Our family lived in the western Andes Mountains of Venezuela, but the llanos started about two or three hours to the east of where we lived. As we traveled in that direction from our home, we first had to drive the twisty mountain roads that continually descended and then climbed out of numerous canyons. Then, after finally gaining the last ridge, it was truly a spectacular sight to see these great plains of the llanos stretch out far into the eastern horizon.
The whole landscape changes as much as it is possible to change—from mountainous terrain to lands that are almost completely flat. As we descended the last ridge coming out of the Andes, these plains extended before us as far as the eye could see until they finally disappeared into the mist of the far horizon. The llanos of Venezuela extend for hundreds of miles to the south and eastern part of the country.
Actually, these flatlands are one of the great geological features of South America.In this vast continent, known for its massive Andes Mountains that run like a rugged backbone down the length of the entire continent, and also known for its seemingly endless and diverse Amazon basin, the llanos provide yet another outstanding feature of its geography. From Venezuela, these flatlands continue down through Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia and beyond. They are called the Gran Chaco in Paraguay and northern Argentina and then turn into the great Pampas of central and southern Argentina. The llanos, by whatever name they are called, run along the eastern side of the Andes Mountain range and, like the mountains themselves, extend the entire length of the continent.
As you might imagine, life in the llanos of Venezuela is very different from our life where we lived in the foothills of the Andes. The area that I visited when I first went there was about six hundred miles from our home—completely flat as far as I could see in every direction.
In Venezuela, these flatlands have two seasons: wet and dry. During the wet season, the many rivers overflow their banks and inundate the surrounding countryside. The flooded water spreads over vast areas, completely submerging much of the land. In the more remote areas of the llanos, the people are, for all real practical purposes, cut off from the outside world for much of the year.
In the dry season, which begins about late October, the weather systems are almost the exact opposite as the wet season. During the dry season, very little rain falls if any at all, and many of the rivers and almost all of the land completely dries up. The ground becomes scorched and cracked.
It was during the change from the wet to the dry season when I first visited there. There was still plenty of water and mud, but also enough dry ground to allow cars to enter into most areas.
It is a land of many strange and wonderful animals. They have a large stork-like bird called the gabón that has to jump three times before it can take flight. It jumps once and flaps its wings, but is not able to lift off. Twice—he may be airborne for a moment but is still not able to quite make it into full flight. But on the third time it usually is able to fly away.
The llanos are also the home of the chigüiri, which weighing up to one hundred and seventy-five pounds, is the world’s largest rodent. The people of that area have a lifestyle that in some ways is similar to our own ranch country in the United States, and it is a great sport for them to ride out on horses to lasso the chigüiris. They then often prepare the meat by salting it and drying it in the sun to make meat jerky. The jerky even seemed to me to have a bit of a fish flavor, because, I think, the diet of a chigüiri is not much different than that of a fish.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know many of the people of the llanos. They have a distinct culture, which is exceptionally outgoing and friendly and receptive to strangers. Their cultural distinction includes their musical style, which I suppose you could say might be the equivalent to our own country music. The llanero music consists of small, guitar-like instruments called the bandelero and the cuatro (it has four strings), the maracas for rhythm, and, interestingly enough, a full-sized harp. This combination of instruments makes a very pleasant ensemble.
The vocal is half-singing and half-speaking, delightfully rhythmic and written specially for many types of occasions. It can be a story of something that had just happened in the area, such as a cattle roundup, or a soliloquy of the beauty of the llanos, about which the people of the land are extremely proud. The song may be a dialogue between two singers—serious or humorous. I once attended a church convention in the llanos and heard this music and lyrics used as a way to bring a greeting from one church to another. I thought this was a unique way to greet the churches, and it sounded wonderfully cheerful.
La Roca Viva
I also once visited a church in the llanos that by no means was typical of the region, but that made a deep impression on me. This church was in a region where a great part of the entire landscape is flooded for much of the year. The church building itself however, sat on a piece of ground that was just slightly higher that the surrounding area. Because of this, I do not think that the church building itself ever flooded, or if so, only rarely.
In the completely dry season, there was a road that went all of the way to the church, but at the season when I was there, even though the rivers had already subsided considerably, I had to walk two or three miles to reach the church. I crossed one river on a long, swaying, cable and plank bridge that the Christian brothers of the area had made to help people get to the church. To cross the next river that I came to, there was a large log that went from bank to bank on which one had to balance to get across the current. It was in that second river that I went swimming later in the day.
Some high-school and college aged people invited me on a picnic on the bank of the river. Part of that activity involved a swim in the river. It was only after we were in the water that they told me that there were piranhas that lived in that water.
“Oh, they won’t bother you,” the kids told me.
It was true. They didn’t take a test bite out of my white legs or bother me in any way. However, I must also say that I did not stay in the water very long.
