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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 46

 

 

Introduction

The next three Psalms which we will look at, Psalms 46-48, are connected and contain a trilogy of praise for some signal deliverance of Jerusalem from its enemies. They make clear that God is the Great King over all the earth. But as with so many Psalms they give no hint as to whom the deliverance was from. Psalms were written so that they could be continually used. They are focused on God and on His power to save, and were clearly written so that they might be of ongoing value. Thus for us they are a reminder that God is over all and that God’s power is available to save us if we are His, whatever our circumstances might be. Thus:

· Psalms 46 stresses that God is with His people and is their refuge and Stronghold, and the consequence is that while their trust is in Him Jerusalem is the inviolate city of God, so that opposing kingdoms will melt before them at the sound of His voice. The invitation is then given to the people to consider how He has wrought peace on the earth, and has been exalted among the nations. Its overall theme is that ‘YHWH is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge’. Most commentators see it as having in mind God’s deliverance of Jerusalem under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:37; compare Isaiah 36-37), but other alternatives have been suggested.

· Psalms 47 concentrates on the idea of the universal sovereignty of YHWH. It stresses that God is their King, and is King over all the earth, and is the great Subduer of the nations.

· Psalms 48 stresses the mightiness of YHWH, and the inviolability of Mount Zion because it is the City of the Great King. The consequence will be that when the nations gather together against her, they will fall back in dismay so that great praise comes to God.

We will now consider the three Psalms individually.

Psalms 46.

Heading

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah; set to Alamoth. A Song.’

Here we have another Psalm dedicated to the choirmaster, and also another which was either written by, or composed on behalf of ‘the sons of Korah’ who were musicians and singers in the Temple. They were a branch of the subtribe of the Korahites. (See introduction to Part 2). ‘Alamoth’ means ‘damsels’ and 1 Chronicles 15:20 speaks of ‘psalteries set to Alamoth’. Thus Alamoth may well refer to Psalms set especially for women’s voices.

This Psalm stresses that God is with His people and is their refuge. The consequence is that while they trust in Him Jerusalem is the inviolate city of God, with the result that opposing kingdoms will melt before them at the sound of His voice. (What they overlooked later was that this was only the case when king and people were loyal to God. It was not automatic).

The invitation is then given to consider how He has wrought peace on the earth, and has been exalted among the nations. Its theme is ‘YHWH is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge’ (Psalms 46:7; Psalms 46:11).

Most commentators see it as having in mind God’s deliverance of Jerusalem under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:37; compare Isaiah 36-37), when the armies of Assyria which were besieging Libnah and Jerusalem were decimated by the angel of YHWH (Isaiah 37:36), something which, combined with news from Assyria about troubles at home (Isaiah 37:7), caused Sennacherib to return there, leaving Jerusalem relatively unscathed.

Note the contrast between the raging waters of the enemy, and of spiritual troubles battering at us (2-3), and the peaceful waters that come from the throne of God which bring only gladness to God’s people (4). Compare the similar pictures in Isaiah 8:6-8 where because the people have rejected the peaceful waters ‘of Shiloah that flow gently’, they will have to face the raging waters of the armies of Assyria. Because they have turned away from the true Immanuel (Psalms 7:14), they will find themselves at the tender mercies of Ahaz, the self-proclaimed Immanuel (Psalms 8:8).


Verses 1-3

God’s People’s Confidence Is In Him Even In The Face Of Raging Waters (Psalms 46:1-3).

Psalms 46:1

‘God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.’

The Psalmist commences with an expression of confidence in God as our place of safety, our certain refuge. Once we are in God we are therefore truly safe. Indeed He is the source of our very strength, (or alternately is our stronghold). The words may well have had in mind how stoutly the walls of Jerusalem had kept out the Assyrians. But they were also well aware that if God had not stepped in eventually those mighty walls would have fallen, whereas they can know that the walls of God will never be breached, even in the face of the battering of the mightiest of seas. To Israel particularly the seas were seen as an enemy of inestimable proportions because they had little to do with the sea and only saw its awesomeness from the land. Despite their coastline they had few secure ports.

‘A very present help in trouble.’ This should literally be translated, ‘a help in troubles has He let Himself be found exceedingly’, expressing the wonderful deliverance that they had experienced, and their consciousness that God had abundantly stepped in and supplied it. But its presence in a Psalm indicates that His massive help is available for all continually, whilst they are faithful to the covenant. It was not just a one off.

Psalms 46:2-3

‘Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change,

And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas,

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,

Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof.’ [Selah

As a result we will not be filled with fear, and will not be shaken, whatever happens. The earth itself may be subject to change, the fierce waters may batter against the great cliffs causing them to fall into the sea, the waters may roar and be troubled as the storm rages, the mountains may tremble at their impact. But none of this will move us, for we will know that God is our refuge.

In mind in the picture may well have been the impact of invading forces, and the fierce onslaughts of enemy warriors, as they battered the people, and the walls with battering rams, but it is equally as true when we have to face spiritual enemies. Then, when the world seems in turmoil, we can be sure that God will be our refuge and stronghold. He will be ‘our strength’.

We note that each section ends with the word ‘selah’, which probably denotes a musical pause. From our point of view it is saying dramatically, ‘think of that!’


Verses 4-7

In Contrast With The Raging Waters Which Seek To Shake Them God Is To Be Seen As Like A Peaceful River Making Glad His People (Psalms 46:4-7).

Psalms 46:4-5

‘There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,

The holy place of the dwellingplaces of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; She shall not be moved,

God will help her, and that right early.’

