"The God of Jacob is my refuge" - Psalm 46.
Early this morning I was sweeping my patio in the birdsong. At that time of day the air has a freshness that feels as if I’m breathing more oxygen, both physical and spiritual. After sweeping, I then started clearing out the build up of gentle ash from my chiminea. The rocks that protect the bottom of the chiminea from excess heat had been covered over with ash. When this happens, to continue protecting the chiminea, I need to periodically find and separate the rocks from the ash, removing the ash and returning the cleaned rocks, ready for some more fires.
The whole time I’m doing this I’m feeling the symbolism for my life in God. I’m feeling it for the internal good of myself and my close friends in our family-knit walk with the LORD.
But, as I was doing so, the LORD very clearly said to me, “Psalm 46” and with a Holy Spirit urgent push that made me stop my work and open His Word. To my amazement it says: “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be shaken: God will help her at the turning of morning.” (Hebrew-English interlinear Bible) I was turning over rocks at the turning of the morning.
After I’d finished and sat down with a cup of green tea, enjoying my clean my patio and inviting chiminea, the LORD of the Universe gently said “Read Psalm 46 again.” And I realised a phrase comes up twice which I love for personal reasons: “...the God of Jacob is my refuge.”
This is my God – the God of Jacob. Firstly and briefly, when He talks about refuge here, He’s talking about a Hebrew word "mis-gav" (מִשְׂגָּב).
It means: Fortress, Stronghold, Defence, High Tower, Place of Defence, a Secure Height. In Hebrew, the word for refuge is actually a “present participle”, meaning it’s a noun made out of a verb. It means the noun is literally linguistically-created by doing an action in a repeated ongoing fashion. For example, if we worship regularly in Hebrew you become a worshipper, if you fight in the LORD regularly, you become a fighter etc. You literally become the noun of the verb by doing the verb in an ongoing way. The Hebrew noun for "refuge" is built up from the Hebrew verb "sagav" (שָׂגַב).
It means: "to be too strong, to lift high, to protect, to be kept safe, to be exalted, to be set on a high lofty place.” This sounds like awesome protection to me and "the God of Jacob" provides it for me.
So, if you’d like to understand this kind of refuge, get to know the lovely powerful aspect of God that is the God of Jacob a little more through His Word, the Bible. This God is a Divine Story Teller and speaks in such a way as to make us think "Is He talking about an historical account, or can He read my mind and see the current situation distressing me?!" The God of Jacob covers contemporary subjects such as; witchcraft, cursing, profound deception, betrayals and a wide range of ghastly behaviour in humans, feeling displaced in a foreign culture, travelling far from home, falling in love at first sight (at first divine appointment!), other-worldly dreams, business sense, tricky in-laws, and how to use our God given smarts - to name a few!
Why is it so lovely that my God of Jacob would remind me Who He is early in my morning?
Because, the word "God" doesn’t mean the same to everyone, and I think He wanted me to tune completely into His Voice specifically. Nowadays, more than ever perhaps, the word "God", even with a capital, can have a wide variety of meanings, dependent on who that person believes "God" to be. And the modern word for “god”, “spirit”, “higher power” can literally mean anything anybody wants it to.
But, the God Who is speaking to me is the God of Jacob.
This phrase is incredibly personally comforting as I’m a Jewish believer in Yeshua the Messiah. But here’s the thing. My faith in God is only as strong as my understanding of His character. And His character in His aspect of Jesus can appear different from His character in His aspect of the God of Jacob.
The quality of both my kingdom life, and my life here on earth, depends on and reflects my understanding of the full character of my God. And there are so many blessings hidden ready to find just under the surface of His Hebraic heart. Which is why I love the phrase “the God of Jacob”, because it describes a vibrant part of Him that isn’t as celebrated in the church tradition, as it is obviously in the Jewish tradition. This phrase in Psalm 46 lights up the Jewish Hebraic part of me, which understands the Bible history of God with my tribe. But it is also Him showing the church a wider angle lens of Who He is and wants to be in all our lives.
But, if I’m also a Christian, isn’t my God Jesus?
The word "Jesus", for a start, is a Greek-esk play on the word "zeus", to mean a human god. But, His Hebrew Name is Yeshua, which means in it’s fullness “One Who Saves from - or better yet - of Yahveh.”
This begs the tangent question, who is Yahveh?! It’s the Name God gives to Moses, when Moses asks “What’s your name?!” In essence, Moses is asking the same thing I am trying to clumsily discuss, ie: Who are you really, God?! This is because, to the Hebraic mind, someone’s name is a description of their character, purpose, meaning and destiny in history. So, Moses, being a Hebrew, knew this and was asking God: “Give me your name, so I can try and know who you are!”
