- God Is Our Refuge
- Psalm 91:1-16; Josua 20:2-3; Jeremiah 20:11-16
- Lyndol Loyd July 14, 2019
One of the things that concerns me greatly as a pastor is the number of people who have wrong or distorted concepts of God. Some people think of God as a cosmic police officer with a can of lightning bolts that He is waiting to zap people with when they do something wrong. Others see God as a heavenly Santa Clause that we come to with our list of wishes that He is supposed to grant to us if we’ve been good. Those are just to name a few.
With this in mind, we are going to spend the next few weeks here at LakeRidge in a new message series entitled, “God Is…” as we work on replacing wrong concepts with some right concepts of God – concepts that are biblical and rooted in scripture. This morning we begin with “God Is Our Refuge.
In ancient Middle Eastern culture, life could be dangerous and brutal. Judicial systems were few and far between, so people kept law and order by an aggressive form of tribal retaliation and punishment. If someone in one family died at the hands of someone from another family, the first family would call a meeting to discuss the situation and appoint a “blood avenger.” This person was a representative of the family whose full-time job was hunting down the killer.
The blood avenger would find his prey, announce his intentions, and the chase was on. The blood avenger would not relent until he caught and executed the “guilty” party. Then he would return to his family with proof of the kill, thus sparking a celebration because justice had prevailed.
In a very crude and basic way, this system helped keep law and order in the land. But a problem arose because there was no provision for accidental homicides and unintentional deaths. For example, imagine a woman riding to market with a cart and donkey when a small boy steps in front of her. In one tragic moment the boy is knocked down and trampled. The woman feels horrible. She tries to revive the boy, but he is dead, and there are no witnesses to this accident.
Most of us would shout, “That’s not fair! The woman didn’t mean to cause the death. It was an accident.” Sadly, no one seemed to have a better solution or way to handle these things, that is, no one except God.
Into this brutal culture God spoke and revealed a core element of His character. God is a refuge who cares about people in their times of need. This becomes clear in Joshua 20:2-3, “2 Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. 3 Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed.”
Six cities, spread across the land, were designated by God as places of refuge for those being chased by a blood avenger. If someone who had committed an accidental homicide could reach a city of refuge before the blood avenger tracked them down, they were safe until a trial could take place.
Should the person be found guilty of murder after a fair trial, the blood avenger was free to avenge the death. But if the person could prove the death was an accident, he or she was protected.
These cities of refuge reflected the nature and heart of God. God loves to provide safety, protection, and refuge to people who feel oppressed and under attack. The heart of God aches for people who are running fast and wearing down. When we long for a place of safety, rest, and refuge, we need to look for shelter no further than the heart of God.
I will never forget when the reality of God as my refuge became real to me for the very first time. I had just graduated from seminary and had started my first appointment as a pastor. I was serving as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at Henderson State University in Arkansas. I was so very excited to be in my first “real job” out of school. The only problem was there was another person who wanted the position that I received. He was upset that I was brought in to take the position and felt that he had been passed over. It didn’t take long until he started a campaign to get me fired. He started spreading rumors and gossip about me that simply were not true. He employed all kinds of dirty tricks and tactics in an effort to get me fired. I had never experienced anything like this. Here I was living in a new town where I knew few people, and I felt like I was being ambushed.
Eventually, it all blew up in his face, and I was vindicated, but only after a prolonged period of incredible challenge and difficulty for me. Looking back, it is still hard for me to believe that the whole sorry tale ever happened. During the months that all of this took place, I came to a whole new understanding of what it means when scripture speaks of God as our refuge.
Psalm 91:1-16 says, “1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
8 Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
9 If you make the LORD your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
14 The LORD says, ‘I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.’”
One of the most beautiful pictures of a spiritual refuge is found in Psalm 91:4, which we just read, “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” Have you ever seen little chicks hop around chirping, pecking, and doing chick stuff? Then all of a sudden, the chicks and mother hen become aware a predator is nearby. Immediately the mother lifts her wings, and within seconds all the baby chicks disappear under them to hide.
Eventually, they have to crawl out and face the world, predators and all. But for a time, there is nothing like being sheltered under the wings of their mother.
