GOD IS OUR REFUGE
In the 1500’s, Martin Luther wrote a hymn called, “A Mighty Fortress.” The opening lines are:
“A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He,
Amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
It is said Luther based this song on Psalm 46. This Psalm, we are told, was one Luther often turned to in times of trouble.
Psalm 46 starts out, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” This part of the Psalm is well know and frequently quoted. Another often quoted passage in this Psalm is found in verse 10a which says, “Be still, and know that I am God….” This Psalm is about depending on God who will always be there for His people; it is about God being our refuge in times of trouble. The overall concept of the Psalm has been described in this way: “God’s presence is safety and peace, whatever storms may roar.” Psalm 46 has been labeled as the psalm we should read when it seems our whole world is falling apart. In this article, the psalm will be divided into three parts. First, GOD IS OUR TOWER OF STRENGTH (vs. 1-3); next, GOD IS OUR RIVER OF JOY (Vs. 4-7); finally, GOD IS OUR GOD AND WILL BE GLORIFIED (8-11).
God Is Our Tower of Strength (Vs. 1-3)
Verse 1-3 says, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.”
The first verse, which has been an inspiration for many, starts out by saying, God is “OUR” (not “my”) refuge and strength. He is the refuge and strength of “many” as they call on His name. Also, the plural pronoun would indicate this psalm was probably associated with something pertaining to group participation (as the superscription at the beginning seems to indicate), i.e. a group of people singing. We would follow the same concept today, saying “we” not “I” with our prayers when a group is participating.
A “refuge” is a place where a person goes to for safety and protection. In Europe, for example, there are many ancient fortresses, castles, ramparts, and towers which served as defenses in times of war. In America, there were forts where the early settlers could flee during times of danger. Today, a family might have a safe-room in their house or perhaps some may have a tornado shelter for times of severe weather.
The concept of God being our refuge seems to be borrowed from the cities of refuge spoken of in the Old Testament (Num. 35). These were designated cities where an individual was able to flee if he accidently killed another person. While there, he would be protected from people seeking revenge until his guilt or innocence was established.
The term “refuge” is used as metaphor to describe God as a source of safety and protection for His people. Similar terms are found throughout the Old Testament. For example, 2 Samuel 22:2-3, spoken by David after he was delivered from his enemies, uses a number of metaphors describing God’s care. David said, “…The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence” (Note also Psalm 144:1-2). God is also referred to at times as our “shadow” or “shade.” Note Psalm 121:5 which says, “The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.” As a rock or tree provides protection from the sun God provides protection for those who serve Him.
Verse 1 also says God is “our strength.” This can be looked at in two ways. First, He is the “source” of our strength. Next, it could be said that we can “rely upon” His strength as if it were our own. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
The last part of verse one says God is “a very present help in trouble.” Barnes, in his commentary, points out:
The word “present,” as if he were near to us, or close by us, does not accurately express the idea, which is rather, that “he has been found” to be such, or that he has always “proved” himself to be such a help, and that, therefore, we may now confide in him. The word “very,” or “exceedingly,” is added to qualify the whole proposition, as if this were “emphatically true.” It was true in the most eminent sense that God had always been found to be such a helper, and, “therefore,” there was nothing to fear in the present distress. (Barnes’ Notes)
The point is, God has always helped His people in the past, and we can count on His aid in the future.
Think back to various Old Testament events which involved such people as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Daniel. Clearly, God was their refuge and strength. Further, when David, the young shepherd boy, courageously went to battle against a giant named Goliath, he pointed out that God had delivered him in the past and then said, “He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:37).
Near the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was in a Roman prison having been forsaken by many people. Demas, for example, forsook Paul “having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). Notice Paul’s statement, when he was near the end of his life, in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” But, then in verse 17, he said, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” No one else was there for him, but GOD STOOD WITH HIM and STRENGTHENED HIM!
Psalm 91 also focuses extensively on this same concept. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as “The Psalm of God’s Protection.” Consider a few verses of it. Verses 2-5 say, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.’ Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day….” From this Psalm, we learn God can be counted on to be our refuge and strength, but it is also important for us to “trust Him” (v. 2) and to “know His name” (v. 14).
Various passages tell us not to fear or be troubled and reasons are often cited for this assurance. Consider Deuteronomy 31:6. In this passage, Moses spoke to the people near the end of his life as his leadership was being turned over to Joshua. He said, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Jesus frequently told His disciples to “fear not.” While Jesus was on the earth, at a certain point, He knew He would soon be leaving and His disciples would face persecution and hardship. In John 14:1-2, he told them, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” After speaking to His disciples about anxiety, Jesus reassured them by saying, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Today, through various avenues, God can be our refuge and strength. This might be seen though His providential care (Mt. 6:26-33), the Scriptures (Acts 20:32), prayer (Phil. 4:6-7), Christians helping one another (1 Thess. 5:9-11), and by the help He provides in overcoming temptations (1 Cor. 10:13).
