As I sit here writing this for you, the church I love, I am saddened we’re not meeting today. Our gathering is the centerpiece of our life together. I’m saddened that Covid has reached us and that many of us are feeling its effects. But I’m eager to have the Psalms at my fingertips. Why? Two reasons. First, because the Psalms contain every cry of our hearts that could ever arise. And second, every cry of the Psalms is ultimately answered in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Which, Church, is exactly who we need.
So go ahead and open up to Psalm 46.
This first part of the Psalm is v1-7 and it’s all about chaos. Chaos from the natural realm and chaos come from the national realm.
Let’s begin with the natural chaos in v1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah”
The first word of Psalm 46 sets the tone and presents the main subject to us, “God.” God, the LORD, Yahweh, He is our refuge and strength. Others trust in armies, chariots, horses, wealth, castles, their own strength, their own wisdom, or their own abilities. Not so with God’s people. How beautiful is this ‘therefore’ in v2? We trust in God. He alone is our help in trouble. And because our trust is in Him, and because He is who He is, what flows into our soul? Not fear, but rest. Therefore, as one poet said, “A fortress firm and steadfast rock, is God in time of danger. A shield and sword in every shock, from foe well-known or stranger.”
This language takes us back to Genesis 1. There we saw God speak into darkness and create light, speak into disorder and bring order, and speak into chaos and bring calm. Yet here in Psalm 46 what do we see? This chaos of natural disaster seem to lead the people to believe the world is going through the process of uncreation, or that it’s returning to a chaotic state of disorder once again. The earth giving way, the mountains falling down into the sea, and the waters roaring and foaming in wrath or swelling pride causing the remaining mountains still standing to tremble in fear. This is nothing less than a description of utter catastrophe, such that we might be tempted to conclude that even God can’t handle such a violent upheaval.
But, have we forgotten v1? Though the Alps and the Andes fall, though a fierce hurricane surges through, though Covid comes at us, our God is greater. Therefore, our fears flee and our feeble hearts are made firm.
See that in the midst of this natural chaos we come to our first Selah at the end of v3. This word is used often throughout the Psalms and it indicates a pause either to give the original singers a breath, or a pause to allow the hearers a moment to meditate on these things, or perhaps both of these at once! Learn, the placement of this pause teaches that the children of God are in no hurry even while the earth itself seems to be undone. Ours is a calm courage in the face of fury. Ours is a deep rest in the midst of dismay. Why? Because we’re so strong? Because we’re so mighty? Because we’re so confident in our own selves? No. Only because God is God, and if He is for us, nothing can come against us!
Look now to v4-7, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utters His voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”
As v3 gives way to v4 there’s an increasing tide of distress as the people encounter a new enemy. The people of this city had been attacked by a chaotic nature, but now they face the attacks of chaotic nations. The waters roared in v3, now the nations rage in v6. The mountains shook in v2, now the kingdoms of the earth shake in v6. Even so, as they wouldn’t fear in v2 because of God their refuge in v1, so too they won’t be moved in v5 because God is with them to help them in v5, and though the threats of their enemies can shake the earth, when God speaks against them they will melt away in fear in v6.
Notice the power of God as v4 begins. The waters that were once surging against creation are now serving the gladness of God’s people. The stormy waters of chaos bringing ruin and disaster are now making glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. How did these waters change? Why is this city glad? Both of these questions are answered with one answer: God is in her midst! And because God is in her midst she won’t be moved! So when night gives way to the morning dawn all the inhabitants of this city will then see it was God holding them firm in the darkness of the night.
All of this imagery might be distant for us today but for Israel this image was immediate and compelling. Because in this time a city’s fear in times of war was that their water supply would be cut off. If an enemy wanted to bring a city to ruin, all they needed to do was find the main supply, cut it off, and wait a short time until the city was lost. But here see a city. Not just any city, but the very city of God filled with the people of God under siege from chaos yet remaining safe and secure and stable because of the endless flow of a divine stream.
