Seek Asylum In God
Look To The Lord In His Holy Temple
Imagine yourself adrift on a small boat in the middle of the South China Sea. You don’t know where you are going. You don’t know if the family you left behind still lives. You don’t know if you will be dead or alive tomorrow. Your eyes grow faint. Your mouth is parched. Your stomach is growling. You haven’t eaten anything for three days. The boat has run out of food. Not a drop of water onboard. You lie at the bottom of the boat unable to move. It’s packed with people. You feel like you’re in a can of sardines. You’re trapped! You’re helpless! You’re thinking. Will you be saved? Will you reach a safe harbor? Will a storm erupt or will pirates attack? This is how the many South Vietnamese war refugees suffered.
They were known as the Boat People—the homeless, unwanted, and forgotten people who fled for their lives after the fall of Vietnam. If you were involved in the South Vietnamese Government, the army, the navy or the air force, you feared for your life. These people believed that they had to escape capture from the Communists in order to give their families a future. Fleeing for their lives was a costly and time-consuming ordeal. Two years at best. The refugees had to sell all their valuables to obtain money and supplies. Some gave up all they had to gain a place on the boat. Escape was done on moonless nights. The refugees had to board the boats in groups of 3-5 to avoid being shot or captured by the Viet Cong. This trip wasn’t a relaxing cruise to the Caribbean. It was one of the worst seagoing experiences known to humankind. 100 passengers were forced to squeeze into the 10’ wide x 33’ long wooden boats. Think about it. When they were hungry, where did they eat? When they were tired, where did they sleep? When they got seasick, where do you think they vomited? When they needed to go to relieve themselves, where did they go? It was all done right where they were!
If that wasn’t enough, they had to deal with other frightening and life-threatening concerns. They feared Thai pirates who would stalk these boats like prey stealing their belongings and kidnapping their women—to be raped or sold to prostitution rings! They feared huge thunderstorms that would stir up the ocean depth endangering the boats to capsize and sink. They feared being washed ashore on a deserted island with no food and water and left for dead. They feared being fired upon at sea by unfriendly countries that denied them political asylum. One million of these Boat People died in this mass exodus. French and German ships patrolling the waters rescued the fortunate few. These survivors reached friendly shores and were situated in refugee camps across Southeast Asia and Australia.
The sad and tragic story of the Boat People is a sobering reminder of how frail we really are when we have nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. Life as these people had known it would never be the same again. When wickedness is the order of the day, chaos and confusion rule the hearts and minds of its helpless victims. King David was a man who was all too familiar with the ways of the wicked. He stood his ground against the attacks of deadly predators, the threats of a giant bully, the accusations of his backstabbing enemies, the tyranny of a God-forsaken king, and the treason of his own beloved son. Psalm 11:1-7 is about faith’s action to fear’s advice:
In the LORD I take refuge. How can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; 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. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind. The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence. On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous, he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
In this study we will set out to answer three despairing questions namely, “What can the righteous do, where will the righteous look, and who shall the righteous see?”
What Can The Righteous Do?
The first question asks, “What can the righteous do?” This question, asked by David’s fearful but well-meaning friends, comes in the wake of a national crisis. What did David do when his life was in mortal danger, his kingdom laws are trampled upon, and all his subjects scatter for safety? Likewise, what can we do when the laws of the land are broken, when the wicked step their bounds and rampant evil goes unchecked?
Fly the Coop. We cannot pinpoint King David’s particular crisis when this Psalm was penned. We can’t be certain whether it was the time he was pursued by a foolish king or escaping from a treasonous son. What is clear is that David’s life is in real danger and he has to get out of Dodge. His advisers urge him to make a run for cover “to the mountains.” They liken him to a vulnerable bird that is being stalked and hunted by bloodthirsty predators. He’s easy prey. It’s open season on his life. If David overstays his welcome, he will become a sitting duck. There was a time in his life when King Saul was determined as ever to kill him. In hot pursuit of David, the king was stubborn as he was relentless. He refused to give up the chase. In 1 Samuel 26:20 David replied, "The King of Israel has come to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains." It was a general tactic during times of severe oppression or persecution that the Israelites would seek refuge in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains.[i] The temptation to ‘fly the coop’ may be powerful plea, but his spiritual instincts tell him otherwise. Common sense tells him to run and hide. But David’s faithful and unshakeable confidence keeps him grounded “in the LORD.” He takes refuge in a person rather than a place.
Let’s stop here for a moment. Think about how we are reacting to our worldwide economic crisis.[ii] The danger of joblessness, bankruptcy or foreclosure is just around the corner. What are our options? Where are our modern day mountain hideouts? What are we depending upon to get us through this mess? There are those who find security in their financial gurus. There’s nothing like a fat bank account to keep you afloat. Others call their stockbrokers on Wall Street wanting to know whether to buy or sell. Many look to the leaders on Capitol Hill and the promises of their elected candidates. Maybe the FED will cut us some slack in interest rates throughout these hard times. Some seek fortunetellers for a word from beyond. Beware of whatever mountain refuge on earth you’re leaning onto. Human manufactured solutions are subject to failure.
Shoot the Upright. David is quick to dismiss escape, even though it offers an attractive, viable alternative to save his skin. His advisers argue against him on three counts. First, the wicked surround and outnumber him. He doesn’t stand a fighting chance. It’s no contest. They have the upper hand. They are in shooting range and yet remain nameless and hidden. You can’t see the whites of their eyes. Better to run away and fight another day. Second, the wicked slander and accuse him. In verse 2a they stalk David like predators coming in for the kill, "for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string…" Their tongues are bent like bows; their words are like deadly poison quick to hurl abusive words at the godly. They lie in wait and ready to ambush. Third, the wicked don’t fight fair and square. They lurk in the dark in verse 2b as they, "…shoot in the dark at the upright in heart." At least Goliath had the decency to do battle with David in the open valley before the armies. Filled with deception and treachery, these stealthy enemies hit you where you least expect it. They hit below the belt. The battle is not fought in broad daylight where one can see it. They are the masters of the sneak attack. The rules of the game are rigged in their favor. Why should they play by the book? They fight a cowardly war. According to these wicked backbiters and backstabbers, the gloves come off and anything goes. You’ll never know who or what hit you.
Crush the Core. The most captivating part of the opening stanza is the classic question of verse 3: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" It’s a question that has been asked time and again. And an acceptable answer is hard to find. The word "foundations" appear to represent the order of society: the established institutions of the land and the social and civil order of the community. This order has been established by the LORD at creation and is being sustained by him in all its complexities. Yet God's justice and law are being undermined by the wicked that want to run his world. Their false greeting of shalom is shallow and shameful. They cry out, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.[iii]
In David’s day, King Saul committed a heinous crime against humanity[iv] (1 Sam 21-22). Warned that the king was on the warpath, David flees to the city of Nob in haste. The city’s priest Ahimelech was surprised when he showed up unannounced. David spares him the details of his visit stating that he’s on official kingdom business. He asks the priest for a word from God, food, and weapons. Ahimelech allows him to make his inquiry, gives him the holy bread and hands him the sword of Goliath. A short time later, Saul catches wind of what Ahimelech did for David. Doeg, the king’s chief shepherd, was the eavesdropper who squealed on the priest. Ahimelech, along with all the priest of Nob, were summoned before the presence of Saul. They were tried by a hung jury and found guilty of treason for aiding and abetting the enemy. Needless to say, Ahimelech was shocked. After all, he always figured David to be the king’s most faithful servant. Saul was livid and ordered the priest and his cohort killed. The king’s guards refuse to carry out the execution so Doeg gladly steps in and does the job. The tally of the dead not only included 85 priests, but also all the men, women, children, infants, and animals of Nob. It was a bloodbath of biblical proportions. The king, who was responsible for upholding and maintaining law and order in the land, destroyed it in a single day. "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
In the United States we are daily bombarded by the media with issues that threaten our way of life—our established foundations are under attack. Safe sex is promoted over abstinence. Abortion is preferred over pro-life. Gang violence continues to escalate and the AIDS epidemic has swept millions by storm. Just recently a Proposition in California has been passed to ban the right to same sex marriage along with openly condoning the gay lifestyle among the children in our public schools. Yet in the past, school prayers have been challenged and systemically removed from our educational institutions by godless officials. Even our very own television evangelists, Christian leaders, and local pastors have fallen from grace. Their adulterous lives are a mockery to God. They failed to uphold and live by the biblical principles they preach. Surrounded by the destructive effects of evil, we too cry out to the Lord alongside David, "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
Where Will The Righteous Look?
The second question asks, “Where will the righteous look?” We may miss the entire forest for the trees if we do not view our seemingly crippled circumstances in light of verse 4: "The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne." When all hell was breaking loose and all the foundational stops were being pulled out from under him, David saw past the futile mountain option toward the majestic heavenly horizon. In the midst of the present crisis he had the reigning God in his sights. Isn’t that a comforting view? God is not caught unaware nor is he shocked by the events that unfolded. He’s not having an anxiety attack. He’s not suffering a nervous breakdown. He is still in complete control of his world. God wasn’t pacing back and forth while biting his nails at every turn. Raising his eyes to heaven, David saw God seated and relaxed. Unfazed, he does not blink. Nothing escapes God’s notice.
The Wicked Burn in the Past. God is "holy," and from his royal throne in heaven he has a ringside view to judge all humankind. In verses 4-5 it says, “His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind. The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lovers of violence.” The "eyes" of God tests the deeds of the righteous and the wicked alike. No exceptions. Like Jesus’ parable of the weeds sown among the wheat,[v] both remain otherwise in gathering the weeds the wheat may be uprooted. Therefore the righteous and the wicked are allowed to grow together until the harvest. The abundant grain of the wheat is gathered into the heavenly barn. The reapers collect the wicked weed and bind them in bundles to be burned. In verse 6 it says, “On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” In his time, God will judge the wicked by exposing their deeds through his divine field test. He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to a heap of dust and ashes—an example of what is coming to the ungodly.[vi]
The Tables Turn in the Future. In Revelation John wrote concerning the fate of the wicked inhabitants of the earth. He records the cries of the righteous souls who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained: "Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”[vii] After waiting a little longer, John witnesses the opening of the sixth seal. Then the whole cosmos is shaken by a great earthquake. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.[viii] The earth is rocked to its very foundations. Suddenly the tables turn in the future. The kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man run for their lives hiding in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They call out to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?[ix]
Who Shall The Righteous See?
David had looked around at the wicked. Then he had looked up to God. Now he looks ahead to the future. Finally, the third question asks, “Who shall the righteous see?” In verse 7 it says, For the LORD is righteous, he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. Adam and Eve beheld the face of God. They walked and talked with him in the garden of Eden. When they sinned their relationship with God was severed. In effect of this broken bond was obvious when they saw themselves naked for the first time dressing themselves in fig leaf fashion. When they heard the sound of the LORD God during his evening stroll they hid themselves from his presence among the trees in the garden. The LORD God calls out to the man, “Where are you?” Adam’s response is representative of humankind’s response to God today. He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”[x] Their disobedient deed disqualified them from seeing God face to face. Sin cannot stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God.
Show Me Your Glory. Yet the human desire to see the face of God arises when one walks with him over a period of time. Every saint in history that has walked with God will accept no less than to see God. The eyes of the LORD may have seen us in the past, but now we want to see him in the future. Remember how Moses asked God, “Show me your glory.” But God said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” God placed Moses in the cleft of the rock, covered him with his hands and allowed his to look at his back when he passed by.[xi] When Gideon perceived that he was in the presence of the angel of the LORD, he cried out, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”[xii] And Isaiah’s response to the heavenly vision of the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne was no different. He cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”[xiii]
Show Us The Father. After walking with Jesus for almost three years. Before his departure from earth, he reveals himself to his disciples saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip then says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” And Jesus answers him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”[xiv] The LORD God has revealed himself to us in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the Son of God that answers the question, “Who shall the righteous see?” Jesus is both truly man in that he is more-than-human. He is truly God in that he is God in human form, Deus praesens. He died to draw us near so that we may live to see him face to face. There is life in a look!
Show The Christ Light. David may have seen the LORD in his holy temple then. Today, the apostle Paul reminds the brothers and sisters in Christ saying, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”[xv] Therefore Jesus is more than Emanuel, God-with-us. He is now the God who dwells, not “with,” but “in” us. God is not out there in the great mysterious somewhere. God has made his heavenly home in us through the indwelling Spirit. We are experiencing the restoration of God’s image in our lives. The relationship Adam lost back then is rekindled in our lives today. We walk in the way, the truth, and the life. “In the Lord,” like Jesus Christ, we are the light showing the world what God is like. And come hell or high water, we say, “In the LORD we take permanent refuge,” he is our ever-present help in times of trouble.
