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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 11


psa 11:0

Refusal to Flee When in a Perilous Situation.

Psa 11:1-7, which likewise confidently sets the all-seeing eye of Jahve before the ungodly who carry out their murderous designs under cover of the darkness, is placed after Ps 10. The life of David (to whom even Hitzig and Ewald ascribe this Psalm) is threatened, the pillars of the state are shaken, they counsel the king to flee to the mountains. These are indications of the time when the rebellion of Absolom was secretly preparing, but still clearly discernible. Although hurrying on with a swift measure and clear in the principal thoughts, still this Psalm is not free from difficult points, just as it is with all the Psalms which contain similar dark passages from the internal condition of Israel. The gloomy condition of the nation seems to be reflected in the very language. The strophic plan is not easily discernible; nevertheless we cannot go far wrong in dividing the Psalm into two seven line strophes with a two line epiphonema.

Psalms 11:1

psa 11:1

David rejects the advice of his friends to save his life by flight. Hidden in Jahve (Psa 16:1; Psa 36:8) he needs no other refuge. However well-meant and well-grounded the advice, he considers it too full of fear and is himself too confident in God, to follow it. David also introduces his friends as speaking in other passages in the Psalms belonging to the period of the Absolom persecution, Psa 3:3; Psa 4:7. Their want of courage, which he afterwards had to reprove and endeavour to restore, showed itself even before the storm had burst, as we see here. With the words "how can you say" he rejects their proposal as unreasonable, and turns it as a reproach against them. If the Chethb, נוּדוּ, is adopted, then those who are well-disposed, say to David, including with him his nearest subjects who are faithful to him: retreat to your mountain, (ye) birds (צפּור collective as in Psa 8:9; Psa 148:10); or, since this address sounds too derisive to be appropriate to the lips of those who are supposed to be speaking here: like birds (comparatio decurtata as in Psa 22:14; Psa 58:9; Psa 24:5; Psa 21:8). הרכס which seems more natural in connection with the vocative rendering of צפור (cf. Isa 18:6 with Eze 39:4) may also be explained, with the comparative rendering, without any need for the conjecture הר כמו צפור (cf. Deu 33:19), as a retrospective glance at the time of the persecution under Saul: to the mountains, which formerly so effectually protected you (cf. Sa1 26:20; Sa1 23:14). But the Ker, which is followed by the ancient versions, exchanges נודו for גוּדי, cf שׁחי Isa 51:23. Even reading it thus we should not take צפור, which certainly is epicoene, as vocative: flee to your mountain, O bird (Hitz.); and for this reason, that this form of address is not appropriate to the idea of those who profer their counsel. But we should take it as an equation instead of a comparison: fly to your mountain (which gave you shelter formerly), a bird, i.e., after the manner of a bird that flies away to its mountain home when it is chased in the plain. But this Ker appears to be a needless correction, which removes the difficulty of נודו coming after לנפשׁי, by putting another in the place of this synallage numeri.

(Note: According to the above rendering: "Flee ye to your mountain, a bird" it would require to be accented נודו הרכם צפוז (as a transformation from נודו הרכם צפור vid., Baer's Accentssystem XVIII. 2). The interpunction as we have it, נודו הרכם צפור, harmonises with the interpretation of Varenius as of Lb Spira (Pentateuch-Comm. 1815): Fugite (o socii Davidis), mons vester (h. e. praesidium vestrum, Psa 30:8, cui innitimini) est avis errans.)

