The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
The Poet Who Didn’t Know It
In Exodus 3, Moses balks at God’s instruction to plead the Israelites' case before Pharaoh because he’s “never been eloquent” and is “slow of speech and tongue.” Once he submits to God’s plan, though, Moses becomes the Bible’s poet who didn’t know it. He speaks with astounding force, giving the ages a wealth of quotes that cut to the marrow our beings with brute simplicity: for example, “Let my people go!” and “Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD!” On other occasions, Moses waxes rhapsodic. His prayer in Psalm 90 captures the fragility of human existence on a level unmatched by any other scriptural passage. And his blessing on the tribes in Deuteronomy 33 is flush with eloquence at its finest.
In verse 12, for instance, Moses describes Benjamin as “the one the LORD loves [who] rests between his shoulders,” and in verse 17 he says of Joseph, “In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox.” He begins to wrap things up in verses 26 and 27 with an indelible portrait of Israel’s Maker and Defender: “There is no one like the God of [Israel], who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Much of the confidence in Moses’s words springs from his ability to articulate them so splendidly. This once tongue-tied recluse marvels at what God inspires him to say with such bold beauty. He exemplifies what saints Down South used to call “a new way of talkin’” and he reminds us that God places potential above capability. It’s not what we can do for Him, but what He can do—and does—with us.
A God Who Endures
The phrase Moses chooses, “the eternal God,” has been variously translated as “the former God” and “the Ancient of days,” meaning He predates and transcends time. He is a God Who endures. While it’s not hard to acknowledge that, it’s also easy to set the concept aside before sufficiently internalizing what it means. Our God is impervious to history, human progress, current events, shifts of thought, and life changes. Exciting breakthroughs and exasperating breakdowns aren’t news to Him. Ecclesiastes 1.9 tells us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” God exists in a perpetual state of “been there, done that.” Rather than interpret this to suggest He regards our ongoing and immediate issues with blasé diffidence, we take courage in our belief that His experience with impossible, unmanageable situations supremely qualifies Him to see we will endure. In the moment, in the day, the month, or the year—however long our trials continue—He’s there. He’s always been there and always will be there.
Hidden and Held
Moses calls the eternal God our refuge, an indestructible safe house in which we can dwell, hidden from dangers and miseries threatening our security. In Psalm 27, David proclaims, “The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” While hatred, deceit, anger, envy, intolerance, greed, and many other diseases of heart and mind infect our world, we take divine refuge from harms they pose. Yet if we believe this, why do we incessantly expose ourselves to their poison? Ephesians 4.30 tells us we’re “sealed for the day of redemption”—hidden away in protective custody in our God Who endures. When we give in to fear and doubt, we break the seal to jeopardize our wellbeing and security.
And with God as our refuge we’re nothing if not secure because underneath it all are His everlasting arms. What an extraordinary picture Moses paints here—an image of tireless strength and reliability. These magnificent arms supersede serving purely as a solid foundation. They function in every imaginable capacity for our good. We’re held by them, enfolded in them, shielded, rescued, defended, and lifted by them. As we hide in God, amazing things happen underneath. His everlasting arms remove obstacles, topple barriers, and scatter adversaries. They change the landscape of our lives, smoothing out some rough places and carrying us over others. Nothing’s better than watching God in action—other than the serenity and safety of being held in His arms.
Strong? Yes. Pretty? Perhaps. But not even remotely comparable to the enduring strength and beauty of God's everlasting arms.
(Tomorrow: Hard Answers)