Before we begin this morning I have to tell you that I am really trying to get back to our study of the book of Hebrews. About one year ago we began working our way through the letter to the Hebrews and it has been one of the most exciting and helpful studies for my own walk with the Lord that I have ever done. I am anxious to get back, and one day, if the Lord wills, we will complete our study together. At the present time I can’t go back because the Lord keeps leading me to continue speaking to you about issues that are at the forefront of many people’s minds in these days that we are living.
Last week we read from Matthew 9, where Jesus’ heart overflowed with compassion because of the dire state of the crowd He looked upon. Matthew tells us,
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38 NIV)
Jesus saw the condition of the hearts of the people of His day and He concluded that it was harvest time. Jesus knew that the people would be open to the things of God because now they were aware of their helplessness, now they were feeling the weight of the deep turmoil of their souls. Jesus knew that when people become aware of their frailty, their vulnerability, and their finitude they are more open to the things of God than at any other time. Now is harvest time!
I have been overwhelmed with that same conviction since September 11. The fortresses of America, our power and money, symbolized in the mighty buildings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers, have proven to be susceptible.That which we thought was our strong hold has proven to be vulnerable. Our mountain of money crumbled and the heart of our power was attacked.
Since that day of devastation we have continually been reminded that we are vulnerable. The cover of Newsweek magazine this week reads, Protecting America: What Must Be Done? Following the bold headline is a list of all of our vulnerabilities. Let me list some of our vulnerabilities that are found on the cover of Newsweek. Airports * Chemical Plants * Dams * Food Supplies * The Internet * Malls * Mass Transit * Nuclear Power Plants * Post Offices * Sea Ports * Skyscrapers * Stadiums * Water Supplies. My goodness! You don’t even have to open the magazine to understand how vulnerable we truly are. You don’t have to read the articles inside to know that America is not an impenetrable fortress.
With more and more of us losing our Pollyanna perspective on life in America we are hearing Jesus’ words become more and more relevant in our day – The harvest is plentiful. Now is harvest time! The Body of Christ must be vigilant, observant, and always on duty in these days of opportunity to share the Gospel, the hope that we have found in Jesus. The barriers between the Church and the rest of society are falling. We are being given an opportunity by the Lord to speak God’s Word in public, to pray without pause, and to teach those who are fearful that there is an impenetrable shelter that brings peace and security in uncertain times like these, but our Shelter is not our Armed Forces or any physical hiding place.
Today our study is going to be quite different than what you are use to when we study God’s Word. Today, the sermon consists of an indepth look at one word. We will spend all of our time taking a look at an old Hebrew word that if you simply heard it on the street you would head on down the road and never even give it a thought. It’s just aword, a simple word, but if we will take the time to understand the word then you can find yourself sheltered from any storm that may come roaring into your life. If you will trust in God, that His Word is true, then you can find your life fortified with strength that the Pentagon can’t provide for you.
It doesn’t matter if you are running from a bully in your school, if you are trying to find peace from an estranged husband who hounds you night and day, if deeds done in the past continue to haunt you to this day, or if an enemy nation desires nothing more than your destruction – you can find shelter from your enemies and rest at night knowing that God is our refuge.
Let’s begin. The Hebrew word that we are going to take a look at this morning is the word, “hs’x'”(hasah). This powerful little word is a verb that means, “to seek refuge, to flee for protection, to put trust in God, to confide or hope in God.” This little word is active, it describes the person who is looking, pursuing, searching for a safe place where he or she might find safety.
In Israel, at the south end of the Dead Sea, stands a tall mountain called, Masada, which is Hebrew for “fortress.” Masada is a place of majestic beauty in the Judean Desert and Masada has been a source of protection for God’s people throughout biblical times. When God’s people have been under attack they have run to Masada, they have sought protection from Masada’s supposedly unfathomable fortress.
Let me give you a little perspective on this stronghold of protection for those who were being pursued by their enemies. On the east side of Masada there is a sheer drop of about 1500 feet down to the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth, about 1300 feet below sea level). In biblical times the top of Masada was almost impossible to reach by enemy forces.
The only written source about Masada’s history that we have is from the Roman historian, Josephus Flavius’, in his book, The Jewish War. According to Josephus, Herod the Great built the fortress of Masada between 37 and 31 BC. Even though it had been used as a place of refuge for those under attack for ages.
