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A Strong Tower

Murphy's Island Storm Tower, Santee River Delta. Murphy's Island Storm Tower, Santee River Delta. (Margaret Graham, University of North Carolina Press)

Wisdom in taking refuge in the name of the Lord

Proverbs 18:10-11

10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe.

11 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
And like a high wall in his own esteem.


The hurricane of 1822 hit the city of Charleston South Carolina only a glancing blow, but the eye of the hurricane came ashore at Cape Romain and passed over the Santee River delta to strike the coastal port of Georgetown. With no advanced warning, hundreds of residents of the coastal region perished, and the coastal communities were devastated.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Charleston Courier newspaper published harrowing stories of residents of the coastal plantations, including valuable African slaves, swept out to sea and drowned. In response, the plantation owners commissioned masonry towers to be built. These were to be about twenty feet in height, about forty feet wide and built of locally-made Charleston grey brick. 

Nearly a dozen such towers were constructed by the plantation slaves, who knew that their own families would be able to shelter in them during future storms. These structures, resembling a type of defensive fortification built throughout the British Empire called “Martello Towers,” could be seen towering above the marshes and flooded rice fields on the banks of the wide South Santee River. 

In the decades that followed, slave families would run to these strong towers, ascend a stairway of strong live oak or cypress, enter a door high in the wall, and shut it against the howling cyclone. Soon, ten- to fifteen-foot storm surges would break against the solid brick of the rounded walls, while they rested safe and secure within.

When you visit the area today, and drive along the ribbon of US Hwy 17, you will be struck by the sight of seemingly endless marsh and river delta. Beyond the horizon of former rice fields, where African slaves once toiled–keeping an eye on gathering clouds during late summer and early fall–the Atlantic Ocean rolls on deserted beaches. In this remote and beautiful place of sudden dangers, it is not difficult to imagine how comforting it must have felt to have a place to run to for safety, even during the “lunatic wind” of a deadly hurricane.

Where is your place of refuge? Doubtless you have faced many storms in your life, and some weeks it seems that you are battling a never-ending deluge of troubles and challenges. Where do you take shelter during these times of life? 

Solomon considers this as he seeks to instruct the young men and women of Israel. The wise king knows that his young charges, and the generations that will follow will battle earthly and spiritual foes, and he seeks to provide a durable shelter for them against these storms. 

He remembers the hammers and chisels of stonemasons and workmen as they filled Jerusalem with the noise of their construction of his mighty temple, and offers them descriptive advice: 

10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe.–Proverbs 18:10

Solomon tells you that “the name of the Lord” is a mighty fortification in your life. In ancient times, one’s name is more than a simple designation on a birth certificate or a tax form. To live in such an age means that your name carries significance, just like your personality. Your name describes who you are to the world around you. 

Thus, the name of the Lord, YHWH, (יהוה) I AM, describes to you Israel’s covenant-keeping God, who reveals Himself in Proverbs and upholds its teachings. There, and in His Word, you find the attributes of this loving, patient, powerful and almighty Heavenly Father. Solomon is telling you to run to this most blessed name in time of need. 

But how does running to God’s name help you? Is it magic? Can you speak it aloud three times and *poof* an angel will appear to grant three wishes? Careful here, God has spelled out special instructions on the use of His name in the Third Commandment of His law:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.–Exodus 20:7

So what is the deal here? How do you use this mighty gift safely and effectively?

Tim Keller, in his study of Proverbs, reveals to you that, “to run to His name, is to remind yourself, to deliberately rehearse and tell yourself, who God is.” Like a towering fortress, or a solid shelter from a withering storm, when you remember and meditate on God’s wondrous works, you are strengthened by the knowledge of your almighty, omnipotent, and sovereign creator, and His presence in your life.  

Solomon’s father David knew the power of the name of the Most High intimately, from the mountain fastness where he rested from the rage of a deadly king, to the sure defense of watchtowers of Jerusalem when came into his own. He penned several psalms in awe of this majestic moniker:

1 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble;
May the name of the God of Jacob defend you–Psalm 20:1

The very name of God is David’s fortress, even in a barren desert. It is almost as if the very words form a mountaintop battlement:

1 I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.–Psalm 18:1-3

Like David, to run to God’s name is to remember His deep and everlasting love for you–and His desire to be loved by you in return.

This can be easier said than done, right? The thing is, when troubles flare up–and not just silly inconveniences or frustrations, but real problems–sometimes the instinct is to panic and do anything but call on God.  

This is the second part of Solomon’s descriptive proverb: a warning to the wicked, who seek refuge in earthly things:

11 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
And like a high wall in his own esteem.–Proverbs 18:11

Here, as commentator Bruce Waltke points out, “the security of the righteous in I AM is contrasted with the security of the wicked in wealth.” Unlike the righteous who has the Lord for a strong tower, the wicked have a city, or “high wall.” A tower on a mountain peak is unassailable, a high wall is protects nothing once an enemy has breached it, to destroy the city within.

But wait, you say, wealth really can be the answer to many of my problems, right? Wealth can pay off my house! Wealth can satisfy my bills, buy groceries for my kids, and help me pay for that ridiculously-priced medication prescription that needs to be filled! 

Perhaps, but Solomon’s warning is not a comment on the efficacy of financial benefit, but the effect of the desire and reliance of it alone on your heart. It is tempting as a believer to claim that you rely totally on God, all the while praying with one eye open as you watch the financial news, checking on your investments. 

Investments must be watched, money must be moved, and risks must be taken from time to time, but this should never become your true security, as Jesus tells you: 

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.–Matthew 6:19-21

If you cultivate your garden of your faith in His holy name with the half the diligence with which you cultivate your retirement portfolio, you will be growing an investment that can never fail.

I am reminded by Christian artist Phil Keaggy’s song Strong Tower, from his rollicking and splendid 1990 album Find Me In These Fields:

Deep in the valley, caught a glimpse of the morning star
If we could just reach you, get to know who you really are
Where does one go, where do you turn?
There’s a place, a fortress high just beyond your back door
Waiting for your reception when you arrive
The name of the Lord (run now!) is a strong tower 
Yeah, where you’ll be safe–Phil Keaggy, (1990)

The release of this album marked a new exploration for the left-handed, 9-fingered guitar virtuoso, as he departed from the more “Beatlesque” sound of previous albums. (Keaggy was influenced in part by the Beatles, and a few years later was invited to play at the wedding of former Beatle Paul McCartney’s sister-in-law. There, Keaggy fulfilled a lifelong dream of jamming with McCartney.) 

Big names and big talent–but none hold a candle to the Name above all Names. Keaggy’s song contains a particularly beautiful phrase:

Deep in the valley, caught a glimpse of the morning star

In Revelation 22:16, Jesus is called “the Bright and Morning Star.” It is even in your deepest valleys that you can still look up and see the shining star of hope, by calling on your Heavenly Father’s name. The phrase echoes the Puritan prayer, The Valley of Vision:

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

When you are in your valley, do you call on the name if Jesus to be your aid? As the storms of life threaten and batter you, remember that you are never alone, and that all is not lost. The disciples are reminded of this during another storm long ago. As the wind and waves toss them and their small boat on the Sea of Galilee, they remember Jesus, asleep in the stern. They cry out to him to wake and help them: 

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”–Mark 4:39-40

Where is your faith? In this turbulent age, a time of cultural unrest, and a crumbling of walls of earthly security, remember His sweet name–your strong tower.


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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