Biblical vocabulary: מִשְֹגָּב (refuge)

Last updated on March 3, 2022

With God there is our sure refuge

“Misgav” is derived from the infrequent but significant Hebrew verb “sagav”. First something about this verb “sagav” which means: to be high, to be exalted. But this verb also means: to be impregnable, to be inaccessible, to be safe. This term – especially used in poetry – speaks of a protective lofty height, of a safe height, of a high shelter that cannot be taken, to which danger and enemies have no access. Because of these meanings, this verb occurs especially in reference to the Lord God.

From this verb is derived the less common word “misgav”, which means: safe height, rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge, high shelter. The term generally denotes an inaccessible, unconquerable, secure shelter, a refuge that offers protective security. This word, too, occurs predominantly in reference to God, as an image and expression of the protection and security which He offers to man who flees to Him. The term “misgav”/refuge, like the verb from which it is derived, occurs mainly in the Psalms; in addition, it occurs three times with the Prophets.

Human strongholds fall

Isaiah 25

Isaiah 25 features a song of praise and thanksgiving that prophetically sings of a glorious feast of the redeemed. Whoever waits for the Lord receives His salvation (verse 9), but those who – like Moab – trust in themselves perish (verse 10) and will not share in the salvation sung here. The song opens with a confession and praise, “O Lord, You are my God…” (verse 1) and ends with the statement that the “… “misgav / high fortifications of his walls He will bring down, lay low, and cast to the ground, to the dust” (verse 12). That’s what happens to human fortresses.

Jeremiah 48

The prophet Jeremiah prophesies about two major cities in Moab with which Israel had much to contend – Nebo and Kiriathaim – and announces their eventual fall. The pride of these cities will perish, for they are taken, destroyed, and put to shame; the “misgav” / certain stronghold is shattered (verse 1). The word “misgav” can also be taken here as a place name: “Misgav”. In this case the prophet speaks of three cities that will be destroyed. The reason for this is Moab’s pride and arrogance (14, 29-30) and “… magnified himself against the Lord …” (verse 26, 42)[1]. Yet from that very nation a humble woman had come to take refuge “… under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth teaches us that only in the Lord is the true “misgav” / secure refuge.

God’s sure fortress

Isaiah 33

In dangerous, threatening situations (Isaiah 33) the man who turns from sin and lives devotedly to God will find Him offering a high rock as “misgav” / refuge in distress (verse 16) and will see that He has all power and reigns as King (verse 17).


David also speaks of this image of the high rock as a safe shelter: “… my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my misgav/ shield …” (Psalm 18:2; compare 2 Samuel 22:3). This is especially evident in the Psalms. This is how the psalmist puts it in his song of thanksgiving for deliverance received: “The Lord is a misgav / stronghold for the oppressed, a misgav/ stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9).

Yes, the Lord is our stronghold! Psalm 46 also sings of this. This psalm begins with the mention of what God is to us: Shelter, strength, help in trouble (verse 1). Therefore, we will not fear… Life can be raging (verses 2-6), but in the midst of all the terrifying and threatening circumstances we know: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our misgav / fortress” (verses 7, 11). Also Psalm 48, as a song of praise to Zion’s beauty, speaks of God’s omnipotence. “Within her citadels God has made himself known as a misgav / shelter.” (verse 3).

God’s protective safety

In a prayer in time of need, David speaks to God in a very personal way (Psalm 59), describes his situation and begs Him to be delivered (verses 1-7). In the midst of all the misery he exclaims, “…I will watch for You, for You, O God, are my misgav / refuge” (verse 9). He confesses that he will sing of God’s strength and grace, “For you have been to me a misgav / fortress” (verse 16).

Again, we hear David express his trust in God in times of trouble and struggle (Psalm 62). He found inner peace in the certainty that salvation comes from God (verse 1). He confesses, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my misgav / fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (verses 2, 6). Profound words to repeat in times of trouble, uncertainty and sadness…

But the Lord has become my misgav / stronghold …” (Psalm 94:22).
He is my steadfast love and my fortress, my misgav /high shelter …” (Psalm 144:2).



[1] Moreover, Moab has always been hostile to Israel, compare Numbers 21-24; Deuteronomy 23:3-4.


©Copyright A. Sneller-Vrolijk

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