Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come. You have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. (Psalm 71:3)
In the gospel stories, there were a few occasions when Jesus was surprised. Think about that for a second. What does it take to surprise God? One of those stories is of the centurion, a Roman military officer who, via a messenger, begged Jesus to come to his home and heal his beloved servant (Luke 7:1–10). Jesus made his way to the home but was met somewhere along the way by another servant. This servant brought an updated message from the centurion, essentially telling Jesus to turn around and go home. The officer realized that Jesus’s physical presence was not necessary for him to issue commands. His military background showed him all that was needed was the command, not Jesus’s actual physical presence. Jesus marveled at his faith, for the centurion grasped what many in Jesus’s inner circle were still struggling to understand: that his word is power.
God’s word is always a promise to us, a revelation of God’s will, intentions, and faithfulness. It is not just informative, giving us interesting information. It is primarily covenantal, expressing God’s relational integrity and love for us. Sometimes God’s promises take on a heightened intensity, like in this verse. We hear a promise in the form of a divine command: “You have given the command to save me.” The motivation of this command follows: “For you are my rock and fortress.” Why has God given such a command? Because he has already previously promised to be our safe place, our fortress.
The Psalmist opens with a wish that God would be for him a rock and refuge in which he may continuously come. And no sooner does he express his desire than he is reminded that God has already taken the first step. God has already acted first. He has given a command to save me.
While there are salvific implications for this verse (for God has saved us in Christ), the immediate context is not about eternal salvation but life’s troubles. It is all well and good to be saved from sin and have eternal life with God. But how can my faith last and stay strong amid the troubles and hardships of life’s daily surprises unless God is also with me through to the end? And he is!
The promise here is that God is present with us in our troubles, issuing commands to save us before we ask. God does not ignore our suffering and cries. Rather, he has already acted to save us from sin, death, and hell but also to be a place of safety for us in life’s hardest moments. Because of God’s first love for us, because God has chosen to save us, because God has made himself our fortress, God has commanded that he himself will rescue us in troubles. This is true. It is the divine command. It is not based on your piety but His promise. Let us live in this promise.