Read Psalm 48.
When the people of Israel demanded a king, they told the prophet Samuel, “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). But in battle, the king’s head is the greatest prize for an enemy, so many men are put in harm’s way to protect his life. The king may lead his troops into battle and fight, but his presence is not a refuge. The closer a soldier is to the king, the more targets he will have on his back.
But there is one King who is Himself a stronghold. He has no need of protection, though He does indeed fight for His people: “Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress” (Psalm 48:2–3). In describing Mount Zion and the city of Jerusalem, the psalmist says that it is the King who makes the fortress secure, not the fortress that secures the King. God Himself is all the security and protection His people need. He is the One who will not be moved.
The protection of God may not look like we expect. Famines, plagues, bullets, and swords still come for God’s people. Death overtakes us all. And yet, God is still our refuge. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). Even when the walls crumble down and the citadels fall, those who are in Christ cannot be separated from His love. There is no greater refuge than that.
Though Martin Luther claimed Psalm 46 as his inspiration for the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the song’s heart beats in Psalm 48 as well:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing:
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work his woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
That word above all earthly powers—
No thanks to them—abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also:
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is for ever. (Stanzas 1, 4)
“Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness…. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end” (Psalm 48:9–10, 14).