"The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe. The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as a high wall in his own conceit."—Proverbs xviii. io, n.
It is rare to find any connection between two adjacent verses in the Book of Proverbs. Therefore the exceptions in which such connection is visible become the more remarkable. Here we find one of these, in which two sorts of defence are set side by side. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower," whether we think so or not. But on the other hand, "the rich man's wealth " is only " in his own conceit" his strong city, and his imagination does not make its dream true. So fact and fancy, truth and illusion, are brought into comparison and contrast by the juxtaposition of the two sayings.
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower." That very frequent Old Testament expression, " the name of the Lord," and its New Testament equivalent, "the name of Jesus," means a great deal more than the syllables by which He is designated. It means the character of God, so far as revealed, or the side of His nature which is turned to humanity. Thus it comes to be nearly synonymous with the other expression, "the face of the Lord," only that the one suggests nomenclature and the other visibility. It is not the syllables that spell Jehovah, but the whole conception of God which has been flashed, or rather poured in gradually progressive illumination, into a dark world, which the Old Testament writers mean by "the name of the Lord." We know more of it than they did, for in Jesus, "the angel in whom is His name," God has put His whole name, which before had been spoken "by divers portions and in divers manners." He is to us the full revelation of the God who, after all revelation, remains unrevealed, and who in the earliest revelation was so far revealed as that humble souls could find in the name their strong habitation to which they might continually resort.
Two great thoughts, which have often been regarded as antagonistic, are clearly implied in the phrase—viz. the imperfection, and yet the reality, of our knowledge of God. His name is not the same as Himself, but it is that by which He is known. Our knowledge of Him is incomplete, but what we do know is His real name—that is to say, it corresponds to the realities of His nature, and may be absolutely and for ever trusted. The imperfect revelation, in terms that finite beings can comprehend, is valid though imperfect, and asks for, and will repay, our complete reliance.
To say that the name is a strong tower, then, is just to say that in God's revealed character lies all that we, defenceless, need for security and peace. The glories that make it up are all enlisted on our sides. Perfect wisdom, perfect power, perfect love, immortal duration stand engaged to make us blessed. The enemies round us are many, calamities storm in on every life, sin lies in our hearts and weighs on our lives, and ruffles our consciences; death beats down all other defences, and forces his entrance into the very citadel. But the name is a sufficient refuge. Whatever man needs, God is and gives. There is our hiding place from dangers and dreads, from pains and sorrows, from losses and sins.
"The righteous runneth into it." To run into the fortress is to trust in the name, as, indeed, one Old Testament word for faith teaches, by its literal meaning of fleeing to a refuge. The open country is filled with the invaders' army, and the helpless peasants gather their poor goods together and hurry to the fort, behind the walls of which they are safe. So the way to get into the fortress, and to have the solemn battlements of that divine name round our unarmed and else shelterless weakness, is simply to trust in Him.
There is urgency implied in the word. Effort and promptness are inherent in faith. The man, conscious of his need and convinced of God's power to defend from all ill, will run, and not dawdle, into the tower. Did Lot go in leisurely fashion when he fled to the mountain, and caught in the sky in front of him the reflection of the flames which he could not lose time by turning round to see ?" The angels hastened Lot, the Lord being merciful to him." He mercifully hastens us, if we will yield to the impelling hand laid on our shoulders. We must stay inside when we have once gone inside, or we shall not be safe. If one of the refugees ventures outside the gates, perhaps to gather flowers, perhaps to draw water from some favourite well, the skirmishers will pick him up and carry him off. "We have a strong city," and salvation is appointed for its walls. But if we choose to go outside—which we do when we suspend our faith and break our communion with God—then the strength of the city is nothing to us.
