Last week we were in the cave – finding temporary shelter and making a plan to move forward. This week we’ve somehow made it to the strong, fortified city – the Psalmist doesn’t tell us how that happens. But after the first Selah, the tone of the song changes. Psalm 46:4-7 (NRSV) says:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; He utters His voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Before, we were frightened. We felt the shifting of the earth and the shaking of the mountains. We ran to God for safety, and He provided a shelter. The cave is our chance to examine in the middle of the emergency. To repent while we rest. To commit to following Him despite our fear.
And now, after that long pause and reflect, we are in a place of safety. The word for “refuge” here means a strong tower or fortified place. We are no longer exposed to elements or enemies; we are behind thick, secure walls. There is plenty of food. There is a river providing fresh water. This is the place where you want to wait out a siege!
You know, in our own situations we have these transitions from cave to city as well. I can’t tell you the exact moment you will start to feel safe. I can’t even tell you the exact moments when I’ve started feeling safe. It’s been more of a realization that I am finally safe, secure, sheltered, saved. I am grateful. I feel a strong desire to look for comfort and offer it to others. Worship comes easily, and the messages I hear seem to “preach at me” a little less.
As I read over this section of the Psalm, and force myself to stop at that Selah, I see three things happening in the city.
First, there is celebration. We are out of crisis mode and we are able to see the good that surrounds us. We can recognize how God provides for us and takes care of us.
And I know this has happened for me in my dark times. Once the emergency is past and my emotions seem to even out, I am able to look for good things in myself and others. I can practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude leads to a change in perspective. In a sense, even in difficult times, I am “made glad.”
There is also a sense of constant provision, and maybe it’s because I look for it, but I definitely notice little ways that my needs are met. The choice of a river is more than just pretty imagery to go along with the safety of the city during a siege. The Holy Spirit is often described as being like water. And knowing how important a reliable, fresh water source would be during a siege, we can draw some of the same parallels to what the Holy Spirit does in the midst of this celebration – He makes us glad. He constantly and continuously brings us what we need for our health and our cleansing. He is present at all times – think about when you’ve been near a river. You know it’s there. You can’t not hear it – you can become so accustomed to the sound that it fades to the background and you don’t notice it, but the sound, the flow, the breeze, the presence of the river never changes. It is the same with the Spirit.
The second thing I see is that the crisis hasn’t actually stopped. If anything it has become more intense for those outside the city. In the poetic description, proud kingdoms are on the verge of collapse. Life is not stable outside the city walls.
In a more practical sense, I think this is what happens when a Christian refuses to make that first run to the cave and do the Selah work God requires. When we try to handle everything on our own. We can say, “It’s fine, I’m fine” so often that we start to actually believe it. But anyone not in crisis can see that we are “tottering.” And when you have a broken relationship between people, it’s very common for one party to end up safe in the city while the other remains outside.
In the still-healing perspective of the one inside the city walls, it is easy to see the other party as the one holding you under siege. I think this needs to be said: healing comes with setbacks. And sometimes those setbacks come as attacks from people who are simply outside the walls. Whether they have malicious intent or a lack of understanding of what we’ve been through to get to the city probably varies by situation. But as you heal, expect those attacks will come. Resist the urge to respond out of your human nature. Remember that you are in this safe place, protected and provided for. Stay close to the river, reflect on what the Lord has done, and allow Him to defend you. This isn’t easy. But every time I’ve stuck my nose over the city wall to try to be an archer in my own defense, I’ve received another injury. God is really good at defending His people – stay out of His way.
The third thing I notice about the city is actually the broadest theme in this section – God is with us. In the midst of us. He doesn’t just drop in at regular intervals to see how we are doing. His presence is constant and gives the confidence that we will be okay. We will not be moved, and when the morning dawns, He will help us.
The dawning of the morning in the Psalms signals the end of a difficult season. Night is troubling, morning is full of hope. But, if the morning is full of hope, why does God need to help us? And if He’s been with us, hasn’t he been helping us all along?
Yes, He has! And I think this help means a new kind of help in the next phase. We were not meant to remain safe behind city walls for our entire Christian life. Once we are healed and strong and confident, the gates will open and God will expect us to return to serving in His kingdom. The Psalmist says when we get to that point, when the sun rises and the gates open, we have the promise that God will help us then, too.
This last week for me has been a time of very intentional pausing to reflect on the time of growth I had in my own city stay. I’ve been on vacation, visiting family, reminded of who I used to be when I lived near them. I’ve had the opportunity to tell the truth about some very old wounds in my heart and offer comfort back to people that have recently moved into their own season in the city of refuge. God is in the midst of this place of safety, it will not fall or be moved, no matter what the Enemy tries.
I hope that you will be able to pause and reflect this week on your own experiences within the city walls. Have a blessed week!