Making a Hebrew exegetical class on the Psalms, while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 1980s, changed, challenged, and comforted me in so many ways. During that class, the professor arbitrarily assigned various periscopes/texts for each student to dissect, using all of their grammatical, textual, and rhetorical skills. One passage I had to sink my interpretative spade into was Psalm 46. Funny how deep, detailed study from years ago can be used by the Spirit of God to impact you years later. Such is the nature of this pedagogical endeavor in relation to this divinely inspired ancient worship song:
1 Korah. A Song for Alamoth. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6 The nations 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, who has made desolations in the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. 10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46).
Just what is the Sitz im Leben, or historical life setting for this piece? For one, the words of the passage clearly denote how Israel, as a nation, and Jerusalem in particular, faced a national calamity brought on by an invading, hostile force. The end of their world hung in the balance. Their way of life could not have been more questionable. No one knew if the nation, as they had known it in all of its glory, would survive the godless barbarians pounding on their mighty gates. How did all of this impending doom impact the people? Fear replaced faith. Internal chaos replaced calm. Distrust replaced trust.
I’m sure all kinds of thoughts raced through the minds of the people holed up inside fortress Jerusalem as they watched enemy forces massing on the hillside.
- What will happen to my family?
- How will I make a living?
- How will we be able to live under the iron fist of a foreign power?
- Will our worship of God be curtailed or abolished?
- How will we, and what will we, eat if a siege is prolonged?
- Is this siege brought on by our failure to follow God’s laws?
- Did our penchant for tolerating all forms of worship move God to discipline us in this fierce fashion?
- What could our leaders have done to keep this possible implosion from occurring?
- Why weren’t we more courageous in speaking up and out as our leaders, at all levels, threw our country to the wind, leaving us exposed to our enemies?
And, don’t you know that some thought:
- Where is God in all of this?
It must have been a horrific, terrifying time as the nation literally hung in the proverbial balance between existence and non-existence.
At this critical, teeth-clinching, bone-rattling time of national trial is when God gave these insightful, comforting, educational words of Psalm 46 to the unknown psalmist. What hermeneutical statement does this text implicitly ask and answer? Here it is in my estimation:
Saints Should Respond To National Calamity and Chaos With Calm (Psalm 46)
The words and counsel of the psalmist transcend time because all saints live within nations and political systems which can, and will, experience invasions from within and without. True, the promises here directly relate to God’s covenantal nation, Israel. Ostensibly, this means He, the Suzerain, will always remain true to the vassal, the people, and can be counted on to fulfill His various spiritual and geo-political promises to them. Although our nation does not enjoy the direct covenantal privileges of Israel, we do enjoy, in part, the wonder and magnificence of the New Covenant (Jer. 30-31) secured for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24). By proxy, then, we could posit that the wisdom revealed in this powerful, practical passage is most certainly available to us.
In our day, as we all know, there are many barbarians inside and outside the gates of our fortress. Outside, forces mass in China, Russia, and North Korea, coupled with ruthless radical Islamic groups constantly rattle their sabers. At times, this is accomplished by having a military parade replete with massive missiles they say can strike our heartland. At other times, they actually infiltrate and attack us on our own soil. My father’s seizure of 6,000 AK 47s in L.A. harbor at the turn of our new century, merely underscore what we are up against.
At other times, the barbarians have chosen to infiltrate our institutions, halls of justice, large companies, sports, politics, and, yes, churches, to push ideological agendas and worldviews which are godless, wicked, bent on subverting truth and decency, while replacing all of this with systems of thought extoling man and granting a limited few a large dose of unchecked power to dominate the masses. From my studies over the years of this method of attack, I would say the barbarians are on the verge of toppling most of what we, as Christians, hold dear. Some of the books I’ve read which have led me to this conclusion, I submit to you for your consideration:
- Mark Steyn, America Alone
- Mark Steyn, After America
- Patrick Buchanan, The Death of the West
- Patrick Buchanan, Suicide of a Superpower
- Robert Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah
- Mark Levin, Liberty and Tyranny
- Charles Colson, Against the Night
- James Sire, The Universe Next Door
- Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth
- Francis Schaeffer, How Then Should We Live?
