28. My Rock

God in the Psalms No.28    

Psa 18:2   The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.

In this verse David pours out a number of descriptions of the Lord. We’ve previously considered the Lord as our fortress (or stronghold) and as our deliverer and so now we focus on the Lord as our rock.  Perhaps the best way to remind ourselves of the nature of a rock is to remember Jesus’ parable of the two house builders (Mt 7:24-27),  everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (v.24). In the parable when the floods came the house built on sand was washed away but the one built on rock remained firm. New York is a city which is built on rock which is why so many of its buildings go so high – they have a strong foundation. The picture conveyed is of a firm, fixed and stable foundation.

The picture of a deity as a means of support was not uncommon. Moses comparing the Lord with the gods of other nations, said, For their rock is not like our Rock (Deut 32:31). In similar vein Isaiah wrote of the Lord saying, Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one (Isa 44:8). Even more, the picture of a rock is of an enduring or lasting support. When we look at mountains made of hard rocks we realize they have been there a long time! Isaiah wrote: Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” (Isa 26:4). When all else is shaky or moving, God can be depended upon to be the same, unmovable: Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go(Psa 71:3).

The heading over this psalm speak of it being written by David when he had just escaped from Saul. In the historical context we find, David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands (1 Sam 23:14) and Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon (1 Sam 23:25).  The place of refuge for David was evidently a rocky outcrop in the midst of a desert. What a picture!  All around is sandy wasteland that is barren and unstable, and David finds his security in a rocky outcrop. Thus is the Lord to us, a rocky, stable outcrop in the midst of a dry and barren and unstable world.

In the world everything is constantly changing. The early part of the twenty-first century has been characterized by natural disasters as well as human wars and conflicts and terrorist activity around the world. It is an unstable place. Postmodernism is a way of thinking that doubts and questions the assurances of the previous scientific age. Cynicism is a common characteristic. The old adage of “Been there, done it, got the tee-shirt” might now be changed to “Been there, done it, and it doesn’t work.” People have tried alternative life-styles, for example cohabitation instead of marriage – and are finding it doesn’t work! Constant change is because we have been unhappy or even disillusioned over what has gone before. Where is something that is stable, unchanging and trustworthy?  Here He is!  The Lord, our Rock.  All else changes but the Lord is unchanging.  When we speak of the Lord’s love, His goodness, His kindness or whatever other characteristic that He has, it is ALWAYS there, it never changes. We may drift away from the Lord but when we come back, we find He is still there, unchanging, still as faithful as ever, with his arms of love reaching to us. He is our Rock!  Hallelujah!

21. In the Sanctuary

God in the Psalms No.21

Psa 15:1   LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?

When the psalmist asked this question, he was assuming something that was taken for granted: that God dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem. In Ex 25:8, speaking of the Tabernacle, the forerunner to the Temple, the Lord said, have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  Thus the Tabernacle became referred to as ‘the sanctuary’. When Solomon eventually built the Temple we find, He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place.” (1 Kings 6:16)  Thus the Most Holy Place (or ‘Holy of Holies’ in older versions) became the innermost place of the Temple referred to as a sanctuary.

So what is a ‘sanctuary’? Well do you notice the similarity to the word sanctify which means to set apart. A sanctuary is a place set apart for refuge, almost a hiding place. There is this sense to it – a place where God comes to dwell among men and women but is yet hidden away, a place where you have to go to seek Him out. Again and again in Scripture there is this sense of God being hidden away because of His holiness. Thus this ‘Most Holy Place’, the innermost part of the Temple was special andonly the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) For most of the time the Jews simply referred to the whole of the Temple as ‘the sanctuary’.

But notice also the reference to God’s holy hill. Yes, Jerusalem was sited on a number of hills and the Temple was located on one of them. A hill is a distinct prominence, a feature that stands out, a feature that requires effort to be climbed. Often in Scripture there is reference to the mountain of the Lord (usually Sinai) and the picture is of ‘going up’ to the Lord, a symbolic picture of God being higher and separated off from the ordinary day to day life. The Temple is on a holy hill, a hill that is separated off for the purposes of God.  We saw previously in Psa 2:6 I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” God’s dwelling place on earth was in an elevated location that required effort to get to. Thus David asks the question, who is worthy to live in the holy Temple on this holy hill?  He then goes on to give a list of requirements of righteous behaviour that would be required of such a person.

Yes, it was moral behaviour that gave access to God. The list of things that follow in the psalm are indeed a good list to attain to, but what about when we fail?  This is where Scripture needs to be read as a whole. Failure was an accepted part of the life of Israel, and God provided for that by the sacrificial system. To approach God you had to come with a sacrifice that was given, first as means of your sin being transferred to it and to be carried into death (sin offerings), and then as a sign of your desire for friendship with the holy God (fellowship offerings).

