God is our refuge and strength.
A very present help in trouble.
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.
Ps. 46:2-3 here are considered to be figurative, standing for all kinds of political commotion and turbulent conflict among nations. Rawlinson identified these terrible political upheavals as, "Probably those caused by the Assyrian career of conquest."F9
However, the language here is very similar to that which is used prophetically of the Day of Judgment and the end of human probation, in a number of Biblical references. Those cosmic disturbances include earthquakes, the removal of islands and mountains out of their places, the failing of the sun's light, etc. From this, some have interpreted this heavenly refuge in God as a safe haven, even at that time. "When the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the heavens and the earth shall pass away in that final great conflagration,"F10 at which time God will, "Wipe this Adam off the face of the earth" (Zephaniah 1:2-3).
To be sure, this is a valid understanding of these verses. Even in the cataclysmic scenes that shall mark the end of God's Dispensation of Grace, "God is the refuge and the strength of those who love him."
The primary meaning of these verses (Psalms 46:2-3) "Is figurative, standing for stress and trouble."F11
GOD'S ASCENDANCY OVER THE ENEMIES OF HIS PEOPLE
There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved:
God will help her, and that right early.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved:
He uttered his voice, the earth melted.
Jehovah of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; She shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered his voice, the earth melted. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. [Selah
(Psalms 46:4). The text seems to identify this river as the tabernacles of the Most High, God's dwelling place; but the actual meaning might be, The river of God's presence and favor,F12 The tabernacles of the Most High typically represent, God's favor, like a river, is distributed to all the Church.F13 It was the river of God's life-giving presence.F14 This river is the perennial fountain of God's grace.F15
Yes indeed, these views are acceptable; but there seems also to be a prophecy of that Eternal City of God that cometh down out of heaven, the New Jerusalem, described in the last chapters of Revelation. The River of Life flows out of the throne of God in that City; and the Tree of Life grows on either side of it, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations.
There is also something else that fits very beautifully into these wonderful verses. From Isa. 8, we have this:
"Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly ... now therefore, behold the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the (Euphrates) River, strong and mighty, even the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it shall come up over all its channels, and go over all its banks; and it shall sweep onward into Judah ... and overflow (Isaiah 8:6-8)."
The waters of Shiloah here are the same as those of the Pool of Siloam in the New Testament. "The spring of Gihon, whose waters Hezekiah brought into Jerusalem by a tunnel (2 Chronicles 32:30) are here used as a symbol of God's refreshing presence."F16 These waters emptied into Siloam from underneath; hence the statement that "they went softly." Isaiah certainly used this humble little river as a symbol of God's government and protection, as contrasted with the terrible waters of the Euphrates at flood stage; and it is likely that the psalmist does the same thing here. This little stream is certainly a river that made glad the city of God, whether or not it was the river that did so.
Delitzsch combined in one paragraph the multiple spiritual intimations of these verses:
"When the city of God is threatened and encompassed by foes, still she shall not hunger and thirst, nor fear and despair; for the river of grace and of God's ordinances and promises flows with its rippling waves through the holy place, where the dwelling-place, or tabernacle, of the Most High is pitched."F17
God will help her, and that quite early
(Psalms 46:5). The marginal reference or the last phrase here is, At the dawn of morning; and significantly, Isaiah stated that, When men arose early in the morning, these (the whole army of Sennacherib) were all dead bodies (Isaiah 37:36). This is a very strong link in the chain of evidence that binds these words to that great deliverance in 701 B.C.
The nations raged, etc
(Psalms 46:6). This means that in the past the thing that has regularly happened is that the heathen have raged, etc.; but God had only to utter his voice, and as a result, men and nations have collapsed before Him. God controls all the raging of the nations and their tumults.F18
Jehovah of hosts is with us
(Psalms 46:7). If God be for us, who can be against us, is the New Testament echo of this confidence. The great security is in God. Just as the coneys, a little animal often mentioned in the Old Testament, are very weak, but occupy impregnable dwelling places in the rocks; just so men also are weak, vulnerable, insecure apart from God; but in Him, they are secure, safe, invincible, and unconquerable.
