It’s stormy in the mountains! A tornado’s headed this way! The town is under siege! Life hangs in the balance! Danger is all around! In such situations, we all need a place to turn to, a safe house to which we can run, a refuge where we can hide, or a location far from threat and beyond the reach of harm.
That’s what the son of Jesse learnt during his rise to power. He was pursued like a fox, chased down by many assailants, either ducking under Saul’s javelin or outwitting royal militia manoeuvres. David was subject to slander, surrounded by envious liars, and often took recourse to a hideout for escape.
In the end, he knew however, it was God who spared his life. In Psalm 18.1-3 he recounts how the LORD had kept him safe.
“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
What is striking in this Psalm, and also Psalm 144.2, is the multiplicity of word-pictures used to convey how faithfully Yahweh kept him safe. As Derek Kidner so eloquently noted: “In this rush of metaphors David re-lives his escapes and victories and probes into their meaning!”
God, for example, was a rocky ridge or outcrop that separated David from Saul, in 1 Samuel 23.25-29. Jehovah was an impregnable fortress, in both En Gedi and Adullam, as 1 Samuel 24.1-3, 22, 2 Samuel 5.17 & 23.13 testify: here he employs the term that we use for Bar Kochba’s ‘Masada’ which Rome’s might could never reach (they had to starve it out!)
That was just the start! The LORD had been a cliff top crag where eagles dare with David and sure-footed mountain goats. He had proved on numerous desperate occasions to be David’s defensive place of hiding, aswell as a deflecting hand-shield when fighting to ward of swords and spears, or extinguish all flame-tipped arrows. Yahweh, for David, was like an inaccessible mountain castle perched far above the reach of men, where he was safe inside.
In Psalm 18, David then proceeds to recount how he had cried, when facing death, for every needed help, v4-6. The answer was remarkable: God appeared in might, in a Sinai-like rout – this is what theologians term a ‘theophany,’ v4-14. Just like at the Red Sea, enemies fell at his rebuke, v15. Plucked out of his plight v16-19, his integrity intact, v20-28, and enabled to do the impossible v29, he now brings the ‘Sovereign Star’ on stage to takes his sacred curtain call v30.
“This God – His way is perfect, the Word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in Him”.
Had Samuel anointed David, and sworn a Covenant with the King? Not only had he proved faithful to Ephrath’s shepherd boy, but the LORD could always be counted on, by all God’s people, to be a shelter from their storms.
Why then, we might ask, does David multiply metaphors? Would it not be sufficient to say ‘God is my refuge’ or ‘God will keep me safe’? There are three obvious reasons why David, as a prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, ransacks his Thesaurus of Hebrew military and refuge word pictures, to teach the church of God that Jehovah must always be our trust.
Firstly, because, as one of the most public persons in the history of church, he emblazons this shining personal testimony before the wide-eyed gaze of Kingdom subjects: these are songs that should always be on our lips and whose lyrics we should memorize and have engraved indelibly on our hearts.
Secondly, because, he wants to drive home the message, in unforgettable, color-filled language, so that we begin to picture the contours of the problems that he repeatedly faced – the records of God’s deliverances are to be like a spiritual pop-up-book – here we can envisage how God always, in the most remarkable variety of ways, rescues trusting David who always escapes unhurt and ever remains unscathed.
Thirdly, because, he wants to teach believers to trust, that whatever danger you face, or however dire your circumstance, this God, your own Yahweh, is more than a match. No life or death, time or eternity, heaven or hell, angels or demons, height nor depth, swords or spears, slanders or lies, enemies or armies – no creature that exists or any part of creation – can even make a dent, on the safety and security of the terrified believer, who is trusting and taking refuge in Jehovah.
If that is true of the Son of Jesse, how much more confidence should we have in the Son of David. The troubles of the Old Testament ‘Anointed Christ of God’ was but a faint foreshadowing of the trials David’s Lord endured. Loathed, pursued and slandered, in envy, by the Jews, they could not harm a hair, for His hour had not yet come.
By scheme, arrest and mis-trial, with the nod of Herod and Pilate, they finally got God’s Lamb, when he yielded up Himself. Voluntarily, He refused to seek escape from court, and so was beaten, mocked and scourged, while silent in defense. Condemned to death, then strung up on His Cross, as the bearer of our guilt, He took God as His Refuge – God raised Him from the dead – so saints might be secure.
So, Paul draws the conclusion which flows from the fact God refused to spare His Son, in Romans 8.32, that believers are eternally safe, and cannot be separated, from the love of God in Christ.
“Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword …be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?”
The answer of course, as David knew well, is a resounding ‘no, nay, never’ couched in multiple military metaphors of reliable divine refuges. The rest of the Old Testament testifies to easy-access cities of refuge to which the worst criminals can flee for safety, as well as altar horns to which sinners can flee for mercy:
The Redeemer has a refuge for all believing refugees!
What matters most, however, is where we run for refuge. Is trouble circling round? Is a storm about to break? Are enemies on the warpath? Is the Devil on the prowl? Is temptation so severe? Has the ‘day of evil’ come? Is there unfair lies and slander? Are you being persecuted? Has sickness racked your bones? Have doubts attacked your mind? Is your home at breaking point? Run for Refuge friends, rest in Yahweh brothers, hide in Jesus sisters – the Cross is within reach! Be your Redeemer’s refugee!