foundations being destroyed? What better Protector could David have? Through his life David had great walls of salvation around him. It was a divine initiative that had made David king. He’d not been made king by man, by a general election. He’d not been voted into office. He’d not led a faction in a civil war and defeated Saul; he had not fought his way to the top. He was God’s choice, God’s appointment and God’s gift to the people. God couldn’t have made his provision of David as king any clearer. You remember the memorable scene. The prophet Samuel was told by the Lord that he had chosen one of the sons of Jesse to be the king of the land, and so, equipped with a flask of anointing oil, the prophet had gone to Jesse’s home in Bethlehem and set his youngest son apart. The word of God had made it plain to the prophet Samuel and then to David and to all the people that he was to be the anointed leader of the people. That was the foundation of the nation’s order and government. It was God who had laid the foundation of David’s reign and David’s line. God was in covenant with David and the foundation on which David’s throne rested was indestructible.
Then move on a thousand years; do you remember what happened to great David’s greater Son? How he went to John the Baptist in the wilderness and entered the river Jordan to be baptized by John and he was anointed by the Spirit of God. When he came up out of the water Jesus “saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10&11). God had anointed great David’s greater Son with the Holy Spirit, and God had spoken! This world has heard the voice of the living God at Sinai, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the road to Damascus, on the Isle of Patmos, the sound of many waters. He is, and he is not silent! He has publicly announced that Jesus of Nazareth is his only begotten Son, and that with the life and teaching of Jesus God is well pleased. Then the whole church is also pleased with Christ, with his claims, with his promises, with his behaviour, with his warnings, with his comforts. He is our refuge in each deep distress, and he is our all sufficient indestructible foundation. Paul tells Timothy, “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (2 Tim. 2:19). Those foundations are indestructible.
So do you see the context of this psalm, that it was written by David at a time when he was being tempted to turn from the Lord and find a better refuge and stronger foundations. “Flee like a bird to your mountain.” I’ve been suggesting that it was fearful counselors who were advising David to leave the Lord, but James Philip has an interesting suggestion that here we might have the case of a ‘good man’s dialogue with himself.’ In other words, David is conscious of the pressures he is living under and he is saying to himself, “Shouldn’t I run away to the mountains for safety?” Don’t we know such personal arguments? Isn’t it a mark of maturity in a Christian that we hear these voices from the flesh urging us to cut and run, to agree to the temptress’s voice, and leave our watch, and what we do is to answer them in the Spirit! We don’t allow self to talk to us but we speak to self! And that is what David does here, “Now listen,” he says to himself, and the moment he starts to speak he has the victory. You assert yourself against the voices of compromise and fear, for God has given you a sound mind not a spirit of fear. “Yes the assassin’s eyes are searching for me, but there are other eyes upon me too. Dialogue with yourself! Why are you cast down O my soul and why disquieted in me? You have the Lord as your refuge. You have the Lord as your foundation – the indestructible Jehovah. Don’t fear the voices who tell you such a foundation is to be destroyed.
- DAVID’S WHOLE CONFIDENCE WAS PLACED IN GOD.
Then David replies to those words of doubt; “The foundations being destroyed? ‘The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them’ ” (v.4). “You are talking to me as though you have a better refuge than the Lord, as though my God was like the Baals of which Elijah taunted his prophets, that Baal wasn’t around, that he’d gone hunting or was asleep and wasn’t noticing the danger they were in. Do you want to know where God is at this time of crisis? Where is God now when I need him? Where our Refuge always is, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.” Right now the Lord reigns, the Lord of the sacrifice and the offering, the Lord who has made atonement is in the midst of the throne with all authority in heaven and on earth. The Lord who numbers the hairs of our heads, the Lord who decrees when a sparrow shall fall let alone a mighty king like David. ‘Trust in God,’ David is saying, because the Lord knows what is going on. The schemes of al-Qaeda may be unknown to Western security, but they are all known to God.
