Updated: Nov 18
If we take a quick snapshot of the trouble around the world today, we read in the headlines of terrorism in Afghanistan. Recently, suicide bombers killed 13 U.S. military members and as a result, Gold Star families are seen weeping on live television over the loss of their children.
As I write this, people around the world are battling the coronavirus and struggling with serious sickness. Over the last year and a half, we have heard countless stories of lockdowns and individual rights being infringed upon by some local and federal governments.
We see hurricanes. Ida has recently hit the gulf coast and of course on that same day 16 years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.
If you look into our specific section of the snapshot, within our own church, people are facing trouble of various types. Many of our church folks have been praying for a godly lady in our church as she faces liver transplant surgery. Others have recently lost a loved one to death, and their heart is grieving.
Some in our congregation have struggled financially due to a loss of employment. Now feelings of financial insecurity overwhelm their soul.
Psalm 46 is a song of strength in a world full of trouble.
So much of what we’re facing today is the same type of thing that the Psalmist was facing in his day.
In light of today’s troubles, consider the timelessly relevant help that God provides in Psalm 46.
Notice how the Psalmist describes God, trouble, gladness, power and then God Himself prescribes solutions to the troubles we face.
1. Describing God (vs 1)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
Consider how the Psalmist describes God. He explains that God is “refuge and strength, a very present help…”
The word “refuge” is the idea of shelter, but the word also means fortress. As our refuge, He’s not just a rickety tin roof that keeps you out of the rain but could blow off with a strong gust of wind. He’s more than that. He is our fortress. As our refuge, He is a robust shelter, a solid fortress.
“Strength” in this text is not just strong, but the strongest. Specifically, in our weakness, He is “our strength.” It’s relational. We can depend on Him because He is “our strength.”
Further, God is “very present help.” He is help. In times of trouble, the psalmist says you can cry out to God as your help.
But, He’s not just help; He’s “present help.”
When you need help, in most cases, you want someone present with you. God is “present help.”
But, He is not present in that He is in the same house with you but staying in the room down the hall. No! He is “very present help.”
He is right next to you, in the same room where you are. You can identify His presence, and benefit from His help immediately.
“The Lord of hosts is with us” (vs 7 & 11).
“Therefore,” (vs 2) or with the understanding that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, now we know that we have nothing to fear! (vs 2)
Now that this song of strength has reminded us who God is, we are much better prepared to face trouble.
2. Describing Trouble (vs 2-3)
“Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.” (Psalm 46:2-3)
What if “the earth be removed”?
What if “the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea”?
What if “the waters thereof roar and be troubled”?
By the way, why would the waters thereof roar and be troubled as described in verse 3? Because in verse 2 the mountains were just carried and dropped into the midst of the sea!
What if “the mountains shake with the swelling thereof”? (This is a reference to earthquakes).
Even if these things happen, the Psalmist is saying, “No need to be alarmed. We have nothing to fear.” Why? Because again, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” And as a result, the realization of those amazing truths brings gladness into this song of strength.
3. Describing Gladness (vs 4-5)
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” (Psalm 46:4-5)
Verses four and five are contrasting verses to two and three. Trouble is described in two and three, while gladness is pictured in four and five. Specifically, a glad city. The refreshing waters and the peaceful stream bring glad thoughts as the Psalmist describes the “city of God.” The most comforting element of that city is that “God is in the midst of her.” Interestingly the most beautiful aspect of heaven is not the golden streets or the gates of pearl, but it is the light of that city, God Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. Dwelling with Him forever in perfection and harmony brings gladness to the mind of every child of God.
4. Describing God’s Power (vs 6-9)
“The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. 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.” (Psalm 46:6-9)
In this song of strength God’s power is described. Specifically, His powerful voice is louder (vs 6), His powerful army is larger (vs 7) and His powerful works are limiting (vs 8-9).
Notice that His voice is louder in verse 6. The loud raging heathen may move kingdoms on the earth, but if God merely utters His voice, the earth could melt. God’s powerful voice is louder.
Consider that His powerful army is larger in verse 7. The phrase, “The Lord of hosts” is one of God’s many names. In Hebrew the “Lord of hosts” is the Lord “Sabaoth,” which means “a mass of persons organized for war.” To say that He is “The Lord of hosts” is to say, that He is “The Lord of armies.” He has His universe of resources at His disposal to defeat any opposing military forces.
There are hundreds of names or titles for God in the Bible which help describe who God is and those names also bring us comfort. For example, “Adonai” means that God is Master and Lord of all. “Elohim” means that He is our covenant keeping creator God. “El Shaddai" indicates that He is the almighty powerful One.
Victoriously in verse 7 He is the Lord of hosts, the Lord Sabaoth. His powerful armies are larger than His enemies’ and therefore He is the One who can make “wars cease” vs 9.
