Jack Graham - A Mighty Fortress
Psalm 46 is a robust and muscular, as well as, musical hymn. Verse one says: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in (times of) trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (which means: think about that, ponder this. Selah) There is a river whose streams make glad the city of our God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (think about that) Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 'Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!' The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress".
Selah. Think about that! Consider this! Or as the rapper would say, "Boop! There it is"! Right there! "A mighty fortress is our God". We are living in a world of chaos; catastrophes all around us. At a personal level, perhaps you're going through a time of upheaval and chaos and even catastrophe in your life, when everything seems to be falling apart. Your life is coming undone. Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation", distress. But then He added, "Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world". And He has!
Let me give you the backstage pass to Psalm 46. What was happening in Jerusalem and in Judea and Israel when this passage was written? Well, it was war, and in particular an Assyrian army, powerful and deadly, was moving across the Middle East, destroying everything in sight; conquering city after city and nation after nation. The Assyrians were a fearsome group of fighters. So the Assyrian army surrounds Jerusalem, their next target. And they taunt the Israelites from without the walls. Hezekiah was the good and godly king of Judea at this time. And the temple worship had been reestablished and reforms had taken place within the nation of Israel. He was a good king, but he didn't know what to do now that he was facing this terrible danger. The Assyrian leadership actually sent him a letter to say surrender, give up. You're going to die if you don't give up. And so Hezekiah took that letter into the place of prayer, to the temple, and he spread it out before the Lord.
Have you ever done that? You're facing distress or danger. You don't know what to do. You don't know how you're going to face this problem. And so you just take the problem, you take the danger, you take the disease, you take even death itself, and you lay it before the Lord, and say, "Lord, this is yours? What can we do"? And it was there when he prayed, the great king Hezekiah, that he was given assurance from the Lord. God said, "I got this. Just wait on Me". They went to bed in Jerusalem that night thinking it was the end. But they awakened. Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem awakened and looked out and there were 185,000 dead Assyrians, taken out, struck down by the angel of the Lord. One mighty powerful angel took out 185,000 enemy soldiers! So that's the backdrop. Perhaps Hezekiah himself under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote the words of Psalm 46. The song "a mighty fortress is our God". Our God is an immovable refuge.
Look at, again, verse 1: "God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in time of trouble". The psalmist is praising God because He provides for us safety and security and stability in devastating and dangerous times. He speaks in verses 2 and 3 of natural disasters and catastrophic, cataclysmic events. Times in which we are attacked by enemies, when we are under assault in some way. And we know as believers that Satan is on the prowl. This is spiritual warfare. And in the midst of these assaults God is our refuge! And that we can live with certainty and confidence in chaotic time when everything is blowing apart, when everything seemingly is coming undone, that we have a mighty fortress, our immovable refuge. "A mighty fortress is our God".
Can you imagine a safe place, a perfect place in which you are always safe, where you would never be afraid of anything? We build bunkers and shelters, security systems but ultimately we know there is no safe place on earth, perfectly safe. There is only one place that is perfectly, presently safe, and that is with our mighty refuge, our mighty fortress, our God! He is our hiding place. He is our defender and our protector. He is our refuge. Now I did a study of that word refuge, and I found some interesting, illustrative material regarding what is a refuge. The word refuge, when you search the Psalms it's found many times to describe this security that we have in our God or mighty fortress. And for one, it says that our God is like a rock. To say that God is our refuge is to say that God is our rock!
Psalm 18, verse 2, The writer is saying "My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge". Psalm 73, verse 3, the writer prayed, "Be my rock of refuge to which I could always go". David was on the run early in his life. He had been anointed king of Israel, and yet Saul who had been deposed by God is insanely jealous of David, was chasing him down, hunting him down to kill him. And so for years David was running from Saul, often in great fear. And David would hide in the caves of the Judean desert. There's a very special hideout that David had called Ein Gedi, and you can go to the springs of Ein Gedi. It's in the desert; it's an oasis in the desert; a beautiful place. And David would take refuge in these rocks, hiding from Saul, protecting his own life. And so to speak of God our refuge is to speak of God as being a covering place, a cave, a hiding place in which we are hidden in His strong presence. We're told in the New Testament that we are hidden in Christ. Christ is our Rock, the solid Rock.
So God is a refuge like a rock. And then God is refuge like a shield. In Psalm 18, verse 30, "He shields all who takes refuge in Him". Or Psalm 119, verse 114, "You are my refuge and shield; I have put my hope in Your word". So like a shield He is our refuge against the fiery darts of the enemy. In the New Testament we're told to put on the armor of God including holding up this shield of faith, this trust in God when we are attacked by the fiery darts of the enemy! God is a refuge, like our shield. He is our shield, He is our strength. God is a refuge like a tower. Psalm 61, verse 3, "For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy".
A tower was built in the ancient world and even in Medieval times if you've seen some Medieval castles, the towers would be built where the bowsmen, the firers would go to the top of the tower with their weapons, and they had an advantage at the top of the tower. These towers were thick and protected, and when the enemy would come and shoot their arrows or cannons towards the tower, then the weapons would fall short, the arrows would fall short. And the advantage was if I'm above you, if I'm elevated against the enemy, then I have a distinct advantage. The Scripture says that God is our refuge like a tower against the enemies. Proverbs 18, verse 10, says that refuge is in Jesus, for "The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run into it and are safe".
God is a refuge like a tower, like a strong, mighty tower. And that tower is our God, our mighty God. Then God is our refuge like a shelter, like a house. Psalm 31, "In the shelter of your presence you have them from all human intrigue, you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues". Interesting that He would mention accusing tongues. Often the missiles that come against us come from hate-filled hearts, missiles launched from peoples' mouths that hurt and criticize and often destroy peoples' lives. When you are hurt by the words of others and the acts of others, where do you run? You run to your house, you run to your shelter! And that's what the Scripture is saying; that when it happens, take shelter in God's house. Take shelter in Him. And then God is a refuge in that He is like wings.