But "Yahveh" is a wonderfully huge concept of a Name. The word Yahveh comes from the root word "to be". God rather beautifully uses the verb “to exist” or “to be” for His answer to Moses (Exodus 3:14) It is often translated as: "I am that I am." In Hebrew it is אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
It’s almost as if God is aware that to the human mind we like to pin people down to one aspect of themselves or one role. And yet God chose to express Himself into human history through the Hebrew language: which is a holistic, linking, dancing, swimming, spiralling language, rolling one concept into another concept language, often above time and tense, all of which is very alien to the Greek, linear, Hellenistic, Plato-esk approach. For example, human philosophy declares: “I think therefore I am.” Can you see this is actually a smaller, slightly arrogant-sounding self-focussed take on the LORD's words to Moses above?
Whereas, Hebraically speaking I would say something like: “I feel, think, move, desire, wait, believe, expect and move, eat, sleep, scream, laugh, doubt, get angry, love passionately, obey, follow my Rabbi, stumble, listen to other voices more than His sometimes, discuss, without internal boxes, and rest quietly, and being again, therefore I am, because God made me! And who I am is growing and changing, because I’m a living creation. And even writing that in a linear sentence is trying to express the Hebraic in a Greek linear way! Can I dance it, photograph it, show you colours I love in a painting, dive into the Hebrew, taste it, rhythm it, feel it, so you can understand and know me?”
But that wouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker or twitter would it?!
For example, I still wanted to write this study (or Hebraically, worship of God through His Words), while listening to birdsong in my garden, because they have worshipped God three times a day throughout history better than Daniel, while feeling His breeze on my face, while my fingers are in the 21st century on my laptop!
And God catches this boxing in flavour of Moses’s question and gives what in 21st century terms I’d call a graceful “swerve” to the question. Because, as our Creator, He knows two things: the question is too small and so is our human understanding of the answer!
Rather than “Give me your name so I can think I know who you are” God is after a: “Can I fall in love with you every day of my life please and then maybe, just maybe, after many years I might just begin to discover the complex, mind blowing wonder of Who You are – just a little!”
So, God simply says to Moses “I exist, that’s My Name”! He even says it in a Hebrew verb tense which is ongoing, an incompleted action (the imperfect tense), so as to show He’s not going to be pinned down in either role or time. He exists, He is, He is ongoing.
To be honest, therefore, "Yahveh" or “I exist” would fit quite well into a social media meme, because His Name here is kind of non-specific and undefinable, like a kind of cosmic Ninja.
But, "the God of Jacob" in Psalm 46, now that’s specific. That focusses the heart and mind right down into one time in history and one people-group or tribe. Many students of the Bible will know "the God of Jacob" is the end part to the longer definer found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
He is saying in Psalm 46, that if you’d like to understand the kind of “refuge” described above more, read, learn and discover Who I am with Jacob and his tribe. Abraham, Isaac, their families, Jacob (later re-named Israel precisely because he basically grows as a person) and Jacob's twelve sons, including the most famous, Joseph. Enjoy getting to know these aspects of the LORD through the historical accounts of these people.
Linking Himself to a people-group has its risks of misunderstanding too. That He is the God of Jacob has always been tragically offensive to some, and even to some areas of ‘churchanity.’ I don’t know why, because although He is the God of Jacob, He is equally available to everyone. This is made very clear throughout ancient history. Plus, there are specific examples within Scripture. For example, Ruth – a gentile - declares to Naomi - a Jewess – “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me, and ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17) That sounds like a covenant-love between Jew and Gentile followers of the God of the Bible, which is full of blessings and love, an costly. Because, although Yeshua is called King of the Jews as He’s dying on the cross, His gift of Salvation is for anyone. "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:50)
There are profound and great blessings in deciding to enter the “Tents of Jacob” – another well known Jewish phrase and song taken from Numbers 24:5 - and travel with the fuller understanding of Who this God of the Bible really is. These blessings can be found through reading the history of the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and colour the entire text of the Old Testament, as well as the New.
We’ll never in this lifetime get anywhere near to being able to pin God down! He’s Magnificent. And He has so many different aspects to Himself, just as we see in the richness of our own internal landscape. But, citizenship into God’s people is free to Jew and Gentile through Yeshua.
So, by humbly accepting that Yeshua is The God of Jacob we access further Biblical knowledge of blessings which will keep us safe – spiritually and physically, because:
“The God of Jacob is our Refuge.”
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