Have you ever been caught in a severe storm? Once when Jeff and I were returning from visiting our family in Western New York State we drove into a rainstorm where the water was so thick it was as if we were driving through a car wash rinse cycle- for two hours! I’ll never forget how relieved I was when we came out of the other side of that storm! Life can often feel like a major storm. The causes of the storms we experience are varied. Some of us deal with storms which are completely out of our control. Others deal with the aftermath of choices once made that now kick up the soil of life around us and we hope we can make it to a place of safety before it’s too late. No matter where the storms come from, their unexpected nature causes us to feel vulnerable, weak and in desperate need of help. Who do we call for help? Where do we look for shelter in the storm?
In the days of Isaiah, the people of Israel must have felt like they were living in the midst of a tumultuous storm. No matter which horizon they looked toward, an enemy threatened to invade and overtake the land. In the midst of that storm the prophet Isaiah chooses to remember God’s strength and ability to protect His people (Is. 25). Most importantly Isaiah proclaims to the people that should the storm overtake them (which was a frequent result of Israel’s geographical location in the Fertile Crescent and also due to their failure to keep the Covenant), that God Himself was their best defense in times of trouble. Israel’s vulnerable position is described in verse 4. The people are helpless and needy. The word helpless (dahl) was often used to designate poor and oppressed people that God had a special concern for (Jb. 34:28; Ps. 82:3; Prov. 22:22). Their antithesis was the powerful and influential (Jer. 5:4). Weak and powerless, they needed an advocate. They are also needy, a word depicting someone who is in need of material goods, such as food and clothing. The Lord watched over these people with special care (Jb. 5:15; Ps. 9:18; 12:5; 40:17; Jer. 5:28; 20:13).
The imagery of Isaiah’s storm is violent and sudden, and it is drawn right out of the typical storms which would spring up in the land. It is a cloudburst (serem) that is ruthless (ariys) much like that storm which pounded my windshield for two hours straight as we drove home. Isaiah’s wind dashes against a wall. The wind of this storm is described as ruah, breath. While this word can be used to describe a person’s essence or inner life, it is also used many times to describe the wind which blows across the land as well as the strength of “wind” it takes for a glass blower to produce a shape at the end of his stick. Persons caught within the force of such a wind are utterly incapable of surviving it.
But there is hope for God’s people when they are faced with insurmountable storms. God is “a defense” for the helpless and needy. He is a “refuge” from the storm and “shade” when there is intense heat (Is. 25:4). As a defense, God is like a fortress (2 Sam. 22:32; Nah. 3:11) and a shelter for protection (Neh. 8:10; Ps. 27:1). This imagery most likely reminded the people of Masada, the great desert fortress which rises up from the Dead Sea basin. Until the Romans built a massive siege ramp to overtake it, Masada was literally impenetrable. As a refuge (mahseh) God is a place of safety. Although His people may be in a tight-squeeze, surrounded by enemies as described by the word for “distress”, they will find security and safety with God (Ps. 14:6; 46:1-2; 61:3; 62:7; 71:7:73:28: Prov. 14:26; Jer. 17:17; Jl. 3:16). The shade He offers is the cool respite found under the leaves of tree on a hot summer’s day; a place of refreshment for those who trust Him (Ps. 121:5; Is. 49:2). So why do we seek shelter and refuge in anything other than Him? The next time you are facing an unexpected storm, remember Isaiah’s words. The relief you are looking for can only be found in the Lord.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 2/27/2016