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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 46

Psalms 46

THIS is “a fine consolatory Psalm, wherein God’s marvellous working is praised, as he protects his little flock of believers, and preserves them through such great necessities of war and persecutions, that it might seem as if the world was going to wreck,” Arnd. The theme, the security of the kingdom of God in the midst of those storms, which shake the world, is distributed into three strophes, which are also externally separated by the thrice repeated Selah, Psalms 46:1-3, Psalms 46:4-7, Psalms 46:8-11. The ground-thought uttered at the commencement: God is our refuge and strength, returns, with only a slight change of form, at the end of the second and the third strophe, and consequently of the whole Psalm, so that the close refers back to the beginning. From the last strophe: “Come, behold the works of the Lord, who effects desolation on the earth,” it is clear, that the fundamental idea of the Psalm had been made living to the Psalmist by some particular historical occasion, which he expressly refers to in the third strophe, after he had in the two first confined himself alone to the everlasting idea, rising up thereto from its particular development.

The historical occasion of the Psalms cannot with certainty be determined. It was called forth by a catastrophe, which befel the kingdom of Judah, (comp. in Psalms 46:8: come, behold the works of the Lord;) and has for its immediate object Judah’s deliverance. Otherwise, the particular in the last strophe would not serve as a foundation for the general in the two first strophes; especially this: “God helps her at the break of morning,” would not be comprehensible, as it pre-supposes a strong oppression on Judah. The admonition also in Psalms 46:10: “Leave off and know, that I am God,” has only then a motive laid for it, when the desolation effected upon the earth, Psalms 46:8, and the cessation of war in Psalms 46:9, could be recognised by all as done in behalf of Israel’s salvation; for only then was the fact a dissuasive for the heathen against fighting with Israel, a demonstrative proof of the godhead of his God. In like manner, it is then only that Psalms 46:11 appears as grounded. But, at the same time, this catastrophe was an important event in the world’s history, the annihilation of the power of a world-conqueror: with Judah is the whole circle of the earth also is delivered, in so far as it could be surveyed from Palestine, Psalms 46:9, and the Lord has thereby glorified himself through all the earth, Psalms 46:10. By observing these distinctive marks, hypotheses, such as those of De Wette, who thinks the Psalm refers to foreign wars, which God had silenced, and of Hitzig, who refers it to a sudden scaring of the Syrians and Ephraimites from the Jewish territory, are entirely set aside. In the whole Israelitish history, there is only one event, of which we can here think, the destruction of Sennacherib’s army before the gates of Jerusalem, Isaiah 37:36. That whole chapter and the Isaiah 36 must be read, if we would come to the full understanding and enjoyment of the Psalm. After the exodus from Egypt, there was no occasion more appropriate than this for bringing vividly out the leading idea in this Psalm. After the exodus from Egypt, there was not occasion more appropriate than this for bringing vividly out the leading idea in this Psalm. The entire might of the world, which, as formerly in Egypt, so then was concentrated in Assyria, the most powerful of kingdoms, up till that time resistless in its march of conquest, came against Jerusalem. To the words: “Let not Hezekiah deceive you, saying, the Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?”—there was an equally impressive answer given then, as formerly to the question of Pharaoh: Who is Jehovah? When all seemed already to be lost, the holy city was by an immediate exercise of divine omnipotence delivered, without any co-operation on the part of its feeble inhabitants, without even any interruption to, the undertaking of the Assyrians from their chief enemies, the Egyptians. Then, when real greatness was great also in appearance, when the power of the world had assumed a dazzling splendour, at such a time it was, that it was said to the possessors thereof, as is done here in Psalms 46:10, “cease and know, that I am God.” In expression also there occur allusions to what was spoken and written at that time. The Immanuel, which Isaiah, in. Isaiah 8:10, calls out to a blustering heathen world, while, lifting itself up against the people of God, forms here the keynote, comp. Psalms 46:7 and Psalms 46:10. As Hezekiah, in Isaiah 37:20, entreats God: “And now, O Lord, our God, deliver us out of his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know, that thou alone art the Lord,” so here the Psalmist calls aloud to the heathen, after the prayer had been granted, “ Know that I am God, exalted among the heathen, exalted upon earth,” It is perhaps also not unworthy of notice, that the discourse here is only of the city of God, comp. Psalms 46:4-5. It was this, which was then at stake. All the other strong places had Sennacherib already taken away, Isaiah 36:1, and Jerusalem alone remained, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers.

