For the week of May 24, 2008 / 19 Iyar 5768
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 - 17:14
God Our Refuge
O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble (Jeremiah 16:19; ESV).
One of my sons asked me the other day if troubles are on the increase. The recent disasters in Burma and China may make it feel that way. He wanted to know if I thought that tragedies such as these are signs of the soon return of the Messiah. I mentioned that if the destruction of ancient Jerusalem, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Plague, and the Holocaust, not to mention the other innumerable natural and man-made catastrophes did not usher in the end, I don't know if we could be certain that these more recent events do either. He said it seemed to him that such terrible things are on the rise, but then he said that since the increase of trouble coincides with his becoming older (he just turned 20), and thus more aware, then perhaps it may simply appear to him as if disasters are on the increase.
Whether disasters are actually on the increase or not and whether or not the return of the Messiah is as near as some claim, trouble is still trouble. I don't think those who are suffering spend too much time in speculation.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in troubled times. He was not speculating when he asserted
Jeremiah paints a vivid word picture. To Jeremiah God was like a strong high tower during a flood or a fortified building in the midst of war. God was his place of safety and protection in very dangerous circumstances.
What does God being our refuge mean? Some may think that it refers to having a secure future in God. Waiting in hope for better times can help us endure trouble, but while this was likely true for Jeremiah, hope itself is not a refuge. There is something about the here and now that is being expressed.
Others may think that Jeremiah learned how not to be overly affected by difficult circumstances. Yet he says that God is a refuge in the day of trouble. He is not engaging in psychological or spiritual escapism. Trouble is real and it is troubling. Jeremiah knows that. Still, he claims that there is very real help available to him at the same time.
Jeremiah is also not implying that he is confident that God will quickly change his circumstances. His emphasis is on refuge, not deliverance. His need for refuge may be necessary for a considerable amount of time - a need that he believes will be met in God.
In order to understand what it means for God to be a refuge in times of trouble, we need to first understand the true threat of the danger that Jeremiah faced. His purpose in life was to be God's spokesman. The dangers he faced threatened to undermine and prevent his fulfilling his God-given task. But God was his refuge. His relationship with God enabled him to be what God called him to be and to do what God called him to do in spite of every force designed to neutralize him.
No matter how difficult things got, no matter how painful - in spite of the confusion, the betrayals, the intimidation, the fears, the discouragement, the closeness of death - God protected the essence of Jeremiah. As the flood of circumstances dragged the society of his day towards the depths of despair and ungodliness, Jeremiah was kept safe in God. Because of God, his refuge, he was able to live each day, staying true to who he was called to be.
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