God Our Refuge

Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 1-75 Psalm 46. Our Mighty Fortress

"We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us, and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word, against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin."

Martin Luther

Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 1-75 Psalm 46. Our Mighty Fortress

Martin Luther is one of the key figures in church history, a man mightily used by God to bring reformation to the church. The year 1527 was the most difficult of his life. After ten demanding years of leading the Reformation, a dizzy spell overcame him in the middle of a sermon on April 22 of that year, forcing him to stop preaching. Luther feared for his life. On July 6, while eating dinner with friends, he felt an acute buzzing in his ear and lay down, again convinced he was at the end of his life. He partially regained his strength, but a debilitating discouragement set in as a result. In addition, heart problems and severe intestinal complications escalated the pangs of death. p 243

Of this ordeal, Luther wrote, "I spent more than a week in death and hell. My entire body was in pain, and I still tremble. Completely abandoned by Christ, I labored under the vacillations and storms of desperation and blasphemy against God."

What was worse, the dreaded black plague had entered Germany and spread into Wittenberg. Many people fled, fearing for their lives. Yet Luther and his wife Katy remained, believing it was their duty to care for the sick and dying. Although Katy was pregnant with their second child, Luther's house was transformed into a hospital where he watched many friends die. Then without warning Luther's one-year-old son Hans became desperately ill. With death surrounding him on every side, Luther was driven to seek refuge in God as never before. Psalm 46 became the strength of his soul.

As a result, Luther expanded its truths into the hymn for which he is most famous, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Its majestic and thunderous proclamation of God who is our all-sufficient refuge in our weakest moments has become the enduring symbol of the Reformation.

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

Doth seek to work us woe—

His craft and pow'r are great,

And armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

That word above all earthly pow'rs,

No thanks to him abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Thru Him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also—

The body they may kill;

God's truth abideth still

His kingdom is forever.

Like Martin Luther, the author of Psalm 46 found solace and refuge in God during difficult times. The background for this song of praise is unknown, but it was probably written after a military victory over a foreign power that attempted a siege against Jerusalem. It may have been written after the destruction of the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir (2 Chr. 20:1-30). Or perhaps it was recorded after the destruction of King Sennacherib and the Assyrian army during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kgs. 18-19). p 244

According to the superscription, it was written by one of the "sons of Korah" (for background on the sons of Korah, see Introduction, Psalm 42) and was "for the director of music." Alamoth may refer to the pitch of the music, denoting that it was to be high for the treble and soprano voices. It may have been implored to refer to certain shrill-sounding instruments (cp. 1 Chr. 15:20).

Psalm 46:1–11 NKJV
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations 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, Who has made desolations in the earth. 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. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
God Our Refuge
what is a refuge
who needs a refuge
God is our refuge
Psalm 61:3 NKJV
For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy.
Psalm 62:7–8 NKJV
In God is my salvation and my glory; The rock of my strength, And my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
Psalm 142:5 NKJV
I cried out to You, O Lord: I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living.

God is our refuge against the events around us - vs. 1-3

Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 1-75 Psalm 46. Our Mighty Fortress

46:1. When we are attacked and assailed by the discouraging circumstances of life, God is our refuge in whom his people will find protection, strength, and stability. God is pictured as a refuge, meaning a strong shelter from danger, an unconquerable fortress, or a walled city where protection is found. Furthermore, when trouble found the psalmist, God was his strength, upholding and enabling him to stand through the fiery trials. To have trouble means to be in a tight place, to be restricted, tied up, or to be in a narrow, cramped place. The psalmist was between a rock and a hard place with no way out. Yet God was with him, an ever-present help in trouble, immediately present and instantly available to his people.

46:2-3. Having understood the all-sustaining power of God, the psalmist wrote, We will not fear. This is a bold statement of confidence in God inspired by the greatness of the Almighty. Regardless of what the psalmist and the people of God face, they have no reason to fear. God is in control. The psalmist continued, Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. This is a picture of confusion, represented as a momentous earthquake that caused an upheaval of the tall, lofty mountains. The mountains, representing stability and continuity, seem to collapse into the sea; and the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

This imagery conveys earthshaking circumstances. As the mountains crash into the sea, the sea responds by flooding outside of its assigned barriers. In spite of all this turmoil that pictures devastating circumstances seemingly out of control, we will not fear. God is in control.