It was on the other side of that river where the church building stood. It was given the name, “La Roca Viva,” which means “The Living Rock.” Who can miss in the name of this church, built in that land of annual floods, the illustration that Jesus gave of the wise man who built his house upon the rock?
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25 NAS)
The people in this flood-prone area were not wealthy, and every year they had to fight to keep the water from washing away what little that they owned. For them, these words of Jesus were more than simply a catchy illustration. The illustration that Jesus gave to disciples on that day is quite easy for all of us to see, but these people of the llanos knew it better than most.
I think we all could learn a great deal from these folks in their simple lifestyles, who know firsthand the uncertainty of what they possess in this life, and who decided to name their church “The Living Rock.”
The Rock of Escape
Young David of the Old Testament also knew firsthand the protection that a rock can provide. David’s storms and floods were of a different kind, but they were no less threatening. “The waves of death swirled about me,” he said. “The torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me” (2 Samuel 22:5-6 NIV).
David experienced the protection that a rock can provide as he was fleeing for his life from the apostate King Saul. The story is found in 1 Samuel 23. The young David had to spend many months in the wilderness, hiding among the rocks and avoiding confrontation with Saul and his troops.
On one particular occasion, Saul and his soldiers were pursuing David and the men that David had with him through mountainous terrain. While Saul and his troops were on one side of a large rock-strewn ridge, David and his men were hurrying along the other side in their attempt to escape the confrontation. However, despite David’s efforts to flee, Saul’s soldiers were quickly surrounding David and his men.
David and his followers came to a large rock, or perhaps it was a scattering of boulders. I suppose their intention was to try to hide among the crevasses and hopefully avoid a conflict with Saul’s army. If this was their expectation, it was a slim hope indeed. Through the reports of an informant, Saul knew that David was near, and if Saul had been given enough time, he would have searched for David until he found him. What was more, Saul’s troops greatly outnumbered David’s, and Saul and his army soon would be everywhere.
In spite of the dismal outlook however, something then happened that saved the lives of David and his men. At that moment, a messenger came to Saul to report that the Philistines had made a raid on the land. The king suddenly became obligated to abandon his hunt for David, and to return in great haste to try to defend his kingdom.
David and his men were saved. So relieved and joyful were they that they decided to call the rock where they had hidden “The Rock of Escape.” But we should notice something very interesting concerning the naming of this rock. As we saw, it was not the actual Rock of Escape that had saved them. It is true that they had hidden there, hoping that the rock would offer them some protection, but in the end, the protection came from another source. David understood Who it was that was the true Rock of Escape. He said:
The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation.
My stronghold, my refuge, and my Savior,
You save me from violence.
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies…
For who is God besides the LORD?
And who is the Rock except our God?
God is my strong fortress and He makes my way clear…
The LORD lives, and blessed be my Rock!
And may God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted!
(2 Samuel 22:2-4, 32-33, 47 BSB)
In David’s time of exile from the palace, I do not know how often he had to hide among the rocks, but the image of rocks offering protection and strength came to mean a great deal to him. Nevertheless, as in his experience of fleeing from Saul, David proclaimed that the true Rock was God Himself.
David often testifies this in his psalms that he wrote. We have, as a sampling, some of them below:
In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; save me by Your righteousness.
Incline Your ear to me; come quickly to my rescue.
Be my rock of refuge, the stronghold of my deliverance.
For You are my rock and my fortress;
Lead me and guide me for the sake of Your name. (Psalm 31:1-3 BSB)
From the ends of the earth I call out to You whenever my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been my refuge, a tower of strength against the enemy. (Psalm 61:2-3 BSB)
He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah. (Psalm 62:6-8 NAS)
I like especially that the last verse we read ended with the word Selah. The meaning of this word has been largely lost, but most take it to mean a poetic or musical “rest.” It is intended for us to consider the words that we have just read. Indeed, when we pour out our hearts before God, our rock and our refuge, we are able to rest.
Rocks of Protection
In our own lives, we certainly are not fleeing some unrighteous king who is seeking to murder us, nor is it likely that many of us live with the constant danger of waters flooding our homes. Yet there are dangers of other kinds that we face. In these present days, many are encountering economic uncertainties such as they before have not known, and many are confronting serious physical or medical problems.
In these times, we also look for our own “rocks of escape” and “rocks of refuge.” We may hide ourselves among a scattering of boulders to protect us from evils that may befall us. Our rocks of defense may take the form of investments and insurance, or even a good credit rating. It may take the form of medical treatment. As David did, we also seek to protect ourselves. It is not wrong to do this.
However, also like David, we must realize that true and lasting protection can never come from these things. As David said, we also say, “In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.”
We may have other things on which we rely, but ultimately, these things are nothing. It is only the Lord who can be our refuge and the strength of our lives.
"You will keep in perfect peace the steadfast of mind, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, because GOD the LORD is the Rock eternal." (Isaiah 26:3-4 BSB)