Psalm 46: a mighty fortress is our God
To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah.
According to Alamoth. A Song.
(1)God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(2)Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
(3)though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
(4)There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
(5)God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
(6)The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
(7)The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(8)Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.
(9)He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with 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 fortress.
In the ESV, Psalm 46 is titled “God is Our Fortress.”
The Sons of Korah were probably Levites in charge of the temple worship, they may have wrote it or maybe they were just in charge of it being sung. Alamoth is possibly a musical term for higher pitched music, whether voices or an instrument, no one is sure. But some say that this is a song for a girls choir!
“These old musical terms cannot be interpreted with certainty, but they are still useful because they show that care and skill should be used in our sacred music.”
–Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Somewhere in the mid-1500’s, Martin Luther wrote the words and the music for the well loved hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott or A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
He may have written these words after a friend was executed for his faith. He and others may have sung these words as they faced the council of the Holy Roman Church and were called heretics for their belief that the one true way to the Father was through Jesus and not a priest. But the words of this song are based upon those in Psalm 46:
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 power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
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 Saboath is His name,
from age to age the same;
and He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we an endure,
for lo! his doom is sure,
one little word shall fell him.
That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through 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 for ever!
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Psalm 46:1-3 NLT
What a song of faith during the scariest things imaginable! Though “the earth fade away” or “mountains crumble” or “oceans roar and foam,” we will not fear. I don’t know about you, but there’s not much scarier than the thought of mountains crumbling into the sea. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies!
This is such a song of faith in God. Some psalms call upon God as if He has turned His back. Other psalms call upon the faithfulness of God as trials come their way.
In this psalm, the people are amidst scary times, and yet they feel the real strength and presence of the Lord their God and Savior.
therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.
What Isaiah is referring to could be what was going on for the people of Israel when Psalm 46 was written, but it is not known for sure. This prophecy was of the Assyrian army flooding into Judah like the mighty Euphrates when it overflowed its banks. The Assyrian army, led by King Sennacherib during this time period, was fierce and cruel. The Assyrian Empire controlled much of ancient Mesopotamia up until its fall to the Babylonians in 612-609 BC.
An army known for its cruelty, carrying weapons more advanced than those of your people, surrounding your city, would be the scariest thing imaginable.
It is said, that when facing trials or persecution, Martin Luther would tell those around him that it was “time to sing Psalm 46.”
God is our refuge, our strength, a real presence in trouble.
Then, we pause, and let that sink in to our hearts. Selah…Interlude
A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it.
The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders, and the earth melts!
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.
Psalm 46:4-7 NLT
Most ancient cities had a river going either through the city or near to the city. Although Jerusalem did have a small spring outside the city, it did not have a river suitable to support the city.
So what river is this? Some believe it’s a reference to the Garden of Eden and the rivers there. Others see Jesus as the River of Life. Some see a prophetic glimpse of a New Jerusalem.
But truly, the reference is that where God is, there is life. Water is healing and cleansing and refreshing…who represents that? Jesus does.
The earth is crumbling away in this psalm, yet there is a place that does not move, cannot be destroyed, and is protected by the Almighty. The “City of God” is the place where the Most High resides, His Holy Temple.
And the Bible has reference to a mighty river running through the Temple!
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city…
“The great fear of an Eastern city in time of war was lest the water supply should be cut off during a siege; if that were secured the city could hold out against attacks for an indefinite period. In this verse, Jerusalem, which represents the church of God, is described as well supplied with water, to set forth the fact that in seasons of trial all sufficient grace will be given to enable us to endure to the very end.”
If this was written during the time of King Hezekiah and the prophet, Isaiah, the story is found in 2 Kings 18-19 and 2 Chronicles 32. The Angel of the Lord–God’s Mighty Battle Angel–wiped out that entire army in the middle of the night outside the walls of Jerusalem. By the way, some believe that God’s Mighty Battle Angel is a reference to Jesus, Himself!
There are other Old Testament stories of God clearly protecting the city of Jerusalem.
But, there are also stories of the city falling. The first temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.
The Center for Israel Education’s website says this:
“Indiana University Professor, Bernard Frischer estimates that since 2000 BCE, the city was destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked another 52 times, recaptured 44 times, been the scene of 20 revolts, many riots, and endured half a dozen separate periods of violent terrorist attacks during the past century, with the city peacefully changing hands only twice.”
Safety and protection isn’t found in the city of Jerusalem alone.
God is with us, always, whether a man made city crumbles around us or stands in victory! Maybe the author is talking about the New Jerusalem. Is this a prophetic picture of the End of Days?
In a vision to John, Jesus said,
I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
Revelation 3:11-12 ESV
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Revelation 21:1-4 ESV
Here are a couple of translations of verse 7:
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. NIV
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge KJV
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. NLT
“Pause here” and revel in the strength and presence of our Lord.
We could do a study of all the Names of God in this psalm, but let’s just stop here for a moment…the Hebrew name that means “God with us” we know well…
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means, God with us.
“‘God with us;’ who is King of kings, and Lord of lords; who has all creatures in heaven and earth at his command, whom all the hosts of angels obey; he is on the side of his people, and therefore they have nothing to fear from all the hosts and armies of men; seeing more are they that are for them than they that are against them…”
–John Gill, English pastor, 1697-1771
Immanuel=God with us=Jesus.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.
Revelation 21:3 NLT
The Hebrew word here for “God himself,” Immanuel.
Come, see the glorious works of the LORD: See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.
Psalm 46:8-11 NLT
God’s people are involved in some sort of battle. Whether they are in fear of King Sennacherib and his 100K fighting Assyrians or some other time in history, they are living through something terrifying. But…they are trusting in the Lord; they believe that He fights for them; that the great Immanuel is real and present in their time of need.
Psalm 46 has been written in the third person, from the author’s perspective, until verse 10.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Now we have God’s voice. Many people believe this verse means something like, “being quiet in the presence of God, listening for His voice.” While that is a good thing, scholars say the Hebrew word for “be still” means something different.
rapa– to slacken, let down, cease; to drop, be weak, faint; i.e. two people fighting and dropping their weapons.
To be in the middle of battle and be called to cease and throw down your weapon, must mean something is happening; surrender is called, or victory is had.
Picture this: the terrible Assyrians, Israel trying to survive with strength of weapon, when God Himself steps into the battle. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Is He speaking to His own people or the enemy? All weapons drop. Wow.
Oh, and by the way, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies stands on that field. The LORD of Hosts. The LORD Almighty. Immanuel, God is with us.
Jesus is God’s mighty battle angel. He stands with us now. He fights for us. And one day, He will return in all His glory to bring God’s children home and to serve justice upon evil.
We have only to “be still” and put our trust in Him.
I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like the flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-16 ESV
Father in heaven, we thank you for this wonderful psalm. We thank you for the reminder that you fight for us, that sometimes all we have to do is lay down our own weapons and be still in your presence. We know that no matter what happens around us, you are Immanuel, God is with us. You are real and present and always walking beside us. Thank you for this reminder today. Father in your will: heal us, protect and strengthen us. Amen.