When in a City under Siege: Ps 31 then and now

Posted by on Jan 30, 2022 in Blog | 4 comments

close up photo of a fearful woman having ophidiophobia

I came across Ps 31 in my devotions this week. Given its original context, it is a surprisingly hopeful psalm, and verse 21 seems especially apt for the complex times we are living through: Praise be to the `Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a city under siege. Written when David was physically and emotionally drained, deserted by his friends and anticipating that everything he had stood for would be lost, he prays in words that Jesus chose to repeat while on the Cross: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (v5). It is a resignation prayer – all has gone, but Lord I commit myself to You.

David’s image of being in a city under siege describes how he felt at the time.

Cities in the ancient world were built to provide safety during war. Surrounded by strong walls, their citizens had greater protection than the attacking forces who would try and storm their ramparts and attempt to set the city ablaze. Their attack would be slowed by the inhabitants of the city hurling rocks at them and pouring boiling water on those attempting to scale the city walls while both sides would be bombarded with arrows – often arrows set alight to increase the chance of fire. The great deficit faced by the inhabitants of the besieged city was usually their limited access to food and water and victory often went to the side able to play the longer waiting game. Regardless of the eventual outcome, you did not want to be in a city under siege.

David’s remarkable claim is that he was shown God’s wonderful love when in a city under siege. Most commentators agree that David was not in a city under physical attack and that his reference is metaphorical, which makes it easier to compare his situation to our own.

We are not under siege, and yet in many ways it feels as though we are.

COVID-19 has restricted the easy access we had to each other, and those who make travel plans do so lightly, knowing they are more likely to be cancelled than to go ahead. My own experience in the last 21 months has been that over 90% of planned engagements at distances of more than 300km from home have been cancelled as has every planned trip out of Western Australia. I have been living in a fortress, and it has proved strong and reliable, with very, very few cases of COVID in our state. More recently this has changed, and it is unlikely we will be spared the spread faced in other parts. Our citizens have had enough time to protect themselves via vaccination, and opinion within the state is divided as to if those who have conscientiously elected not to do so should be treated with hostility or some sympathy – our laws at present having opted for hostility.

My own stance on the vaccination question is simple and backed by my actions. I’m triple vaccinated and fully supportive of the program – indeed, I am deeply grateful for it and see it as part of God’s good provision for us. For all that, I am troubled by the hostile response to some of my friends and associates who see things differently to me. While I totally disagree with their logic, given that we have met our vaccination target (over 90% – an astonishingly positive outcome), I don’t understand why my dissenting friends are facing the loss of employment and basic freedoms. After all, being unvaccinated, they are at greatest risk. True, that is their choice (unlike in many parts of the world where the vaccine is not easily available), but is an extra layer of punishment really necessary?

That all of this is happening while Perth is sweltering through its hottest summer on record – it was 39C (102 fahrenheit) just a few minutes ago – does not help. It’s hard to be tolerant when the aircon isn’t up to the challenge! Jumping into the pool isn’t really an option – it feels like swimming in a hot tub.

So here I am, triple vaccinated, with an only partially successful air conditioning system, and a swimming pool that is too warm – am I in a city under siege, or have I forgotten to spot how comfortable my life usually is?

I’m currently reading Tom Holland’s wonderful book Dominion which explores the role of Christianity in shaping the Western mind. He recalls that when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63BC their victory was made easier because the Jews at that time refused to compromise on their commitment to refrain from work and warfare on the Sabbath day. It is a sobering reminder that when their city was under siege, the people of God continued to act as the people of God – even though it hastened their collapse. It would have seemed a disastrous strategy at the time, but was it? After all, the Roman conquest of Judah paved the way for shaping a world in which the message of a resurrected Messiah could quickly spread. God often writes straight with crooked lines, and it seems like this was one of those times.

This is a bit of a meandering post, but at heart it is a gentle plea. It’s a pretty tough time at the moment. Let’s look out for one another, let’s remember to be kind, let’s remember that minorities often play an important role (and are a minority precisely because most disagree with them), and that the reality of God’s transforming love often shines most clearly through us at times like this. Oh, and it’s not just that it shines through us – God’s love is often most deeply experienced by us at such times. As David wrote: Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a city under siege. Ps 31:21.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks Brian, encouraging, challenging and very pertinent to the present times.

    • Thanks Stephen. Lovely to hear from you.

  2. Comment

    Thanks Brian for words of wisdom said with love and conviction.

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