Saturday, 9 November 2013

Psalm 11 A bird in the mountain

Flee as a bird to your mountain!
For look the wicked bend their bows.
Psalm 11.1

One is reminded of Waldensian history by Psalm 11. David knew what it was to flee to the mountains as his only refuge, pursued by bloodthirsty and unbalanced King Saul. Sometimes, the only way of escape is to flee, fast as a bird. However, Psalm 11 also maintains that there are times when God wants the faithful to stand and resist, to pour burning coals on the consciences of their attackers. At those time, to disobey Him would be faithlessness.

The Waldensians had, in medieval times, fled the power of Rome to the Cottian Alps, which circle Val Pellice. They had found an inaccessible place, Pra del Torno. From there, they had survived several attacks of thousands of Papal and Savoyard troops sent to slaughter them. Believers in France at that time, without such a mighty stronghold, fell to their persecutors.

Possibly the greatest story told about Pra del Torno happened in 1690. The remnant of the Waldensians, survivors of a systematic starvation regime in Turinese prisons which killed thousands of their fellows, returned from Geneva to reclaim their valleys, as landless refugees.

As experts in their ancient paths, they skilfully escaped a French military onslaught comprising 10,000 troops and cannon under General Catinat, on another of their strongholds, La Balsiglia through a miraculous mist. With just 800 men left, this small and weary band had no place on earth where they could live in peace, as historic champions of freedom of religion. So, climbing over the mountains along the hidden paths, they headed, at last, for Pra del Torno, to make their last stand there, true to their beliefs. They were led by pastor, Henri Arnaud.

How shaken they must have felt when they saw below at Pra del Torno the Savoyard army already drawn up, occupying this last refuge. But the Savoyards, having been allies of the French only a few days before, had switched sides due to a change in European politics. Now the French were their enemies! They hailed the Waldensians as their friends, offering to protect them and use them as defenders of Savoy from the French.

In times of persecution, practical people tell believers to flee to such a fortified physical place.

Flee as a bird to your mountain!
For look the wicked bend their bows.
They make ready their arrow on the string
That they might shoot secretly at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed
What can the righteous do.
Psalm 11 v3

Instead of praising the Lord, as do the mountains, hills, fruit trees and cedars, in Psalm 148, the ungodly seek to silence those who worship God in spirit and in truth. They do this first by destroying the refuge of justice and the law. In Psalm 11, David says that those with a burning hatred for God, which is what the wicked are in the Bible, should bear in mind that God, perfect in knowledge, is watching their every step and doing surveillance on their every private thought. He is only holding back delivering what is due to them, to offer them a last chance of turning back. For it is they, not the godly, who are making their last stand. When His time is ripe, He will rain down the judgement of Gomorrah, which is burning coals and brimstone, as well as a pyroclastic wind in spiritual terms.

The Lord is in his holy temple
The Lord throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold
His eyelids test the sons of men
The Lord tests the righteous
But the wicked and the one who loves violence
His soul hates....
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup.
Psalm 11 v4

As for the people of the ancient paths, through The Glorious Return which is remembered with a fine statue of Henri Arnaud, they demonstrate to us, that through courage, faith and endurance

...the Lord is righteous
He loves righteousness
His countenance will behold the upright.
Psalm 11 v7

Postscript 

  • Henry Arnaud died in 1721 having been to England in 1707 to raise funds. In his retirement, he wrote Histoire de la glorieuse rentrée des Vaudois dans leurs vallées published in 1710, dedicated to Queen Anne of England. 
  • Waldensians who later emigrated to America, to a town called Valdese, hold an annual celebration of The Glorious Return.

Bibliography

  • History of the Waldenses by Rev J A Wylie


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