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A mighty fortress is our God

Psalm 46

1

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

10 

He says, “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 Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The world seems to have gone mad.  China is now threatening Taiwan with ballistic missiles and Russia continues its senseless and relentless destruction of Ukraine.  Massive and destructive forest fires are wreaking havoc and extreme weather threatens even where hitherto such things have been little known.  None of this should be a surprise though.  Jesus warned us of famines, earthquakes, wars and rumours of wars.  Although we know that in eternity such things will no longer harm us we look for peace in the here and now.  Is such peace possible?  The scriptures say it is and the message is no clearer stated than in Psalm 46. Martin Luther’s famous hymn “Ein feste Burg” is drawn from this Psalm which is filled with the richest of imagery.

Opening question for consideration:

What does it mean to be protected by God?

If you turn to the opening ascription to Psalm 46 in your bible you will see that it gives musical directions to the choir master of the “Sons of Korah” and is to be sung unusually by female voices “Alamoth.” Recent scholarship suggests that it dates to the time of King Hezekiah at the time of the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians (2 Kgs 18) and may even have been written by the King himself.

Regardless of the scholarship available to us today, the scriptures do not tell us the background, but all scripture is based upon experience and it is clear that during a very troublesome period of history, the author really sensed the comforting assurance of God.

The Psalm begins with the words “God is our refuge and strength.” What does the tense of these opening verses tell us about the intent of the Psalmist? That the Psalm was intended not as a means of expressing private devotion, but community faith.

The Psalmist uses very vivid metaphors which illustrates their faith in God and which qualifies the statement “ God is our refuge and strength.”  What are some of the contrasting word pictures which describe such ascriptions of God? A fortress strong hold on one hand and a gentle river stream on the other.

Such vivid word pictures describe the qualities of God, but equally vivid word pictures describe the dangers and turmoils we face.  What parallels does the Psalmist draw to describe the trials you might have faced or be facing in your life?

What do you make of the words in v 5 “The break of day?” It was the start of battle in ancient warfare in fact even today dawn with its uncertain definitions of light and dark are often used to mask enemy movement are are times of vulnerability for soldiers.

The description of the “river whose streams make glad the city of God” (v 4) is in sharp contrast to the boiling and seething waters in the preceding verses.  Why might the Psalmist have used such contrasting imagery? Some think it may refer to the diverted stream from the upper spring of Gihon through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David arranged under the directions of King Hezekiah to withstand the siege, but it reflects the gentle, calm reassurance we find as people of faith.

Verse 8 seems to present the reader, especially in our culture, with somewhat of a dilemma. In what way does a “Good” God bring “desolations?” – It is worth comparing this with Isaiah 45: 7-12. If God is sovereign He must take responsibility for all things. It is His earth and He uses all means at His disposal to affect His will.

The Psalmist describes God’s removal of warfare and the means to make war in v 9, but it He does not appear to take sides.  The words are not, “He breaks their bow and shatters their spear; he burns their shields with fire.” How might such a realization inform our prayers especially in relation to the command to pray for our enemies? God loves His creation. Both our enemies and we are His children. He always stands on the side of righteousness. Both enemy and friend are in need of God.

As with much Wisdom literature this Psalm forms a debate in the mind of the author as they struggle with faith in the midst of trial. Compare Psalm 46 with the Book of Job.  The whole story of Job is a debate about the goodness and purposes of God.  After all he has been through and all of his raging, doubt and dispute, Job concludes in Job 42:1-7:

 “Then Job replied to the Lord:“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?‘ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

90% of Psalm 46 is the author’s proclamation of faith, but at the end of God Himself speaks. What does it mean to be still before God and rest in our knowledge of Him? The Hebrew word conveys the sense of “Hands of off!” “Be still” is making that conscious decision to remember that no matter what you are going through “God has got this!”

Concluding thoughts:

The word pictures of God in Psalm 46 vividly describe what we know of Him and many millions of people have found to be true.

Firstly, He says “Hands off” I have got this.  What ever turmoil you are facing is nothing compared with His power and love for you.  Secondly, believing in God does not necessarily mean escape from these events as Jesus warns us:

Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” (Mark 13:8-9)

In despite of all the presence of God is guaranteed. As we find when we look at Psalm 23. God does not shove us into the valley of deep darkness and leave us to it, but He leads us through.  Such assurance is as firm and strong as a fortress and refuge. 

Thirdly, the peace we find in the presence of God even in the midst of trials is like a gentle flowing life-giving stream in contrast to the the storms and raging seas which surround us.

Fourthly and finally the Psalm teaches us that God does not take sides.  We need to be the ones who decide to side with God.  We need to discern His agenda and work with it for as the Psalm tells us all means of solving our own disputes especially by warfare will be completely and utterly removed.

Take comfort in this Psalm it is not wishful thinking, but provides considerable food for the soul and thought.

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