Some 75 years after Herod’s death, at the beginning of the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 66 AD, a group of Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of Masada and took it back.
In 70 AD, Jerusalem fell and the sacred Temple as well. God’s people were in disarray and many of them fled with their families to Masada. With Masada as their base, they raided and harassed the Romans for two years. The Romans didn’t take defeat too well. They became determined to take Masada back and destroy God’s people. In 73 AD, the Romans established camps at the base of Masada and began to construct a rampart of thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth against the western side of the fortress. One year later, in 74 AD, the Romans moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress.
When the Romans stormed the fortress of Masada they were met with a sight that startled them. The one thousand men, women, and children who saw their impending doom, decided to take their own lives rather than to serve the Romans.
Today, Masada has become a symbol for freedom and independence. Recruits to the Israel Defense Forces Armored Unit swear the oath of allegiance in an annual ceremony on Masada’s summit. Their defiant cry: “Masada will never fall again!”
The Jews who had sought refuge are like many of us today who have discovered that there is no place on this earth that is not vulnerable, we are not safe seeking refuge in power, mountain top hideaways, or the strong holds of our material wealth.
People are frantically seeking a place of refuge today, but they are becoming more and more despondent because they are finding that there is no safe place. We are not the first ones to flee for safety, we are not the first ones to try and plan an escape route, and we are not the first ones who are searching for safety from our enemies.
David knew all too well the emotions of uncertainty. He sought a place of refuge and oftentimes he fled to the cave of Adullam. David was running from King Saul who was trying to kill him. He tried to find shelter under the protection of Achish, the king of Gath, but Achish scared David even more than Saul. With nowhere to run and no place to hide, David ran into the cave of Adullam. Surely tucked away in the Judean Desert David would be safe. Let me read to you the story that is found in 1 Samuel 21:10 through 1 Samuel 22:2.
10 That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: “‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?” 12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. 13So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. 14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” 2 1David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.(1 Samuel 21:10-22:2 NIV)
Adullam was supposed to be a safe place. There are caves that are so hidden in the desert that it is next to impossible to locate their entrances and David felt safe. David wasn’t safe. Saul found David while he was simply looking for a bathroom. Take a look at 1 Samuel 24:1-3 and read along with me.
1 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. 3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave.(1 Samuel 24:1-3 NIV)
What do you do when everything you thought you could count on proves to be vulnerable? What do you do when you find out that the fortress you have trusted in is built on sand? What do you run when you’ve run out of places that the enemy does not know about? Where can you go when every place you’ve tried to rest proves to be susceptible? That is a great question! David learned a great lesson in the cave of Adullam that you and I can learn this morning. While David was in the cave he wrote two Psalms that are found in your Bible. Psalm 142 and Psalm 57 begin with the words, “A MASKIL OF DAVID, WHEN HE WAS IN THE CAVE. A PRAYER. (PSALM 142) FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. TO THE TUNE OF “DO NOT DESTROY.” OF DAVID. A MIKTAM. WHEN HE HAD FLED FROM SAUL INTO A CAVE.” (PSALM 57)
In these two Psalms you will find another “hiding place” another “place of refuge” that David discovered while he was running for his life. The great preacher Arthur Pink, in his book on David’s life, wrote,
Blessed indeed is it to mark the striking contrast from what is here presented to us (in Psalm 142 and Psalm 57) and what was before us as we passed through 1 Samuel 20 and 21. There we saw the worried fugitive turning to Jonathan, lying to Ahimelech, playing the madman at Gath. But vain was the hope of man. Yet how often we have to pass through these painful experiences and bitter disappointments before we thoroughly learn this lesson! Here we behold the son of Jesse turning to the only One who could do him any real good. “I cried unto the Lord with my voice I poured out my complaint before Him. I showed before Him my trouble” (Psalm 142:1-2). This is what we should do: thoroughly unburden our hearts unto Him with whom we have to do. Note how, at the close of this Psalm, after he had so freely poured out his woes, David exclaimed, “Thou shalt deal bountifully with me!” (Arthur Pink, The Life of David)
When David was all alone and everything and everyone he had turned to for security had failed him, David sought refuge in the Lord. Remember, “seeking refuge” is a verb; it is something you and I actively pursue. David actively found out that everywhere his feet carried him, everyone he sought to protect him — they couldn’t get the job done. David found his resting place while hiding in the cave of Adullam, but it wasn’t in the cave. Let me read to you from one of the Psalms David wrote while hiding in the cave.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. 2 I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. 3 He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; Selah God sends his love and his faithfulness. (Psalm57:1-3 NIV)
David, after trying other means of protection and seeking other sources of security, took refuge in Almighty God. What a beautiful section of Scripture when you understand the other avenues David had exhausted in trying to find security!
