Some years ago, through a generous grant by the Lilly Endowment, my family went on a Sabbatical overseas, spending almost two months in Scotland and then the better part of a month in the rest of Europe. It was most cool and we felt very blessed. Now, Diane had a special request as we were going to spend so much time in Europe. She wanted our family to spend a night in a very unique place.
Diane had a dream to spend the night in something that you see all over Europe but that you will never see in the States. Maybe never is too strong, but I can’t remember ever seeing one here. Of, course, I’m speaking of castles. Castles are all over Europe. And Diane had a dream that we would be able to spend a night in one.
And we did. We found the youth hostel of Carbisdale Castle on Loch (the Scottish name for lake) Lomond. It was supposed to be haunted which kind of added to the fun. FYI: we managed to avoid the ghosts.
I suppose that castles are all over Europe because in days long ago, battles and wars were part of everyday life, and they needed the protection that castles afforded. When France attacked England, England needed fortresses. When Germany attacked France, France needed fortresses. When England attacked France…well, I’m sure you’re getting the idea. And of course it was more than nation against nation. It was city versus city, or family versus family. My impression is that there was not a lot of peace; and all in all, it makes me glad to be living in our country in this time period.
Ancient people understood the idea of castles and fortresses better than we do, and so the picture of a fortress is a pervasively biblical one. And therefore, over and over again, the testimony of the Word of God is that God is a fortress.
David prayed, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;” Psalm 31:3 (ESV)
No one understood God as a fortress more than David, who fought so many battles and yet knew that he was safe in Yahweh’s protective shadow.
Well, I say no one understood this more than David, but then again there was the Apostle Paul. He didn’t fight with a sword of steel, but the sword of God’s word, yet he did have the first kind of sword wielded against him. So Paul knew danger again and again, but again and again, God protected him. That’s what we see in Acts 23, where 40 Jews make solemn plans to kill him, even determining not to eat again until the Apostle is dead. Yes, that called commitment, and if I were a murderer, I would definitely be motivated.
But, like a scene out of Downton “eavesdrop” Abbey, it just so happened that Paul’s nephew got wind of their plans, and warns the commander:
Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” Acts 23:16-18 (ESV)
When the tribune hears, he makes plan to protect Paul:
Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Acts 23:23-24 (ESV)
It was the great missionary David Livingstone who said, “I am immortal till my work is accomplished.” How true. And of course, Livingstone, like Paul and David the shepherd-King before him knew exactly why he was “immortal”: There was a sovereign, loving God who was watching over him, more beautiful and infinitely stronger than a castle in the Scottish Highlands.
For tomorrow, Friday, March 13th: Acts 24