Psalm 46 — The Lord of Hosts is With Us
46 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
We live in a world familiar with disasters. Devastating tsunamis, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and tornados have almost become common place. Natural disasters are only one dimension of calamities plaguing humanity. Evil dictators are being overthrown by rebel forces. Terrorists are bombing buildings. Armies are mobilized. Israel is receiving rocket assaults. Ships are being hijacked by pirates. The stories of violence, natural and national, never end. We live in a day of trouble in a world in trouble.
Psalm 46 offers hope for God’s people on this globe of trouble. As a Psalm of confidence, the structure offers two separate scenarios and then one combined scene at the end of global devastation: I. (vv. 1–3) YHWH is a refuge in the midst of natural disaster; II. (vv. 4–7) YHWH is a help in the midst of national disaster; III. (vv. 8–11) YHWH is exalted above desolate nature and defeated nations. The subject of the Psalm is what YHWH is to His people in trouble. The message is that YHWH is a reliable haven for His people in a troubled world, even to the point of its total ruin.
The original setting may have been during David’s reign, but the better scenario for a setting is the reign of King Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C. Assyria was the power broker in the near East who dislocated the northern kingdom of Israel (722 B.C). Judah had fallen to King Sennacherib, and only Jerusalem was left. Under urban siege, Hezekiah sought the prophet Isaiah (Isa 36–37). The only hope was to cry out to YHWH, the God of Jacob. From Jerusalem, the city of God, Psalms 46–49 offer a contextual collection of Psalms of Korah, revealing the missionary mind of God.
YHWH is the clear protagonist in the Psalm. The pronouns are first person plural so the human element is communal. Israel is shaken by nature and nations; but YHWH, the commander-in-chief of the armies of the heavens and earth, is present. Nature and nations are the antagonists, who are ultimately subdued by YHWH at the end of the Psalm and at the end of the age.
The sons of Korah have set this poem to music, and it appears to have an especially soprano part (Title). For the choir director is a common title inscription. The Sons of Korah collection is Psalms 42–49. The music chosen is a tune called, “alamoth” which means “girls” or “according to the maidens.” A song seems a bit obvious, but we can surmise a soprano part for the congregation’s female singers.
The psalmist attributed three defensive advantages for Israel to God (v.1). God is our refuge reminds us we are in the elohistic psalter (Psalms 42–83), where elohim is the preferred identification for YHWH. The Mighty God is our refuge. “Our” is the first person plural possessive, which tells us this is a corporate worship song of confidence. A refuge is a military stronghold. It is a defensive position. God is our strength reveals the source of Israel’s power of survival in the midst of diverse troubles. A very present help in trouble suggests the immanence of YHWH. Vicinity matters when it comes to God. Immanuel is the name of our Mighty God (Isa 9:6) with us (Isa 7:14). Christians must share this confidence because God has not changed, and the Spirit dwelling in us is a very present helper (Jn 14).
The poet claimed fearlessness for Israel despite natural disasters (v. 2). Therefore, means the basis of the proposition (v. 1) cannot change. God does not change so we will not fear. We must not fear nature, but some worst case scenarios are added to make the point. First, though the earth should change is a simple statement for global calamity. Because of the onslaught of “global warming” pundits, who then changed their motto to “climate change,” we are numb to the staid fact of the stable earth around us. The movements of the earth and space are highly predictable because they have been ordered with precision by our Creator. For any of these “earth changes” to actually occur would be cataclysmic. And though the mountains represents the firm foundation. Who can move mountains? Yet, the author’s worst case scenario has the pinnacle of stability sinking into the sea. Immediately, we remember Creation chaos being stabilized by the Creator (Gen 1). Sin loosened it again to a troubling degree (Gen 3). The heart of the sea is the absolute depth where chaos is centered. We might say, “all hell breaks loose.” Earth’s stability is swallowed by disorder, but God’s people will not fear. I am convinced He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him…and keep everything else, too!
The author saw a variety of natural disasters (v. 3). Though its waters roar and foam follows the imagery of instability. The rage of wild mountain river heading for a waterfall is one image. The images of one hundred foot tsunami waves have recently invaded space in our global view. The utter destruction is astounding. Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride is something easily understood by Californians and the Japanese alike. The earth under us is broken, and when it moves so does everything above. Pride is the mother of all sins. It is noteworthy that natural disasters would take on such a distorted personification. Chaos in nature loves destruction in the same way sin loves the violence of lawlessness. Still, we will not fear nature, for the fear of God constrains us.
