What an interesting phrase! In Psalm 81:7 God says to His people: “In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder”. How quiet or secretive is thunder? What does God mean? One inference is that God’s response to the call of His children may be hidden in the obvious. How often do we Christians ask God for guidance or wisdom or understanding, then go about our daily routines only hearing with our physical ears, only seeing in the natural realm, but missing the spiritual implications and the supernatural revelations ‘hidden’ within? We so readily drift off the heavenly wavelength that we need to repeatedly get retuned to God’s spiritual frequency. Thank God for the tireless promptings of the Holy Spirit! Thank God for that “still small voice” calling us time after time to consider realities beyond the physical world (1 Kings 19:11-13). One way we can greatly enhance the working of the Holy Spirit in this area is to be consistently, prayerfully meditating on His Word. Anyone who is Spiritually alive will testify that there is far more substance to the Bible than mere black (or red) words on white pages! Hebrews 5:14 says that the “solid food” of God’s Word is for the spiritually mature, those who through practice “have their senses trained” (or “exercised”) in discernment. While that verse specifically deals with distinguishing between good and evil, we also need that practice to perceive beyond the natural to understand the spiritual – to reach that “secret place of thunder”.
One danger to consider here, though, is that familiarity can lead to carelessness or inattentiveness. However, Hebrews 11:6 tells us that God rewards the diligent, and this definitely applies to the study of His Word. We must guard against the erroneous notion that just because we’ve read a passage umpteen times, or heard a Biblical account over and over again (such as the Christmas story every year), that we can learn nothing more from it. Remember, God’s Word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), and if we’re ‘listening’ for God’s ‘voice’, He will be faithful to give us fresh revelation, or understanding, or application of His word each time we come in faith. But don’t expect to be ‘spoon fed’. It took effort for Moses to climb the mountain to commune with God.
Psalm 81:7 has an historical reference to the time when Moses, under God’s direction and by His mighty power, had led the Israelites out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:37) and brought them to Mount Sinai. “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain… Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire… Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.” “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you…’ So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 19:16-19, 20:18-21.) In faith and obedience, Moses drew near to God, even in the darkness (which scripturally represents lack of understanding), and was thus able to hear much more than the loud thunder. He heard God’s word, given specifically to him, and often for the instruction and benefit of others through him (Exodus 24:3). Moses enjoyed an enduring, intimate relationship with God (Deut 34:10) that the Israelites missed because of fear (Deuteronomy 5:5). They only heard the voice of God in “thunder” (Job 37:4,5; Psalm 18:13, 29:3-5), but Moses drew near to receive the understanding, the revelation given “in the secret place” (Amos 3:7).
Psalm 81:7 obviously pertains to prayer. David experienced the validity of this, as recorded in Psalm 18:6,13: “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God… The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice”. This is what Jesus taught His followers: “(W)hen you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place” (Matthew 6:6). When we call out to God in prayer, He promises to “answer” us (Jeremiah 33:3; John 15:7, 16:23b; 1 John 5:14,15), but note that we must first be in accord with Him, having an understanding of and desiring His will and purposes. Also remember that ‘No’ and ‘Wait’ are just as legitimate as answers as the obvious and immediate positive results we usually seek. Prayer is powerful, and the results are often impossible to ignore (like thunder)! It is the ‘heavy artillery’ of our spiritual armor, with specific purposes to benefit both saints and sinners: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19).
Finally, the phrase “the secret place” could evoke the picture of a refuge in a storm, since the Hebrew word used here for “secret” can also mean a cover or hiding place, and this is also a recurring Biblical theme. “And there will be a tabernacle…for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.” (Isaiah 4:6) “For You have been…a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm…” (Isaiah 25:4) To consider the aspect of God as our refuge more closely, read Psalm 48:12-14: “Walk about Zion… number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels …” Towers, ramparts, and citadels, especially in Biblical and medieval times, were constructed for the main purpose of protecting a city. And why does the psalmist say we are to pay attention to these various protective constructs? “…that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.” We need to pass on to our children the knowledge that God is our protection, our shelter, our refuge in the storms of life, and that He desires to answer us “in the secret place of thunder.”