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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician for the sons of Korah.” See Introduction to Psalms 42:0. “A song upon Alamoth.” Great uncertainty attaches to the meaning of “Alamoth.” Some are of opinion that it is the name of a musical instrument. Others that it is the name of a melody. While Fuerst says it is the “proper name of a musical choir, dwelling perhaps in עַלֶּמֶת, over whom was placed a מְנצֵּחַ (director) Psalms 46:0.” The word occurs in 1 Chronicles 15:20, last clause, which, says Fuerst, “is to be understood with harps over the corps Alamoth (to direct it); לְנַצֵּחַ be applied as it stands in 1 Chronicles 15:21.”
It is impossible to determine who the author of the psalm is. Nor are we able to say with certainty upon what occasion it was composed. We think it very probable that it refers to the threatened invasion of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, and the destruction of his army in the night by the angel of the Lord. See 2 Kings 19:0 and Isaiah 36, 37. Barnes points out that “all the circumstances in that invasion—the tumultuous hosts summoned for the war (Isaiah 36:2); the overthrow of numerous nations by their armies (Isaiah 36:18-21); the siege of Jerusalem itself (Isaiah 36:2); the confidence of Hezekiah and his people in God when the city was besieged (Isaiah 37:14-20); and the final overthrow of the Assyrian host by the angel of the Lord (Isaiah 37:36) agree well with all the statements in the psalm.”
A TUMULTUOUS WORLD AND A TRANQUIL CHURCH
We have here—
I. A tumultuous World. The poet sets before us a scene of wild commotion. Kingdoms were shaking; peoples were roaring, the earth itself seemed unstable, the sea was rolling in trouble and breaking in thunder, and the firm and lofty mountains seemed to tremble with breaking of the billows upon their base. This would very fitly describe the state of affairs at the time of the invasions of Sennacherib. That monarch has already taken “all the cities of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin by force.” Hezekiah has made considerable preparations for the defence of Jerusalem. He has “strengthened the walls, added to the fortifications, laid in great store of arrows and other ammunition, deepened the trenches, and cut off all the waters which might have supplied the besieging army.” In order to avert the storm, Hezekiah submitted to Sennacherib, and paid to him an enormous tribute, for which he was obliged to strip the gold from the walls and pillars of the Temple, Sennacherib having promised that, if this tribute were paid, he would depart in a friendly manner. And then, although he departed to the conquest of Egypt, he perfidiously left behind him a large force which marched upon Jerusalem and demanded its unconditional surrender. Thus Sennacherib, with his immense and apparently irresistible army, was spreading commotion and terror among the nations. The tumult described by the Psalmist is a picture of the commotions of the world to-day. At this moment in Europe we have the tumult of war, and the unrest and anxiety of statesmen and nations as to “the balance of power.” In politics at home there are the strife and contention of parties. In the commercial world there are countless anxieties and fierce competitions. Even the religious world is not free from the noise of controversy and the din of party strife. In every realm of life there are unrest and tumult to a greater or less extent. All things here are in commotion. “What nations have passed away, like tracts of earth carried into the midst of the sea! What mighty empires, like mountains, have sunk into the abyss! What an emblem of earthly change and disquiet is the ocean! restless when most at rest; and affording no security, under its most placid aspects, against the rushing storm and the heaving surge. How much is swept away already! and there are still mountains of worldly pomp and power which at this moment ‘shake with the swelling thereof.’ ”
1. The tumult of the world is an evidence of the sin of the world. In some instances it is a direct expression of sin. In all cases it is a sign of sin. The world is tumultuous because of the guilt, the selfish ambitions, the evil passions, &c., of men.
2.The tumult of the world will one day be removed. The great mission of Christ is to put away sin. In that mission He will certainly succeed. When sin is put away all strife and tumult will cease. There is a calm and peaceful realm where strife and commotion are unknown, because sin is unknown there.
II. A tranquil Church. The poet sketches a scene of most delightful quiet. He shows us “a valley over which the winds sweep, and are not felt; along which the river flows and is not troubled, in which stands the city of God.” We have here—
1. An assurance of security. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear,” &c. “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.”
(1) The ground of this assurance. (a) The presence of God. “God is in the midst of her.” “The Lord of hosts is with us.” God in the visible symbol of His presence dwelt between the cherubim in the holy of holies. The holy city was His chosen abode, and He would defend it. The Jews under Hezekiah were His people, and He would protect them. The city or people which is kept by God is inviolably secure. The Church can never suffer real loss or harm while she is able truthfully to say, “The Lord of hosts is with us. God is in the midst of us.” (b) The seasonable help of God. “God shall help her, and that right early.” Margin: “When the morning appeareth.” Hengstenberg: “God helps her at the break of morning.” “Distress with the Lord’s people can have only, as it were, a night’s quarters. Whenever the morning breaks, the Lord drives it from its resting-place, and sends another, an abiding guest, salvation. There is probably 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’ (Psalms 37:36); ‘And they arose in the morning, and lo! they were all dead corpses.’ ”
(2) The vindication of this assurance. (a) In the character and resources of God. Character. He is “the God of Jacob,”—a God in covenant with His people, a faithful God; therefore it is wise to trust Him. Resources. He is “the Lord of hosts.” He rules the hosts of the stars. The armies of heaven—the angels—loyally follow His command. And He has sovereign right and power over all the hosts of men. “Hosts may be against us, but we need not fear them if the Lord of hosts be with us.” “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (b) In the mighty doings of God. “He uttered His voice, the earth melted.” Barnes says: “The very earth seemed to melt or dissolve before Him. Everything became still. The danger passed away at His command, and the raging world became calm.” Mark the ease with which it is done. “It shall not cost the Lord any business to despatch the enemies of His people; let Him show Himself a little, let Him but say the word, and they are gone; as snow before the sun, or fat cast into the fire, so are they consumed; He uttered His voice, the earth melted.”—Dickson. Remarkably this is illustrated in the destruction of the Assyrians.
