God is Our Refuge

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2018 1 May

An image of a stone tower at night, with multiple shooting stars looking like they're heading for it.

Have you ever wondered how L. Frank Baum ever came up with the name “Oz?” as in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? According to Baum, he happened to glance one day at some file cabinets in his office, one of which was labeled O-Z. He discarded the dash and the name “Oz” was born. But when Baum’s widow was asked the same question, she insisted that her husband had simply plucked the name out of thin air, much as he had done with the story of Dorothy and her visit to the Emerald City.

Neither answer has stopped the speculation. Baum, some say, chose “Oz” for it’s similarity to “Boz,” the pseudonym of Charles Dickens; or he chose the “Land of Oz” for it’s similarity to the “Land of Uz,” where the biblical Job lived; or he chose “Oz” because of “Ozymandius” a famous poem by  Percy Bysse Shelley.

Let me toss one more theory into the pot. Ōz is a Hebrew word meaning “strength, might, power.” Perhaps Baum knew this and thought it the perfect name for a sham wizard who needed to project an outsized image for himself. Of course this is pure speculation, nothing more. But in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word ōz is often used to describe God’s power or strength. One of God’s titles is Migdal Ōz, which can be translated “strong tower.” Psalm 61 says “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe" (v.3, NIV).

Indeed God’s power is always a refuge for believers. But if that is so why do we sometimes feel our vulnerability so acutely, as though we’re not residing in an impregnable tower but standing in an open field with thousands of arrows pointed straight at us? Perhaps it’s difficult to experience God’s protection because we’ve unwittingly stepped outside the tower. We do that by investing our trust elsewhere—in relationships, in our own understanding, in our talents, or in our ability to provide for ourselves. But when the fragility of the things we rely on is revealed, what then?

In truth, God is the only one powerful enough to keep us safe. Let’s not wait for our lives to collapse in order to learn how to trust him. Instead, let’s ask today for the grace we need to begin sheltering in his strength.