The God of Jacob is our refuge
(Psalms 46:7). According to Kidner, this refrain probably should also have been inserted at the end of Ps. 46:3, thus marking the three divisions of the psalm as a refrain. He also noted that, The word `refuge' in this refrain, here and in Ps. 46:11, is distinct from the word so rendered in Ps. 46:1. Here it implies inaccessible height; hence the New English Bible rendition, `Our high stronghold'F19
Come, behold the works of Jehovah,
What desolations he hath made in the earth.
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth;
He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder;
He burneth the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Jehovah of hosts is with me,
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of Jehovah, What desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariots in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. [Selah
(Psalms 46:8). This, in context, was an invitation to the citizens of Jerusalem to behold the devastation of the army of Sennacherib, which the angel of God slaughtered in one night to the extent of 185,000 men. Cleaning up a mess like that required bonfires that lasted a long time, the war chariots, spears, arrows, shields and other military equipment providing fuel for the disposition of the dead.
Lord Byron's great poem catches the terrible magnificence of this Divine interposition upon behalf of God's people. There is an economy in God's wonders; he never intervenes unless it is absolutely necessary for the achievement of his eternal purpose. In this case, Jerusalem was surely doomed to destruction without Divine aid; therefore God came to the rescue.
"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And their cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.
The sheen on their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue waves roll nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset was seen,
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay scattered and strewn.
For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the might of the Gentile unsmote by the sword
Was melted like snow in the glance of the Lord."
-- Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib
This incredibly impressive destruction of Sennacherib's army was a judgment of God so powerful, so effective, and so dramatic, that everyone on earth knew about it. Here was tangible, physical evidence of the most astounding kind that witnessed God's oversight of Israel. This mighty miracle was not done in some secluded corner of the world, but at the crossroads of all nations and of all history. This was one of the most amazing things that ever happened on this earth.
What desolations he hath made
(Psalms 46:8). When this psalm was written, the smoke was probably still rising from the funeral of Sennacherib's destroyed host. All Jerusalem could see it, either from the walls of their city, or by a short journey to the battlefield where the army had been deployed (perhaps near Lachish). If this does not prove that the Lord controls the destinies of wars, what does? If this is not a sufficient token that `God is our refuge,' what is?F20
He maketh wars to cease to the end of the earth
(Psalms 46:9). Of course, the first meaning here is that God has the power to terminate any war at any time; but there seems to be here a prophecy of a time when wars shall be no more. It appears that we may not look for the fulfilment of this in the present dispensation, because Jesus cautions us about expecting wars and rumors of wars. Nevertheless, we believe there will come a time when God in righteous wrath shall rise up and cast evil out of his universe; and then wars shall cease.
He burneth the chariots in the fire
(Psalms 46:9). The word here rendered chariots actually means any two-wheeled contraption and would also include baggage wagons and other military devices as well as chariots. All such things were needed as fuel to help burn up the dead.
Be still, and know that I am God
(Psalms 46:10). Dahood interpreted this to mean that Israel, Should not enter into alliances with other nations.F21 Many times it is God's will for his people to work with all their might; but, now and then, when all human endeavor is of no avail, and where there seems to be no hope at all, it may be time to Stand still! Thus it was before the Red Sea, when Moses commanded Israel, Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord (Exodus 14:23).
For comment on Ps. 46:11, see under Ps. 46:7, above.
Footnotes for Psalms 46
1: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 348.
2: W. E. Addis, p. 380.
3: H. C. Leupold, p. 362.
4: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 241.
5: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 218.
6: Great Songs of the Church, No. 326.
7: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 142.
8: Derek Kidner, Vol. 1, p. 174.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 357.
10: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 219.
11: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 348.
13: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 362.
14: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 80.
15: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 358.
16: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 631.
17: F. Delitzsch, Vol. V, p. 94.
18: H. C. Leupold, p. 366.
19: Derek Kidner, Vol. 1, p. 176.
20: H. C. Leupold, p. 367.
21: Mitchell Dahood in The Anchor Bible, p. 282.