I've told you many times that Psalm 57:1 comforted me when my father was brutally murdered. And I've shared this scripture with brokenhearted people through the years. "Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me. For my soul trusts in you and in the shadow of your wings will I take my refuge (there's our word) will I take my refuge, till these calamities be overpassed". If you've ever seen a mother hen with her brood, the little chicks underneath the wings of the chicken. It wasn't a chicken at all protecting those babies. Or you've seen little ducklings under the wings of their mama duck. That's the picture. God is a Father for sure, but in this case God is pictured as a nurturing, protective mother. "Under the shadow of your wings will I take my refuge". It reminds me of that great old hymn that says "under Your wings, I am safely abiding". It's true. God is a refuge in that He is like a fortress. Psalm 59, verse 16: "You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble". Psalm 91:2: "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust".
This is the way, of course, the psalmist sings of our God and praises our God in Psalm 46, that He is our bulwark, He is our refuge, He is a citadel, a castle! And when we find ourselves in fearful situations, when we find ourself in tough times, when we are weak and when we are helpless, we have a place to run. He covers us, He covers me. Think about that. Just close your eyes for a moment. Selah, and think about that. He is our refuge. Verse 1 says He is our strength. So get this picture. All around us we have these walls of protection, the shield of protection, this refuge to which we run. That's around us. The strength is within us. Not only do we have protection from the outside, we have strength on the inside. His strength is in us!
"He is a very present help in times of trouble". Very means very! A lot! It actually means ever. And ever present help, a very present help in times of trouble. God is our helper. Always present. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit of God is described by Jesus as the Paraclete, the One called along side of us and within us. He will be in you. The Holy Spirit is the Helper. Hebrews 13:6: "The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid". What a Helper! Sometimes when we don't know how to pray, what to say, when we're in troubled times, tight times in our lives, the best word we can pray is one word, "Help"!, and our Helper will give us help. There's no need to be afraid. He speaks of these mountains being thrown into the sea and the roar of these oceans. He said, "Look, don't be afraid when you hear the roar. Don't be afraid when life is roaring at you. Don't be afraid when the mountains are turned upside down, when your world is turned upside, don't be afraid".
When I was doing the message last time on fear: how to overcome, how to handle our fears, I discovered that there are two basic human fears that every person is born with. Every other fear besides these two are learned fears. Fear of needles, that's a learned fear. Fear of snakes, fear of clowns, fear of whatever, that's all learned. You learn to be afraid of certain things. But there are two fears that we all have. We're born with them. We may get over them but we're born with these fears. You know what they are? Loud noise, the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling, or the fear of heights. Interesting, isn't it, of those two basic human natural disasters in our lives, there is the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.
And in this world that is shouting at us, this white noise that seems to be always in our heads! There's so much negativity in the world bombarding our brains! I can't help but watch the news, it's like a train wreck right now. I can't stop watching it. But I'm so tired of that stuff in my head. It's just so much noise! God is saying when you face upheaval and disaster and noise, don't be afraid, because I am your bulwark, a very present help in times of trouble! When your head is rattling and your world is shaking. I've been in a tornado, safely through a tornado. I've never been in an earthquake. They say the thing that's so frightening about an earthquake is that when the world is shaking beneath you, and you're unstable and you're about to fall, that's very frightening!
God is saying, "Think about the most frightening experience and do not be afraid". The words "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble", the word trouble there means tight place. When you find yourself in trouble or in a tight place. Some people are deathly afraid of tight spaces. We use the phrase between a rock and hard place. That's what he's saying. Trouble, being in a tight place. You can't get away, you can't get out. Some people are afraid of elevators. True. And the claustrophobic feeling being in a can't-get-away situation. That's what He's saying here.
I don't know what your tight place may be right now. Maybe it's a hospital room and you wonder, "Can I ever get out of here? Am I ever going to get well"? Maybe your tight space is a financial problem. The money's tight. There's too much month at the end of the money. Maybe you're tight situation is a family that is broken and a situation in your family that you can't deal with. What's your tight space? What's squeezing you right now? What's stressing you? That's what he's saying. And he's saying when you know God who is your strength and your helper, then you don't need to be afraid. He said, "I will not fear! God is near"!
When Moses and the children of Israel were coming out of Egypt and they came to the Red Sea. And Pharaoh's army was right behind them, tracking them down to kill them in the desert. The Red Sea was in front of them, Pharaoh's army was behind them, the mountains were on either side, there was no place to go. People began to complain. "Moses, have you brought us out here to be executed in the desert"? Moses went before the Lord and he prayed, and God gave him a message for the children of Israel. Said, "Go back and tell them don't be afraid. To stand still, and see the salvation, the deliverance of God". With trembling lips that's what Moses did. He said, "Don't be afraid"! "Ah-ha! Have you seen what's behind us? Have you seen what's in front of us"? "Don't be afraid," God said. "But stand still and see the salvation of the Lord".
If you know what happened, if you know your Bible, or even you went to the movies, the Ten Commandments, you know what happened. God opened the Red Sea and they parted, and pharaoh's army was drowned. The point is when we get in tight spaces we don't know what to do, we're afraid, we're anxious, we're fearful. We try to fix things. We try to find an exit. You know we look it up online, what can I do? We go to WebMD. Whatever it takes! We're trying to figure it out, when God is saying to us, "Stand still and see My salvation". The Lord of host the Lord of angels, the sovereign supreme God of the universe, He is our mighty fortress. And though this world with devils filled will threaten to undo us, our mighty fortress, our God will keep us safe and help us stand and be strong until He comes again.