Besides, it is self-evident that the subject of the Psalm, upon which Luther’s “Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott,” rests, is no Old Testament idea. There is only one church of God through all ages, and to this it belongs. When Christ supports his Church, the gates of hell may rage; this is only the New Testament form for the general fundamental truth.

After Venema, Hitzig maintains Isaiah to be the author of the Psalm, on the ground, that it contains much in common with the prophecies of Isaiah in respect to the Assyrian times. But there might be still more of this, than there really is, (only the Immanuel is of any moment,) without perhaps invalidating the authority of the superscription, which expressly testifies against this hypothesis. A certain dependance of the holy Psalmist upon the prophet, direct, or indirect, is what might be expected beforehand.

If we include the superscription, the Psalm completes itself in the number twelve, which, as in the disposition of the camp in the wilderness, is distributed into three and four: three strophes of four verses.

In the superscription: To the chief musician of the sons of Korah, after the virgin-manner, a song, the על עלמות is according to 1 Chronicles 15:20, unquestionably to be taken as marking the kind of tone; Gousset: vox clara et acuta, quasi virginum. Such musical designations occur very rarely in the superscriptions, comp. Psalms 4, Psalms 8.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. God is our refuge and strength, a help in necessities is he found most truly.

Ver. 2. Therefore we are not afraid; though the earth is changed, and the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,

Ver. 3. Its waters roar, foam, mountains tremble through its loftiness. The church of the Lord is secure with his protection, in the midst of the stormy commotions, by which what is most glorious in the world is brought down. In substance, it is parallel with what Hezekiah, according to 2 Chronicles 32:7, said to the captains of war, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him, for with us is a greater than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and to fight our battles.” נמצא not: he was, but he is found to us, he shows or proves himself to us, comp. on the use of the pret. Ew. § 262. Calvin remarks, that Psalms 46:1 refers not to all persons, but to all times; the Psalmist teaches how God must conduct himself toward his own, places God’s chosen people in opposition to the profane world, which is left destitute of any such support.

