It’s Friday – time again for a post on the old church hymns.
This week as I thought about what song to write one very old hymn came to mind.
So I ask – What picture do you see when you think of God?
From reading the Bible I have found some unusual pictures.
- A hen covering her chickens with her wings. (“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”)
- A giant rock rising up high from the earth. (“God is my rock in whom I take refuge.”
- A shepherd tenderly holding a baby lamb. (“The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.”)
- A might warrior with shield and sword. (“I have come as the commander of the Lord’s army.”)
The writer of today’s hymn saw God as a mighty fortress – a place of protection and shelter from those who would seek to harm us.
It is believed the writer based the song on verses from Psalm 46 that say “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” Twice in the Psalm the writer says “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
The writer of this song, Martin Luther, was hiding in exile from Pope Leo X after nailing a list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. Given 24 hours to renounce his 95 Theses, Luther apologized for any disrespect he may have shown the Pope or the church, but refused to renounce his beliefs. Tradition is that Luther said “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Forced into hiding after the trial, Luther lived for over a year at Wartburg Castle. Few knew where he was – many thought he was dead. When you look at pictures of the castle, you can see where his experience in hiding there might also have contributed to the words of this old hymn.
Perhaps he had this castle and his stay there in mind as well as the Scriptures as he wrote this hymn.
Although few churches sing this hymn now with no doubt the exception of the Lutheran churches, its verses still encourage us when we realize that God truly is our source of strength in times of trouble.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
No doubt today’s church goers probably have no idea what Lord Sabaoth even means. When speaking of God as a mighty fortress this title is very appropriate.
It means “the LORD of hosts.” It speaks of God’s military strength. It was the name David used when speaking to the giant Goliath. David told him “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts (Lord Sabaoth).”
Although the song is no longer used much in our churches, I hope you will take a moment to listen and be encouraged that our God is able to deliver us, to give us strength in times of trouble.