the earth may quake, but you heart need not
he gives strength
Psalm 29:11 NKJV
The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.
Psalm 68:35 NKJV
O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places. The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people. Blessed be God!
Isaiah 40:31 NKJV
But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
Psalm 71:7 NKJV
I have become as a wonder to many, But You are my strong refuge.
they were prone to look to other nations for a refuge
Isaiah 30:1–2 NKJV
“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the Lord, “Who take counsel, but not of Me, And who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, That they may add sin to sin; Who walk to go down to Egypt, And have not asked My advice, To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, And to trust in the shadow of Egypt!
Times may change, but God’s promises never do.
Isaiah 54:10 NKJV
For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, But My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

God is our refuge against the enemies around us - vs. 4-7

The scene shifts into the city of Jerusalem where the people are confined because of the Assyrian army camped around them. Water was a precious commodity in Palestine and especially in Jerusalem, one of the few ancient cities not built on a river. Wisely, Hezekiah had built an underground water system that connected the Spring of Gihon in Kidron with the Pool of Siloam within the city, so water was available (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:30). But the psalmist knew that God was their river and provided them with the water of life (Ps 36:8; 65:9; 87:7; and see John 7:37–39). In the days of King Ahaz, Isaiah compared an Assyrian invasion to an overflowing river, but he reminded the Jews that their God was like a quiet river (Shiloah) and would bring them peace (Isa. 8:1–10). God’s people have always depended on the hidden spiritual resources that come from God alone. Whenever Israel turned to a pagan nation for help, they ended up in worse trouble.
Jerusalem was indeed the holy city, set apart by God, and His sanctuary was there, but these things were no guarantee of victory (Jer. 7:1–8). The king and the people needed to turn to the Lord in confession and faith, and He would hear and save them, and this is what they did. God did help Jerusalem when the morning dawned (v. 5 “right early,” KJV), for the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and sent Sennacherib home (Isa. 37:36).
Indeed, Yahweh is God Most High! (v. 4). All He had to do was speak the word (v. 6), and the enemy was defeated. He is the “Lord of Hosts—the Lord of the armies of heaven and earth.” This name for God is found first in Scripture when Hannah asked God to give her a son (1 Sam. 1:11). The Commander of the armies of the Lord is always with us (Josh. 5:13–15), for He is “Immanuel, God with us” (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14; 8:8). No matter what the circumstances, we may drink at the river of His joy and blessing and find the peace and strength we need.

God is our refuge against the whole warring world - vs. 8-11

Following the battle, the psalmist invited the reader to come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he had brought on the earth. The works of the LORD were performed throughout the history of Israel, from the conquest of the promised land into the period of the monarchy. Perhaps
The third scene is on the fields surrounding Jerusalem where the Assyrian soldiers lay dead, their weapons and equipment scattered and broken. There had been no battle, but the angel of the Lord left this evidence behind to encourage the faith of the people. “Come and see the amazing things (desolations) the Lord has made!” The Lord defeated and disarmed His enemies and destroyed their weapons, and they could attack no more.
46:10-11. Here there is a shift in the speaker from the psalmist to the Lord himself, who gave a universal command to those who were in uproar: "Be still, and know that I am God." This is not a contemplative call for reflection but a redemptive call to surrender and to know God personally and intimately before his swift judgment is unleashed (Hab. 2:20; Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:13). Furthermore, the Lord continued, I will be exalted among the nations.
God brought destruction upon the threatening nations so his name might be exalted before them.
“Be still” literally means “Take your hands off! Relax!” We like to be “hands-on” people and manage our own lives, but God is God, and we are but His servants. Because Hezekiah and his leaders allowed God to be God, He delivered them from their enemies. That was the way King Hezekiah had prayed: “Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know You are the Lord God, You alone” (2 Kings 19:19, NKJV).
The Lord calls Himself “the God of Jacob,” and we remember how often Jacob got into trouble because he got his hands on circumstances and tried to play God. There is a time to obey God and act, but until then, we had better take our hands off and allow Him to work in His own time and His own way. If we seize His promises by faith with both hands, we won’t be able to meddle! God allows us to get into “tight places” so our faith will grow and He will be exalted. (See 22:27; 64:9; 86:9; 102:15.)
The theme of the next psalm is the exaltation of God in all the earth (47:9), and it’s likely Hezekiah wrote it. People boast of the great things they have done and never give God credit for anything, not even the strength and breath He gives them freely. But that will change. “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (Isa. 2:11, NKJV).
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