Rev. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
This Psalm was written in connection with the destruction of the army of Assyria in the days of Hezekiah. Assyria had laid siege to Jerusalem. But God had destroyed Assyria in one night by the angel of death. What a great salvation this was for Judah!
We have before us the main theme of the Psalm: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. This obviously was the confession of the nation of Judah in response to Gods great work of salvation.
It is very fitting that we consider this confession as we begin again another new year.
The situation that Judah faced with Assyria is essentially the same that is faced by the church of all ages. The powers of darkness constantly attack the church of God to destroy her. The church has battled the powers of darkness down through the ages. We can expect the battle to rage also in the new year that lies before us.
It is very important, therefore, that we begin this year with the same confession of the church of the past: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
In the days of Hezekiah the nation of Judah found herself in trouble. Assyria, the world power of the day, had invaded Judah. Her armies had taken the fenced cities of Judah and had laid siege to the holy city itself.
From every earthly point of view the situation of Jerusalem was hopeless. Jerusalem was strategically a very strong city. But Assyria was by far the superior power militarily. Without a doubt Jerusalem would eventually be brought to her knees after a lengthy siege.
In full knowledge of these facts Rabshakeh, the captain of the Assyrian army, taunted the citizens of Jerusalem. Assyria had overcome all her enemies and would also take Jerusalem. Neither must Jerusalem think that her God could be of any assistance. The gods of the other nations had been powerless against the gods and armies of Assyria. So too would the LORD God of Judah be powerless to help in the time of trouble. Jerusalem therefore had no alternative but to surrender. Should she do so immediately, her citizens would be treated kindly. They would be transported to another land as lush as Canaan.
This serves as a picture of the desperate situation the church faces in every age.
Judah was the church of God in her day. The Bible portrays her as a picture of the church of all ages. Assyria was the world power of her day. She sought to destroy the church by taking her away from the promised land of Canaan and bringing her into the captivity of another land. This serves as a picture of the attempts of the powers of darkness down through the ages to destroy the church.
The powers of darkness, which consist of the Devil and his host of fallen angels along with the world of the ungodly, constantly assail and lay siege to the church of God to destroy her. Through persecution the powers of darkness seek to remove the church physically from the face of the earth. They also seek through persecution to discourage the saints of God so that they turn from God into sin and destruction. The powers of darkness seek to destroy the church by introducing false doctrine into the church which would lead the saints far away from God and His salvation in Jesus Christ. Along with this the forces of Satan attempt to introduce worldliness into the church through the pleasures of sin. Turn the church into the world and the church is no more. The Devil even attacks the saints of God when they suffer adversity. In the face of pain and suffering the Devil tempts the saints to turn against their God in despair and bitterness.
In this manner the powers of darkness have assailed the church and her members down through the ages. We can expect no less in the year ahead of us!
We can add that from an earthly point of view the situation is desperate.
Judah faced a power far superior to her. So also does the church find in the powers of darkness a force much stronger than she. Witness the terrible apostasy that has taken hold of the church world, not only in the past, but also today. Consider the allurements of sin, which at times are well nigh irresistible to the saints. Neither ought we to forget how often the Devil brings us to the point of despair in the face of adversity.
There are times when we feel desperate in our battle against the forces of darkness, and we live in fear of being overwhelmed.
In the face of her enemy, Judah had found her refuge in the LORD God.
A refuge is a place to which one can flee in the time of danger and be safe. A refuge can also be a person to whom one flees and finds protection. Hence, the LORD God is often in Scripture called a refuge, as also He is here.
The LORD is also called the strength of Judah. This is added to emphasize that the LORD is a strong and mighty refuge, able to provide safety and security even against the most formidable foe.
In harmony with this, the LORD is also called a help. A help is one who surrounds another in order to provide protection.
Judah found the LORD God to be all of this. God was her refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. For in response to the threatenings and tauntings of the Assyrian captain, Hezekiah went to the Temple to seek God’s help. That help came immediately. That very night the angel of death stole into the camp of Assyria and killed 185,000 of the Assyrian army. This not only spared Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat; it forever broke the back of the Assyrian power. Assyria never fully recovered from the blow God dealt her that night. She was soon replaced by another as the world power of the day.
Truly, God was Judah’s refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!
God is such a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, for the church in every age. He is this refuge through Jesus Christ, His Son. God has sent His Son in our flesh. Having accomplished that great wonder through the virgin birth, God proceeded to send His Son to the agonies of the cross, where another wonder of grace was accomplished. Through the death of His Son, God secured the salvation of His church. We enjoy that salvation even now by faith in Jesus Christ.
However, as we have seen, the powers of darkness are striving mightily to rob us of our salvation. They use persecution, false doctrine, the allurements of sin, even our personal tragedies in an attempt to turn us away from that which we have in Jesus Christ.
However, the works of the Devil will ultimately come to nought. For God also preserves the church in the salvation He has given her in Christ.
For the present time, God limits the powers of darkness in their attacks on the church. The Devil can go so far and no further. He can persecute the church, but not to the point of destroying her. He can tempt the saints of God with the allurements of sin, but no more than the saints can withstand.
Besides this, God also strengthens the saints of the church as they are required to do battle with the powers of darkness. When the saints call upon the LORD their God in the name of Jesus Christ, He hears them and strengthens them that they might fight the good fight of faith. In the power of the Lord Jesus Christ the saints are able to overcome the world, going from victory to victory.
Indeed, God is a refuge and strength to the church, a very present help in trouble. He is the One to whom we can flee in the time of trouble and find refuge.
Through the Psalmist, Judah made a confession: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
This was a confession that she had found God to be her refuge and strength. It was also a confession that she would look to God as her refuge and strength in future troubles. In future troubles Judah would not rely upon her own strength. Nor would she seek refuge in the heathen nations round about her or in their gods. She would flee to the LORD God alone for refuge and strength.
This confession we must also make ours.
As we begin this new year we must confess with deep gratitude to God that we have found Him to be our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
But we must also confess that God will be our refuge and strength in the future.
Troubles will continue for the church so long as she finds herself on the earth. Troubles of innumerable sorts will also befall the church here below in this new year. In these troubles we must find our refuge and strength in the living God. Our refuge must not be the wisdom of men. Our help must not be the inventions of men. By all means we must not rely upon our own strength. We must flee in prayer to the Almighty, who loves us eternally in Jesus Christ.
Then we will be safe and secure, not only for this year but forever.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.