- David Horowitz, Dark Agenda
And this is just to name a few. When I was younger, I read about the threats to the nation from without, but now it is quite apparent that the barbarians have, indeed, stormed the gates and are inside the citadel, salivating concerning how they can finish off the influence of Judeo-Christianity on America.
These are, as in Israel’s day, terrifying, troubling times. Are we to be frozen in fear? No. far from it. From Psalm 46 we learn that our response to national calamity and chaos is to be all about calm. Why? This is what the psalmist fortunately shares with us, not from his mind, but from the mind of God. Three principles readily emerge from the three divisions of the passage. Listen to them and permit them to build up your faith, increase your joy, and inspire you to be courageous for God in godless days.
With national chaos before you, as with ancient Israel, you need to secure inner peace based on three timeless truths:
First, realize . . .
Because God Is Your Fort Don’t Fear (Psalm 46:1-3)
The opening three verses drive home this never-to-be-forgotten bit of sagacious spiritual advice:
1 Korah. A Song for Alamoth. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
Men from the tribe of Korah were Israel’s worship leaders. “Alamoth,” (עֲלָמ֥וֹת ), in Hebrew can denote female virgins. If so, this informs us that in ancient worship young ladies led in the singing of this powerful, practical, and peace-loving song. How interesting. God wants us to know that, in tough times, it is the young people who rise to the occasion to point us to what God desires for us all to remember. If you are a young person, may your words in this tumultuous days be grounded in God’s Word, and may you freely share those with all who will listen.
After this divinely inspired heading, the psalmist dives right into the reason why we, as God’s people, should never be locked up with anxiety when national calamity is bursting forth. The psalmist opens by saying, “God is our refuge and strength.” Hold it right there. God, here, is Elohim ( אֱלֹהִ֣ים), which denotes Him as the Creator God from Genesis 1:1 ( בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃ ). This divine title is employed a whopping five times in eleven verses (46:1, 4, 5 . . . two times, 7, 10, and 11). Why? Before I answer that, first let me say that God’s name comes first in the sentence, serving to make it emphatic grammatically in the Hebrew text. Further, since the copula/verb is missing by means of ellipsis, this, too, purposefully heightens the meaning of the divine name, Elohim. With this data in mind, we are equipped now to answer the query. God’s name as Elohim is strategically and beautifully woven through this chapter in order to draw attention to His eternal ontological presence and unlimited, raw power. Hence, because He “is,” or eternal, He was/is more than capable of creating that which is temporal. Further, because He “is,” He is transcendent and immanent, meaning He is above us and beside us at all times.
Additionally, because He is the Creator who is eternal, we can count on Him to perpetually be our “refuge” and our “strength” when the barbarians arrive and seek to immobilize us. “Refuge” in Hebrew (מַחֲסֶה) is equated in Psalm 61:4 with a strong military tower. Pragmatically, this means we can always run to and hide within Him when enemies seek to create fear and havoc. Yes, our outer man might see what the barbarians are doing; however, the one thing they can never take away is the believer’s ability to find solace and comfort when they run, in prayer, to God. And when they close the door to that fortress, as it were, they always find God, the Creator, willing to share His power to help them square off against the foe. Was this not what Samson did after the Philistines learned the source of his great power and made him a slave after putting out his eyes? Indeed. The barbarians hauled him into their Temple to Dagon in order to make sport of him, and he turned and prayed as he stood between the two main support pillars, “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this one, O God (Elohim ), that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” (Jud. 16:28). So, whatever you are feeling now about the conditions within our land, no matter how fearful you might be, you run to God as your fortress and He will give you a supernatural power to stand strong and true for Him in the face of the barbarians.
And never, I repeat, never think God will not be there for you. As the psalmist remarks with the next clause: “[He is] a very present help in trouble.” The adverb, very, underscores the fact that He is really therefore you, no matter what. The word “trouble,” sarah (צָרָה ) literally denotes a tight, restricted space. Think of being “stuck” in an Escape Room in downtown D.C., and you have an idea of what trouble is like. It’s restrictive. It makes you think there is no way out and your situation is hopeless. But since God is always there, He is always ready to show you the way out to peace and safety. Have you run to Him lately, or did you run to your favorite news channel or radio talk show host? They might educate you, but only God can empower you to live for Him when the barbarian hordes seem unstoppable.