In Psa 11:2 the faint-hearted ones give as the ground of their advice, the fearful peril which threatens from the side of crafty and malicious foes. As הנּה implies, this danger is imminent. The perfect overrides the future: they are not only already in the act of bending the bow, they have made ready their arrow, i.e., their deadly weapon, upon the string (יתר = מיתר, Psa 21:13, Arab. watar, from יתר, wata ra, to stretch tight, extend, so that the thing is continued in one straight line) and even taken aim, in order to discharge it (ירה with ל of the aim, as in Psa 54:5, with acc. of the object) in the dark (i.e., secretly, like an assassin) at the upright (those who by their character are opposed to them). In Psa 11:3 the faint-hearted still further support their advice from the present total subversion of justice. השּׁתות are either the highest ranks, who support the edifice of the state, according to Isa 19:10, or, according to Psa 82:5, Eze 30:4, the foundations of the state, upon whom the existence and well-being of the land depends. We prefer the latter, since the king and those who are loyal to him, who are associated in thought with צדּיק, are compared to the שׁתות. The construction of the clause beginning with כּי is like Job 38:41. The fut. has a present signification. The perf. in the principal clause, as it frequently does elsewhere (e.g., Psa 39:8; Psa 60:11; Gen 21:7; Num 23:10; Job 12:9; Kg2 20:9) in interrogative sentences, corresponds to the Latin conjunctive (here quid fecerit), and is to be expressed in English by the auxiliary verbs: when the bases of the state are shattered, what can the righteous do? he can do nothing. And all counter-effort is so useless that it is well to be as far from danger as possible.

Psalms 11:4

psa 11:4

The words of David's counsellors who fear for him are now ended. And David justifies his confidence in God with which he began his song. Jahve sits enthroned above all that takes place on earth that disheartens those of little faith. At an infinite distance above the earth, and also above Jerusalem, now in rebellion, is a קדשׁ היכל קד, Psa 18:7; Psa 29:9, and in this holy temple is Jahve, the Holy One. Above the earth are the heavens, and in heaven is the throne of Jahve, the King of kings. And this temple, this palace in the heavens, is the place whence issues the final decision of all earthly matters, Hab 2:20; Mic 1:2. For His throne above is also the super-terrestrial judgment-seat, Psa 9:8; Psa 103:19. Jahve who sits thereon is the all-seeing and omniscient One. חזה prop. to split, cf. cernere, is used here according to its radical meaning, of a sharp piercing glance. בּחן prop. to try metals by fire, of a fixed and penetrating look that sees into a thing to the foundation of its inmost nature. The mention of the eyelids is intentional. When we observe a thing closely or ponder over it, we draw the eyelids together, in order that our vision may be more concentrated and direct, and become, as it were, one ray piercing through the object. Thus are men open to the all-seeing eyes, the all-searching looks of Jahve: the just and the unjust alike. He tries the righteous, i.e., He knows that in the depth of his soul there is an upright nature that will abide all testing (Psa 17:3; Job 23:10), so that He lovingly protects him, just as the righteous lovingly depends upon Him. And His soul hates (i.e., He hates him with all the energy of His perfectly and essentially holy nature) the evil-doer and him that delights in the violence of the strong towards the weak. And the more intense this hatred, the more fearful will be the judgments in which it bursts forth.