Let me show you some of the other places where this active, but desperate little word appears. In Psalm 16:1, David wrote,
1 Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from youI have no good thing.” (Psalm 16:1-2 NIV)
There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament of a older woman and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth wasn’t a Jew and when her husband died she was given the opportunity to go back to her people where she would be comfortable. She choose to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. The Lord brought a relative of Naomi named Boaz into Ruth’s life and Boaz marveled at Ruth’s commitment. In Ruth 2:11-12, Boaz says,
11Boaz replied,“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”(Ruth 2:11-12 NIV)
Did you notice that? Boaz says, “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Ruth had sought God and Boaz says that Ruth came to take refuge under His mighty wings. What a beautiful picture for you and me of the security we can know as we actively take refuge in God.
Let me just share with you one more place where the Hebrew word, “Hasah” appears.You do need to know that it appears 35 times in the Hebrew Bible, but we don’t have the time to cover all of them now. One last example for you. In Isaiah 57, God was chastising His people for putting their trust in others when we read in verse 13,
13 When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Isaiah57:13 NIV)
The Lord says that those who “make” God their refuge. Those who actively choose God as their refuge find strength. The one who pursues the fortress of the Almighty rather than turning to others. This is the one who will find real and lasting refuge.
There is one more thing I just can’t wait to share with you before we go. Now that we understand the Hebrew word, “Hasah,” and how we can seek Him as our source of security, I want to introduce you to another word. It is really the same word, but with just one additional letter added to the beginning. In the Hebrew language, if you put an “M” in front of this verb it changes it into a noun. Now, for those of you who are like me and barely know the difference between a noun and verb, don’t fret this is not an English lesson it is a lesson in life, living life as God intended.You will understand this very clearly when we are through.
The Bible encourages us to “Hasah,” or “seek security or refuge in God.” The new word that I want to show you is “hs,x.m;” (mahseh), “a place of refuge or shelter.” If “hasah” is “fleeing for protection” or “seeking refuge,” then “mahseh” is “a place of refuge or shelter.” Let me quickly show you a couple of Scriptures where this place of refuge can be found.
While David is still in the cave of Adullam and he is quickly learning that he has no where to turn for security and safety, he writes in Psalm 142,
1 I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. 2 I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. 3 When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. 4 Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. 5 I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:1-5 NIV)
David learned an important lesson that we need to learn today. We don’t have time to wait until tomorrow to learn that God is our refuge. He is the place where we can dwell safely whether we are enjoying times of quiet peace or whether we find ourselves in harm’s way. God is our refuge in times of peace and trouble.
Let me show you two other places where the same Hebrew word is found. In the Psalms, God is the place of refuge for those who find that their soul can find no rest in trusting in bombs or caves or their own power. Psalm 62 says,
5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. 6He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. 7 My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. 8Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Selah (Psalm62:5-8 NIV)
The Psalmist promises us that if we will dwell in the shelter in the Lord then we will have rest. Look at Psalm 91 and read along with me.
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2 NIV)
We are living in some uncertain times. Anyone who would deny that is either naďve or simply ignorant. We have no promise that these uncertain times will ever end, but we do have the promise of God’s Word that we can be secure whether our nation endures or falls.
There is another person who encountered uncertain and horrifying times in her own country, but who found God’s Word to be true. Corrie Ten Boom lived during WWII as Hitler exterminated millions of Jews. Corrie ten Boom was born in the Netherlands in 1892, the youngest of four children in a gzellig family–Dutch for a pleasant, cozy home in which the family works and plays together. Her father, Caspar, a respected watchmaker in the town of Haarlem, had been raised in a devout Christian home.His father, Willem, was particularly interested in the biblical prophecies that the Jews would one day return to their homeland. Willem passed on his love for the Jewish people to his children and grandchildren.
Corrie, who learned her father’s trade, was content to live in her parent’s home and work in their first-floor watch shop.
