# 71 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Seventeen: Psalm 11 The Psalms – full of “refugees”!

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“In the Lord I take REFUGE.” (Psalm 11:1)

According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary the definition of refuge is:

  • shelter or protection from danger or distress
  • a place that provides shelter or protection

and the definition of refugee is:

  • one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.

Recently I read a book called “Walk in my Shoes”, the story of Afghan refugees arriving by boat from Indonesia to Australia (before the present policy of off-shore detention). On arrival at the detention centre in Australia, Gulnessa, the young woman telling her family’s story, describes the scene:

“I heard a man’s voice, low and slow at first, and then his song increased in strength and tempo, until it filled the room. Then Abdul’s and other voices joined the chorus, passionately, jubilantly, until the room rang with sounds of celebration…We pushed back tables and formed circles to dance…there had been few [such] celebrations at home [in Afghanistan] for a long time. But this was an occasion for rejoicing. We’d been through hell and had reached a safe haven alive…Here there were no gunshots and explosions. No Terror [referring to the Taliban] to torture us or to kidnap our loved ones…That night I felt safe – for the first time [in ages]…we slept, soundly, dreamlessly.” (Alwyn Evans Walk in My Shoes Penguin Books 2004)

Most of us reading these words know little of such an experience, although some of us who have lived overseas have also seen some of the sorts of atrocities that occur and therefore have some understanding of why people often need to flee their homes for a safer place.

The psalmist’s though, and maybe especially David, understood the feeling. In his early years David had spent many years it seems fleeing from Saul and needing to find refuge in caves and other such places. But generally the references in the Psalms are not referring to these places of physical refuge.

The word refuge occurs about 40 times in the Psalms and numerous other times in the rest of the OT. And in the Psalms it most often uses similar words to how David commences this psalm: “In the Lord I take REFUGE.” (Psalm 11:1) and then other verses speak of “God … our REFUGE.” (Psalm 62:8)

A few others psalms elaborate even more:

The Lord is a REFUGE for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take REFUGE, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  (Psalm 18:2)

But how does this apply to us today? We can so easily quote these verses or sing them in our songs of worship, but what does it really mean for us in our everyday lives?

When was the last time you really sensed that you needed God to be your “refuge” considering that the meaning of the Hebrew, it seems, could also be translated as “to put your trust in” or “find protection in” the Lord.

The first time I had any idea that I needed God to be my “refuge” was at 19 when I was overwhelmed by my sense of guilt, dissatisfaction with my life, fear of the future and longing for meaning and hope. The day I “put my trust in” Jesus was the day I found God to be my “refuge, my stronghold, my fortress”, my Saviour from sin, my hope for now and all eternity.

I now recognise our constant vulnerability in this world we live in. A world spoilt and broken in so many ways, and where too often, so it seems, evil triumphs over good. It seems to me that there has actually never been a time when our need for God to be our “refuge” was greater!

David understood this when he wrote Psalm 11 and verse 3 summarizes the crisis both in his day and in ours:

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

“The sociologist Peter Berger argues that Western culture has undergone a seismic shift in the past fifty years…our culture has become hostile towards its Judeo-Christian foundations… (see references # 36)

Knowing this,  David gives us some good advice in Psalm 11 – we don’t need to panic or give up! Why? His answer is simple: “The Lord is…” (verse 4)

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” (11:4) He reigns!

In the beginning, God!  In the present, God!  In the future, God!

And so we, like David, no matter what our present circumstances, are able to say confidently, “In the Lord I take refuge.”

Father, in one sense, nothing much has changed since David first wrote these words. And best of all, You are still “in [your] holy temple…on [your] heavenly throne…”, and so in times of trouble we can run to you and find in you our refuge. You are “our hiding place”. Amen.