Psalms 11:7

psa 11:7

Psa 11:7, which assumes a declaration of something that is near at hand, is opposed to our rendering the voluntative form of the fut., ימטר, as expressive of a wish. The shorter form of the future is frequently indicative in the sense of the future, e.g., Psa 72:13, or of the present, e.g., Psa 58:5, or of the past, Psa 18:12. Thus it here affirms a fact of the future which follows as a necessity from Psa 11:4, Psa 11:5. Assuming that פּהים might be equivalent to פּחמים, even then the Hebrew פּחם, according to the general usage of the language, in distinction from גּחלת, does not denote burning, but black coals. It ought therefore to have been אשׁ פּחמי. Hitzig reads פּהים from פּיח ashes; but a rain of ashes is no medium of punishment. Bצttcher translates it "lumps" according to Exo 39:3; Num 17:3; but in these passages the word means thin plates. We adhere to the signification snares, Job 22:10, cf. Job 21:17, Pro 27:5; and following the accentuation, we understand it to be a means of punishment by itself. First of all descends a whole discharge of missiles which render all attempt at flight impossible, viz., lightnings; for the lightning striking out its course and travelling from one point in the distance, bending itself like a serpent, may really be compared to a snare, or noose, thrown down from above. In addition to fire and brimstone (Gen 19:24) we have also רוּח זלעפות. The lxx renders it πνεῦμα καταιγίδος, and the Targum זעפא עלעוּלא, procella turbinea. The root is not לעף, which cannot be sustained as a cognate form of להב, לאב to burn, but זעף, which (as Sa1 5:10 shows) exactly corresponds to the Latin aestuare which combines in itself the characteristics of heat and violent motion, therefore perhaps: a wind of flames, i.e., the deadly simoom, which, according to the present division of the verse is represented in connection with אשׁ וגפרית, as the breath of the divine wrath pouring itself forth like a stream of brimstone, Isa 30:33. It thus also becomes clear how this can be called the portion of their cup, i.e., what is adjudged to them as the contents of their cup which they must drain off. מנת (only found in the Davidic Psalms, with the exception of Ch2 31:4) is both absolutivus and constructivus according to Olshausen (108, c, 165, i), and is derived from manajath, or manawath, which the original feminine termination ath, the final weak radical being blended with it. According to Hupfeld it is constr., springing from מנית, like קצת (in Dan. and Neh.) form קצות. But probably it is best to regard it as = מנות or מנית, like גּלות = גּלות.

Thus then Jahve is in covenant with David. Even though he cannot defend himself against his enemies, still, when Jahve gives free course to His hatred in judgment, they will then have to do with the powers of wrath and death, which they will not be able to escape. When the closing distich bases this different relation of God towards the righteous and the unrighteous and this judgment of the latter on the righteousness of God, we at once perceive what a totally different and blessed end awaits the righteous. As Jahve Himself is righteous, so also on His part (Sa1 12:7; Mic 6:5, and frequently) and on the part of man (Isa 33:15) He loves צדקות, the works of righteousness. The object of אהב (= אהב) stands at the head of the sentence, as in Psa 99:4, cf. Psa 10:14. In Psa 11:7 ישׂר designates the upright as a class, hence it is the more natural for the predicate to follow in the plur. (cf. Psa 9:7; Job 8:19) than to precede as elsewhere (Pro 28:1; Isa 16:4). The rendering: "His countenance looks upon the upright man" (Hengst. and others) is not a probable one, just because one expects to find something respecting the end of the upright in contrast to that of the ungodly. This rendering is also contrary to the general usage of the language, according to which פנים is always used only as that which is to be seen, not as that which itself sees. It ought to have been עינימו, Psa 33:18; Psa 34:16; Job 36:7. It must therefore be translated according to Psa 17:15; Psa 140:13 : the upright (quisquis probus est) shall behold His countenance. The pathetic form פנימו instead of פּניו was specially admissible here, where God is spoken of (as in Deu 33:2, cf. Isa 44:15). It ought not to be denied any longer that mo is sometimes (e.g., Job 20:23, cf. Job 22:2; Job 27:23) a dignified singular suffix. To behold the face of God is in itself impossible to mortals without dying. But when God reveals Himself in love, then He makes His countenance bearable to the creature. And to enjoy this vision of God softened by love is the highest honour God in His mercy can confer on a man; it is the blessedness itself that is reserved for the upright, 140:14. It is not possible to say that what is intended is a future vision of God; but it is just as little possible to say that it is exclusively a vision in this world. To the Old Testament conception the future עולם is certainly lost in the night of Shel. But faith broke through this night, and consoled itself with a future beholding of God, Job 19:26. The redemption of the New Testament has realised this aspiration of faith, since the Redeemer has broken through the night of the realm of the dead, has borne on high with Him the Old Testament saints, and translated them into the sphere of the divine love revealed in heaven.

Next: Psalms Chapter 12