Psalm 46 is a song of celebration for Jerusalem as the special city of God; or as some call it a “hymn of Zion” or a “Zion Song”. This is a familiar Psalm for those brought up in the Lutheran denomination. This was the inspiration behind Martin Luther’s timeless hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” which was written in 1529. It became known as the “Battle Hymn” of the Reformation as it helped gather support for the cause of the Reformation.
Not only is this Psalm the inspiration behind the beloved hymn of Luther but is also one that has been held dear to many believers throughout history. I was actually surprised how many people told me this was one of their favorite Psalms of all time. I guess it should be no surprise it is held in such high regard. Once one reads through these 11 inspiring verses they show you how great, mighty and trustworthy our God is.
Psalm 46 resembles in content and structure to Psalms 48; 76; 87; and 122 as they too are called “Zion Songs”. The song is broken down into three sections and are as follows
- God is our security and might
- God protects with His presence
- Peace comes from God
This is a hymn written by the choirmaster for the chief musicians (Sons of Korah) of the Temple. “According to Alamoth” is probably a musical term and was intended to be for the female or soprano voice. We are not sure what the occasion for writing this Psalm was but some believe it was written after Jerusalem was spared from imminent destruction from the Assyrians under the guidance of Sennacherib. You can read the account in 1 Chronicles 32. In short story it is God sending an angel to destroy all the warriors, commanders and officers of the Assyrian army thus saving Jerusalem.
Verse 1a – “God is our refuge and strength” = YHWH was Israel’s source of power, and security. Over the centuries they had witnessed God’s hand and favor for them in battle and they had absolute faith in God. They were secure in the fact that He would keep Israel safe and would be their source of victory in battle.
Verse 1b – “Present help in trouble” – When times got tumultuous, tense and dangerous God was present and made his presence known. He was a help that could be found when He was sought after.
God is not only a refuge and strength for Israel but is also our source of security and power. In this world we need to a place of safety and a source of strength to live the life of a believer and God is that source. As believers we must have an absolute trust and faith in God to be our strength, our provider, our deliverer etc. Do you trust God? Is He your source of strength? Is He your place of solace?
Verses 2 – 3: Since God is the refuge and strength and his presence was with the Israelites in the hard times they had no need to be afraid. Their confidence was in God and God alone. Their confidence was in Him when they were faced with attacks from their enemies, they were confident when natural disasters hit them, they were even confident when they were faced with what seemed to be impending death.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his inaugural speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Yet as Christians we can respond by saying we have no one and nothing to fear period. I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, perfect love casts out all fear.” Jesus Christ is our perfect love and in him there is no fear. Through his death, resurrection and ascension he has set us free from fear. We are no longer to have a paralyzing fear of anything that man; beast, nature or spiritual being can do to us.
Verses 4 – 7 – God protects with his presence. Israel’s confidence and lack of fear came in the fact that the Temple “the holy habitation” was in Jerusalem. The Temple was a symbol of God’s presence among the people. Since Jerusalem was God’s "special city" He was expected to protect her. As the Israelites looked to the Temple, they felt secure because they were reminded that God was present among them, dwelling in their midst. There was a wall around the city that was built for protection but the people of Jerusalem didn’t put their complete trust and faith in the wall, they instead put their absolute faith and trust in God.
The Temple was not always the symbol of God’s presence because as time passes, people began to place a false sense of security in the Temple. They began to view the Temple as their source of power and favor and placed it above the presence of God. They worshiped the created thing and not the Creator. The Bible tells us God will not take the back seat to anything or anyone including the Temple. The irony is the people began to worship the Temple and not the God of the Temple. This edifice became god and soon it went from being the Holy dwelling place of God to a place of abhorrent evil and idolatry. Read Ezekiel 8 and 10 to see how God viewed the Temple at that time… The evil practices and idolatry that was going on in the Temple resulted in God’s presence “leaving the building” and eventually the Israelites are led into captivity.
These verses refer to Jerusalem but also reference the New Jerusalem of Revelation. We know this because there is no river that flows through Jerusalem today, but Revelation 22:1 speaks of a river that runs from the throne of God that is the abundant life giving water that flows through the streets. Plus Jerusalem did fall to the Babylonians and the New Jerusalem will never fall and the presence of God will never leave.
We do well to understand that God is still a protector of His people. However, His favored nation is not one specific location. His favor lies in His people... believers. As Western Christians we sometimes place our future and current security in having a mighty army, a strong nation, and at times a decent and fairly stable economy. Thus we can begin to have a false sense of security in these things. We must realize that our protection and security comes from God and God alone. He is here among us we do not have a physical Temple that is made with hands where God dwells on this earth. Jesus tells us that the physical dwelling place for God has passed; we are now His temple. Corinthians tells us our bodies are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. He is present in us we are protected from any powers, principalities and eternal death. We can take great strength and comfort in this.
Let me also note, since God is present in His children let us not fall under the false precepts of church edifice as the Holy place of God. Sure the church building can serve as a reminder that God is with us but it is not THE place where you go to be in God’s presence. It is the place you come to be with other people who have Christ in them. Certainly his presence is there because we are there. This building is just a shell. It is a shelter from the terrain. It’s a place of memories and history but it is not the dwelling place of God.
Verses 8 – 11: Peace comes from God. God is a God of peace. The song invites the people to see that God is the God of peace. He brings peace by destroying the tools of destruction… “”he breaks the bow and shatters the spear…” The Jews sought peace in all areas of their lives. They knew with all the death, destruction and war around them that peace was only able to come if God was the initiator of it.
The Psalmist then writes… “Be still and know that I am God.” I know many of us take this to mean, “calm down, relax and trust God”; which it does in the English rendition. However the original language suggests this is synonymous to “Cease and desist!” or “STOP what you are doing”, it is the referee whistle to put to end the turmoil around and pay attention. Only when Israel does this is when they can realize that God is God and He will be exalted or lifted up among the nations and in all the earth. True peace cannot happen until we stop, listen and acknowledge God as God.
We are really no different than the ancient Israelites, we still want peace and we want to see wars ended. This cannot happen without God being the initiator. On a personal level we want peace in our own lives. None of us desire to be in constant turmoil and conflict. We often get caught up in trying to right wrongs, seek justice or accuse someone of hurting us and we try to mend things in our own power. We can learn a great deal from looking at the context of Psalm 46:10 and stop trying to do things in our own strength. This verse doesn’t necessarily mean to be quiet or calm as much as it means “stop meddling and relax. Allow God to do his work.”
When we are faced with, turmoil, anxiety, despair, worry and etc let us take comfort in these words… “Be still and know I am God.” Jesus tells us in the gospels that worry and anxiety do nothing to help us so “relax (this is really what the words “be still” literally mean), stop doing what you are doing and trust me to take care of this.”
May we celebrate and rejoice in the fact that God is our source of power and security; God is our protector from evil; and He is our peace. Let us take great comfort and security in this Psalm and know that God is God and He is worthy of all our praise. So let us trust Him as our God to be all of these things to us.