When Jesus died on the Cross at Calvary, something particularly significant happened: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mt 27:51).  That immensely thick curtain that separated off God’s refuge from His people, was divinely split (it was too thick to be done by a man). Suddenly the way is open into God’s presence because Jesus has dealt with all causes of separation from Him in us. No longer do we have to strive to achieve worthiness to come to God, no longer do we have to appease with sacrifices. The sanctuary is opened to us by Jesus. Hallelujah!

God a Stronghold

God in the Psalms No.14

Psa 9:9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble

We have seen previously the Lord who is a shield (Meditation 3) and the Lord who is a refuge (Meditation 11) and now we consider an extension of this, to God who is a stronghold. We saw that a shield is something you hold out between you and an enemy for protection, but a refuge is something you run into so that the strength of the refuge protects you. A stronghold is a development of the idea of a refuge.  Indeed it is something you run into for protection, but the picture is a much stronger one.

When David escaped from
Gath, he fled to the Cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22:1) where he was joined by his family. This place was then referred to as a stronghold (v.4,5).  A stronghold is a fortified place with strong defences. That is the difference between a refuge and a stronghold. A refuge is simply a general term for a place of retreat and safety, while a stronghold is a particular type of refuge, a strongly defended refuge. David frequently retreated to this particular place for safety and security (1 Sam 24:22, 2 Sam 5:17 , 23:14). In Psa 144:2 David piles on this imagery: He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge”. There fortress and stronghold are really one and the same thing, a strongly defended place of complete security. A refuge is somewhere you go to peace and protection, but a fortress or stronghold is somewhere you go to specifically withstand the enemy who comes to attack.

Thus it is that David speaks of going to the stronghold “in times of trouble”. The trouble he refers to is his enemy (v.3,6), other nations (v.5) who may be described as ‘the wicked’ (v.5). He has seen the Lord dealing with them (v.3-6). So many of the things about the Lord come together in this Psalm. The Lord who is enthroned (v.7,11 and Meditation 2), the Lord who judges (v.8 and Meditation 12), and the God who delivers (v.3-6 implied and Meditation 4).  In all these ways the Lord acts as a stronghold, a place of strong defence. Because He is The King who is reigning, enthroned, because He is the Judge who stands against and judges against unrighteousness and because He comes to deliver, He is a stronghold, a place of strong security. When David is in trouble, when nations rise against him, when enemies come and oppose him unrighteously, he knows that when he runs to the Lord, the Lord WILL stand against unrighteousness, He will deal with the enemy, and so David can feel entirely secure. There is no way that the enemy can come and get him when he’s with the Lord.

It’s not merely that the Lord is a refuge, as good as that is, but the Lord is a stronghold, a strong place of defence that will not be breached and so there is utter security with him. To get a sense of the strength that is conveyed with the picture of a stronghold we need to go to countries that have castles and see the incredibly high and thick walls that were utterly impossible to scale or breach. This is a stronghold, a place that is impregnable and which cannot be breached. It is a picture of total and utter security. There no stronghold like the Lord. Because He is who He is, with all His might, power and authority no enemy can get through Him to us when we are ‘in Him’. This is the sense of security the Lord wants us to have. We are secure, not because of anything we do, not because of our activities, but simply because we are ‘in Him’ and He is utterly impregnable!  Is that the sense we have when troubles come on us? We run to the Lord, we call on Him and He draws near, and then comes the sense that all these troubles mean nothing because He surrounds us, He is our stronghold.

(This will be the last of this particular series for the time being. )

God of Refuge

God in the Psalms No.11

Psa 7:1 O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me

We have seen previously (Meditation 3) God as a shield, the one who stands between us and our enemy and provides protection, but the idea of God being a refuge takes us on beyond that to a fuller and more intimate picture of God with us.

Yes, there is the same idea of God being a protector and He does it by being a deliverer (as we saw in Meditation 4), to save David from those who pursued him and sought to kill him (v.2).   So what’s the difference between a shield and a refuge?   A shield is something you hold out in front of you to protect you from the enemy, while a refuge is a place you retreat into to receive that same protection.   A shield is before you and a refuge is all around you.   A shield you have to hold up strongly, but a refuge is something you retreat into when you are weak and unable to defend yourself.  The refuge provides the strength and you need do nothing except get into it.

In mountain areas, there is sometimes a refuge in high places which is either a hut or simply a wall in a square shape with a single opening. In both cases the climber or walker simply gets into the refuge to escape the weather. When wives have been beaten by husbands who are bullies, we now have ‘refuges’ where they can go where the husband cannot. All they need do is flee into the refuge and they are safe.

