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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 46


This psalm reflects the feelings with which a people, secure in the sense of Divine protection, looks on while surrounding nations are convulsed, and calmly awaits the issue. Such a situation was that of Israel in the seventh century B.C, while the giant powers of Egypt and Assyria were rending the East by their rivalries, and also during the wars of the Ptolemies and Seleucidæ. The former period suggests itself as the more probable date of the psalm, from its resemblance to much of the language of Isaiah when dealing with events that culminated in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. Compare especially the recurrence of the expression, “God is with us,” Elohîm immânû, with the prophet’s use of the name Immanuel. The refrain, though missing after the first stanza, marks the regular poetical form.

Title.—For the first part see titles Psalms 4, 42, A song upon ‘alâmôth. This plainly is a musical direction, but the precise meaning must still remain matter of conjecture. Since ‘alâmôth means maidens, the most natural and now generally received interpretation is “a song for sopranos.” (Comp. title Psalms 6:0)

Verse 1

(1) Refuge and strength.—Better, a refuge and stronghold, or a sure stronghold, as in Luther’s hymn,

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.

A very present help.—Better, often found a help.

Verse 2

(2) Though the earth be removed.—Literally, at the changing of the earth. Possibly with the same figure implied, which is expressed, Psalms 102:26, of the worn-out or soiled vesture. The psalmist was thinking of the sudden convulsion of earthquake, and figures Israel fearless amid the tottering kingdoms and falling dynasties. Travellers all remark on the signs of tremendous volcanic agency in Palestine.

It is interesting to compare the heathen poet’s conception of the fearlessness supplied by virtue (Hor. Ode 3:3).

Verse 3

(3) Though the waters . . .—The original is very expressive in its conciseness:

“They roar, they foam, its waters.”

Comp. Homer’s equally concise description, including in three words the “rush,” the “swell,” and the “roar” of ocean (Iliad, xxiii. 230).

Swelling.—Or, pride. (Comp. Job 38:11.) The change in construction in this verse seems to confirm the suspicion that the refrain has dropped away.

Verse 4

(4) A river . . .—Heb., nâhar, i.e., a perennial stream, as distinguished from nâchal, a torrent bed dry except in the rainy season. Plainly, then, the “Cedron” is not here alluded to. But many commentators think “Siloam” is intended. (See Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 180, and comp. Isaiah 12:3; Ezekiel 47:1-5; John 7:37.)

There may not, however, be any such local allusion. The river, flowing calmly and smoothly along, may be only a symbol of the peace and blessing of the Divine presence, as the tumult and tempest of the sea in the last verse are of the world’s noisy troubles. Indeed, the LXX. (comp. Prayer Book version) seems to connect the river of this verse with the waters of the preceding.

Streams.—See Note on Psalms 1:3, where the same word occurs.

Verse 5

(5) Right early.—Literally, at the turning of the morning. Evidently metaphorical of the dawn of a brighter day.

Verse 6

(6) The absence of conjunctions, and sudden change from the preterite to the future, lends a vividness to the picture.
“Raged heathen, tottered kingdoms
Gave with His voice (the signal) (and lo !)

Melts the earth.”

Verse 7

(7) Lord of hosts.—See Note on Psalms 24:10.

Refuge.—Rightly in the margin with idea of height, as giving security.

Verse 8

(8) The Lord.—Many MSS. read Elohîm instead of “Jehovah.”

Desolations . . .—Either, silence of desolation, “silence” being the primary sense of the word, or (as in Jeremiah 19:8), wonders, which silence by their suddenness and marvel. So LXX. and Vulg., and this is confirmed by Psalms 46:10.

Verse 9

(9) He maketh.—Comp. Virg. Æn., 3:560.

Verse 10

(10) I am God.—The introduction of the Divine Protector Himself speaking just before the refrain is a fine touch of art.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 46". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.