In Psalms 46:2, המיר is not to be changed, still less to shake, but it is used in its common signification, to change. The infinitive stands impers., as in Psalms 42:3, Ezekiel 23:44, Job 20:4, Exodus 9:16; though one changes, for, though is changed. This use of the infin. was the more natural here, as מור is used only in this conjugation. The change of the earth, which comes into consideration here, according to Psalms 46:6, as the seat of the earthly kingdom, marks great revolutions, through which its form is altered, what is uppermost is turned into the lowermost. The immediate cause of the change are the nations in search of conquest, according to Psalms 46:3, “through its loftiness,” and Psalms 46:6, “the peoples rage;” but, according to the words, “he utters his voice, the earth melts,” the last and highest cause is the Lord, comp. Haggai 2:21-22, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah: I shake the heavens and the earth, and overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen.” Such a change of the earth had found place in the recent past, when Assyria, the rod of his anger and the staff of his indignation, “removed the bounds of the people, and robbed their treasures, and put down the inhabitants like a valiant man,” Isaiah 10:13. That the sea and the mountains are to be taken figuratively, shows already the form of expression, (the natural mountains are not in the heart, i.e. in the innermost of the sea; the exposition and the mountains sink into the middle of the sea, is verbally inadmissible; for בוט signifies only to shake, and must be taken in its common signification, were it only for Psalms 46:5 and Psalms 46:6); shows further, Psalms 46:3, the suffixes in which referring to the sea, cannot otherwise be explained, from the contrast between the still flood and the roaring sea in Psalms 46:4, and from the words “the peoples rage, the kingdoms shake,” in Psalms 46:6, by which an explanation is given of “the mountains shaking in the heart of the sea.” Now what is to be understood by the mountains, admits of no doubt. They are a figurative description of empires, comp. on Psalms 30:7, Revelation 8:8, and Isaiah 37:24, where the king of Assyria says: “I ascend the height of the mountains, the sides of Lebanon;” comp. the enumeration of the conquered kingdoms=the ascended mountains, in Isaiah 37:11-13, Isaiah 10:9. Seas and overflowing floods are not rarely an image of hostile masses of people, which take delight in making conquest over the face of the earth, comp. Isaiah 17:12, Isaiah 8:7-8, Jeremiah 47:2, Jeremiah 46:7. But the image cannot have this import here. For here the mountains, the conquered kingdoms, are in the heart of the sea. Here the sea is rather the symbol of the world, the masses of people generally, which are kept in constant motion by their principle—pride, ambition, comp. Isaiah 57:20: “the wicked are like a troubled sea.” The proper parallels here are Isaiah 27:1, according to which Babylon is a monster in the sea, Daniel 7:2-3, “the four winds strove with each other on the great sea, and four great beasts came up from the sea,” Revelation 8:8, and Revelation 17:15, where in explanation of the symbol of the whore, who sits upon many waters, i.e. rules over many nations, it is said: “The waters, which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” The mountains in the heart of the sea denote the mightiest kingdoms of the world. The suffixes in Psalms 46:3, are to be referred to the sea, which only as to form is plural, comp. Ew. § 569. Instead of the inf. with ב the sentence is carried forward with the verb fin. The sea is conceived of as in constant motion. Even mountains are not able to withstand its raging. But the city of God must not be afraid. גאה stands here in its usual signification, pride, haughtiness, comp. גֵ אוּ ת הים Psalms 89:9. The raging of the sea is here described the more fitly as loftiness, since the discourse is of the spiritual sea, the world, which is kept in perpetual agitation by the prevalence of that pride; comp. the delineation of the loftiness of the king of Assyria in Isaiah 10:12, ss.

Verses 4-7

Ver. 4. The River—its streams rejoice the city of God, holy through the dwellings of the Most High. Ver. 5. God is in the midst of her, therefore will she not move, God helps her at the break of morning. Ver. 6. The peoples roar, kingdoms shake, he makes his voice to resound, the earth melts. Ver. 7. The Lord, the Lord of hosts is with us, our strong fortress the God of Jacob. Selah. In opposition to the raging and destroying sea stands the quiet and soft-flowing, refreshing and quickening river. The contrast to the figurative sea, and the fact, that Jerusalem possesses no river, (in vain would the literally historical expositors perpetually think here anew of the brook Siloah, which at the most could only have suggested the image, comp. Isaiah 8:6), shows, that the discourse here is of a spiritual river. The blessings of the kingdom of God, his royal graces, appear under the image of a river, resting upon Genesis 2:10, (comp. on Psalms 36:8), in a whole series of passages, Psalms 36:8, John 4:18, Ezekiel 47, Zechariah 14:8, Revelation 22:1, “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” נהר , the nom. absol. The Psalmist first sets forth the whole, because this forms a suitable contrast to the sea. He then mentions the particular streams, in order to draw attention to the manifold ways, in which God makes his grace flow out to the church. In Zechariah 4 the number of pipes to the candlestick, seven for each of the seven lamps, points in like manner to the variety of ways, in which the grace of God flows out to his church, as also to its richness, comp. Christol. II. p. 57. Here the royal graces is primarily thought of in reference to the dangers, to which the city of God was exposed on the part of an ambitious world, although we must not confine its application entirely to these. The dwellings of God are, according to the standing usage, the temple. But the holy of the dwellings of the Most High, from being in apposition to the city of God, and from the following verse, can only be the holy city. We must either expound: the place, which is holy through the dwellings of the Most High, or the holy place, where the dwellings of the Most High are. קדוש , the holy=the holy place, (comp. Exodus 29:31, Leviticus 6:9, Leviticus 6:19), occurs also at Psalms 65:4, and perhaps Isaiah 57:15. Calvin: “The sentiment of Horace on the just man: si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae, appears excellent at first sight. But as such a person as he draws has never been found, he merely trifles. This greatness of soul, On the other hand, is based solely in the protection of God, and on the promises which he has made to his own people, and in this way easily overcomes the terror which threatens destruction to all creatures. Happy those, who have passed out of the territory of the sea into that of the river!