“He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them” (v.4). You say that you’ve decided to go to your doctor for an ‘examination.’ You want him to tell you if there is anything wrong and what can be put right. I am saying to you that every single Christian safe in this heavenly Refuge is being examined by the Lord, the great Physician, day by day. He knows exactly what is best for us. He won’t allow us to be tested above that we are able. Nothing can separate us from his love in Christ Jesus. He is in control. That is our comfort that we have a Sovereign Protector and that things don’t happen by chance. God doesn’t step down from his throne to zoom to the other side of the universe ignoring our circumstances. He is on his throne exercising his sovereign control, and observing and examining everything that sinners would do against the righteous; he keeps us by his mighty power. Then the solemnity of the temptation is underlined by David’s change of tone. He is being persuaded to leave the Lord as an inadequate fortress with weak foundations.
- DAVID FINALLY SPOKE WORDS OF SOLEMN WARNING.
Hear what David says, so earnrestly, “The LORD examines
the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face” (vv.5-7). People sigh over the ‘beautiful psalms.’ It’s the psalms, they say they love, not the ‘strict’ apostle Paul, but the ‘tender words of David’ in the psalms. Then they actually begin to read the psalms, and they find that the same spirit that was in Paul was in David too, that it is the Spirit of inspiration, it is God the Holy Spirit who is speaking in both. What does David do? He warns what will happen to those who would kill him. Robert Murray M’Cheyne has a moving sermon on these verses and you should read him – of course on everything he writes. Notice three things that king David says;
i]. Hell will be sudden to the wicked. “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot.” (v.6). It is quite obvious that the description here is taken from what happened to Sodom in Genesis chapter 19. It was a fine morning in that city, the sun had just risen; the women were busy with their housework and working in the fields, the children were playing, when suddenly, darkness covered the sky, and the next moment God rained fire and brimstone from heaven upon them. One moment they were rejoicing in the morning sun, the next they were deluged with destruction. Men and women, I believe that for defiant sinners their destruction will be in the twinkling of an eye. We are told about Sodom that the day came upon them ‘unawares,’ while our text says, “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur.” Both passages hark back to the earlier picture of the assassin hiding in the shadows with the string of his bow taut and his arrow ready to let fly and kill – out of nowhere destruction comes, but now not from men, rather from the Holy God of heaven. Such is the way with the wicked; the coming of Christ in judgment will not be like the slow dawning of a winter’s day but as suddenly as a missile falling from the sky. Without warning, without any opportunity to repent, “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot.” (v.6). There are some among you who don’t believe that there is a hell. Though you read of it in the Bible, and are told about it, still you say to yourself, “Perhaps there is no such a place after all — it’s just a bit of fire and brimstone preaching got up to frighten people.” I believe that many among you think that, and many of you will die thinking that.
But Jesus spoke of it often and with tears, and the moment your soul is in the presence of God, then you will find out for the first time that you have the righteous God to deal with. “Upright men will see his face,” (v.7) and that is how the psalm ends. You will see the face of the God before whom the angels hide their eyes and cry to one another, “Holy . . . holy . . . holy . . .” He is a sin-hating and a righteous God, and in a moment you’ll find there’s an eternal hell. “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot.” (v.6). How fearful, to deliberately ignore the place of woe all your life but then in the twinkling of an eye to see it and you are going there with no possibility or desire to leave that place.
ii] I come to the next proposition. It is the justice of God which makes him punish the wicked eternally. Verses 6, 7: “but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice.” I believe there is a great deal of ignorance about an eternal hell. There are many men that think God casts sinners into hell on account of mere passion. Now it’s important to know that God didn’t create hell merely out of passion. Men and women, if it were passion it would pass away. But it is not from mere passionateness that he has kindled hell nor is it that God has any pleasure in the pain of his creatures. He does not afflict willingly. I believe that God doesn’t delight even in the pain of a worm. Men will take pleasure in dog-fights and cock fighting, and bull fighting and the killing of whales. God finds no pleasure in such horrors and none in the destruction of rebel sinners. You will see this in Ezekiel 18 and verse 23: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live?” Then, verse 32: “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live” You will observe how concerned God is, firstly asking them whether they really think that he gets some ‘pleasure’ out of afflicting punishment? Then he answers, “No pleasure in your destruction! So turn and live. I want you to live!”
