Rock of Ages

"He helped His saints in ancient days."

We have often sung the hymn "Rock of Ages cleft for me." It is an example of Trinitarian hymnology. The title "Rock of Ages" definitely belongs to God Himself as being a tower of strength, immovable, secure, whereas the hymn gives the title to Jesus, who suffered that we might live.

In the Hebrew Scriptures God was often referred to as the Rock. Some of the references are found in Deut.32:4,15,18; 1 Sam.2:2; 2 Sam.22:2,3,32; Psa.18:31,46; Isa.17:10 and Hab.1:12 (Margin). A consideration of the circumstances around some of these references should be interesting and helpful.

Song of Moses Deut.32:1 to 43

"He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he." v.4. Moses likens his God to a rock, suggesting solidity, firmness, sharpness, strength, and security. The work of God is perfect, He is too wise to err, too good to be unkind. Moses, in this song, gives a wonderful survey of God's care and preparation for His people Israel, even from the time "when the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." (v.8) This watch‑care was not appreciated for "Jeshurun (another name for Israel) waxed fat, and kicked." (v.15) In spite of their many blessings they forgot God and lightly esteemed the "Rock of their salvation." Further, they provoked God by serving strange gods, or rather no‑gods, (vv.15 to 18). God would punish them, and indeed, were it not for the even worse nations round about He would scatter them for ever (vv.19 to 26). The children of Israel "were void of counsel...O that they were wise…that they would consider their latter end" the retribution coming in due course. "How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight...?" Was it not because the Rock of Israel had sold the enemy into their hands? Had not God put fear into the hearts of the enemies of Israel? "For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges." This, then, was a truism. The nations around conceded that Jehovah was a greater God than theirs. He was feared by all (vv.27 to 31).

Song of Hannah

We are all familiar with the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She was one of the two wives of Elkanah. The name Hannah means gracious, merciful, prayer, and she was true to her name. An instance of her silent prayer is given in 1 Sam.1:11‑13. She was childless and felt the reproach. The other wife of Elkanah had provoked Hannah sorely, but there was no thought of retaliation in the mind of Hannah. She just made a vow to the Lord that if He would grant her request and give her a son she would present him to the Lord to be used in His service. A purer motive for a prayer cannot be imagined. After thus unburdening her heart to the Lord at Shiloh, she "went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." A prayer of faith indeed. She had no doubt of the answer to her prayer, she expected her request to be granted—and it was. "The LORD remembered her…she bare a son and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD."

The child was weaned, and at the age of twelve Hannah took him to Shiloh with more than the appropriate offering, and presented him to the Lord there, saying, "As long as he liveth he whom I have obtained by petition shall be returned" (1 Sam.1:28 Margin) . How easy it is to pray for something ardently desired. How easy to forget the granted petition. But not so with the mother of Samuel. Mother's pride and joy given up without needing a reminder. The story is told so briefly that the point of it can easily be missed. Hannah was not content with just handing over the lad; no, she expressed her gratitude in the Psalm recorded in 1 Sam.2:1 to 10. In v.2 she says, "There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God." The thought of a rock suggests something firm, sure, abiding, everlasting. The faith of Hannah rested in a real God: a God who could not fail. Her prayer was answered, she was satisfied. To be given the child and to present him back to God to be used in His service was blessing enough. Her reproach had been removed: but that was not the end of the story. God is debtor to no one. "The LORD visited Hannah, so that she...bare three sons and two daughters." (v.21) She received back far more than she gave. The same is true with us; we receive back "manifold more in the present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." (Luke 18:28‑30).

Song of David

This song is first found in 2 Sam.22, and repeated in Psalm 18, where it is edited by Hezekiah and contains some variations. The song was written after David became king, and was inspired by his troubles, chief of which were the persecutions of Saul. David had been an outlaw and had fled from Saul to the hills and rocky places on three occasions.