The second section transports us from chaos to the serene setting of Jerusalem (v. 4). There is a river far away from the sea of chaos. River imagery is found in Eden, Egypt, Assyria, and in heaven. It poses a threat at times, but it is the giver of life for those firmly planted by its banks. There is life in it and life given by it. Blessed is the man who is like the tree planted by streams of water. Jesus spoke to the woman at the well about rivers of living water. These images appear eschatologically in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22, but we know the river Jesus speaks of is the Word of God giving spiritual life to those of drink it in. This is the river whose streams make glad the city of God. Jerusalem was devoid of a Nile or Euphrates, or even a Jordan; but in its future the temple and city of God will give life to the Dead Sea.
The city of God is an allusion to Jerusalem, YHWH’s chosen city to dwell with His people Israel. It is salem or shalom. The city of the shalom of YHWH. The sojourning community of Israel found some degree of rest by entering the Promised Land, but Canaan was plagued by the wicked within and the nations outside. Earthly Jerusalem would always pale in comparison to the heavenly Jerusalem, the true city of God with its eternal life giving river (Rev. 22). Both cities by the same name were the holy dwelling places of the Most High. El Elyon was the Canaanite name for the Most High God. Worshiped in ignorance? Yes, but still they knew there was a greater God than their local deities. A holy God needs a holy place. David had it in his heart to build that place, but it was given to Solomon to do the work. The shekinah glory was the representative presence of God with Israel. The New Testament believer is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and his heart is the dwelling place of the Spirit of the Most High.
The psalmist credited YHWH with Jerusalem’s immovability and impregnability (v. 5). God is in the midst of her is glorious. God with us is the hope of glory (chabod). God journeyed with Israel, and He made His presence known. A cloud of presence by day and a pillar of fire by night were the constant reminder. Even in judgment, wandering in the wilderness, God was with them. Never was His presence as intimate as with life of Jesus Christ, our Immanuel. They walked with Him, and they talked with Him in person. Ichabod is the removal of God’s presence from Israel. It is the removal of glory. Shekinah left the Temple. Jesus was crucified, and left Israel. The Spirit, however, is with us to affirm the words of Jesus, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you. Lo! I am with you, even to the end of the age.”
God will help her when morning dawns is a timing statement. Battle can be suicidal in the darkness, so the war resumes at daybreak. Incidentally, when God was with Israel at the crossing of the Red Sea, it was at daybreak that they saw the sea swallow the Egyptians (Ex 14:27). In the preferred setting for Psalm 46, Israel awakes to find 186,000 Assyrian soldiers slain outside the city walls at daybreak (Isa 37:36). His mercies are new every morning. He is the bright and morning star. Christians know Christ helps them, but it is the Spirit of Christ who is identified as our Helper, today (Jn 14:16, 26).
The poet viewed the nations as troublers of Israel, and YHWH’s judgment is global (v. 6). The nations made an uproar is a statement of history and the future. The Psalter opens with the question about why the nations rage against God and His anointed (Ps. 2). The history of Israel is the history of the nations warring against YHWH and His chosen people. Jerusalem, she is not moved; but the kingdoms tottered. Empires have come and gone, but Jerusalem remains. The culmination of history will be Jerusalem surrounded by the nations. The ambitious future annihilation of the God’s chosen people will be thwarted by the second advent of Jesus Messiah, the prince of peace and divine warrior.
He raised His voice is a declaration of war. Warriors raise their voice on the day of battle. Jesus raised His voice in anger at the elders for their monetary schemes in the Temple, but the world has not yet heard the deafening words of the One who has a double-edged sword coming from His mouth (Rev. 1:16). The result of One who speaks with such power is that the earth melted. 2 Peter 2:12 affirms this future for the earth. The earth is the key word in Psalm 46. It appears in all three sections. The threat of change is the focus in section one. The incineration of the earth is the focus of section two. The exaltation of YHWH in the earth is the focus of section three. It is the task of the fearless church of Jesus Christ to exalt His holy name to the uttermost parts of the earth. When the church’s witness is removed along with the Spirit resisting evil, things will change for the very worse. Still, we will not fear.
