Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Flee for refuge

In Ruth 2, Boaz blesses Ruth: "A full reward be given to you by Yahweh, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!"  The image of the bird spreading out its wings over its vulnerable chicks is tender and magnificent; it is heightened in Ruth 3 when Boaz himself agrees to spread the 'wings' of his garment over Ruth, becoming the answer to his own prayer, being the shelter of the Lord.

But what has been particularly striking me in the last couple of days is how much fleeing for refuge there is in the Old Testament.  The lectionary yesterday took me to Psalm 5 ("But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.") and then to Psalm 7 ("O Yahweh my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me").  In the evening at a church prayer meeting, Psalm 46 was read ("God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.")

Some reflections:

1.  This means life is hard.  Nobody flees unless they have to, nobody becomes a refugee willingly.  Life is hard.  Circumstances are difficult, ranging from mildly irritating to impossible to sustain.  Our own brokenness is hard, whether it is physical or mental health struggles or just the sense of homelessness that comes from being a human in a fallen creation.  The struggle with sin is hard, whether we're winning or losing.  Guilt is hard, hard to repress or ignore and even harder to acknowledge.  Flight to refuge is surely the experience of all of us at one time or another.

2.  The God who directs providence provides protection.  Surely the hardest thing in life is God himself.  I mean, the God who stands inscrutable behind providence; and more, the God who stands at the end of everything as Judge.  It is striking that the book of Ruth, which unless I am badly misreading it is primarily a story of providence, contains Boaz's blessing in the middle.  It is God who has directed the hard providence of Ruth 1, and yet it is God to whom Ruth has fled for refuge.  Is there a parallel here that needs to be thought?  It is God who sits on the seat of judgement and condemns my sin and wickedness, and yet it is this same God to whom we flee for forgiveness and a covering of righteousness.  The flood is his, but so is the ark.

3.  Jesus.  Where, other than in Christ, does any refuge appear?  Under whose wings can we take refuge, other than his?  Here in Christ we see that the direction of providence, the rule of the Judge, is by no means an impersonal fate or a harsh legalism.  Here I see God himself raising a lament over those who have resisted his grace: "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"  Here is the loving hand that guides even the darkest providence.  Here in the God who hangs on the cross is the fortress of my soul, the rock which is split so that I can hide within.  Here is refuge.

Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, oh, leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

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