The expression: God is in the midst of her, in Psalms 46:5, holds true of the church of the New Testament, unspeakably more than of the Old, as God is present with her in the fullest sense in Christ. לפנות בקר , lit.: about the turning of the morning; the פנה here, to turn one’s self, for the purpose of coming. That we are not to expound with Hitzig: as often as the morning breaks, but rather: as soon as the morning breaks, appears from the original passage in Exodus 14:27: “And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared,” comp. Judges 19:26, and the exact paral. Psalms 30:5, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” Psalms 49:14, Psalms 143:8. Distress with the Lord’s people can have only, as it were, a night’s quarters. Whenever the mo r ning breaks, the Lord drives it from its resting-place, and sends another, an abiding guest, salvation. There is unquestionably an allusion to the overthrow of the Assyrians. Then, in reality, did there stand but one night between the highest pitch of distress and the most complete deliverance, comp. Isaiah 17:14: “And behold at evening-tide trouble, before the morning comes, it is no more,” Isaiah 37:36: “And they arose in the morning, and lo! they were all dead corpses.”

Psalms 46:6 and Psalms 46:7 form a contrast. Psalms 46:6 represents the dissolving of the world, Psalms 46:7, the security of the kingdom of God, The whole earth is in uproar and confusion, peoples rage, kingdoms reel; but that God, who suspends over them a spiritual earthquake, is the protection and help of his people, so that they stand firm and secure amid the general desolation. That the pret. המו and מטו are to be taken in the pres. sense, appears from the fut. תמוג , and the whole context, in which the discourse is not of a single event, but of what is constantly taking place. On: the peoples roar, comp. Isaiah 17:12, “Hear, a roaring of many peoples, as the roaring of the sea they roar,” Jeremiah 5:22. In the second half of Psalms 46:6, according to the current exposition, the stilling of the peoples’ uproar must be expressed: De Wette: “Jehovah commands quiet, and man obeys;” Tholuck “Let the God of Jacob utter his voice, and however fiercely the peoples roar, they must be dumb.” But this exposition is quite inadmissible. מוג does not signify to be afraid, (De Wette,) nor to be dumb, but to melt, and the melting of the earth everywhere else denotes the dissolving effect of the divine judgments, comp. Psalms 75:3, “The earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved,” Amos 9:5. Immediately before goes the expression: they shake, not: they roar; the voice, therefore, cannot be a silencing, but a frightening, dissolving, destroying one, The whole verse is rather parallel to Psalms 46:2 and Psalms 46:3, and the contrast is not contained in it, but first appears in Psalms 46:7. In its second part the idea suggested is, that the Lord is the ultimate cause of the roaring of the peoples, as of the shaking of the kingdoms, and the ground is, consequently, prepared for the reception of the seed of promise in Psalms 46:7. Though the Lord should let the people roar, his people must not tremble before them, as it stands unalterably fast, that he can help them. Comp., besides, Haggai 2:21-22. נתן בקולו . prop.: he gives with his voice, is to be explained in this way, that the giving, according to the connection, is as much as, giving a sound, edere sonum. So also in Ps. 63:33.