The chorus revealed the YHWH’s personal and protective presence as the source of Israel’s confidence (v. 7). The Lord of hosts is a title ascribed to YHWH, the commander of the armies of heaven and earth. The Lord is a warrior (Isa 42:13), and He is with us. There is, in my own opinion, no greater comfort stated in all of Scripture than, “The Lord was with him,” or “The Lord is with us.” The people of faith in the Bible share this common denominator. It is well worth a personal study of this clause throughout Scripture to encourage Bible students. The God of Jacob is not quite the antithesis to the Lord of hosts, but it certainly adds a very different concept to these lines of poetry. The Lord of hosts is an impersonal military commander who is somewhere else. The God of Jacob is personal. He is near. The imagery should not elude us, either. Jacob’s name represents the epitome of a person in trouble. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with God. Our stronghold reiterates the opening clause in verse 1. Nature may assault us. Nations may assault us, but YHWH is a safe place. We do not fear because His perfect love casts out fear from us.
The psalmist invited his audience to survey the carnage left by YHWH putting an end to chaos (v. 8). Come is an invitation. Behold means, “take a good long look.” The objects under observation are the works of the Lord. We bear witness to them as do the heavens and the earth (Ps 19). The Word of God is a witness, but the Spirit of God is given the primary task of being the chief witness. In this case, we survey the desolations in the earth wrought by God. These are the natural disasters attributed to His work of judgment. Revelation 6–18 bear witness to the coming global devastation in the waves of judgment poured out by God upon the earth in retribution for thousands of years of rebellion against Him. It should be recognized that many Christian commentators shy away from these facts. The obscured view avoids God’s ordained devastation because of a one-sided theology, “God is love, only.” Therefore, these theologians see the peace after the storm, but they completely miss the storm. We need to recapture the full view of conquering King Jesus Christ, the divine warrior, who will pour out judgment upon the earth and then deal personally with His enemies at the end of the age (Rev. 19:11–19).
The author pointed to YHWH’s putting an end of the nations’ war machine (v. 9). He makes wars cease to the end of the earth is the battle cry of beauty queens throughout time. World peace will be a reality when Jesus disarms every nation after the battle in the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem (sometime mistakenly called the Battle of Har-megeddon). He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two is classic Hebrew poetic parallelism. The poet is saying the same thing with different words. Weapons of war will be turned into farm implements. He burns the chariots with fire demonstrates the violence in the way He takes care of the business of war. This repudiates the idea that peace will come absent of war. The war to come is called the Day of the Lord, by the prophets. It is called the Great Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ. There will be wars and rumors of wars until the day of the ultimate battle between Christ and the nations at war with Him. War is not going away until Jesus vanquishes it on the last day.
The poet quoted YHWH is declaring an end to the rebellion against Him (v. 10). With smoke rising and desolation everywhere, the voice of God is heard, “Cease striving.” This is the same rebuke Jesus gave nature when it was assaulting his friends in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, “Peace, be still (Mk 4:39).” It is poignant, “Stop it!” or “Cease and desist!” And know that I am God is the void in the world, today. The world is at enmity with God. The world is blind to this fact by Satan. The world refuses to acknowledge YHWH is God or Jesus is Lord. “Know” is an intimate verb. It is the way the Bible talks about sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife. “ I am God” is His name, “YHWH Elohim.” We must grow more intimate with God each day. He invites us into a personal relationship that grows in intimacy, not sexually, but certainly with reproductive nuances for the growing of the church numerically.
I will be exalted among the nations answers section two. God will not share His glory with another. The nations must learn this fact, and they must submit to this truth. From every nation, tribe, and tongue will come humble representatives who will bow the knee and confess with their tongues. I will be exalted in the earth answers section one. Nature, in rebellion against the Creator, must be tamed. Only the Creator has the power over nature to subdue it. Only say the word, and it shall be calm. “And they became very much afraid and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him (Mk 4:41).’” He is the exalted Lord God Most High. Fear Him! Keep His commandments!
The final chorus reiterated the Person responsible for Israel’s protection (v. 11). Repetition is emphasis. Chorus teaches. It imbeds knowledge in our head and hearts. This is our God. He is Almighty. He cares for us. He is our shield and defender. He is with us as our help on the day of trouble.
July 4, 2021