תהלים Tehilim (Psalms) 11

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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Psalm 11 is from the point of view of the protagonist, a pious Israelite. He rebuked a doubter who serves as a literary foil representing the shortsighted and the faithless.

1 In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
"Flee like a bird to the mountains;
2 for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?"

This psalm takes place at the exact moment that wicked attackers are descending upon Jerusalem, sieging the city and attacking the foundations of the city walls. They have their bows ready and their battering rams in place, and the non-believer believes that the only choice left is to flee Jerusalem and take refuge in the surrounding mountains. However, the protagonist unperturbed, and the impending cataclysm described by the literary foil seems like no reason at all to flee to safety. The protagonist realizes the best refuge is in the presence of God.

4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord's throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
6 On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

The protagonist offers his response, which first asserts that Jerusalem is inhabited by God and has access to the realm of the divine. Within the city, God is in his temple, his throne existing not just in the temple but in heaven as well. From there, he examines humankind and is aware of all that is happening. Next, the protagonist explains that God will offer his judgment upon the wicked, in this case the brutal foreigners beating at the gates of Jerusalem. He shall scorch them out of existence, for he loves the righteous and is revealed to those who believe in him.

Psalm 11 depicts Jerusalem as a holy city, where the pious live, God resides and attackers are thereby repulsed; Jerusalem can withstand even that most feared event in the ancient Oriental mind, a siege. While the non-believer descends into worry and thus flees, the believer remains steadfast even when military defeat seems about to happen; he does not depart the city, because God resides there and will protect his adorers from the wicked. Jerusalem in this case is portrayed with one of the characteristics of the axis mundi: it has access to the divine realm, for it is here that the heavenly God exists in the earthly realm, residing in his temple. Other Psalms describe Jerusalem as being an axis mundi in more geographic terms as a center of the world, but it is in Psalm 11 that the blessings conferred are so clearly elaborated.