A Place of Refuge

“God is to us a place of refuge and strength;

A helper in distress he is very much found to be.”

(Psalm 46:2 {verse 1 in English Bibles})

 

While the wording of the second line of this verse is a little awkward in English, I rendered it so in the hopes of preserving the original Hebrew word order. Often, when the Hebrews were wanting to add emphasis, they would use what we today call a “chiastic structure.” So called for the Greek letter c (chi) which is shaped like an “x,” as you move from line one to line two, there is a repetition of ideas in reverse order — if you assigned letters to the ideas, the first line would go “A, B” and the second line, “B’, A’.”

This verse is a great illustration of this Hebrew approach to writing. The psalmist begins by making the statement, “God is to us a place of refuge and strength.” The first concept is God, he would be “letter A” as we approach the verse. The second concept is “a place of refuge and strength” would be letter “B.” Were we to hear this statement about God for the first time, we might be inclined to ask ourselves, “what then does it mean for God to be our place of refuge and our strength?” The psalmist answers us in the second line of this verse, though he reverses the order to drive the point home with emphasis. To be a place of refuge means that he is a helper in distress (B’) and then the pronoun (he — which refers to God) is placed in the back end of the line (A’).

Okay, so one might be tempted to say, “that is nice, but unless I happen to be studying Hebrew poetry, why is that important?” And that would be a good question. My answer is in two parts. First and on the most basic level, this is the word of God and he has chosen to give us his word in lots of different styles and forms — in this case, in poetic form. This word is designed to equip us to do every good work in life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It should follow, then, that the better we understand this word that God has given us, the better we will live out our lives to the honor and glory of God in Christ Jesus.

On a more personal note, though, think of the Bible as a love letter from God to ourselves. When we receive a letter from one we love and adore, we savor every word and dash that our lover has given us. We read it over and over and over again and dwell on each idea that is expressed. Why not also do this with God’s word? Is there any better love letter that we might receive? Is there any person who loves us more greatly or more deeply that God does? Oh, beloved, immerse yourself in God’s word — drench your life in it that you may grow richly in it and dwell upon the author of that word even more closely and deeply every day of your life.

And as we move back toward the words of this verse, note one more thing in this description. God is our helper in distress. The word that the psalmist uses here is h∂rDx (tsarah), which in Hebrew is the polar opposite of salvation. Thus the psalmist is not just speaking of troubles with rambunctious children or an irritating neighbor; the psalmist is speaking of everything being wrecked in his life, not only physically, but spiritually as well. The psalmist is not crying out these words because he has had a bad day, but because he desperately needs someone to save him…to deliver him from his wretched state. It is in this context and especially in this context that God shows himself to be a place of refuge and strength to the weak. This is what the Apostle Paul relates as well to the church in Corinth. God had sent an evil spirit to torment Paul and he had pleaded with God to remove the tormenting from him:

“For this, I urged the Lord three times in order that it might withdraw from me. Yet, he told me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; for power is completed in weakness.’ Therefore, with pleasure I would boast in my weakness in order that the power of Christ might rest upon me. Therefore I will pleasure in weakness, in violence, in trouble, in persecution, and in distress for Christ — for when I am weak, I am strong.”

(2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

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2 Comments

  1. C. Arthur

    Each of your sermons touch me deeply. This one because you encourage us to savor each word that God gives us and to remember that when we are week, we are strong. God is glorified by the strength he gives us in times of trouble.

    Like

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