The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) describes this Psalm as “an aged worshipper’s prayer for deliverance from personal enemies”. As someone who is rapidly approaching the validity of the description “aged worshipper” (although maybe not as a “cause of wonder”!) perhaps I can resonate with the pleas for God not to “desert me or leave me when my strength is gone”, recognising that God is, has been and always will be “my strong rock and my sure refuge to which I may always resort”. Of course, there have been times in my life when the surety of that strength and refuge have seemed to be elusive.
The word “refuge” gives me pause however. What do we mean by it? Is it somewhere to hide away, to escape from the world and those in it? Proverbs 18:10 uses a slightly different metaphor, describing the name of the Lord as “a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are safe”. A worship song by Clinton Utterbach often sung with gusto in some Christian gatherings uses these words as part of the refrain.
Towers are often found as strong defensive points in castles: places of refuge, keeping the enemy at bay. Almost by definition, there are no points of contact between those inside and out, except for missiles hurled back and forth.
Sadly, that is how some outside the Church can perceive those within – a “holy huddle”, hurling out condemnations of those whose lifestyles they do not approve of, and surrounded by walls impenetrable to those who do not conform.
We need the refuge of God not as a defence against the world, but as a place of quiet retreat, a storehouse from which to draw provisions which enable us to demonstrate the love of God for the world in the world, never brought down.