But it is the " righteous " that runs in and is safe. The righteous ?—so, then, the condition of getting the name of the Lord on my side is that I shall be righteous; but I cannot be righteous unless I have the name of the Lord on my side first. There is the unsolved problem that pervades all the Old Testament revelation. The New Testament solves the difficulty, for it teaches us that the same faith, which is the act of running into the strong tower, is the means by which we can become righteous. None dwell in the city, which has salvation for walls and bulwarks, except the "righteous nation which keepeth the truth," but we all may belong to that nation, whatever our past has been, and we become its members by faith.
The word rendered "is safe" means "is high." He who takes refuge in the strong tower climbs by a winding staircase to the upper chamber, far above the reach of the arrows shot from the plain. Though exposed to the common ills of life, we may dwell on high amid the " munitions of rocks," with our bread given to us in famine and our water sure in every time of drought.
That the name of the Lord is a strong tower is fact, whatever men may think, and whether they shelter themselves in it or not. Faith grasps reality, when it lays hold on the hope set before it in the revelation of God's character. Imagination, in its Christian use, does not create, but vividly realises, the objects of faith. But whoever finds security in anything but God is the sport of delusions, and the victim of his own baseless imaginings. So, side by side with the picture of the solid and impregnable fortress which we tenant by faith, is set here the companion picture of the flimsy defences, which cast a glamour over men, and make them think themselves walled about and safe, when they are really shelterless in the open. His strong city, says the proverb, thereby implying that it is not strong in itself, but only in his imagination—a thought which is still more clearly expressed in the parallel clause, where the man's "own conceit" gives the attribute of height and therefore protection from assailants, to the "wall." Fancy, then, and delusion are the architects that build the defences for those who will not run into the defence that is already built for all.
Of course a man may have wealth or any other created good, and not conceit it to be his fortress. Not possession, but reliance on the thing possessed is struck at in this saying. Scripture has no foolish condemnation of wealth or other material good, nor any ascetic injunctions to despise and renounce these. The Apostle puts in one sentence the prohibition against trusting in riches, and the recognition that they are given us by God richly, and meant to be enjoyed. But We can all verify from our own experience the fact that to possess without undue trust is very difficult indeed. The temptation besets us all whether rich or poor. The well-to-do man, who fancies that outward good will shield him from life's evils, is the same in inmost character as the poor man who thinks that, if he had only a little more of it, he would escape them. Turn the one inside out, as it were, and you have the other.
So it is with regard to money or earthly love or any creatural good. To have and to enjoy these is right. To recognise that they do contribute to gladden and bless life is due to the loving Giver, but to invest them with the power of shielding us from the ills that are sure to frown on us is to desert realities for illusions. Will any or all of these keep away tears or wipe them away? Will they repel sorrow, or turn aside the edge of pain's sword, or prevent sin's assaults, or allow us to be ol good cheer in spite of disease and death? Will they enable us to look on the ranks of the besiegers with a quiet smile, as he might do who stood on the high battlements of some maiden fortress, and was sure that the vain siege would soon be raised? There is but one fortress where we can be thus secure. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe." Abiding there, we shall hear the ancient promise repeated concerning every besieger: "He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there." All other defences are only illusory. They are like the mud forts of some barbarous tribe, behind which they boast themselves in fancied safety, till the shells of the besieger pound the frail walls into dust about their ears, or like the canvas stretched on wooden frames that does duty for strong fortifications in a theatre.
The way to keep ourselves within the true limits in regard to confidence in external good is to take refuge in the only sure shelter, the name of the Lord, which we do by trust and communion. When we dwell in God as our strong tower, we see through the insufficiency of others. Isaiah uses the contrast of these two kinds of defence in his solemn vision of Judgment, when he paints the hail sweeping away the false refuge, and the floods destroying the hiding-place, and points in contrast to the sure foundation, on which whosoever buildeth shall not need to hasten from one submerged eminence to another, to escape the inundation. Jesus repeated the warning in still more solemn tones, when He told of the house that fell because built on sand, and the house that stood, though the rain came down on it from above, and the floods swirled round it from beneath, and the winds smote it on every side, because it was founded on the rock.