“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
Did you ever build a fort as a kid? Sure you did. Everybody did. Sometimes it was with your bed covers after you were supposed to be asleep. Sometimes it was a crude combination of various materials in the family room. It might have been a simple canvas pup tent in the back yard. Or maybe you built a real structure with hammer, nails and wood. A friend built my sons, when they were kids, a solid structure on stilts that had a sign on the outside that read: No Girls Allowed.
Probably everybody has built a fort of some kind. But why? Why are we compelled to create a fortress? A barricade? A refuge? Are we trying to keep someone or something out—or something in? Is it built for the feeling of being hidden? The answers vary depending on the circumstances.
Several years ago on a trip to England, our family visited Dover Castle which rises high above the white cliffs over the English Channel. Though it was built as a royal residence in the 11th century, it became a citadel that protected the owner from foreign invasion. It was a sentry’s lookout, too, for hundreds of years, and it was even used by Winston Churchill to assess the battles that took place on the channel during WWII. It was utilized to watch for an approaching enemy and then make ready for a defense.
One modern fortress that comes to mind is at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It’s not just a military base, but where our country stores 9.2 million pounds of gold. Through the years, priceless documents, like the original versions of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address, were kept there for certain periods of time. The fortress was for protection of things inside that are perceived to be valuable.
And then the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado once served as the center for the United States Space Command and NORAD. Its purpose was to hide military testing techniques and top secret findings.
All of these fortresses serve different purposes: watchtowers, safe houses, and concealment areas.
I think we are created with a need to seek refuge—from storms, from illness, from harm. A safe haven against the chaos of life.
Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation and songwriter, wrote these words in 1529.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing
Our Helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate
On earth is not his equal.
The language is, of course, archaic to us. Remember that the lyrics were written originally in German (Luther’s mother tongue) and then transliterated to English. But look at the first line of the text.
“Bulwark” means a hedge of protection, a wall of earth (a levee) against a flood, a fortification. It is also a nautical term. It refers to a solid wall around the main deck of a ship for the protection of persons or objects on the deck. Though the word does not necessarily “sing” well in modern terms, it alludes to the enormous strength of our God to hold us near and protect what is precious to Him. That’s why the 46th psalm calls God our refuge.
The Message translates the first 3 verses of that psalm this way:
God is a safe place to hide,
ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.
Take refuge inside a fortress, but not with bed sheets, castles, or bunkers. God’s hand is the only safe place to hide, to assess the enemy’s approach, and to preserve you, a truly valuable child of God.