Sunday, November 19, 2023

A Bulwark Never Failing

Around 1052 B.C., King David conquered a Jebusite stronghold in the hills and made it the capital of his kingdom. He repaired and built up the city that has come to be known as Jerusalem, Zion, the City of David and Ariel. His son Solomon enhanced it and made it truly world class, and the later kings of Judah supplemented and strengthened it. It has been attacked by history’s greatest empires, razed repeatedly but always rebuilt, and unlike many ancient cities of the East, it’s still there today.

The Sons of Korah called Zion “the city of our God”.

Known as a Fortress

They make this rather intriguing statement about it:

“Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.”

If you believe Old Testament history, this statement is plain and simple fact. No matter who attacked it and no matter the odds, whenever God has been with his people, Jerusalem has stood. Whenever they have rejected him and he has been forced to abandon them to their richly-deserved fate, Jerusalem has fallen.

God is the fortress. The walls, parapets and fortifications are mere window dressing. Martin Luther probably had this spiritual reality in mind back in the late 1520s when he wrote:

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Waffen.

In English, that last bit means literally “a good defense and weapon”. Fredrick Hedges’ 1852 English paraphrase might not be a word-for-word translation of the original, but it’s better poetry: “A bulwark never failing.”


Build Yourself a Citadel

Common sense tells us to do what David did and build ourselves citadels for protection. That’s the smart way to be if you’re the least bit historically savvy; after all, when you begin to accumulate stuff, people generally come and try to take it — even if these days it’s only the IRS or CRA. Living in the wilderness on a diet of locusts and wild honey has a certain rugged masculine appeal, but most of us prefer walls and a roof if we can get them. A friend of mine holds three jobs to ensure she is never without them.

That’s a lot of work, and ultimately futile. None of us is ever truly able — even with the greatest foresight, the most expansive earthly wisdom and a plethora of practical resources — to ensure we are protected from the vagaries of existence. God is the fortress. That’s his reputation down through the years, and it’s well earned.

The Strength of Human Willpower

Useful fellows like Jordan Peterson advise us to build another sort of citadel; to will ourselves to be better than the sum of our natural inclinations. “Pull yourself together, man! Live with integrity.” Good advice if you can follow it, and some of us can. But our most determined attempts to confront the harsh realities of life with nothing greater than the strength of human willpower are as doomed as the walls of Jerusalem before the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus Epiphanes, Titus or even good old General Allenby.

God is the fortress.

If you and I are to prevail in anything we undertake; if our lives are to “matter” in the way human beings invariably seem to want them to; if we are to stand firm for anything of eternal consequence — it will not be because of any great walls or citadels we are able in and of ourselves to construct.

It will be because God has always defended those who are well and truly his.

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