God, our refuge and strength – Part 1

Text: Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

THE Longman Modern English dictionary gives the meaning of the word, refuge as: shelter or protection from danger, distress or difficulty; a place offering this; a person, thing, or course of action offering protection; to take refuge, to put oneself in a place or state that affords protection.

It also gives the meaning of ‘strength’ thus: “capacity to exert force; ability to resist attack; capacity to resist strain, stress, etc.; physical, emotional or mental resources… The effectiveness of something in stimulating the senses or influencing the mind”.

In summary, our ability to act or react, ignore or resist is from God.

Indeed, apart from Him, we can do nothing. Furthermore, God… a very present help in trouble, brings our mind to ‘Emmanuel’, God with us.

What a better summary can there be than “…and lo, I am with you always to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20b), to bless you and make your work prosperous; to encourage you when success delays in coming; to strengthen you when persecution and troubles are present, to toughen you when all you get in return for all your efforts is harsh criticism.

The Biblical Concept Of A Refuge: The basic concept of a refuge in the Old Testament has to do with the cities of Refuge designated as centres of protection for one trying to escape from the avenger of blood in any incident of unintentional killing.

These places of asylum can be found in many passages in the Old Testament (Numb 35:6, 9-34; Josh 20:1-9; 21:13, 21, 27, 32, 38; 1Chron 6:57, 67; Deut 4:41-43; 19:1-13).

In Old Testament Israel, provision was made for the nearest male relative to a murdered victim to punish the murderer.

This person was known as the goel, or (the avenger of blood). But significantly, distinction was usually made between a purposeful killing of a man and killing unintentionally.

The wilful murderer was condemned to die, while the unintentional killer could find protection in one of the cities of refuge.

Anyone offered protection at any city of refuge must stay there until the death of the serving High Priest at the time of the offence.

But the accused may not go outside the limits of the city of refuge where he has taken refuge. If he does, the avenger of blood may kill him without being guilty of murder.

Ancient Israel also knew the practice, common to nations of old, of regarding the altar or the sanctuary as an asylum or a refuge. The practice is similar to what obtained in the city of refuge.

Here, the wilful killer was not protected by running to the altar, but the unintentional killer is covered. (I Kg 1: 50-53; 2:28-34).

The Context Of Psalm 46:

The author did not actually specify the exact situation being referred to in this Psalm.

However, the allusion of a great threat to the city gives a good guide for probable suggestions. Two of such major threats and God’s miraculous acts of deliverance readily come to mind.

During the reign of King Jehoshaphat, the Moabites, Ammonites and the people of Mount Seir threatened greatly.

The King and all Israel were afraid and driven to a sincere prayer to God and God delivered them (2 Chron 20:7-30).

The second one is like the first, when during the reign of Hezekiah, Sennacherib, King of Assyria threatened.

God intervened and in a most miraculous manner similar to the deliverance from Moab and Ammon, brought about a mighty deliverance.

Sennacherib left in humiliation, only to be killed by two of his sons, while worshipping his gods at Nineveh.

God has thus shown Himself a present help in time of trouble to His people. (2Kgs 19).

(Culled from THE OPENING ADDRESS by His Grace, The Most Revd. Nicholas D. Okoh, MA, Fss, Mss, LLD, DD.; Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate Of All Nigeria to The Standing Committee of the Church Of Nigeria held in the Cathedral Church of St Peter Minna from September 17 to 21, 2018)

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