Again, we are told, in the New Testament, that “God will have all men to repent, and come to the knowledge of the truth,” and in the 17th chapter of Acts, Paul tells his hearers in Athens that, “God commands all men everywhere to repent.” These passages show that there is an essential benevolence in God, that he has no pleasure in the pain of his creatures. God would rather all the wicked turned from their evil ways and live. The world says it wants murderers and torturers to be punished in hell, ‘may they rot in hell for ever’ – that is how you hear relatives of the victims talking at the end of a murder trial – but God is not like that. He would rather the vilest offender turn and flee to Jesus the Refuge from hell.
Men and women, if punishment comes from the righteousness of God, then there is no hope. If it were out of passion, then it might pass away. You see a tennis player given a foot fault and his face is red with fury, his language unrepeatable, but his temper dies down. He is apologizing to the line judge the next day. But hell exists not out of divine passion. If it were out of passion surely God might have some pity when he saw the sufferings of the lost for many ages. No it proceeds from the rectitude of God, his holy hatred of that which contradicts all that God is. If God could cease loving righteousness, then the fires might be quenched; but as long as he is a righteous God, that fire will never be quenched. God will never cease to be a righteous God. God will do anything to save a sinner; but he cannot part with his rectitude in order to save him. He parted with his Son in order that he might gain sinners, but he cannot part with his righteousness — he cannot part with his sovereign rule over all he has created and all who live and move and have their being in him. He would need to call good evil, and evil good first. “The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice” (vv.5-7).
iii] I come now to the last point, and it is this, that that very same divine rectitude saves the believer in Jesus. “For the Lord is righteous, he loves righteousness.” Most of all God loves his righteous Son Jesus Christ. “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” And he loves all those who are in Christ, all who are joined to him; all who have him as their refuge. He loves them as much as he loves Jesus because they are in inseparably in Jesus. That is the wonder and the surprise, not that God condemns the
sinner, but that he loves the believer with the same love as he loves his Son – the very same love. He can do this because he sees us in Christ, joined to him, condemned in him on the cross, risen in him, ascended and seated at the right hand of God in Jesus. There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. We are taught in the 1st chapter of 1st John, and the 9th verse, that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is not said that God is merciful, but that he is just in forgiving us our sins. Why? Because in our glorious Surety his people have received double for all their sins.
It is David who speaks here on hell, king David who was himself a step from hell, David who took a man’s wife and arranged for his death, a brave and good man, and David had him murdered, and David hung over hell by a thread. Yet David confessed his sins to God with deep repentance and he was forgiven for all his sins and cleansed for all his unrighteousness.
Suppose, then, a sinner were to come to our great Surety this day and cast himself for pardon and heaven on this Jesus alone, he will know this wonder, that the sins he has committed throughout his entire life have all been cleared; the debt has all been paid. So you must cry, “Be just with me Lord, for I plead the merits of the Saviour, his rich atoning blood, that the curse has fallen on him and he has exhausted it in my place. I believe you have punished my sins in him. This is what you have said. You cannot punish them again in me. That would be unjust, so be just Lord and forgive me for my sins as I plead the name of Jesus only.” If you plead that then you are an upright man, and really are in the Lord, this great refuge. You will see God’s face and be exceeding glad, for when you see him you will be like him, for you will see him as he is, just and holy and abundant in loving kindness and mercy for Jesus’ sake. Please say to God from your heart tonight, “In the Lord I take refuge,” and say it those the Lord leads you to. Reject those people who would encourage you to find any other refuge to hide in but him.
10th January 2010 GEOFF THOMAS