1. In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
2. for behold, 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?”
4. The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’S throne is in heaven; His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man.
5. The LORD tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6. Let Him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and 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.
To understand this poem David wrote, we have to understand its context. It was written during a time when David’s danger was so great that even his advisers instructed him to retreat (2 Samuel 15-17). Not taking their advice, David asks, “How can you say this to me?” His advisers were making it apparent to David the abundance of their wicked enemies surrounding them, so it only made sense to retreat. If their foundations are destroyed, there is nothing they can do. The destruction of their foundations would lead to inevitable defeat.
But how does David respond? He calls to mind God’s supposed distance, restating He remains interested in human affairs (“his eyelids test the children of man”). He continues to test our deeds. When we read in Scripture God hating something, it is not “hate” in our sense of the word. When we hate a person, it is out of sin. Since God is sinless, obviously His hate must mean something entirely different. As a holy God, He finds our wicked actions repugnant. When God hates something or someone, He is repulsed. He hates the wicked—He is repulsed by the wicked. So because David and his army are surrounded by people who repulse God, he calls on Him to give his army the strength to conquer them.
Yet what does this mean for us as today as Christians? Our faith is often tested, and we are often in want of something more. However, God’s mercy toward us never dwindles like our faith does from time to time. These tests, or temptations, may come from the Devil or the world. Sometimes, these tests the enemy sends upon us makes our faith waver. The death of a friend or loved one may cause us to question God’s goodness, maybe even His existence. Financial troubles may do the same. Sometimes even God may test us. It’s hard to discern what His tests may be and their purpose. To understand this, we should consider Paul’s thorn in the flesh:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
It’s uncertain what Paul means by “a thorn in the flesh,” but there are two possibilities: it could be a recurring attack or temptation—a sin that continued to haunt him. At times, God may allow a temptation or attack to persist in order to teach us something. Remember Job? He allowed Satan to attack Job to make the point to Satan (and us) that Satan can only do what God allows, and also to teach Job who’s in control of the universe and that God never needs to explain His actions. So if a thorn in our flesh persists, perhaps God has an important lesson for us.
In our weakness, God’s power is made perfect because only His power can remove this thorn, not ours. His grace is sufficient for us. God bringing us through these persistent weaknesses makes us stronger. It’s another way of saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Why? Because God allows it, not because we somehow possess some ability to overcome since we are, after all, in weakness. There are reasons for these “thorns.” Paul experienced his so he wouldn’t become haughty and full of himself because of these revelations he’s received. What might our thorns be and the reason for them? Pray God leads you to this discovery.
How does this relate to the psalm? Paul said he’s content with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Why? Because Christ makes him strong through his weaknesses, the insults he receives, the hardships he endures, the persecutions he suffers, and the calamities he witnesses. David was undoubtedly surrounded by calamity, since he was at war. Being surrounded by his enemies, he probably felt weak, heard insults from his enemies and even those in his army, and no doubt this was a hardship. Yet what did he do? He remembered God’s greatness and His ability to deliver him from all these things. God has a habit of reversing worldly revulsions into something greater.
What evils surround us today? I doubt I have to mention the calamity this election will lead to and the growing threat of ISIS, but also any sins that trouble us like a thorn in our side. What can we do? Remember Jesus’ words to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” His power is made perfect in weakness because it’s in your weakness in which He works His power. In our weakness, His power makes us strong. Even though we sin, and sin repulses God, He remains faithful and gives us His grace. One way in which He does this is the forgiveness in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). We can always remember God’s justification in our baptism and we can always receive His forgiveness at the Lord’s Table. We never have to retreat from our problems. We can always find refuge in God, who gives us the strength to overcome every adversity we face.
Psalm 11 Prayer
I wrote the following prayer for anyone who may be struggling with a sin like a thorn in the flesh:
Father, this sin [name it] persists as a thorn in my flesh. Like Paul reflected in Romans 7, no matter what I seem to do, I continue to do the evil I do not want to do rather than the good I desire to do. Lord, have mercy. I am weak. Please lend me Your strength so You may remove this thorn from me. Teach me what I need to know to better serve You. With all the evil going on in the world, show me how to be content in Your promises. Give me the strength to advance Your kingdom in this world. Teach me to boast in my weaknesses so Your power may abound. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen.
Garrick Sinclair "Ricky" Beckett first started his Christian writing on a blog titled "The Lutheran Column" where he hires proficient Lutheran writers to convey biblical truth. Along with the blog, he also writes poetry, string quartets in music composition, enjoys doing photography, reading, and playing video games. Ricky is a graduate from Concordia University-Ann Arbor from the Pre-Seminary program with a major in Christian Thought and a minor in Theological Languages. Currently, Ricky is a seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as he works on his Masters of Divinity to become a pastor in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).
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