God’s Definition Of Hospitality
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.
Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Selah
Psalm 61: 1-4
Loneliness, heartache, desolation, friendlessness seep through the lines of this psalm text as David pleads with God, “From the ends of the earth I call to you.” One feels a chilling sense of separation as David is banished from his home, his throne, the city that he loves, and the dwelling place of God. God’s absence seems palpable as David is far away in exile, his heart overwhelmed: “I call as my heart grows faint.”
The psalm in its entirety speaks of the bitter time of Absalom’s rebellion and of David’s flight from the palace, his heart breaking from remorse and grief (II Samuel 15). David later hands over this psalm to Israel’s “director of music” intending it to be sung and prayed by succeeding generations. Under the Spirit’s leading David gives us just the right words for our loneliness, despair, confusion, as well as words of hope and trust. For many hurting people David furnishes words when the mind cannot find any.
Here we see David do what he frequently does when in trouble: he reminds himself of how God has been his “refuge, a strong tower against the foe.” Calling to mind God’s faithfulness in the past gives him hope for the future, even in the midst of physical and spiritual peril.
As a stranger in a strange land David tells God that he longs “to dwell in your tent forever.” It is helpful to look at David’s longing against the backdrop of the ancient Near East and its code of hospitality. Hospitality for the stranger was an essential part of that ancient world where the desert and arid land were harsh. For a stranger, access to water, food, and safe lodging was a matter of life and death. Hospitality was regarded as one of the highest virtues, and held sacred. An ancient proverb said, “Every stranger is an invited guest.” (H. Clay Trumbull, Studies in Oriental Social Life: And Gleams From the East on the Sacred Page). This meant that even an enemy was to be welcomed and treated as a guest when “he dismounted and touched the rope of a single tent.” (Ibid) By faith David touches the rope of God’s tent, longing to live in His “tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”
The shelter of God’s ‘wings’ is a frequent metaphor in the Hebrew Scriptures drawn from the figure of a mother bird caring for and protecting her young (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalm 36:7; 57:1, Ruth 2:12; et al). The wings of God provide divine protection and even healing (Malachi 4:2). David knows that though calling “from the ends of the earth”, God will welcome him in His tent and shield him with His wings.
It is noteworthy that Church Fathers interpreted the “rock that is higher than I” as being Jesus. They saw the pre-incarnate Son of God as the Person of the Godhead who watched over and cared for David. This is an interesting take on this passage as the Apostle Paul writes about “the spiritual rock that accompanied” Israel in the wilderness as Jesus: “and that rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:4).
David ends his prayer with this instruction: “Selah”. He wants us to “weigh, carefully measure, and take time to ponder” what he has said.
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