The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: The Rock That Is Higher Than I


Theme: Four Great Metaphors
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that God is a rock to which we can turn, a rock higher and wiser and stronger than we are ourselves.
Scripture: Psalm 61:1-8
What I want us to notice about Psalm 61 today is that its second stanza adds to the image of God as David’s rock by four metaphors that elaborate what God is to his trusting people. God is so great that any number of images might be provided at this point. What is significant about these four images is that they are arranged to become increasingly warm and intimate.
A refuge. This image is closest to that of God being a rock and, in fact, is frequently linked to it: “my rock, in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 18:2); “my rock of refuge” (Ps. 31:2; 71:3); “my mighty rock, my refuge” (Ps. 62:7); and “the rock in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 94:22). It calls to mind a retreat such as David used when fleeing from King Saul.
A strong tower. A tower is a refuge for people in times of attack from enemies, but it differs from a wilderness refuge in that it is part of a walled city. So here the idea is not of a person fleeing from home but of a person defending himself in his home city when threatened by hostile forces. Presumably he is not alone in this condition. Others would be taking refuge in the tower with him and would be helping him defend it.
A tent. A tent conjures up a domestic scene in which a host might welcome strangers, as Abraham welcomed the three heavenly visitors outside his tent near the great trees of Mamre. A visitor in such a situation would be entitled to his host’s most solicitous care and protection. Yet there may be more in the image than this, since the word “tent” is also translated as “tabernacle” and in the Old Testament frequently refers to the wilderness tabernacle where the Ark of God was kept. If David is using the word in this sense, as he probably is, then he is asking to dwell where God himself dwells, an idea he also expresses elsewhere: “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).1
This means that the images used thus far move us from the wilderness to the fortified city, presumably Jerusalem, and then to the tabernacle area, which means closer and closer to God.
A sheltering mother bird. Thus we are prepared for the last and most intimate image of all, that of dwelling under the shadow of God’s wings. When we studied Psalm 57 we saw that commentators often interpret this image as having to do with the wings of the cherubim on the lid of the Ark of God within the tabernacle, which would make a natural sequence in this stanza, especially if the tent image refers to the tabernacle where the Ark was kept. But strictly speaking, the wings are not called the wings of the cherubim but the wings of God, and that is an even more powerful and intimate image. Some might think it indelicate, but David would not consider it wrong to want to be sheltered beneath the wings and against the very breast of God.
Nor should we. Never fear to be intimate with God. God desires to be intimate with you and is only hurt when you remain at a distance or draw back from his embrace.
1See also Psalms 15:1; 23:6; 43:3; 84:4. “During the time the tabernacle was still being moved from place to place we hear no such mention of dwelling in God’s tabernacle or house. It was David who coined this expression for loving fellowship with the God of revelation, simultaneously with his preparation of a settled dwelling-place for the sacred Ark” (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 2, p. 203.
Study Questions:

List the four images in this psalm, and explain the progression of them.
What is the idea behind a strong tower?

Application: What does it mean to you that you are sheltered under God’s wings? What are the blessings and responsibilities of being sheltered by him?

Study Questions
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