“My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:7)
There’s a lovely moment in Maya Angelou’s All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. She writes “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” If you know anything about her life at all, then you will understand both the title and the sentiment.
Well, in my life, God has been my safe place. God has welcomed me as I am, “Just as I am.” And there has been no critical questioning, like angry parents haranguing a teenager who has missed curfew (“Just who do you think you are?”), just a warm welcome to fireside and laughter.
And this home, this “mighty rock [and] refuge,” is not a place but “an irrevocable condition” (as James Baldwin put it). There is simply no safety at all, outside God.
And so we arrive at Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase. “My help and glory are in God —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God— So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.”
Here is the root and heart of all relationship, fruitfulness and peace of mind: God is a safe place to be!
When I was very small, I remember being scared of Doctor Who, which came on at teatime TV on Saturday afternoons. And yet amidst my fear, I desperately wanted to see how it all worked out. So my compromise position was to hide between my father’s legs, one arm around each, and peer out at the enfolding drama. A safe place, in the midst of it all.
So “Trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.”
But how do I find my way to that safe place? How do I make my home there?
The point in Psalm 62 is that the writer was utterly desperate. Evil men were threatening his life and scheming how, not only to topple him from power, but also how to kill him. Our difficulty in applying the psalm is that most of us do not really share those desperate straits that led to its writing. These enemies were saying, “He’s like a leaning wall or tottering fence. Just push and he’ll go down!” So at the point of crisis the writer reaches out -desperately – and discovers this bedrock truth:
In life’s most threatening times, you will be at peace if God alone is your salvation and refuge.
The psalm examines alternative options. If we trust in God, we’re secure. If we trust in human resources or in material support, we’re depending on something lighter than breath itself (Psalm 62:9).
The key word is “only”, which translates a handy Hebrew particle. It occurs six times, four in reference to God (Psalm 62:1, 2, 5, 6; also in 4, 9). Each time it begins the sentence for emphasis. Sometimes it can be translated “but,” or, as Calvin suggested “nevertheless,” and it may also translate as “surely” or “certainly.” But the central meaning is “only” or “alone.” Thus by repetition, the point is hammered home that we will enjoy God’s peace in the midst of the worst that life can sling at us when God only—God alone—is our salvation and refuge.
But, as I said, how do we get there? How do we stay there?
There’s three stages to the journey. The psalm falls into those three stages, the first two ending with “Selah” which some interpret as a musical break for emphasis, or a space for thought.
The first bit (62:1-4) is about being calm under pressure. The second section (62:5-8) is about maintaining that peace. The final section (62:9-12) is about what not to depend on and whom to trust in.
It seems to have been a nasty situation. The unspecified “enemies” were planning how to displace and disempower the narrator. They were using lies and flattery together, buttering him up to his face and tearing him down to others.
Steven Cole compared it to being a leader in a generalised sense: “Hopefully you’ll never have anyone plotting to kill you! But if you’re in any kind of leadership position, whether in the church or in business, you will have times when you’re under attack. You’ll be criticized and slandered. I’ve known pastors that left the ministry because they couldn’t handle the criticism that inevitably goes with the job. But the Bible never promises exemption from such attacks. Rather, it shows us what to do when you’re under attack.”
So what do you do when under such threat? “My soul waits in silence for God only.” It means: Take a moment when you refuse to listen to anything else apart from the promises of God.
Don’t complain, resent or grumble. Don’t overthink, going over and over the circumstances, like dirty washing swirling around in the washing machine. Just stop and wait for God. Humble yourself “under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6). Even this present discomfort or threat is God’s business, not yours.
That’s the conclusion that the Psalmist arrives at. I wait for Him, simply because “From Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
In the context, of course, “salvation” refers to God’s rescue from a circle of vicious enemies about. But there is another far more vicious enemy that is ultimately behind every (merely) human assault. In John 10, Jesus referred to Satan as a thief that comes to “steal, kill and to destroy.” And even if we’ve never been in the desperate situation where fierce enemies threaten our lives physically, spiritually we know the threat of Satan’s onslaughts on a daily basis.
And we also know that if God alone is your salvation from eternal death, if He raised you from death to life and gave you the faith to believe in Jesus Christ, then you also can take refuge in Him from less threatening trials. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:31-32: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
And that’s the basis for the confidence expressed in the second section (in Psalm 62:5-8). Calvin comments, in a rather beautiful passage: “Here it is to be remembered, that our minds can never be expected to reach such perfect composure as shall preclude every inward feeling of disquietude, but are, at the best, as the sea before a light breeze, fluctuating sensibly, though not swollen into billows.” In other words, we have to work at this! We have to fight for peace of mind, reiterating the promises of God every single time you waver.
It’s as if he’s talking himself into being encouraged. “My soul, hope thou…” in the older versions, or even “I tell myself” in newer ones! Martin Lloyd-Jones asked: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
He goes on “And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.”
That’s exactly what’s happening here in Psalm 62. He piles up description after description of who God is: “For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be moved. I shall not be moved.” Then he goes over it again “On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.”
I have to be resolute about this. I have to fix my faith-allegiance to the promises of God and be definite about it. I have to stick to my guns. Why? Simply because I am so irresolute, so faltering, and so apt to listen my own foolish thinking. I find that I say “I trust you, Lord” and then almost immediately begin to plan how to sort the situation out myself! Calvin said that we “display our distrust in him by busying ourselves in all directions to supplement what we consider defective in his aid.”
It’s not that it’s wrong to think things through but it’s wrong to give God a token nod of trust and then set Him aside while really we trust in our schemes and methods. No, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold.” And “I shall not be shaken.”
In the first bit, the narrator looked at his enemies primarily in relation to himself, so that he was acutely aware of the danger that he was in. He was like a leaning wall. In the last section, he looks at them in relation to the powerful, loving God, who is his stronghold. By comparison, these supposedly dangerous people are “lighter than breath.” Here’s the context: “Men of low degree are only vanity, and men of rank are a lie; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath” (Psalm 62:9).
Derek Kidner said that the point here “is not so much that we have nothing to fear from man …as that we have nothing to hope from him.”
And neither should you trust in oppression or robbery! Most of us probably aren’t tempted to use oppression or robbery to get out of our fixes, but we may well be tempted to trust in money as a quick-fit solution. But Only God will do.
Make sure that you hearGod’s answer for how to deal with threatening problems: First, God is powerful; second, He is loving. Therefore, He will justly judge all of our enemies. If anyone opposes God’s power and resists His love, he will know His justice.
Satan always attacks either or both of these truths when we face trials. He tempts you with the thought that if God is all-powerful, He could have prevented these trials. So, He must not love you. This is where by faith we have to join Joseph, who told his brothers who had sold him into slavery (Genesis 50:20), “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good….” By faith, affirm both God’s power and His love.
Fight for God’s peace. Remember His promises. Stand upon them. He alone is our salvation and refuge. God is a safe place to be.