Scripture is full of references to God as our stronghold. One such Scripture passage I revisited recently is Psalm 46, where the psalmist declares that God is his refuge, strength, and his stronghold. What does it mean that God is our stronghold? The stronghold, or keep, was the strongest, most fortified part of an ancient or medieval castle. When the enemy was on the attack and danger was all around, the safest place to be was in the stronghold.

As preparation for my family’s summer vacation to France, I decided to download the Bible in French and listen to it to brush up on my once-fluent French language skills. Listening to Psalm 46 in French allowed me to hear it in a whole new way.

I had always understood the phrases “God is my refuge and strength” and “God is my stronghold” in this way—”Of the many things God is for me, he is also my refuge, strength, and stronghold.” But, without the familiarity of the language of my English Bible, I no longer heard the emphasis of these verses as being on all the many things God offered me. I heard instead, an invitation to examine where I found my refuge. Was it in God or in something else?

Where do we hope to find our strength?

The psalmist teases out two possible places where we mistakenly seek to find our refuge and strength—the world around us and the power structures we’ve come to believe in. Unwittingly, we often place our trust in what we think of as the unchangeableness of our material world. In exquisite descriptive language the psalmist describes how foolish it is to place our trust in the world as we know it, for it is God who controls the world, not us. In an instant, volcanos, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes can shift the terra firma in which we’ve placed our confidence.

The psalmist then describes how we also place our trust in earthly kingdoms and the life we’ve created for ourselves. Political or financial turmoil, illness or infidelity can easily disrupt the comfortable world we hope will keep us safe.

These things cannot be our stronghold.

It is God who causes the earth to be moved and the false kingdoms of our lives to rise and fall. Our sense of security cannot be in the material things we see and touch around us. Our only real stronghold is in the Lord. The Lord of Hosts, the Captain of the Angel Armies is with us, ready to dispatch all the heavenly host in a moment’s notice. The Lord is our stronghold.

Encountering a stronghold

Throughout my time in France this summer, and in particular in Provence, which is replete with Roman and medieval ruins, I had the opportunity to explore the ruins of many medieval villages. Most were at one time walled cities; each originally had a chateau with a keep, or stronghold. Again, and again as we wandered through these villages forgotten by time, we discovered vestiges of chateaux, remnants of city walls, with one tall, strong tower that remained.

The stronghold.

Five hundred years later. The landscape has shifted dramatically. Kingdoms have come and gone. And yet, the stronghold stands firm.

This is the picture the psalmist paints for us in Psalm 46. The Lord is our stronghold. We are only safe in the protection of his loving care. He makes the earth shift and change. He causes kingdoms and rulers to rise and fall. When we place our trust in anything that is not the Lord, we will be shaken.

We wrestle and strive with ourselves and others when the world around us shifts underneath our feet. When our life doesn’t go to plan, we strive and we fight to control our environment and our own personal narrative. “Cease striving,” says the Lord. “You’ll never find your security, peace, and safety in those things. Cease your striving and know that I am God. I am your only stronghold.”