Are you feeling joyful or fearful at the moment? Shaken or unshakeable? Karl Barth once described joy as a ‘defiant nevertheless’.*
*Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Philippians, 40th anniversary edition, WJK, 2002, p120
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
This is a psalm of defiant trust regardless of the circumstances, for someone whose world seems to be falling apart – much like the followers of Jesus in Revelation. What images show the fragility of life (vs 2,3)?
The quiet river in the City of God (v 4) appears no match for the noisy turbulence of the previous verses. And yet, like John’s vision of heaven in Revelation, the psalmist pulls the curtain back to show us the reality of God, the creator of the earth who is in control: ‘he lifts his voice, the earth melts’ (v 6b). Ultimately God is a ‘fortress’ (v 7). The Message version translates the opening of this psalm as, ‘God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom.’ Yet, standing fearless at the cliff-edge is only possible if we realise that God is with us and fighting for us (v 11). He comforts us: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (v 10).
Eugene Peterson writes, ‘There’s more to life than your little self-help enterprises … If God is the living centre of redemption, it is essential that we be in touch with and responsive to that personal will.’** How easy are you finding it to trust God?
**Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, HarperCollins, 2011, p225
Deeper Bible study
‘Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left’.1
This well-known psalm has been set to music in several languages. It is full of vivid images and offers a deep sense of assurance of the power and protection of God. Most readers don’t have any difficulty with the images here – but they are not far removed from the apocalyptic language we have been immersed in this week!
Looking around us, it seems at times as though the earth gives way (v 2), reminding us of the mountains and islands in flight.2 Then again, something like a mountain ‘was thrown into the sea’3 and in Daniel’s vision the winds churned up the great sea, from which the beasts emerged.4 We find earthquakes here in verse 3 and throughout Revelation. God’s judgement against the warring nations comes with fire in verse 9, a major symbol of final judgement in the last third of Revelation. When we are unsettled or puzzled by the images in Revelation, it is worth noting that this language is used all through Scripture.
The answer to the uncertainty around us is presented with two contrasting elements. On the one hand, the refuge God offers is found in a very specific place: the ‘city of God’ and the ‘holy place’ (v 4) refer to Jerusalem at the heart of Israel, the Temple within it and the Holy of Holies at the centre. The God who is a fortress is the ‘God of Jacob’ (v 7) and none other. And yet, on the other hand, this God will be ‘exalted among the nations’ (v 10) and will do his work ‘to the ends of the earth’ (v 9). The God of Scripture is a God of the particular and the universal; he is the God of Israel, whose grace, peace and power have now, through Jesus, been made available to all.
At what points in life do I feel insecure and need to look to God as my fortress? Who around me needs to discover this truth?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: 2 Samuel 21,22; 1 Corinthians 9
Pray for Scripture Union
SU in English-speaking Canada is restarting Sports Clubs in local churches. Ask the Lord to equip and encourage their Community Sport Development Coordinator as he facilitates this ministry.