God is Our Refuge and Strength
When the storms of life rage around us, when wicked men who do not fear God make the storms worse by their rebellion, then especially we must remember our great Captain. Was this not his rebuke to the disciples when their little boat was besieged by stormy winds and surging seas? “Why are you so fearful? Do you not know that I am in the boat with you” (Mark 4:40)? So easily we forget his promise “never to leave or forsake us” (Heb. 13:5). Let us remember his promises now, take them deeply into our hearts, so that we hear our Savior’s calming voice say to our souls, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27).
In Psalm 46, God says that “he is our refuge and our strength.” A refuge is a shelter from the storm, a safe hiding place. Most of our self-created hiding places are not safe, but God is safe and our safety. He lovingly beckons to us, “Seek in me your refuge, your peace, your hope.” He is also our strength. What a precious promise this is, for we often feel that all strength has abandoned us. It has not, for God cannot abandon us. He can sooner forget himself than forget us, for he has bound himself to us in an eternal covenant of grace and love. Believe his promise, child of God, and you will find your heart encouraged and able to see better your duty and approach it with a lighter heart.
This is because he is a “very present help.” Each of these words is a hearty morsel for faith to chew. “Very” means that his help is great and abundant. “Present” is a verb with a range of meanings including “to be found, encountered, gained, and secured.” Because he is near, when we seek him, we shall find him, if we seek with all our hearts” (Jer. 29:13). The more of your troubles you share with others, the more they may withdraw from you; the more you open your heart to the Lord, the closer he will draw to you. This is not a whim but an unbreakable promise of help. When the Lord draws near, he brings his help with him. He asks only for your “whole heart” – not holding on to sin (Ps. 66:18) or hiding idols you refuse to release (Gen. 31:34). The one thing the Lord asks from us is our whole heart. Give it to him, and he will guard it and help you.
Faith in God’s promise is also the fear-killer (v. 2). Yes, there is great evil in the world, but faith overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). The devil is a malicious and murdering foe, but he can be resisted by faith in God (1 Pet. 5:9). Did not our Savior command us, “Do not fear them that kill the body?” But these are exactly the ones we fear, rather than God. When the world of sinful men is in chaos (v. 3) and the little coracle of our lives seems likely to be swamped by the waves of wickedness, there is no reason to be afraid. Is our strong and faithful Savior with us, or not? Does he rule over the world, or not? Fear denies his presence and his promises. Fear hides his face behind clouds of doubt, but faith draws the cheering sunlight of his countenance from behind the clouds.
God has different waters from the world. “The wicked are like the troubled seas, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isa. 57:21). But from God’s throne, there flows a mighty river of help and peace (v. 4). Our Savior said, “He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters” (John 7:38). He was speaking of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Rock that we strike by faith, and from him flow glad waters of the Spirit’s presence and help (Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:9). In him all God’s promises are sealed (2 Cor. 1:20). We must draw them out from him by believing his promise, calling upon him to keep them, and waiting upon him in obedience.
The Holy Spirit flowing from Jesus Christ who intercedes for us before the throne of God makes God’s city glad. God’s city is where he dwells, his living temple, his church. We are living stones in his church, and it is his sworn promise that while the city of man swirls in chaos, there is joy and light in Zion. Joy and peace are not to be found in man – not ultimately in the best of husbands. Even the closest friends may for a time deny and abandon us, as they did our Savior. All the joy is in God’s presence in his church. He is in our midst (v. 5). We cannot be moved.
Are we being moved? Even Christians can be moved, troubled, disturbed from their foundations for a time. While the promise of grace is unchanging, our enjoyment of God’s grace varies according to his wise dealings with us and our trusting dealings with him – a heavenly friendship! Our joy will be more constant as our faith grows, as we act upon that faith, as we trust that no matter how life is swirling around us and the wicked threatening us on every side, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” We need not go far to find him. His word is his nearness (Rom. 10:8). When we hold fast to his gospel promises, hide them in our hearts, fight against fear with the Spirit’s invincible sword, God is with us. He is helping, guiding, upholding, and giving us help and hope.
After a night of seeking – and nights can last for a while – he will help us (v. 5). God sends troubles and vexations to stir us to draw near to him. When the heathen rages and their kingdoms are moved – which they regularly will be due to their rebellion against God – he will answer our cries by speaking and causing his enemies to melt (faint or dissolve) (v. 6). What seems so dreadful today is so firmly controlled by God that we must not fear but trust, not compound our troubles by anxiety but wait upon him to help us. He has promised. He is the Lord of hosts. Always, always more are for us than for them, fighting for his city, planning ruin for his enemies. He is the God of Jacob – what a promise! The God of that weak man, that man who tried to get ahead by his own scheming, and yet God named himself after Jacob! We must adore such love, wonder at such grace, and run to such a refuge. He is with us, and “greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Take seriously this dynamic of believing and trusting, praying and making God our refuge. So many millions in the darkest places he has heard and helped. Much of his work is teaching his city that he knocks down the walls of Jericho, that the battle is his, not ours, that our wrath will not accomplish his righteousness. He will overturn the counsels of the wicked. He will make his foes feel his power and bring them to desolation (v. 8) – remember archaeology! As the Man of War (Ex. 15:3), he brings an end to wars (v. 9). He finds it no more difficult to ground planes, sink ships, defuse bombs, and expose the weakness of today’s warmongers than he did to destroy Egypt in order to save his little slave church.
What the wicked attempt, inspired as they are by the murdering prince of darkness, is terrible. He lurks behind and stirs up all the wars of ungodly men, their utopian visions for their city, their tyrannies, thefts, hatred, maligning God’s truth, and persecuting God’s people. What does God tell us to do when facing such horrors? Be still. This is not the stillness of passivity or inactivity but of faith and calmness in his presence and promises. It is the stillness of wonder that so many would plunge themselves into “everlasting fire” (Matt.18:8; 25:41) by making war against God. It is the stillness of worship before the God who rules the world by his power, by the Son of Man at his right hand, by his Spirit wielding the two-edged sword of the gospel.
“In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15). Israel would not believe this. Rather than repenting and trusting, they tried everything to insulate themselves against God’s chastening. They thought the enemy was the Syrians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. They were their own worst enemies. God would have helped and delivered them, as he did on that glorious occasion when Hezekiah took him seriously and said, “Lord, you fight for us and defend your own name and covenant.” They would not forsake their vain hope of earthly help, so “they forsook their own mercy” (Jonah 2:8).
Child of God, all these promises are yours. If you are part of God’s city by faith, you have his steadfast love, his tried and true promises, and his help. Go to him in your trials, with your particular burdens, and take him at his word. “I am your help,” he says to us. “I am your refuge.” “I am the God of the whole earth. I have sealed these promises with the blood of my Son. Will you not trust me?” He calls to every weary man, burdened mother, tempted young man, the struggling congregation, “Come to me. Cast your cares upon me. Your shoulders are too weak to bear your own burdens. Do not be afraid of man, whose breath is in his nostrils. Do not fear what he can do. Tremble with awe at what I am doing in the world to preserve my church, answer every prayer, love my every child. Tremble with joy that I am with you. I will build my city. My rivers of pleasure, of grace, strength, and hope will refresh you. They will give you confidence and arm you with strength to fight the enemy, speak the truth, love your enemies, and bear your cross. Will you drink of them and make me your refuge? I will never leave or forsake you.”