David had a wonderful mind. Perhaps not what we should term a spiritual mind, but at least one which could spiritualise his experiences; experiences which inspired pictures of God. "The LORD is my Rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer." Rotherham's translation is more forceful. "Yahweh, was my mountain crag and my stronghold, and my deliverer—mine; My God, was my rock, I sought refuge in him,—My shield, and my horn of salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, My saviour! from violence, thou didst save me." (2 Sam.22:2 & 3) God, says David, is my Rock, my mountain crag. That is, the steep rocky mountain‑side or summit, suggesting the strength and majesty of God inherent strength, power to withstand. My stronghold, giving the advantages of defence, view from above, hiding places, caves, ambushments, all unknown to a stranger. My deliverer; David had evidence of this when he was being hunted by Saul. First, at the time when he was almost surrounded in the wilderness of Maon (1 Sam.23:19‑28), when things looked black indeed for David. Just at the critical moment word came to Saul that the Philistines had invaded the land. Saul gave up the chase for the time being. There was, however, only a short respite, for after dealing with the invaders, King Saul proceeded to the wilderness of Engedi (1 Sam.24), with 3,000 picked men to seek David and his men among the rocks of the wild goats. It happened that Saul entered a cave to sleep, the very cave in which David was hiding. While Saul was sleeping it was suggested to David that he slay the king. David rebuffed the suggestion, saying that he would not touch the Lord's anointed. Instead, he cut off a piece of the king's robe to show that Saul's life had been in his hand. When this was made known to Saul he wept and said to David, "Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil" (v.17). David's magnanimity had sobered Saul. That was the second deliverance. Evidently Saul's repentance was merely emotion, for it was not long before David was again being hunted and experienced his third deliverance. This time the scene is laid in the wilderness of Zith (1 Sam.26). Saul is found sleeping with all his 3,000 men around him. This time David sent one of his men to take away Saul's spear and cruse of water, for a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them. (v.12) David wakens the king and tells him that his life has been in danger, but that he, David, had spared him. Again Saul's heart is touched. "Behold," he says "I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly," (v.21) and gives up seeking the life of David, "and Saul returned to his place." (v.25) Then David had a reaction. Here, at the height of his faith, and following his third deliverance, he becomes depressed and says, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul." He then went away and lived with the Philistines, the enemies of God and of Israel, for sixteen months. By force of circumstances, at the end of this time David and his men found themselves marching with the Philistines to make war with Israel. God delivered David from this anomalous position through the overwhelming distrust or the lords of the Philistines, who compelled his return to his dwelling place. Perhaps we can take a warning from this, lest our disagreement with some of the Lord's people should make us feel at home with the worldly minded and those at enmity with God.

David had so many experiences to prove the Lord's care over him that he sings "My deliverer, mine." My God, who watches over me. The same thought of loving supervision is shown in Psalm 23, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want."

"My God was my Rock, I sought refuge in him." A similar expression occurs in Psalm 91:2, "I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust." God, a fortress, a refuge, always at hand to answer every call. "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

"My shield." David pictured God as standing between him and his enemies, so that he was guarded from the arrows of malice and spite from his foes, so that they could not harm: guarded also from blows that were close up, from those who would endeavour to press home their attack. This shield, however, is according to faith. If we have no faith in God as a shield, then He can be no shield to us.

"My horn of salvation." The source of power and strength, strength that is made perfect in weakness.

"My high tower." High place, position of advantage, all seeing, foreseeing: there are no second causes to the people of God. "As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him. For who is God, save the LORD? and who is a rock, save our God?" "The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of my salvation. (2 Sam.22:31,32,47.)

This God, Jehovah, the Rock, stronghold, fortress, refuge shield, and deliverer was David's God, Zion's God, is our God, our Father, "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," and we are seldom out of trouble here. We are promised help in trouble, but not freedom from it. God was the Rock of natural Israel. He is the Rock of spiritual Israel. His work is perfect. We may fail: God never fails. He is omnipotent. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee." "Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus," This is possible through a simple faith in the Rock of our Salvation.

"Trust ye in Yahweh, unto futurity,—For, in…Yahweh, is a rock of ages." (Isa.26:4 Rotherham)