Based on who God is, the psalmist draws the logical conclusion for followers of God:
2 Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
All of these scenarios are what we would call worst case. Barbarians over-running your world is one thing, but suppose, in a hyperbolic fashion, the earth vanished . . . say, for instance, from an asteroid strike, or say an earthquake of all earthquakes caused not only California to slip in to the Pacific, but all mountains around the globe to shake, rattle, and implode as they slipped helplessly into the depths of the seas. And just suppose world-wide tsunamis traveling at 200 mph slammed against mighty mountain ranges round the globe. If all of this happened, should you, as a Christian, be frozen in fear? Short answer, No. Why? Because even in this, the One who “is” will be with you working out His plan.
Let’s get real and put this in practical terms we can relate to. Even if the worst case scenario happens and your political party, which views the other political party as the barbarians, happens to win on Tuesday’s election, even if you think this will be the end of the world as you know it and that nothing more detestable and destructive could have just occurred, even then you should not fear because God is the God of calm over the chaos. No chaos will ever thwart His calm nor minimize His ability to accomplish His grand, lofty kingdom purposes. So, keep your spiritual chin up and run to God as your fortress and you will find plenty of power to make it through the most chaotic national storms a person could experience.
Second, focus on this next truth:
Because God Exists You Need Not Look For Exits (Psalm 46:4-7)
The mood and tenor of the psalm suddenly changes from the negative to the positive here:
4 There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6 The nations 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
The original city of Jerusalem was built on a mountain known for rocks, not rivers. But it did have a source of life-giving water in the presence of the subterranean Gihon spring, which was located on the southeastern side of the city. If you travel with us to Israel and get to see the City of David, we will walk through the tunnel system Israel constructed to bring this fresh water source to the city. The water also filled the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus gave the blind man new eyes (John 9:7ff). You will also learn how the Jews built a wall to protect this spring so that they could withstand sieges from their enemies. Here is a crude picture I took of what this wall structure would have looked like around this shaft opening to this spring of life.
All of this talk of water being strategically positioned by God merely tells us that He always stands ready to quench your thirst in troubled times.
- When your mouth is parched because of the advancement of perversion, He will give you refreshing water of truth to drink.
- When your mouth is parched because godless ideologies threaten to tear away at the moral, spiritual, and political fabric of the nation, He will give you refreshing water of truth to drink.
- When your mouth is parched by the dark agenda of the godless, who seem to have the majority of the people duped by its teachings, He will give you refreshing water of truth to drink.
- When your mouth is parched by those around you who never stand their ground where truth is concerned, but who always cave and waffle, He will give you refreshing water of truth to drink.
Where will that water come from? His Word, of course. Drink of it and it will quench your spiritual thirst as you square off against the barbarians. That drink, that word might even move you to find a message in a song. This what happened to Martin Luther as he warred against false teaching in his day. After spending much time reflecting and meditating on this passage, he wrote the famous hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Who could forget the wise words:
" 1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2 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.
You 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.
3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
This is water for a parched mouth of a war-weary soldier of Christ.
Water merely showed the ancient Israelites that God had not only provided for them, but He was, in fact, with them. This is what the psalmist underscores next:
5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6 The nations 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
Yes, because God is with His people, the barbarians can cancel you, de-friend you, prosecute you over trumped up charges on unjust laws they have created, demote you, sideline you, rage, yell on their loudspeakers, taunt, tweet, scream, mock, and wave all of their little signs with catchy phrases, but God is not troubled, ever. No, with a mere word He can speak and literally melt the planet into submission, and He will one day according to prophets like Peter (2 Pet. 3:10-12). With a word, He can call His angelic armies to work in the unseen world, as He did in Daniel’s day, to accomplish His purposes in man’s godless geo-political situations (Dan. 10). And through it all, let the saint never forget that He, the transcendent Lord of glory, is always available for you because He is with you just as He promised (“For He [Jesus] Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you,” Heb. 13:5).