Imagine how frightening the above events in our text, such as the earth moving and mountains being cast into the sea, would be if these events literally happened. The above might actually happen, but this language can be used figuratively to refer to catastrophic change, upheaval, and turmoil (Mt. 24:29, Lk. 21:25) such as the falling of a great nation due to God’s Judgment. But, since God is our refuge and strength and since He helps us in times of troubles, we should not fear, no matter what happens! We may face death, disease, persecutions, the trials of life, etc. but God is our refuge and strength.
GOD IS OUR RIVER OF JOY (Vs. 4-7)
Verses 4-7 say, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
In verse 3, we read of troubled water roaring against the mountains threatening to wash them into the sea. In contrast to the raging sea, a peaceful river is pictured with streams flowing from it which would produce gladness for the city of Jerusalem, the place which was the center of their worship. He does not seem to be speaking literally but is instead saying God would be like a peaceful river bringing calmness, serenity and blessings to them. In a similar light, note how God’s blessings are described in Isaiah 33:21 which says, “But there the majestic Lord will be for us A place of broad rivers and streams, In which no galley with oars will sail, Nor majestic ships pass by.”
It is thought Psalm 46 was written during the reign of King Hezekiah during the time frame when the Assyrians (led by Sennacherib) had surrounded the city of Jerusalem. At one point (2 Kgs. 18:19-36), a representative from Assyria filled the air with propaganda, ridicule and insults against the inhabitants of the city and God. Hezekiah turned to God for help. God knew of the “rage” and “tumult” of this arrogant nation. Through Isaiah he said, “But I know your dwelling place, Your going out and your coming in, and your rage against Me. Because your rage against Me and your tumult have come up to My ears, Therefore I will put My hook in your nose And My bridle in your lips, And I will turn you back by the way which you came” (2 Kgs 19:27-28). They were now surrounded, but they had God, the “Lord of Hosts,” with infinite resources at His command, to protect them. Thus, there was no need to fear as God would be their strength and their refuge against anything and any one.
In our text, it says God would help her “at the break of dawn.” Note the historical account in 2 Kings 19:32-35: “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: ‘He shall not come into this city, Nor shoot an arrow there, Nor come before it with shield, Nor build a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, By the same shall he return; And he shall not come into this city,’ Says the Lord. ‘For I will defend this city, to save it For My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’ And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses — all dead.” Thus, God uttered His voice and the “EARTH MELTED.”
GOD IS OUR GOD AND WILL BE GLORIFIED (Vs. 8-11)
Consider verses 8-11. “Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
It is interesting to note how the psalmist starts out with the word “come.” This shows an invitation is being offered. He invites us to come and behold the works of the Lord. In the context, he seems to be referring to defeating the armies who opposed Judah. If this was written during the days of Hezekiah, and is connected to the defeat of the Assyrians, this statement may have been prompted as the people of Judah looked across the campground of the Assyrians and saw it filled with dead bodies.
There are various opportunities today to “behold the works of the Lord.” First, consider “creation.” Psalm 19:1-3 points out, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.” In Job 37:14, Elihu, one of Job’s friends, is speaking. In this book, Elihu reached some wrong conclusions and made some incorrect applications about Job’s situation. However, the statement he made here is of great significance. He said, “Listen to this, O Job; Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.” In the context of this statement, he isn’t even speaking of mighty works, such as the parting of the Red Sea, but common things such as winds, clouds, thunder, lightning, hail, rain, and snow. Though common, these are even marvelous beyond man’s comprehension. Consider also a work of God being reflected in people who obey the gospel and transform their lives into new creatures in Christ (Rom. 12:1-2, I Pet. 4:1-4, Col. 3:1-14). They put aside the “old man” and put on the “new.” Even those guilty of having killed the son of God obeyed the Lord and became Christians (Acts 2). The works of God can also be seen in other ways mentioned earlier such as God’s providential care, his response to our prayers, and His helping us to overcome temptation.
Verse 10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The word translated “be still” relates to God being our helper in times of trouble. Barnes, in his commentary, points out,
“The word used here -from raapaah- means properly to cast down; to let fall; to let hang down; then, to be relaxed, slackened, especially the hands: It is also employed in the sense of not making an effort; not putting forth exertion; and then would express the idea of leaving matters with God, or of being without anxiety about the issue” (from Barnes’ Notes).
Consider a situation when the children of Israel were fleeing Egypt. Pharaoh and his army were approaching them, and they were up against the Red Sea. Moses told them, in Exodus 14:13-14, “…Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” Moses is telling them, “don’t worry, be calm, trust God, and He will be with you. God assured them they would see the “salvation” (“deliverance” NIV) of the Lord.
Today we must trust in God, our refuge, and we can be assured that we will receive the “deliverance” of God. Note Romans 8:38-39 which says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thus, be patient; God is our helper; He is the Lord of hosts; He will take care of you. God will ultimately be exalted and acknowledged by all of mankind (10b).
Verse 11 says, “The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.” This conclusion is very much like verse 1 and is the same as verse 7. At this point, during the days of Hezekiah, God’s children could draw the conclusion that God was with them. Today, because God is with us, faithful Christians need not fear what is ahead. God will always be there!