I am not sure if one of the sons of Korah was trying to wake me up out of my monotonous prayer life or not, but he did. If I’m honest, at times I find myself praying very rote, dry, routine, boring prayers. Like I’ve got God figured out or something. Like I know how He is supposed to act.
Then I get to a Psalm I have read dozens and dozens of times and am reminded I get to talk to, be with, converse with a God who wants to make sure I am paying attention. He throws curve balls to keep me guessing, looking, seeking, chasing. He is so good at making sure I never consider Him boring.
Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.” That Psalm. And also, “Be still and know that I am God.” Heard of it? Me too. I probably have a coffee cup somewhere with one of the verses on the outside. It’s a Psalm about living in the midst of natural violence, political turmoil, and destructive wars (don’t you wish the Bible was more relevant to today?!?!?!?!? Grin.). Several times in the Psalm – for emphasis – one of the sons of Korah wrote:
“The LORD Almighty (of Hosts) is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (vs. 7, 11; some translations also have it after verse 3)
Consider that for a moment. The “Lord of Hosts” is a reference to God being over His armies. He fights for His people. He releases His legions of soldiers into battle. He is the Commander over the “host” of armies. The “God of Jacob” is a reference to the personal God who wrestled with Jacob until a unique and intimate blessing was given. The Lord of Hosts – God is ruling and commanding the armies of heaven. The God of Jacob – God is a personal, loving, and intimate God.
Now go back and read the refrain again: “The LORD Almighty (of Hosts) is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Not what you expect is it? Not what you think. It’s as if a son of Korah got it backwards. Shouldn’t it read, “The LORD of Hosts is our fortress; the God of Jacob is with us”? Shouldn’t the Commander of the armies be considered our fortress and the Personal God of Jacob be “with us”?
Eugene Peterson (who helped me see this in his book Earth and Altar: The Community of Prayer in a Self-bound Society) had this to say about the unexpected reversal Psalm 46:
“We expect the military metaphor to be associated with defense, ‘refuge.’ We expect the personal metaphor to be connected with intimacy, ‘with us.’ But the terms are deliberately rearranged so that we get intimacy with the warrior God and defense from the family friend. A powerful God (LORD of hosts) befriends (is with us); a personal God (God of Jacob) protects (is our refuge).” (pages 72-73)
Is that not the coolest thing EVER? Curve ball indeed.
As to a reason why it is written this way, again Peterson is helpful: “The shifting of terms prevents stereotyped expectations of just what God will be and do. Cliche is the great enemy of prayer. The particularities of faith are blurred into generalities through pious repetition. But now our perceptions, and therefore our expectations, are sharp again.” (page 73)
In other words, reading and praying and meditating and focusing on the Bible wakes us up out of our stupor. We are now forced to come to terms with a military power who is “with us” and a intimately personal God as our “fortress” and “refuge.”
The point? Don’t always expect fast ball over the plate. Anticipate a curve. Don’t assume you know everything there is to know about God. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you know how it is going to be. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you will find yourself reading a familiar passage praying to a God with reversed categories to keep you guessing at what He’s up to next.
“The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”