Life changed overnight in the spring of 1940 when the Nazi war machine blitzed through Europe’s Low Countries. No one could buy food without ration cards. Dutch newspapers were shut down. Bikes were confiscated and radios turned in, although the ten Booms hid theirs.
All Dutch people fifteen years of age and older were issued identity cards; Jews received a yellow J across theirs. German soldiers smashed the windows of Jewish shopkeepers and pilfered their goods. Jewish people began disappearing. Rumors swept through villages and towns that the Nazis were carting off Jews to death camps. Aided by sympathizers like the ten Booms, many Jewish families went into hiding.
The day of reckoning came in February 1944. “Where are the Jews?” screamed the Gestapo major. “There aren’t any Jews here,” Corrie answered, lying to save lives.
The Gestapo major belted Corrie, then fifty-two years old, across the mouth. She tasted blood. “Where is the secret room?” Corrie didn’t answer, except to say, “Lord Jesus, help me.” “If you use that name again, I’ll kill you!”
Corrie, her father, and her sister Betsie were arrested. Within weeks, her father died in custody, but Corrie and Betsie were dispatched to Ravensbruck, a notorious concentration camp that was home–usually a temporary one because many died there.
The roll call siren sounded at 4:30 a.m. In subfreezing temperatures, the shivering inmates often stood in the Lagerstrasse until daylight while lines were counted and recounted. Anyone who fell to the ground was pummeled with truncheons and brutalized with kicks. The work was extremely physical: the ten Boom sisters loaded heavy steel sheets onto carts, pushed them the required distance, then unloaded the cargo.
With only a bowl of thin soup, a scrap of dark bread, and maybe a potato to sustain them, the sisters became weaker each day. They knew that if they were committed to the camp hospital, a one-way trip to the gas chambers would soon follow. Everyone could see the tall chimney belching gray smoke from the crematorium.
Corrie had been stripped of every possession except for one item she smuggled into Ravensbruck–a small Dutch Bible. After an exhausting day’s work, Corrie and Betsie invited everyone in the barracks to join them for a Bible study. The guards never intruded. Why? The inmates’ beds were crawling with fleas, so the guards kept their distance.Corrie and Betsie thanked God for the fleas.
Corrie managed to keep up with the physical labor demands–nothing
short of miraculous given the malnutrition and ill treatment. Whipped by a guard for not working hard enough one day, Betsie was carried off to the infirmary on a stretcher. Two days later, Corrie found Betsie’s body dumped in a washroom with other decaying corpses. When she looked into her sister’s face,Corrie saw a youthful-looking woman filled with peace and happiness.
Four days after Betsie’s death, Corrie’s number was called. She was ordered to report to the main office. For what? A trip to the gas chamber? Transport to another camp? Corrie stood in line. She watched another disheveled woman stand in front of a large desk. The officer stamped a paper and handed it to her. Entlassen! he barked. Released? Why was this woman going free? Each prisoner received the same stamped paper and command. Could it be true?
Corrie ten Boom was released from Ravensbruck on the first day of January 1945. It took days to reach occupied Holland by train. Her first real food was tea and a dry crust at a Christian hospital called Deaconess Home. A young nurse dropped by and asked her where she came from. “Haarlem,” Corrie replied. “Do you know Corrie ten Boom?” The nurse, Truus Benes, hadn’t recognized the emaciated, hollow-eyed
woman as the robust leader of her Girl’s Club, which Corrie had organized in Haarlem years ago. “I am Corrie ten Boom.” Millions of people have read Corrie’s biography, The Hiding Place, and viewed the movie by the same title, but not many know that Corrie was released from Ravensbruck by mistake, a “clerical error.” A few days after Corrie walked through Ravensbruck’s iron doors, the order was given to kill all women her age and older.
For the next four decades, Corrie ten Boom crisscrossed the globe, speaking to millions of people about her faith in God that kept her strong under depraved conditions. The nation of Israel also honored Corrie for aiding Jewish people, inviting her to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles near Jerusalem.
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare of the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God,and I am trusting in him” (Psalm 91:1-2 NLT).
(This is an excerpt from LuisPalau’s new book, A God Thing. It was received through Luis Palau’s email newsletter, Luis Palau Responds.)
Won’t you place your trust in Jesus this morning and learn the lesson that Corrie and tens of millions of others have learned when they have been confronted with terror on every side –God is our refuge who will never be shaken!