“For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed!
And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.”
In the morning one hundred and eighty-five thousand warriors lay dead upon the plain. God had spoken; and Assyria was utterly crushed, and Jerusalem was delivered. So will it be with all the enemies of the Church when God ariseth.
2. An assurance of Refreshment. “There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” This figure was probably suggested by the arrangements made by Hezekiah for cutting off the water-supply from the invading army and securing the same to Jerusalem. The refreshment and gladness afforded by the Divine provisions are set forth under the image of this river. “How fit an emblem is this of the supplies with which God blesses His Church! See it in the rich supply of truth and grace. Here flows the stream of heavenly truth, bright and pure. It has widened as it has flowed; and it now sweeps with all the fulness of the last and perfect revelation from God. Grace to apply that revelation to practical purposes is equally free. ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.’ See here the rich supply of grace and blessing. Here the penitent guilty are freely forgiven; here the corrupt and degenerate heart is made new, &c. Life, love, and holiness, all are given. Life, supernatural vigour, love, which connects our affections with God and heaven; and holiness, leading to present fellowship with God, and fitting us for a blissful immortality.”—Watson. Here in the Church the “river” of Divine grace flows deep and full, and from it “streams” of blessing go forth diffusing life and joy.
CONCLUSION.—Let us seek this trustful and conquering spirit, which, in the midst of dangers and when confronted by powerful foes, confidently sings,—“God is our refuge and strength,” &c. Now, in the midst of the strife and storm, let us be glad and rejoice in the Lord. In due season victory and calm rest shall be ours.
CONTEMPLATION OF THE DOINGS OF GOD
The Psalmist here calls upon the people to behold the marvellous doings of God, which laid so firm a foundation for confidence in His protection and help.
I. The object contemplated. The Poet calls to the contemplation of “the works of the Lord,” and indicates what works he particularly refers to. He speaks of the “desolations He hath made in the earth.” Hengstenberg says: “The desolation must have for its object those who had raised themselves against the people of God, and threatened to swallow them up.” And Matthew Henry: “The destruction they designed to bring upon the Church has been turned upon themselves. War is a tragedy which commonly destroys the stage it is acted on.” What desolations were brought upon the Assyrians when the angel of the Lord smote in their camp one hundred and eighty-five thousand men! “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth.” “The means by which God silences war to the end of the earth,” says Hengstenberg, “is the overthrow of the wild conquerors and tyrranical lords.” Barnes points out that “the overthrow of the Assyrian army would probably put an end to all the wars then raging in the world. The Assyrian empire was then the most mighty on the globe; it was engaged in wide schemes of conquest; it had already overrun many of the smaller kingdoms of the world (Isaiah 37:18-20); and it hoped to complete its conquests, and to secure the ascendancy over the entire earth, by the subjugation of India and Egypt. When the vast army of that empire, engaged in such a purpose, was overthrown, the consequence would be, that the nations would be at rest, or that there would be universal peace.” “He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder.” The enemies of the Church were “rendered as incapable of prosecuting their devastations, or even of preserving what they had won, as if their implements of war were destroyed.” “He burneth the chariot in the fire.” There may be a reference here “to a custom of collecting the spoils of war into a heap and setting them on fire. This was particularly done when the victors were unable to remove them, or so to secure them as to preclude all danger of their being taken again and used against themselves. This custom is alluded to by Virgil, Æn. viii. 561, 562.
‘Qualis eram, cum primam aciem Præneste sub ipsa,
Stravi, scutorumque incendi victor acervos.’
The idea here is, that God had wholly overthrown the foe, and had prevented all danger of his returning again for purposes of conquest.”—Barnes.
This termination of war and inauguration of universal peace is an earnest of what He will one day do finally and for ever. “They shall beat their swords into plough-shares,” &c. (Isaiah 2:4, and Micah 4:3). The Lord speed the day when the war drum shall throb no longer, and the battle flags be for ever furled.
II. The design of the contemplation. There is some wise and worthy end aimed at in thus calling upon men to contemplate the doings of the Lord. What is that end?
1. The warning of the enemies of the Church. Let them behold these desolations, and learn that if they oppose God and His cause, however mighty they may be, they will be broken “in pieces like a potter’s vessel”.
2. The encouragement of the Church. Let the people of God look on His doings on their behalf and sing with increased force and fervour,—“The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” (See remarks on Psalms 46:7.) Let them not fear the wrath and power of any enemy; for the Lord hath said, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” In this way history is an ever-growing aid to faith.
3. The instruction of all. The Lord speaks: “Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” Let the world listen and cease from war against the people of God, “which, as the foregoing fact shows, is a contest of feebleness against omnipotence, ruinous to those who undertake it.” Tumultuous world, “be still, and know that,” &c. Let the Church listen and cease to fear, for God will assuredly maintain His own cause and honour. “Be still, anxiety and fear! ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ Be still, apprehension! The whole world around may be disquieted; but I am God, and I rule the whole. Be still, impatience! I am God; and the times and seasons are in my power.” With such an assurance as this from God Himself, we may well unite in chanting, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble: therefore, will not we fear,” &c.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 46". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Sunday after Easter