by John Lowe
3 If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
This is still a good question to ask. Today the authority of the Word of God is being challenged on every hand. A social gospel is being preached from many pulpits, instead of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I live in America’s Bible belt, but in my town many churches have dropped Sunday school and Wednesday night service. Churches no longer evangelize, church-goers are on the decline, and many pastors have quit preaching and returned to secular work. If Jesus doesn’t return soon, Christianity may become the “remnant” spoken of in Scripture. The problem is, “what can the righteous do?” The psalmist has the answer! Listen to what he says in the remaining verses.
In verse 2, there was the first reason to support the advice to flee, and here we have the second—“If the foundations be destroyed:” Or, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what has the righteous accomplished?” However the line is translated, the sense is that when the foundations of the things on which the righteous has put his trust are being torn down, what has been (or will be) the use of his struggling against the agents of destruction? In short, the supporters of the psalmist point out that his cause is falling to pieces, and he is about to be buried in the ruins. David’s philosophical problem appears to be this: “In view of the crumbling of the theocratic society, what can one righteous person, out of a shrinking remnant, do?” The prosperity of wicked people in their wicked, evil ways and the difficulties and distresses which the best men are sometimes brought into, tried David’s faith. But He is not discouraged, because he knows that God has sovereign authority over all the affairs of earth (Hab. 2:20).
The question, “what can the righteous do?” has also been translated, “What is the Righteous One doing?” God sometimes “shakes things” so that His people will work on building the church and not focus on maintaining the scaffolding—“This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land” (Hag. 2:6) (Also see Heb. 12:25-29). But the traditional translation is accurate, and the answer to the question is, “Lay the foundation again!” Each new generation must see to it that the foundations of truth and justice are solid. Samuel laid again the foundations of the covenant (1 Sam. 12), and Ezra laid again the foundations of the temple (Ezra 3). In spite of all his trials, David lived to make preparations for the building of the temple and the organization of the temple worship. During the checkered history of Judah, godly kings cleansed the land of idolatry and brought the people back to the true worship of the Lord. Christ’s messages to the churches in Revelations 2-3 make it clear that local churches need constant examination to see if they are faithful to the Lord, and we need to pray for a constant reviving work of the Spirit.
4 The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD'S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.
When you look around you see the problems, but when you look up to the Lord in faith, you see the answer to the problems. When the outlook looks grim, try the uplook! “In the Lord, I put my trust,” said David, for he knew that God was on the throne in His holy temple in heaven (Hab. 2:20; Isa. 6) and that He saw everything the enemy was doing. The Lord is not asleep, nor is He indifferent to what men are doing, as some of the faithless may suppose (Ps. 9:4-6). “His eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” The term “eyelids” is possibly a reference to the screwing-up of the eyes when scrutinizing an object. God is watching us today—He sees and He scrutinizes all men. He is testing us. From His throne, He examines all causes, and judges all men, and gives out righteous sentences according to man’s works. And the only place we can turn is to Him. When the foundations are taken out from under us, we have Him to cling to. Abraham came to that place. When it says that Abraham believed God, it means that Abram threw his arms around God and just held on. He believed God. And these are also days when we can believe God and hold on to Him. It is time for us to say “How wonderful is our God!”
The word “try” or “test” carries the idea of “testing metals by fire,” as in Jeremiah 11:20 and 17:10. God’s eyes penetrate into our hearts and minds—“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Lord tests the righteous to bring out the best in them, but Satan tempts them, to bring out the worst. When we trust the Lord in the difficulties of life, our trials work for us, and not against us (2 Cor. 4:7-18).
5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
A better translation of “The LORD trieth the righteous” is “the LORD tests the righteous.” God knows who are His own, and He will test His children. He tests me and He may be testing you. And that doesn’t mean He hates us. He is testing us for our good and His glory. The trial of the righteous will result in their approval, in contrast to God’s hatred of the wicked.
“But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” is a statement that many people don’t like to hear, since they have only been taught the love of God, which is both wonderful and true, but here it clearly says that God hates. If you thank that God is just lovey-dovey, you had better read this and some of the other psalms again. God hates the wicked who hold on to their wickedness. I don’t think God loves the devil. I think he hates him, and He hates those who have no intention of turning to Him. Frankly, I do not like this distinction you hear today that “God loves the sinner, but He hates the sin.” God has loved you so much that He gave His Son to die for you; but if you persist in your sin and continue in that sin, you are the enemy of God. And God is your enemy. God wants to save you, and He will save you if you turn to Him and forsake your sin. Until then, may I say, God is not a lovey-dovey, sentimental, old gentleman from Georgia.
The “lover of violence,” is probably David’s chief accuser. Upon him, the Lord will send His burning, life-destroying desert wind (v. 6) and the erupting volcanic fire (v. 6) which destroys all human beings. By such symbolic pictures of awful destruction the psalmist describes the cup of the Lord’s judgment, which evil men must drink to its dregs.
6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.
David uses three images to describe the judgment that God has prepared for the wicked. First, he saw “fire and brimstone” descend on them, like that the Lord sent on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24). Then he beheld a terrible storm destroying the enemy, a “horrible tempest” (scorching wind) such as often blew from the desert. David used the image of the storm in his song about his deliverance from his enemies and King Saul (Ps. 18:4-19). The third image is that of a poisonous potion in a cup. “Drinking the cup” is often a picture of judgment from the Lord (Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-17; Ezek. 38:22; Rev. 14:10; 16:19; 18:6). The cup of inequity is filling up in our day. And God is allowing it to fill up; He is doing nothing to hinder it. The wicked are prospering. He makes it rain on the unjust, as well as the just. In fact, it looks to me that they are getting more rain than anybody else. This is their day.
7 For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.
What does God have planned for His own people? “The righteous will behold His countenance” (see Ps. 17:15, below; 1 John 3:1-3). To “see the face” means to have access to a person, such as, “to see the kings face”(2 Sam. 14:24). For God to turn His face away is to reject us, but for Him to look upon us in delight means He is going to bless us (Num. 6:22-27). When Jesus returns, those who have rejected Him will be cast “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8-10; Matt. 7:21-23), while His own children will be welcomed into His presence—“Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt: 25:34).
The Lord loves righteousness. In time of trouble when the foundations are removed, we are to look from earth to heaven—the upright will behold His face. Because they love the things which He loves they shall have freedom of access to His presence and the enjoyment of His favor—“As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Ps. 17:15). What a wonderful picture this is!
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