We can compare with this Isaiah 33:21, where it says, ‘there (in Zion) YHWH in majesty will be for us, a place of broad rivers and streams’. Permanent rivers and streams where what men in Palestine dreamed of so that they might not be so dependent on the rain. We can compare the fruitfulness of Eden with its great river (Genesis 2:10). This is therefore a picture of full provision. (Compare the similar picture in Ezekiel 47). And the promise is that to us God will be such a River, through His Spirit, a river that will satisfy our hearts and will also flow out from us to others (John 7:37-38). And it will flow to all of God’s people, to ‘the city of God’.

Note the description of the city of God. It is ‘the holy place of the dwellingplaces of the Most High’. For Israel that was because it was there that the Temple was among them, with its inner and outer sanctum, and its storage and utility rooms, the place where God met with them and dwelt among them. For us it is because we are ourselves are together the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and each of us is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; Ephesians 2:19-22), so that God’s River flows in, and through, and from us continually (John 7:38).

Note also the description of God as ‘the Most High’. This title is regularly used in relation to the nations. It is a reminder that God is over all. See, for example, Genesis 14:22; Numbers 24:16; and compare Daniel 3:26; Daniel 4:2.

And because God in the midst of her is over all, nothing can move or shake her. For while she trusts in Him God will always help her, and that without delay (right early). In the same way because God is in the midst of us we too, if we trust in Him, will not be moved. We too can be sure that we will know His prompt and powerful help.

‘And that right early.’ Literally, ‘when the morning appears’ (compare Exodus 14:27). Thus it is saying that His assistance will come once the night is over and morning appears, without our being made to wait until later in the day.

Psalms 46:6-7

‘The nations raged (or ‘roared’), the kingdoms were moved,

He uttered his voice, the earth melted.

YHWH of hosts is with us,

The God of Jacob is our refuge.’ [Selah

This confidence that we have in God is in spite of the activities and efforts of the world in its enmity against God. The nations might rage and roar against God’s people, the kingdoms might move against them, but they can be confident that when God utters His voice the earth and all that is within it melts. And where will they be then? We can compare with this Isaiah’s beautiful words, ‘in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15).

And this is because YHWH of hosts, YHWH the God of battle and lord of the heavenly hosts, is with us. It is because the God of Jacob (Israel) is our stronghold. Knowing that God is with us and is our stronghold is sufficient to bring peace in the most devastating of situation.

In the original instance Israel had seen the raging and roaring nations melt away as the Assyrians withdrew hastily from Judah once God had uttered His voice. But the promise is to all believers whatever troubles they have to face. Note how the same words ‘roar’ and ‘moved’ are used as in Psalms 46:2. It reminds us that those whose trust is in God need fear neither natural phenomena, nor the activities of men. For God is in control over all.

The second section again ends with Selah, ‘think of that’.


Verses 8-11

A Call To Consider All God’s Mercies And To Recognise That One Day He Will Bring Everlasting Peace And Will Be Exalted Among The Nations (Psalms 46:8-11).

Psalms 46:8-9

‘Come, behold the works of YHWH,

What desolations he has made in the earth.

He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth,

He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in sunder,

He burns the baggage wagons (or ‘shields’) in the fire.

All God’s people are now called on to look on and consider the works of YHWH. Let them look on and consider His final judgments, as initially exemplified in the destruction of the Assyrian army. Mankind may continue to fight and war, but God will in the end visit them with His desolations, thereby bringing to an end all their sinful activities. He will outlaw war worldwide, He will destroy man’s weaponry, He will burn up their supplies. Then He will introduce His kingdom of everlasting peace. Compare here Isaiah 2:3-4 which describes how He will do it. And see Revelation 19.

‘Baggage wagons.’ Compare 1 Samuel 17:20; 1 Samuel 26:7. The word nowhere means chariots. Some would repoint to mean ‘shields’ as in LXX and the Targum.

Psalms 46:10

‘Be still, and know that I am God,

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.’

All are therefore to be stilled in awe, as they recognise by what He has done, that He truly is God, and what it will mean for the future. For in the future God will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth. All power will be seen to be His, even on earth. To Him every knee will bow. His triumph is sure.

This gradual attainment of His triumph began at the cross when he defeated all the powers of evil (Colossians 2:15), then as His people went our to establish the Kingly Rule of God, and it will be finalised in that day when Satan and all his hosts and followers, including warring mankind, are totally vanquished (Revelation 19), and God is all in all.

Psalms 46:11

‘YHWH of hosts is with us,

The God of Jacob is our refuge.’ [Selah

No wonder then that he can remind God’s people that:

· ‘YHWH of the hosts of heaven and earth is with us.’

· ‘The God who protected weak and lowly Jacob is our refuge.’

With God present with us as our powerful God and Protector we need fear nothing. ‘Of hosts’ has in mind God’s people (Exodus 12:41; Numbers 2); the heavenly hosts (the angels - Genesis 32:2; Psalms 148:2); the host of heaven, (the sun moon and stars - Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Psalms 33:6), the hosts of men (their armies), and the hosts of creation (everything that is made - Genesis 2:1). He is God over all.

‘The God of Jacob’ underlines the fact that He was the God of His people who saw themselves as ‘descended from Jacob’. They looked to the God of their forefathers to whom the promises were made. They WERE Jacob.

(Of course, not all of the people of Israel were literally descended from Jacob. They included among their number descendants of those who had been in Jacob’s ‘household’ who would probably have numbered a few thousand (Abraham had 318 fighting men in his household and they would have grown in numbers since then); descendants of the mixed multitude who had left Egypt with them (Exodus 12:38) and were united with them at Sinai and then by circumcision on entering the land; descendants of others who had joined with them in the wilderness (e.g. Kenites); and descendants of any who chose to become Yahwists and united themselves with Israel (Exodus 12:48; Deuteronomy 23:1-8).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 46:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-46.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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