The early church fathers saw the ever-present help of God in a parable based on the story of Jesus with his disciples in the “little ship” at sea.[xvi] The followers of Christ, the Church, are likened to spiritual boat people in the midst of a great storm. In obedience to our Captain we hoist our anchors and set sail upon the open sea. By faith, we seek our eternal address. It is a costly voyage. The boarding pass demands we lighten our load by surrendering ownership of all our earthly possessions. Aboard this ship we will navigate through the foreign and hostile waters. Leaving everything behind, we may be homeless for the moment. We are strangers and refugees seeking safe harbor along the shores of the heavenly city.[xvii] The world may see us as a ship of fools, but God sees us as a fellowship of saints.
The little ship of the church is not immune to the great storms of life. Throughout history up to the present day, the little ship is often rocked and nearly swamped by the winds and the waves of this world. But our spiritual instinct would have it that we take refuge, not in our wits or the ways of this world, but in Jesus alone. Though we may be caught in a trying tsunami, Christ is present with us in the boat. And just when we think that all is lost and our little ship is doomed to keel over and sink to the bottom of the sea, Jesus rebukes the winds and the waves, “Peace! Be still!”[xviii] The great storm ceases to a dead calm. The blinding fog vanishes from view. The deep darkness becomes light. Only then shall we behold the face of God in Jesus Christ—God’s glorious presence and power unleashed and revealed to his spiritual boat people. One day our grand seagoing odyssey will come to a close. The heavenly horizon will soon appear in the far distance beckoning us to preserve until the end. The crew can’t wait to hear shouts of “heaven ahoy!” At long last we will finally dock on the eternal port and be home in the LORD. Throughout this spiritual journey, trust and confidence in the LORD should mark his seaworthy servants—not abandon ship, but spiritual asylum in God! In the LORD we take refuge! We will see him face to face!
[i] Judges 6:2.
[ii] This past week I noted all the major headlines from our local papers and over the Internet. Here’s a random sampling of our current events at home and abroad: Mass layoffs increase strain on American economy, Wall Street ends another volatile day with last-minute loss, Credit markets still squeezed as investors await rate cut, Asian stocks fall for the fifth straight day, Woman chains herself to home to protest foreclosure, U.S. consumer confidence plunges to lowest level on record, White House tells banks to stop hoarding money, Reckless consumption threatens the earth conservation group says, Fed expected to cut key rate in bid to prevent deep recession
[iii] Jeremiah 6:14.
[iv] The times haven’t changed much since Saul’s brutal slaughter of innocents. In fact, the violence has only escalated. Just when the world said “Never again” to the Jewish Holocaust some 60 years ago, human history repeats itself. As I write, a war-torn hot spot in Africa affects thousands of civilians. In Sudan's Darfur region, the Janjaweed militia, an Arabic group supported by the Sudanese government, is systematically murdering the region's black tribes. They carry out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. The Darfur conflict has killed up to 300,000 and forced almost 3 million to flee their homes and suffer starvation. Despite the arrival of international troops and ongoing peace talks, the crisis remains as severe as ever. The International Criminal Court has a pending arrest warrant charging Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. If the President, responsible for upholding the law in order to protect the citizens of Sudan, has behaved like a common thug in condoning a countrywide massacre, what can the righteous do?
[v] Matthew 13:24-30.
[vi] 2 Peter 2:6.
[vii] Revelation 6:10.
[viii] Ibid., 6:14.
[ix] Ibid., 6:15-16.
[x] Genesis 3:10; Hebrews 4:13.
[xi] Exodus 33:17-23.
[xii] Gideon 6:22.
[xiii] Isaiah 6:5.
[xiv] John 14:6-10.
[xv] 1 Corinthians 3:16.
[xvi] Tertullian—Anti-Nicene—Writing of the Early Church Fathers. Chapter XII. –Of the Necessity of Baptism to Salvation. But that little ship did present a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted "in the sea," that is, in the world, (125) "by the waves," that is, by persecutions and temptations; the Lord, through patience, sleeping as it were, until, roused in their last extremities by the prayers of the saints, He checks the world, (125) and restores tranquility to His own.
[xvii] Hebrews 11:13-14.
[xviii] Mark 4:39.
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.