Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a lesson outside the current ISSL schedule, on Psalm 46. This wonderful Psalm was the inspiration for Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress.” Its occasion is not stated or known, but the tone makes clear that it was written in a time of trouble. As such, it stands as a grand and substantial statement of faith in God, and as encouragement to us as things around us seem to be coming unglued. Luther said “We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves His church and His word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.” Thank God for Psalm 46.
The psalm is broken naturally into 3 stanzas, separated by the “Selah’s,” verses 1-3, 4-7, and 8-11. Kidner titles 1-3 “God in the tumult,” 4-7 “God in His city,” and 8-11″God exalted in the earth.”
First, God in the tumult:
Psa 46:1 To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
One way of reading this verse is that God cares for His people two ways. He both protects His own from much trouble and harm, and in the trouble and difficulty that He does allow, He is there with them, being their only help and hope.
Another way of reading it is that “refuge” speaks of external protection (a stronghold into which we can flee), while strength speaks of internal empowerment. God gives courage to the weak heart … in both the external and the internal, He is the help of His people.
The fact that He is a “very present” help speaks of His accessibility/willingness to be found and His adequacy for all situations. He is “enough” in trouble, and that being the case
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
We will not fear. We will not fear, no matter what, period. Nothing will cause us to fear. What is described in verses 2 and 3 is the complete unhinging of the natural order, the very reversal of God’s work on the 3rd day of creation. When it seems like pre-creation chaos is coming back, we will not fear. When the most solid things we know of in this physical world, the earth and the mountains, are rocked and the sea threatens to engulf them, we will not fear. We will not fear, because God is our refuge and strength, an accessible and fully sufficient help.
Luther: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
Now, “God in His city”:
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
In verse 3, there is chaos, and the wild sea threatens to swallow up even the mountains. But put up against that is this wonderful picture of a life-giving river in the city of God, Jerusalem. But it’s more than more than Jerusalem, it’s the church of the redeemed, and eventually the new Jerusalem, heaven. The river in it is from God Himself, and God is in the midst of the city.
Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
Psa 46:5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
How is it that Old Testament Jerusalem or the New Testament church of God is immovable/unshakable? How can there be stability when the very foundations of the earth seem to be coming unglued? God is in the midst of her. That’s a very present reality.
In verse 2, the very mountains will be moved, and in verse 6 the word rendered “totter” is the same word as this “moved” in verse 5. The mountains and the kingdoms will be moved, but the city of God stands immoveable, because He is in her. God will help her “right early”/”when the morning dawns. This is wonderful poetry and reminder of wonderful deliverances God has given to His people. In Exodus 14:27 it was at the break of day when the sea rushed back in to drown Pharaoh’s army. In 2Kings 19:35 when Hezekiah and the people got up in the morning, they found 185,000 dead Assyrian soldiers outside the city walls. And it was early in the morning on the first day of the week that the women went to the tomb and found it empty in Luke 24:1.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
From chaos in the natural world to political upheaval and war and international conflict, none of that shakes the city of God. But the inherent instability of evil implies tumult/the raging of nations and the tottering of kingdoms. And it brings the judgment of God. Sin inevitably brings its own misery and God punishes sin. God spoke and the world came into existence. When He speaks in judgment, the earth melts away. But none of this touches the church of God.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
The LORD of hosts is with us. This is Jehovah Sabaoth, the “I AM of armies/hosts.” He is with us. Luther: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He. Lord Sabaoth, his name. From age to age the same. And He must win the battle.”
The God of Jacob is our “fortress.” Some versions render this “refuge,” but it’s not the same word as in verse 1. It implies an inaccessible height. It is then something like “high stronghold.” It is the God of Jacob. We’re reminded that Jacob was not exactly the model saint. It took him a lifetime to really learn to trust God. But He was God’s, chosen of God and ultimately loving God. And God was with Him as He is with us.
The LORD of hosts is His title of divine power, the God of Jacob is His title of covenant relationship, and God is with us is His name Emmanuel.
Now comes “God exalted in the earth” This is specifically a vision of things to come.
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.
Come, behold … come perceive/behold with the eye of a prophet. What? God’s power to destroy!!! But I thought He was a God of love and if we will just all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, everything will be rosy … everyone will just automatically be happy and get along. Kidner put it this way: “Although the outcome is peace, the process is judgment. The reassuring words ‘he makes wars cease …’ are set in context not of gentle persuasion, but of a world devastated and forcibly disarmed.” There will eventually be peace on earth, but not until Jesus returns in great power and judgment. The I AM will deal with evil, and there will be peace.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
Boice says that God is not a peace negotiator, He is a conqueror. He imposes peace. He breaks the bow, shatters the spear, and burns the chariots. He disarms His foes and those who would attack His people. There is the image of the ruined army of Sennacherib and a siege camp in shambles becoming plunder for inhabitants of Jerusalem, protected by the LORD of hosts.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
This is a statement not primarily to God’s people but to His enemies. The “be still” is not “be quiet and contemplative,” but rather “Quiet! Leave off! Enough!” Again quoting Kidner: ” … (it) is not in the first place comfort for the harassed, but a rebuke to a restless and turbulent world” It’s much like the command of Jesus to the storm and lake “Peace! Be still!” Know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. Stop your noise and recognize your Master. He will be exalted in the earth …
And the Psalmist comes back to where he was in verse 7.
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah