The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27)
This verse reverberated in my mind and heart as I read it this morning. Sometimes I feel that the ground beneath me is beginning to slip away and I am about to fall into an uncertain future. Have you ever felt this way, like you were standing in the ocean and the sand beneath your toes keeps running away? I have cancer and I have Covid—so where is my solid ground? I take heart in the words of the hymn, “when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay,” as well as in the words of Moses, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” But these words in Deuteronomy 33:27 are especially encouraging that “the eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
CH Spurgeon preached a sermon on this text on May 12, 1878 titled “Underneath.” I want to share some brief portions of this message with you for your encouragement this morning:
“Within Thy circling power I stand;
On every side I find thy hand;
Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,
I am surrounded still with God.”
“Underneath”— the word arouses thought and enquiry. Everything ought to be sound, solid, and substantial there. “Underneath” must be firm, for if that fails we fail indeed. We have been building, and our eyes have been gladdened with the rising walls, and with the towering pinnacles; but what if something should be rotten “underneath”? Great will be the fall thereof, if we have built as high as heaven, if the sand lie underneath, yielding and shifting in the day of flood.
“Underneath” is the great matter to which the architect, if he be wise, will give his best attention. And truly, brethren, when you and I begin to examine into our graces and our professions, that word “underneath” suggests many a testing question. Is it all right with us as to the root of the matter— “underneath”? If not, the fair flower above ground will wither very speedily. The seed has sprung up hastily, but how is the soil underneath? for if there be no depth of earth the scorching sun will soon dry up the superficial harvest.
“Underneath,” though it be mysterious, is also intensely important, and hence the great joy of being able to say by faith, “Yes, ‘underneath’ is well secured; we have trusted in God and we shall not be confounded; we have relied upon the eternal promises and they cannot fail; we have rested on the infinite merits of the atoning sacrifice of God’s dear Son, and we shall never be ashamed of our hope.” Happy is he who rests upon the everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure, for with him all is safe underneath; and, though the earth be removed, and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, he need not fear, but may patiently hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.
For a period we may be content with superficial pleasures, but there are times of trial when we have to fall back upon something deeper and more reliable: earthly props give way in their season, and we need superior sustaining power. The carnal mind meets with an hour when “the proud helpers do stoop under him”; and believers too, in proportion as they foolishly lean upon an arm of flesh, find their confidences departing; then it is that we feel the value of divine upholdings, and rejoice that “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” Let us look more closely into this most important matter.
“Underneath are the everlasting arms.” That is, first, as the foundation of everything. If you go down, down, to discover the basement upon which all things rest you come ere long to “the everlasting arms.” The things which are seen are stayed up by the invisible God. This outward visible universe has no power to stand for a single instant if he does not keep it in being. By him all things consist. There are no forces apart from God’s power, no existences apart from his will. He bears up the pillars of the universe. He alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea. He maketh Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south. Foolish are those philosophers who think that they can reach the essence and soul from which visible things were evolved, unless they bow before the invisible God. He is the foundation of creation, the fountain and source of being, the root and basement of existence. “Underneath” everything “are the everlasting arms.”
That leads me to read my text in [another] sense as teaching us that the everlasting arms are the rest of his people. If these everlasting arms are always outstretched to preserve me lest I totter in weakness and fall into destruction, then on those arms let me lean my whole weight for time and for eternity. That is the practical lesson of this choice word. Repose yourselves, beloved, in those arms which even now are embracing you. Wherefore vex your heart when you may be free from care? Underneath everything your Father’s arms are placed— what, then, can fret you? Why are you disquieted when you might dwell at ease and inherit the earth? Are you afraid to rest where the universe resteth? Are not your Father’s arms a sufficient pillow for you? Do you think that it is not sale to be at peace when the love and might of God, like two strong arms, are stretched out for your upholding, and the divine voice whispers to you “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him”? His own word to his prophets is, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.” Will you not accept the comfort which he sends by his Spirit, and bids his servants impart to you? When God himself doth rest in his love will not you rest in it, and shall it not again be proven that “we that have believed do enter into rest”? Is not the Lord Jesus our peace? Why, then, are we troubled? Well may you lie down to sleep in peace when underneath you are the everlasting arms. Well may your spirit be filled with composure and become indifferent to outward trials when you are thus upborne. Blow ye winds and toss ye waves, the barque cannot sink, or if it did sink it could not sink to our destruction, we should only drop into the great Father’s hand, for underneath even the sinking vessel are the everlasting arms. Now, let the earth reel with earthquake, or open wide her mouth to swallow us up quick, we need not fear to descend into her dreariest gulf, since underneath us still would be the everlasting arms. What a fulness of rest this secures to the believing people of God!
I will fetch from the text one more meaning while I am speaking upon the position of these arms. The text seems to give us a promise of exaltation and uplifting. We may be very low and greatly cast down, but “underneath are the everlasting arms.” The merciful God is great at a dead lift. “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.” Who can tell how high a man may be lifted up– to what sublime elevations he may safely ascend when the Lord makes his feet like hind’s feet that he may stand upon his high places? If still underneath him are the everlasting arms he may safely obey the word, “Get thee up into the high mountains.” He may outsoar the eagle, mounting higher and higher till he has left the sun like a speck beneath his feet, and still underneath him shall be the everlasting arms. Therefore higher, and yet higher may we hourly ascend in thought, in joy, in holiness, in likeness to our God; this is meant to encourage us to rise, since there can be no danger while the arms of God are underneath. This then, my brethren, is where we may expect to find the strength and power of God: it is underneath us, bearing us up. We may not always see it, for the underneath is hidden from our sight, but surely as in secret the Lord upholds the huge columns of the universe so he upbeareth all his own servants, and their concerns. “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
This beautiful hymn is another affirmation of God’s care and preservation of the one who trusts in him. May you experience the solidity of God’s everlasting arms underneath you and the grip of Him who will never let you go.