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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 צָרָה (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)

The Fortified Palaces

“In her fortified palaces, God is made known to be a place of refuge.”

(Psalm 48:4 [verse 3 in English])

This the city of God…the palace that has been fortified and protected and situated on Zion, she is a place of refuge. While this was meant to be true in the most literal sense of the word — Jerusalem was walled in and protected — it is also clear from the context of this psalm that the sons of Korah have something even greater in mind. God himself is the ultimate place of refuge from those who will seek to destroy us, for indeed, “the sons of Korah did not die” (Numbers 26:11).

We have often reflected on the tendency of the believer to seek to find refuge in human works rather than in trusting God for refuge, but I wonder whether or not part of the problem is that the pattern of life and faith exhibited by the church as an institution in today’s era lends it to communicating that great truth. Allow me to explain. Jerusalem was a shadow of the greater Jerusalem that is to come just as the throne of God over the mercy seat was a shadow of the throne room in heaven. Similarly, Jerusalem was walled in — was referred to as the most fortified city in the Roman empire, though, again, these human walls were only meant to symbolize the greater truth that it was to God that we can run to find refuge.

Our churches, then, as shadows again of the worship in heaven and of the refuge of God’s presence (there is a reason we refer to the heart of the church as a “sanctuary”), what do they communicate? Do they communicate that God is a place of refuge or otherwise? And here I am not so much talking about the walls or the tower, etc…I am talking about the people. Is church a place to which people can fly when the winds of this life buffet them to and fro? Or, is your church a place where people need to hide their hurts lest someone seek to bring further injury. Sadly, I think that churches are often more the latter than the former…yet when that takes place, what are we communicating about the character of God? About his city? About his worship?

Loved ones, this is a principle that we must take very seriously, for what we do in this life and how we worship reflects what we truly believe about the character of God. If we believe that God truly forgives, then we must forgive. If we believe that God is a place of refuge, then our gatherings and gathering places also need to be places where people can find refuge from the ravages of this world. If we believe that God is love, then we must express that love to one another. And if we say that God is one way yet do not live it out, then we become hypocrites and our testimony will be rejected in our community and in this world.

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)