Sailors know what a refuge feels like. The open sea in a violent storm is just about as hostile an environment as exists on this planet. When a sailor steers the vessel into a small, well-protected harbor, this place becomes a refuge. It is a hiding place, a shelter from the wind and waves, an opportunity to recuperate and reorganize, a safe place from which to plan the next leg of the voyage. The truth is, no sailor can stay in the harbor forever. It is a temporary refuge from the open sea.
A spiritual refuge feels much like the sailor’s temporary refuge. God acts as our harbor in a storm, a rock when things are unstable, a tower when enemies attack, an eagle who puts us under His wings when predators are near.
Knowing God as our refuge is to experience peace and rest in a protected environment. We are afforded time to regroup, be refreshed, and recalibrate. In these times, we delight in God’s refuge but understand that we cannot stay there forever. Being under the shadow of God’s protection is wonderful, but it is also a time to prepare for what is next. He does not serve as our refuge so we can put our feet up, shift our minds into neutral, and stay there forever. A day will come when we are home with Jesus and the battles of life will be over, but that comes later.
We don’t need a refuge all of the time. But all of us long for refuge some of the time. Psalm 9:9 says, “The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”
Throughout the Bible, God extends His hand to people who are hearing footsteps close behind them. When the blood avenger is near, God is even closer, offering His refuge. Who needs a refuge? The oppressed, weary, fearful, grieving, worried, disappointed, lonely, and heartbroken all need a safe harbor to drop anchor and rest. What are you facing in your life today that causes you to say, “God, I need you to be my refuge?”
Cities of refuge did not mean much to some people living in Old Testament times. If you did not accidentally injure or kill someone you were unlikely to think about such places. Still, in the back of your mind, you would always know that if something did happen, the cities were there if you needed them.
People who need a refuge know it because they feel chased and oppressed. They hear footsteps behind them and are weary from running. When God opens His arms and says, “Come in,” everything changes.
God delights in being our refuge. It is not a burden for Him or an add-on to an already full job description. God’s overwhelming love for us makes it a joy for Him to hide us from time to time.
Some of you hear this news about God’s character and you are tucking it away as information that will be helpful to you down the road someday. But I have a strong hunch that others here feel a strong need for refuge now.
When it comes to entering God’s refuge, the first move is ours. It’s a big one. It goes against the grain of self-sufficiency. It’s the shift from independence to dependence on God. Psalm 91:15 says, “When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them.” The first step to entering the refuge God provides is calling out to Him. It’s admitting that something or someone is chasing us down and wearing us out. It is telling God that if He is not our city of refuge and our hiding place, we are done for.
Psalm 62:8 says, “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.” Curiously, the passwords that open the gate into the refuge of God are our soul-wrenching words that flow out of pain and struggle. When in honest humility, we trust God enough to tell Him about the storm we are facing and that we feel like we are sinking. He shines a light in the darkness and guides us to a safe harbor. This is the moment we feel His protecting wings spread over us, and we know that everything will be all right.
One of the best examples of this kind of experience comes to us from the Old Testament story of Jeremiah, who was called upon by God to speak the truth in a hostile environment. God told Jeremiah, “I will be there for you.”
Jeremiah did as the Lord commanded, and every time he spoke the words of God, all he felt was resistance. People didn’t cheer him on or thank him for his ministry. For the most part, they hated him. Some people tried to stone him down, and eventually, they tried to shut him up. One of his critics beat him mercilessly. They put him in a set of stocks in front of the public gate of the city where everybody laughed at him.
Jeremiah felt so exposed and worn down by all the resistance and hostility he faced that he finally poured out his heart to God in prayer which includes these words, “14 Yet I curse the day I was born! May no one celebrate the day of my birth. 15 I curse the messenger who told my father, ‘Good news—you have a son!’ 16 Let him be destroyed like the cities of old that the LORD overthrew without mercy. Terrify him all day long with battle shouts.”
Jeremiah says, “I hate the day my mother gave birth to me, and I hate the guy passing out cigars who announced that I was a boy.” That is about as brutally honest as you can get.
Yet, I want you to notice another piece of Jeremiah’s prayer. Even in expressing his frustration, pain, anger, and struggle, Jeremiah stops and says, “11 But the LORD stands beside me like a great warrior… 13 Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD!” He acknowledges that he is being protected and cared for, even in the hard times.
Guided Prayer- Pouring our hearts out to God:
- Overwhelming work situation
- Family chaos
- Financial difficulty
- Health challenge
- Grieving the loss of a loved one
- A need that is bigger than you can meet on your own