The names of God, in Psalms 46:7, indicate, at once, his almightiness, and his relation to his covenant people. Calvin: “That our faith may stand fast in God, these two things must be considered, namely, the infinite power with which he is provided for subjecting the whole world, then his fatherly love, which he has disclosed in his word.” On the Selah the Berleb. Bible: “Lay this once more deeply to heart in quiet, that it may be firmly rooted.” Arnd: “Because of the sins of the people earthly kingdoms are changed, as experience teaches, therefore the mighty kingdoms of the world, the four empires, are passed away, while Christ has, at the same time, preserved his word and kingdom.”

Verses 8-11

The Psalm turns now, in the last strophe, from unlimited confidence in God’s protection and help, to the event of the recent past, which laid so glorious a foundation for this confidence. Ver. 8. Come, behold the works of the Lord, who makes desolation on the. earth.

Ver. 9. Who silences wars to the ends of the earth, breaks bow, and cuts spear asunder, burns chariot with fire.

Ver. 10. Cease and know, that I am God, exalted among the heathen, exalted in the earth. Ver. 11. The Lord, the Lord of hosts is with us, our fortress the God of Jacob, Selah. In the, come, behold, in Psalms 46:8, the Psalmist calls to all without distinction. בארץ , not in the land, but, as the following context shows, on the earth. On the earth, because the desolation concerns the powers of the world, which bold under their sway the orbis terrarum, comp. “to the end of the earth,” in Psalms 46:9, and “the whole earth is at rest and quiet,” in Isaiah 14:7. We might also conceive by the expression a reference to the fact, that the God of Israel does not conceal himself, shut himself up in the heavens, but makes known his almightiness on the earth, by the overthrow of mighty peoples, so that all can behold in his works the proofs of his alone godhead. For שמה the sense of desolation is established by Isaiah 5:9, Isaiah 13:9, Isaiah 24:12, comp. Jeremiah 25:12. The sig. adopted by Ewald, stupenda, rests on no foundation. That the desolation must have for its object those, who had raised themselves against the people of God, and threatened to swallow them up, has been already remarked. For יהוה in many critical helps is found אלהים . But the former has by far the preponderance on its side of critical authorities, and the Elohim, not justified also by Psalms 66:5, in the smaller number of these, is capable of explanation on the same grounds, which makes our modern critics so much inclined to that reading, the fact of the Elohim being so common in the Korahite Psalms. Jehovah is here far more suitable, as every thing has respect precisely to the point, that the works here mentioned belong to the God of Israel, and as here the experimental proof is brought in support of the immediately preceding declaration: Jehovah, the God of Jacob, is with us. From what Jehovah has done, the proof is brought in Psalms 46:10, that he is God, Elohim.

The means, by which God silences war to the end of the earth, Psalms 46:9, is the overthrow of the wild conquerors and tyrannical lords, comp. the triumphal song, raised on the same grounds as existed here in reference to Assyria, over the pride of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14 where, among other things, it is said: “How does the oppressor rest, cease from his oppression! The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers. The whole earth rests and is quiet, breaks forth into singing.” The bows, arrows, chariots, are those of the plunderers. These are rendered as incapable of prosecuting their devastations, or even of preserving what they had won, as if their implements of war were destroyed. The active operation, which the Lord here unfolds, is an earnest of that which he will manifest at the end of time, comp. Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3. That the destruction of the conqueror, who is here spoken of, must necessarily have taken place under such circumstances as those of Assyria, so that the hand of Jehovah could not be overlooked, we shewed before, comp. 2 Chronicles 32:23, “And many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah, king of Judah, and he was magnified in the eyes of all heathen henceforth.”

In Psalms 46:10 the Lord directs his speech to the peoples of the earth. Cease, not in regard to war at large—for is this case the reason given is not a suitable one,—but from war against my people, which, as the foregoing fact shews, is a contest of feebleness against omnipotence, ruinous to those who undertake it. On the last words John Arnd “How, then, could we have a stronger support? If only our support does not depart from us, we may say, as Joshua and Caleb did of the heathen, fear ye not, they are as bread to us, for their support has departed from them. If God remains our support, what then can men do with all their might!”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 46". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-46.html.