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This next psalm was one of Martin Luther’s favorites, and was the inspiration for his hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” There were plenty of times during the Reformation when everything looked pretty black, and Luther would cheerfully say to Melancthon, “Come, Philip, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm.” We have considered the importance of dogged tenacity in times of trouble, but there are also times of trouble when we are privileged to exult in the power of our God. With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou mayst smile at all thy foes.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble . . .” (Psalm 46:1-11).
Structure and Summary of the Text
The psalm divides readily into three sections, each section concluding with a call for meditation—Selah. The first section says that God is our refuge, even if the entire world around collapses (vv. 1-3). The second section says that the heathen rage without, but God is present within (vv. 4-7). The last section shows that God will establish peace on the earth—peace through superior firepower (vv. 8-11).
God is a present help, a refuge, a fortress (v. 1). Consequently, we who trust in Him shall not fear—though mountains be thrown into the sea, and the earth be moved. It is worth remembering that Jesus spoke of the judgment of Jerusalem under the figure of a mountain being cast into the sea, and that the choir singing this were sons of Korah—whose famous ancestor had perished when “the earth moved.” Though the water roar and the mountains shake, we will not be troubled (v. 3). Think and pray about it.
The streams of a certain river gladden the city of God (v. 4). God is in the midst of her, meaning that God is the river (v. 5). God shall provide help, and He will do it early. The heathen raged, and empires were set in motion. God spoke and the earth melted (v. 6). The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuse (v. 7). Think and pray about it.
Come and look at the desolations of the Lord (v. 8). He makes wars to cease throughout the earth. He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear, and burns up chariots in the fire (v. 9). He does more, with escalating means of destruction, to tanks, aircraft battle groups, satellite reconnaissance, torpedoes, lasers and guns. Be still and know that God is the Lord (v. 10). He will be exalted among the heathen, and this exaltation will happen on the earth (v. 10). The Lord of hosts takes sides. He is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge (v. 11). Think and pray about it.
The Voice of Triumph
We have seen in some of the previous psalms that God doesn’t want His saints pretending in their prayers in order to keep us some pretense of piety. If you want to know where God has gotten to, then ask Him. Do not do it as a querulous whiner, but rather imitate David, or better yet, the Lord Jesus Himself. Remember the cruciform prayer. But there are other times when you are in need of a refuge, and the events outside look dismaying beyond belief, and yet you are untroubled. The earth may be removed, but we will not be. The mountain ranges may be pitched into the depths of the sea, but we will remain right here. This is a psalm to match that attitude of triumph.
Present and Early
God is our refuge, and note that He is a present help in trouble (v. 1). God will rise up to help and He will do it early (v. 5). We have seen other times that God loves to deliver at the last moment. Abraham’s arm is upraised, and he is going to slay his son, and then God intervenes. On the mount of the Lord it will be provided. The people of
Israel have the waters of the Red Sea lapping at their feet, and Pharaoh’s army is right behind them. The Lord does love a good cliffhanger. But He is not so predictable as to do that every time. There are times when we look to Him, and He is there immediately. He delivers us early.
The River of God
The city of God, which is the Church, has a river flowing right through her center. God the Father is our river (Jer. 2:13). God the Son is our river (Zech. 13:1). God the Holy Spirit is our river (John 7:38). The Temple at the center of the City of God is the source of this river (Ez. 47:1-12), and as this river flows through the New Jerusalem, which is the Church, we see that trees grow on both sides of the river, and the leaves of those trees are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).
God of Desolations
As one historian once observed, the God of the Bible is no buttercup. In this passage, He makes wars to cease on the earth by force. We know from the rest of the Bible that this is not the entire story—He is the suffering servant as well. He conquered sin and death by means of the humiliation of the cross, certainly. He rose again from the dead three days later, establishing our justification. He also—forty years after His death, burial, and resurrection— destroyed Jerusalem with a rod of iron. It is a grave mistake to relegate desolations to the Old Testament.
In the twenty-first century, we still are dealing with the scourge of war, and this means that we must still submit to the God who will at the last deal with our arsenals the way a victorious general does after he has put down the insurrection.
Peace That Passes Understanding
This psalm is a good representation in the Old Testament of that attitude that St. Paul commended to us in Philippians. “Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Note that God calls all of us as Christians to this grace. And when this grace is given, it is grounded on thanksgiving. And in this triumph of faith, note also that the peace of God protects your hearts and minds; it is not the other way around. Your hearts and minds do not protect the peace of God. The peace of God is in between you and the melting earth, the roaring seas, and the mountains being hurled into the oceans. And from your place on that wall, you may smile at all your foes.