Thus, similarly, we can have a sense of the Lord’s presence surrounding us and when that happens, the noise of the winds of adversity are cut off and we have peace.  God is our refuge.  There are times when the enemy seems to rage against us and affliction comes in a variety of ways, and we cry out to the Lord and then, suddenly all is still, the struggle seems to be terminated.  God is our refuge.  It is simply His presence being manifested and whenever He comes into our circumstances, He takes control and peace comes. The picture of Jesus asleep in the boat with the disciples, in the storm (Mt 8:24 -), although an historical event, is also a good analogy of this.  A storm blew up that threatened the boat. They woke Jesus and he returned to their conscious world and rebuked the wind and the waves.  Suddenly there was peace. Thus was God manifest.   God was their refuge.

In Num 35:9 onwards we find God giving Moses the law for the cities of refuge. These were simply places where someone who had committed manslaughter could go to get protection against the avenger. We have an accuser, Satan, for that is what his name means.  When we fail and sin, we confess it and when he accuses us we have to flee to the refuge that is Jesus and all he’s done of us on the Cross.  That was why John wrote in 1 Jn 2:1,2 about how, should we sin, we have one who speaks in our defence, the one who died for us, Jesus. When we are accused we are to flee to God, our refuge, for He alone has provided safety and protection for us against the demands of Satan and the Law, so that we might live and not die. He is our refuge because of who He is and what He’s done.  Psa 126:1 says, Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” This is what a refuge does, it keeps us safe; it makes us feel secure.   That is far more than the work of a shield.  As we said, the refuge surrounds us and it is His strength, not ours, that prevails against the enemy. We just have to cry to Him and then let Him be Himself for us, for His very presence acts as a refuge from all the enemy can bring against us. Hallelujah!

9. Refuge Restored


Isa 4:5,6 Then the LORD will create ….. a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

You may not have noticed it but there is a phrase that keeps on cropping up in Isaiah: “in that day”. So far it has appeared in 2:11,17,20, 3:7,18 and now in chapter 4 in 4:1,2, to make seven times in these three chapters. It is simply a day of the Lord’s appointing. It is not a chance day, but a day when God decrees something specific will happen. It shouldn’t be seen as a single day because it refers to a number of things happening which clearly will take time to occur. Recap: the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” (2:11) when man’s pride is brought down and God alone exalted (also 2:17). In that day men will also give up their idols and flee from them (2:20). In that day no one will want to take responsibility for leadership (3:7). In that day the finery of the women will be gone (3:18) and they will desperately look for male covering (4:1). Finally on that day will come the restoration of the Lord (4:2).

We see in this study the end result of the Lord’s activity which so far has seemed somewhat negative as He deals with the unrighteous people. Now we see what He has been working towards. “In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious.” (4:2a). A branch is a shoot off the trunk that has grown distinctive in its own right. Often in Scripture the Lord refers to Israel as a plant. It is a convenient picture that conveys a lot. It is something planted by the Lord (established in the Promised Land by the Lord), it is fed by the Lord (His word and His Spirit provide nourishment for them), He tends it and cares for it, and He expects it to produce fruit (righteous living). But when the enemy comes and attacks it, it is chopped down, hence Isaiah’s later reference to a ‘stump’ (6:3, 11:1) but for now the focus is on a branch, a new shoot from the old tree. This new shoot will be beautiful and glorious. This new work of God in the people will be beautiful to behold and will have the light of God shining in it.

But there is more: “and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.” (4:2b) There will be survivors from what the Lord does with them (it will not be their end) and they will feel good about the state of the land. Now that could mean the physical state of the land which has become fruitful again after the pillaging enemy has gone, or it could be the general state of righteous wellbeing. Whichever it is, it is good being there! Moreover, “Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.” (4:3). All those left alive after the enemy has gone will be seen to be a special, set-apart, people of God. That is what holy means. They will be clearly seen to be the people of God who are different! (unlike the present where they are just the same as any other idol-worshipping people of the world).

“The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem.” (v.4a) Jerusalem is going to be transformed and all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of the women of Jerusalem, who had dominated the city, will be taken away and will just be a past memory. All of the injustice will be removed. How? It will happen by, “a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.” (v.4b). Obviously the hand of the Lord will bring judgment on the people and the unrighteous will be burned up (removed) by the fire, which may be literal fire or simply the cleansing effect of a marauding army from abroad.

But that isn’t the end of it: “Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy.” (4:5) This echoes the Lord’s provision of protective security that Israel had known when they left Egypt (Ex 13:21,22 and Ex 14:20). It was a sign of His very presence that provided protection for them. Thus this protection is, “a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.” (4:6). Put very simply, His presence will protect them from anything that might harm them. It is a picture of total security.

Perhaps we take for granted this picture because it is so simple. It says that when we are restored to a right relationship with the Lord, His very presence with us acts as a protection and security like nothing else does. If we are Christians, we need to know that this is our position today. We have been restored to a right relationship with God through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, at Calvary, and so today we have totally security as His children. As you read your New Testament, catch this truth again and again. Let it establish you and maintain you in peace. When the enemy seeks to upset your equilibrium, don’t let him! Declare the truth and hold onto the peace that is rightfully yours. As the apostle Paul said, stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Eph 6:13)