In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows,
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in His holy temple;
The Lord is on His heavenly throne.
We don’t know under what circumstances David was writing this psalm. It is obvious that some dire peril confronted him; possibly this was written during the years when he was on the run from Saul, his persecutor. Whatever may have been happening, it was not an imagined danger. Note the sense of present and imminent threat: the wicked have already bent their bows, the arrows have already been set in the strings. The sense of despair seems overwhelming as the speaker laments that the very foundations are being destroyed, and that even the righteous can do nothing in the face of it.
Someone, perhaps an advisor or even a close friend, was advising David to give up hope and flee.
David’s counselor tells him to “flee like a bird to your mountain” (emphasis mine). David may have had a hidden stronghold in the mountains, but he was wise enough to recognize that no stronghold of our own making is protection enough against the enemy. He had already made his statement of faith in the first line of his song, affirming that “In the Lord I take refuge.” That work “refuge” means “to flee for protection.” David is pointing out the contrast between opposing attitudes and actions; while those looking at the circumstances from an earthly perspective are urging flight to an earthly refuge, David chooses a different kind of flight. He flees instead to God, the only sure refuge.
“The foundations are being destroyed…what can the righteous do?”
What a desolate cry. If you have ever been in a place where it felt like every sure and solid thing in your life was shaken or swept away, then you can relate to this sense of despair. Many in our country are feeling that way today, in the face of the daily heartache and division characterizing the news reports. I can almost picture David’s friend throwing up his hands as he says, “what can the righteous do?” Just give it up, David. Take what you can salvage and run to your mountain; barricade yourself in against the enemy.
Perhaps we are sometimes tempted to take that same advice.
But David gives a calm, assured response in two powerful statements:
The Lord is in His holy temple.
The Lord is on His heavenly throne.
The Lord is in His holy temple. He is still holy, and He is still worthy of worship. He still holds the key to spiritual peace, and an eternal security that cannot be shaken. When we respond to crisis with worship, we acknowledge that our foundation in Him can NEVER be shaken.
The Lord is on His heavenly throne. He is still sovereign! He still rules world events and holds the fate of kings and nations in His hands. He has not abdicated His position, nor will He ever. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD: He turns it wherever He will.” When we respond to crisis by acknowledging God’s ultimate sovereignty, we can rest in knowing that even a foundation that appears to be crumbling is under perfect control in His hands.
I’ve purposely formatted the verses above into three separate portions because, as I read it, it occurs to me that David is placing “bookend” statements of faith around the words of fear. These faith statements enclose the attitudes of fear and deflate their power. Picturing these declarations as living emotions in my imagination, I smile as I watch the expressions of fear finding no escape either forwards or backwards. They run smack into faith every time!
Let’s choose to “bookend” our fear with faith. As our faith increases, it will eventually surround the fear and crush it into nothingness.
Our God is still in His holy temple.
He is still seated on His heavenly throne.
“Bedrock faith convinces me that despite the apparent chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how cast off I may feel, I matter, truly matter, to a God of love; That no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.”
--Philip Yancey, “Finding God in Unexpected Places”