So, since God is with you as your source of refreshment in rough, wicked, spiritually and morally rudderless days, you should never look for an exit from your situation. He has you right where He providentially wants you so you can accomplish what He wants in your life and in your world as He uses you.
A third reason you should be calm and chaotic periods of life, is written upon the weathered parchment of verses eight through eleven. The premise detailed here should not be passed over too quickly:
Because Victory Is Assured Be Assured (Psalm 46:8-11)
First, I invite you to read the text in question, and then we will circle back and make some salient observations:
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, who has made desolations in the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. 10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46).
Contextually, we must ask ourselves, “Who is the psalmist talking to, saint or sinner?” Glad you asked. Both. To the saint God says, “Come, you who are under siege by sinners, and consider my past ability to stop war, and my future ability to stop all wars.” Pharaoh warred against Israel. How did that turn out for him? Joshua fought with the Amalekites while Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses during the fight. How did that turn out for Amalek? Not too well (Ex. 17). The Assyrians sought to obliterate Jerusalem while Hezekiah, a godly man and a man of prayer, was king. How did that turn out for them? (2 Chron. 32:22ff). One angel passed through their camp and they instantly lost 185,000 battle-hardened soldiers (2 Kings 19:36). I could go on, but we will stop because I’m sure you get my point. The same God who helped His people in the past, is the same God can, and will, help them in the present. The wicked, therefore, should wise up.
The psalmist also points out here how God will one day, in the prophetic future, destroy all war and warriors forever and every implement tied to war. Malachi puts it this ways:
1 For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up," Says the LORD of hosts, "That will leave them neither root nor branch.2 But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this," says the LORD of hosts (Mal. 4).
5 For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire.16 For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. . . 18 For I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory (Isa. 66).
13 I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7).
After the Messiah destroys the armies of the wicked at the end of the Tribulation, He restores Israel and creates peace in the animal world, along with the human world:
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says the LORD (Isa. 65).
Isaiah is also quite definitive regarding how the Messiah brings peace by utterly destroying the implements of warfare after His arrival:
4 He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa. 2) .
No need for a place called the Pentagon. No need for a military budget for the nation. No need for fresh recruits for any branch of service. No need for engineers to design smart yet brutal weapons. No need for a war college. Imagine, you will never run into a veteran again because there will be no war, ever. And all those who are part of the Messiah’s kingdom will learn from Him and His Law (Isa. 2).
No wonder, then, the psalmist calls the lost to “Be still” and know that God is God. The command in Hebrew means to drop your hand to your sides as if something is all over. For the lost, the call is to understand what God is going to do in the future and the give up your vain, vacuous rebellion to thwart the arrival of His utopian paradise known as the kingdom of the Messiah.
- Stop re-writing history to suit your pernicious philosophies.
- Stop smearing moral, godly people who speak truth.
- Stop twisting truth so you can promote untruths as truth.
- Stop trying to be God, the Lord of your life.
- Stop demonizing God’s people in order to elevate yourself.
- Stop rationalizing your perversions and codifying them so you can oppose those who love my morals.
- Stop trying to do all you can to consolidate temporal power when eternal power will win the day.
You will find no lasting peace until you stop your resistance and realize there is a living God in heaven you must worship, a Lord who died for your sin and rose again. Will you stop resisting today and start resting in your faith in His spiritually redemptive, restorative work? New life starts with confession of the Christ (Rom. 10:9).
To the Christian, the closing words of the psalmist show us how to obtain hope in hopeless times. For one, remember that He will fulfill every prophecy in the Scriptures to the letter, down to the crossing of a “t” to the dotting of an “i.” Hence, when the King said He would return after a short period to settle accounts and erect His kingdom, HE WILL! (Matt. 21:33-46, The Parable of the Landowner). For another, remember that regardless of what happens this week in the election and beyond, Jesus, the Christ, will be exalted in due time. Republicans won’t be exalted when time runs its course, nor will Democrats. Their exaltation to power is temporal and highly limited. That of Christ’s is vastly different. No, He, and He alone, will be openly displayed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19). So, be calm and press on.