As I have been reading through the Old Testament lately I have consistently come upon one word almost every time I open the Bible – “refuge” – It is an interesting word, I must say, used in connection with God. And yet I honestly must say that it is a most inviting picture of God at this time in my life. I find it rather striking that I seem to run into it every other day in my daily reading. Perhaps it is that with my present state of mind it is a word that I am subconsciously looking for, a word I hope to find, and thus find more easily as I read. Or perhaps the Holy Spirit is slowly revealing to me a new aspect of God’s vast nature and character that is suitable for this period of my life. Either way, this consistent occurrence of this word in my readings has incited me to do a bit of studying of what the idea of God being a “refuge” might hold.
One of the first images that comes to my mind when I think of a refuge is a “hiding place” – almost a last resort for defense from any troubles, specifically enemies. Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings is the picture I most vividly see – a haven heavily guarded and for the sole purpose of protection in dire times. The current issue of the multitude of refugees from various places coming to America also comes to mind when I think about what a refuge is. With these pictures in mind a refuge seems to be a place to go when all else has failed and we have no other hope. But again, my ideas are all too often flawed and perhaps it would be beneficial to understand what a refuge looked like back when the Bible was being written and how the word might have been used there.
The word “refuge” is used 88 times in the Bible, with 87 of them being found in the Old Testament and the majority being found in the Psalms – where I tend to find it most (used 42 times). Interestingly enough, the primary use of the word “refuge” in the Old Testament before the Psalms is in reference to the “Cities of Refuge.” — That is what I find particularly odd. The Cities of Refuge were 6 cities that were safe-havens for anyone who had accidentally killed someone to flee to. The killer was safe in the city from any avenger, yet could not leave the city until the high priest had died. Which makes for an interesting idea of God – a refuge – a place to flee when one is being pursued. This is not a usual place to reside, but one that only those in dire need come to.
So I find this picture of God in the Psalms and Old Testament that He is a hiding place, a stronghold, a refuge in time of trouble. Ironically I have often been told that I should make God a part of my life always and not necessarily just in times of need, yet a predominant picture of God in the Psalms is His being a “refuge.” – a place only used in time of need, not in times when there is no trouble. This does not mean that I condone the idea that we should only flee to God in times of need, but it is an interesting look at how much the Bible shows that is exactly what God is there for.
The more I read the Psalms the more I see and hear the Psalmists’ cries of distress to the Lord. Take Psalm 55 for example (just one of the many): “My heart is in anguish within me, / …I said, ‘ Oh, that I had wings like a dove! / I would fly away and be at rest. / …I would hasten to my place of refuge’…” (vv. 4, 6, & 8). God is a hiding place to fly to, a place of rest from that which anguishes the heart. He is a stronghold to those who are brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18), to those who are faint of heart (Ps. 61:2), to those whose spirit is overwhelmed within (Ps. 142:3), to those who are in danger of injury (Ps. 91:1-13), to those who see injustice in life (Ps. 73), and simply to those who are in trouble (Ps. 46:1).
So this is what I have found in knowing that God is a refuge: that He is the place where I may flee when life’s troubles surround me and I have nowhere else to turn for safety and hope. I am sure there is much more to be understood in the concept of our Refuge, and if anyone has any further insights please let me know of them.
What a God we serve Who is a refuge to us when we just need to run and hide from our troubles – when we do not have the strength to stand anymore, He is there. When our heart is clouded with anguish and our spirit is overwhelmed within us, He is there to hide us under His wings. When our enemies pursue us and we feel terror upon us in the night, He is there to guard and protect us. And when we have no where to escape from our sin and our sorrow, He is there to take us in and watch over us. God is our refuge — what else could we need?
“O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”
— Psalm 34:8