As we continue to sing this song of strength, notice in verses 8-9 that His works are limiting. He wants us to “Behold the works of the LORD.” Behold means to see. The Psalmist wants us to see with our mind’s eye the amazing ways in which God’s works are able to limit His enemies.
He wants us to see “what desolations He hath made in the earth.” The word “desolations” means astonishment and wonder, but it also describes “things that God brings to ruin and waste.” The Psalmist is saying, “See the astonishing ways in which God limits His enemies. Behold with wonder how He brings to ruin their wicked ambitions.” He may have Sennacherib and the Assyrians in view here but certainly this truth applies to any of the self-appointed enemies of God.
When they shoot their bow, thrust their spear, or charge in their chariot, the Psalmist explains that the Lord of hosts has the power to break their bow, cut their spear, and burn their chariot.
All of these poetic war metaphors are symbolic of the various troubles of life. Do you see the acceleration and progression of verse 9? Like when you push down the gas pedal in an automobile, you begin to go faster and faster, the acceleration can be exhilarating. In verse 9, your heart is beating quickly thinking about the arrow from the bow that almost stabbed you, then the spear that almost sliced you, and then the chariot that almost trampled you!
As your heart races with exhilaration and potential fear from verse 9, that’s when God says, “Be still” in verse 10.
Problems are swarming all around you and threatening your livelihood and maybe even your life, and then God speaks plainly, “Be still.”
Notice that the voice in this song of strength changes. In verses one through nine, the Psalmist is speaking about God, but in verse 10, God Himself speaks!
5. Prescribing Solutions (vs 10-11)
“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted
In the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” (Psalm 46:10-11)
In verse 10 God gives us two specific instructions. He prescribes two solutions to the many troubles of life.
He says, “Be still” and then He says, “know” some things.
The instruction to “Be still” is a call to take a position of strength. When the arrow flies by, when the spear is thrust, when the chariot is traveling quickly in your direction, the temptation is to bob-and-weave or to run for cover. The temptation is to panic, yet here, God says, “Be still.” He is saying, “Stand strong. Stand in My strength. Rest calmly in My refuge. Be still in Me.”
But, don’t do this in ignorance. Secondly, He instructs the believer to “know” some things. Notice that He doesn’t say, “feel” some things. Instead of being led by your emotions and feelings in times of trouble, you must ruminate on some specific things. You must rest on certain eternal verities.
Know that He is God.
Know that He will be exalted among the heathen, and that He will be exalted in the earth.
Know that “the LORD of hosts is with us” and that “the God of Jacob is our refuge.” The Lord of armies is with us. As our refuge He is our shelter and fortress.
Then this song of strength concludes with the word, “Selah.” Three times in the text we read this word. (At the end of vs 3, vs 7, and verse 11).
Charles H. Spurgeon explains in “The Treasury of David” that Selah is, “rest in contemplation after praise.”
He says, “It is easier to sing a hymn of praise than to continue in the spirit of praise, but let it be our aim to maintain the uprising devotion of our grateful hearts, and so end our song as if we intended it to be continued.”
“Selah bids the music rest
Pause in silence soft and blest
Selah bids uplift the strain
Harps and voices tune again
Selah ends the vocal praise
Still your hearts to God up raise.” (Bring to another level)
Psalm 46 is certainly a song of strength in the midst of trouble, but interestingly, it is “A Song upon Alamoth.”
Some commentators point out that this word “Alamoth” in the Hebrew has to do with “young maidens.”
The speculation by many commentators is that “Alamoth” could be a technical musical notation indicating that this Psalm is a song that should be sung primarily by female voices because they have a higher range than most men.
Another interesting aspect of this Psalm is that Psalm 46 was Martin Luther’s inspiration to pen the well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Included in the lyrics, Martin Luther writes,
“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.”
In the final verse Luther writes, “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still - His kingdom is forever.”
After reviewing Psalm 46, will you do as Spurgeon suggests? After singing this song of strength, will you let it continue? Just because the music director concludes the song and allows the audience to be seated, that doesn't mean that this song is over. Selah calls us to sing the song long after it has been sung. Will you continue to ruminate on the truths of Psalm 46 and rest in them as you face the troubles of life?
And, as Luther teaches in that hymn, will you prioritize God’s Word and God’s Kingdom over “goods and kindred”? Will you prioritize that which is eternal (God’s Word and God’s Kingdom) over this mortal life?
This song of strength helps us as it majestically describes God, trouble, gladness, and power. Then, it helps us as we rejoice when God Himself prescribes solutions to the numerous troubles we face on a daily basis. Psalm 46 is a beautiful Song of Strength!