Don’t Flee Like a Bird
Does the coming year scare you? Do you find yourself wondering how you could escape if things get a lot worse? If so, you’re in good company. Many (including myself) have been watching with horrid fascination as events have unfolded in the US over the last year. A roaring economy was replaced with an uncertain one. Normal life was swapped with riots, masks, and endless political comment wars on Facebook. I see the evidence of fear and anger all around me. But there is a better way to deal with the uncertainty—a Christian way.
Psalm 11 is a widely misunderstood passage. Understanding it correctly in context will give us an important truth to help us sort through the fear and uncertainty we are facing. We’ve all heard the phrase “flee like a bird to your mountain.” There’s even a hymn using the phrase. We imagine running to Christ to find peace from the trials of life. But, interestingly, that’s not at all the point that David was making here.
This eloquent poem starts out with the words, “In the Lord I take refuge.” That sets the context for the next words, “How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain…’” The logic of the passage is that since David was taking refuge in the Lord, the advice in the next phrase didn’t make sense to him anymore. But the words of David’s advisors don’t stop there: “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; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Those advisors were telling David, “You’re done! Run to a place where you can hide. Your enemies are preparing to shoot you. What can you do if the wicked have you in their crosshairs?”
Did you notice the second commonly misunderstood phrase in this psalm? How many times have you heard people quote, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” as if it were solid wisdom? And yet, they were actually the words of David’s faulty advisors who didn’t recognize David’s bedrock truth: he was already safe in God, and no external enemy could shake that confidence. Remember, according to David, none of these words make sense in light of the first verse, which states David’s confidence that he was in the Lord’s place of refuge.
The foundations can never be destroyed for those who love God. More even than David’s assurance, we should know that our foundation, Christ, is never going to be moved. Let’s finish the psalm to hear David’s full rebuttal to this notion that he should run from his enemies:
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.
Notice how David ties together verse 4 with the last verse: The Lord is sitting in his place of total authority, and those who are upright will look on his face. That means those who love God’s way are not lost, far away from God’s salvation. They are up close and within “arm’s reach” of God. That is the source of David’s full confidence in spite of his enemies gathered around. Instead of “fleeing like a bird” or fearing that “the foundations” might “be destroyed,” David was going to stand his ground and fight!
What does all this teach us about how we should view our turbulent 2020 and the uncertain future? First, don’t fear. Remind yourself of the confidence that no evil thing can actually touch you unless God allows it, and that any amount of financial, relational, or health loss that he allows will only serve to bring his eternal, good plan to pass. Really, take that in. Second, learn how you can go offensive in the fight against evil in our world right now. How can you help the single mom down the street who just lost her job because of the pandemic? How can you be there for the lonely grandpa whose kids can’t come visit him because of COVID-19? How can you share the gospel happily in spite of your mask and social distancing?
This should be a time of resolve for a church that knows her place. Remember that you are safe in God’s protection. Everything that happens will be because God allowed it for his good purposes. Don’t hide from the fear of riots. Don’t just try to forget about the pandemic. Don’t “flee like a bird” from post-election trauma. Be the voice of settled confidence and comfort to a world increasingly void of it.