# 70 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Sixteen: Psalms 9 & 10. Too many lemons?

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Despite David’s outburst of praise in the first verses of Psalm 9 and his reverting to the “prophetic perfect” along with other words of faith concerning God and his ways, I am also aware that Psalm 9 isn’t all positive. In fact, he finishes with a heartfelt cry to God to “Arise…let the nations be judged…strike them with terror…let the nations know they are but men.” (9:19-20)

 

But even this is pretty tame as compared to the second part of this “fascinating two-part poem”.  As we read Psalm 10 we could be excused for wondering if David had just eaten too many lemons!  He certainly was not happy with his present situation (due to the arrogance of his enemies) and typical of a Prayer (or Lament) psalm, he lets God know all about it.

 

As you read though, he does seem to have good reasons for feeling unhappy about things. He describes his experience of a type of humanity that sadly has all too often dominated history, and those not only confined to a few ethnic groups. You name any nation in history (past and present) and they will usually have had their fair share of evil and brutal people similar to the ones described by David in this psalm. People that are arrogant (v 2), proud and greedy with no thought of God (vs 3-4), self-deluded (v 6), liars and manipulators (v 7), murderers (v 8), bullies who take advantage of the vulnerable and care nothing for justice and so trap, crush and annihilate their victims (vs 9-10), and people who consider that accountability to God is a laughing matter (v 11).

 

In our own day little has changed. I read recently that “It is estimated that some 200 million evangelicals in over 35 countries are suffering persecution for their faith.” (SU notes) Only recently on the news, reporting on the influx of refugees into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, a young Christian man from Libya was interviewed and when asked what would be his fate if he had stayed home, he replied “I would be killed because of my faith.”

 

So, in the face of such wickedness surrounding him and his people, David cries out to his God whom he knows abhors such evil. He asks:

 

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (v 1 NIV)

 

The Passion Version puts it this way:

 

“Lord, you seem so far away when evil is near! Why do you stand so far off as though you don’t care?”

 

Maybe you are thinking that this type of prayer language was ok for David back then, but should we as Christians really talk to God like this? I mean doesn’t Peter say in his first letter to the persecuted church of the 1st Century:

 

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV)

 

In line with Peter’s words, Dietrich Bonhoeffer even describes suffering for the sake of Christ as “the badge of true discipleship”. (D Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship Simon and Schuster 1995)

 

As true as all this is, it seems though that there is still a case for an honest and open (and faith-filled) approach to God when pain and suffering abounds, either our own or that of others around us. I think Peter alluded to this when he quoted words similar to Psalm 55:22,

 

“Cast all your anxiety [or cares] on Him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 

When trials come, certainly as believers we should not be surprised (if we have read and believed our Bibles), and joy is a gift of God available in the midst of the world’s chaos (maybe part of what the psalmist speaks of when he says “he will sustain you” Psalm 55:22). But we are able to talk honestly to God about these things. We don’t just have to grit our teeth and endure, while maybe deep down becoming resentful and bitter! And just how we can to talk to God we can learn from the psalms.

 

Paul Bradbury says:

“…we [in the church] have lost the ability to lament…We have lost a critical ability in our language of faith expression to articulate anything of integrity and truth in the context of suffering and tragedy…”  (see references # 21)

Walter Brueggemann also suggests:

“…in a society that engages in great denial and grows numb by avoidance and denial, it is important to recover and use [lament] psalms that speak the truth about us.” (see references # 2)

But please note, the words of the psalmists are always based on their faith in God. They are not the rantings and ravings of an unbeliever, but rather are like the words of a child to his/her parent expressing his/her feelings and concerns to one he/she knows understands and cares and won’t be intimidated or offended.

 

So the same person who wrote, “listen to my prayer, O God…my thoughts trouble me…My heart is in anguish…Fear and trembling have beset me…” (Psalm 55:1-5), later wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (55:22) and finally concluded, “But as for me, I trust in you” (55:23)

 

Father, despite his enemies, David concludes in faith that “The Lord is King for ever and ever” and that “You hear…the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.” (Psalm 10:16-18). I am reminded of Paul who also said, “Praise be to…God…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Cor. 1:3) and later reminded us that his trials “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” (2 Cor. 1:9). So, hear our prayer to you this day, we cast our cares on you, we rely on you, we trust in you. Amen.