Longing for Refuge
The king’s son raised a rebellion against his father. By deceitful flattery he swayed his countrymen into believing that a regime change would bring unparalleled joy and blessing to the realm. Thus he “stole the hearts” of the people, and the conspiracy “grew strong.” Finally, the tide turned against the king who swiftly fled the palace and his beloved capital city in order to save his own life and the lives of his administration, family and friends. Thus David, God’s anointed king, faithful servant, great warrior and defender of Israel, escaped from Absalom in humiliation (2 Sam 15:1-16).
David reflects on these heartbreaking, stressful events which marred his later life in the following words:
“My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. And I said, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest’” (Ps 55:4-8).
Surely these are sentiments that strike a chord in all of us. The pressures of life mount; we are embattled at every turn; it seems we can’t do anything right; our own weakness and foolishness frustrate us; we are exhausted from stress-induced insomnia; the way forward is obscured in fog; etc. Such negativity and trouble burden our souls and we, like David, long for refuge from life’s madness. Images of refuge – its relief, protection, rest, rejuvenation – pop up throughout the Bible:
The ark. What an obvious, clear example of refuge is the ark. When God had determined to destroy all living things in a global deluge – an emphatic statement of His abhorrence of sin and judgment upon the wicked – there would be no place to hide. The rainfall, combined with the breaking of underground reservoirs, would cover the highest mountains (Gen 7). It is noteworthy that Noah’s refuge did not come without a cost; he had to build the vessel of his own deliverance. I’ve often thought about the year-plus confinement in the ark being monotonous and claustrophobic, but perhaps after all the years of construction and the horror of watching the annihilation of all things, that time was a welcome rest and peace.
The land of Goshen. Terrible famine had afflicted Canaan for two years (cf. Gn 45:11). The small band of Abraham’s descendants was in dire straits. Joseph was thought to be dead, having been sold to a Midianite caravan some 22 years previously (Gn 37). His brothers were wracked with guilt over their hatred and treachery toward him and the deception of their father (Gn 42:21-24). Jacob’s family was starving, miserable and hopeless – until God’s providence intervened. When Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers, rather than avenging himself for their violence, he provided for their well-being: “You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children, your children’s children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty …” (Gn 45:10-11). For the next several generations the nation of Israel grew from 70 persons to a vast multitude – a nation within a nation. It was a time of peace and prosperity – an incubator, if you will – until the time God expelled them from Egypt amid Pharaoh’s existential threats and the hardship of bondage.
God’s care for Elijah. During the 3½ year punitive drought and subsequent famine that God brought upon Israel during the reign of Ahab (1 Kgs 17), Elijah’s life was endangered. Jezebel was massacring the prophets of God and was especially intent on finding and killing Elijah (18:4, 10, 13). God instructed Elijah to flee to the brook Cherith, for “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there … the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook” (17:4-6). “I have commanded the ravens” … what a powerful thought! Truly “all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours …” (1 Cor 3:22). God’s hand is not slack; there is nothing we need that he cannot provide. All of creation is at His disposal.
[While writing this paragraph we got a call from Andrew that Beau had a seizure and the paramedics were on the way. What a comfort to pray with him knowing that God can do anything, provide anything, and cares for us. P.S. – Beau is now doing fine; his seizure was fever-induced.]
This is why David, in his anxiety, continues thus (Ps 55:16-18, 22):
"As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice. He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle which was against me … Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”
So where is our refuge today? First, it is not primarily a physical location (though certain places – mountains/beaches/retreats – might provide some respite from the rigors of life). Rather, the most important refuge is in our fellowship with God – our meditation, prayer, trust in Him, dependence upon Him. This is relief, for our problems and pressures can never be bigger than He is. We beseech a heavenly Father who already knows yet hears with compassion and responds to our needs.
Second, our refuge is in fellowship with brethren. When we “leave the world behind” and assemble, studying God’s word, worshiping, teaching others, giving/receiving words of encouragement, we find a haven from the chaos of carnality all around us. If we do not experience this refreshment from our association with each other, perhaps something is missing.
Finally, our ultimate refuge is in heaven itself – “fair haven of rest for the weary,” “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:20). The longer we live on this earth, the stronger should be our focus on heaven and its promised, eternal refuge.