In seasons of threat and trial God will always provide for His people, causing them to endure to the end through the ever flowing stream of His strong grace. Or as the notes in the Gospel Transformation Study Bible say, like a secret aqueduct to a besieged city, God’s grace ensures that God’s people will not only survive any threat, but thrive in joy before any threat.
And as we saw the pattern in v1-3 of a God’s power displayed followed by an encouragement to pause and meditate in the first Selah of the Psalm, we see the same pattern here as well in v4-7. After the display of God’s power in v4-7 we find the second encouragement to pause and meditate in the Selah at the end of v7. This time though the Selah comes after something new. “The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” The Psalmist desires us to see the big idea of the text once again. The reason the people of God stand safe and secure in the midst of chaos isn’t because we’re strong, mighty, or confident in ourselves. No, the reason couldn’t be plainer, “The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.” This phrase LORD of hosts means God is the General and Commander of heavens armies, an army so vast and so strong that the strongest army of this world looks as small as a drop of water before the ocean. That God is called the “God of Jacob who is our fortress” reminds us of the moment God wrestled Jacob down and turned him into humbled Israel. Which implies that God not only will wrestle down our enemies but that He’ll also wrestle us down to teach who is strong and who is not. That these Selah’s come where they do prompts us to learn and linger over this lesson at the end of v3, the end of v7, and at the end of v11.
Why so many reminders to stop and pause and learn this afresh? Because we’re so prone to forget it.
Now we come to the final part of the Psalm. We’ve seen the threat of chaos, both natural in v1-3 and national in v4-7. Now see the end of chaos in v8-11. “Come, behold the works of the LORD, how He has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”
v8 is an invitation to God’s people to come and see God’s might and power over all things. Specifically, v8 is an invitation for God’s people to come see how decisively God has defeated their enemies. In this culture kings who defeated their enemies and won great victories against other nations would display their might and power by making a large heap or pile of all the fallen warriors and all their weapons and armor and set it on fire to indicate their own complete victory over them. This custom remained for many years, even up to the Roman Empire where the Emperor Vespasian had a coin made with an image of peaceful leader setting fire to a pile of their enemies. See then what God is up to in v8-9. God has destroyed those who attempted to destroy His people, and has dismayed those who attempted to dismay His people. All their enemies, and all their weapons: the bows, the spears, and the chariots, God piles up and burns to show His complete victory. The image is that God is not only the refuge and strength of His people, but that He is those things for His people because He is the King who protects and defends His people.
Then comes v10 in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Many know this. But see it in context. As fierce as the chaos may be, as threatening as it may become, from anything in nature or from any nation around them, God’s people are to be still, know that God is God, and trust that however dark the situation looks, however severe the threat may be…what? God will be exalted in them and in all the earth! Or to say it another way: the certainty of knowing that God will, however bleak it looks, be glorified in and over all things, is what brings the restless heart of man to rest.
Notice here in context, the reason we’re to ‘be still’ isn’t because we just need to ‘calm down’ or ‘chill out.’ The reason we’re to ‘be still’ is because we know that at end of all things, when all the dust clears, and the battle is over, God will be glorified! No wonder then why we find the repetition of v11 after the reality of v10. In such triumph and stillness we once again pause and meditate on a precious privilege which cannot be too often considered. “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”
So Church, how do we bring this Psalm home to us today?
Is there chaos invading us from the natural realm? Yes, a virus has gone global and has come to our church. More, is there chaos around us in the national realm? Yes, our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan might just be experiencing the most intense persecution they’ve ever faced due to the Taliban takeover. And these are just two issues of thousands we could mention. Church, is the language of Psalm 46 that far removed from us? Indeed, it is not.
Do not miss the two times this Psalm calls us to pause and consider one grand reality. In v7 and v11 we read, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” As encouraging as the Lord’s very presence was to His people of old, how much more encouraging is it to us who have seen and welcomed by faith Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Jesus Christ?
His presence with us His Church is the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 46. It is Christ, who calms all the chaos that comes to us His people.
The Scripture is clear. We’re attacked on all sides by the spiritual powers of darkness in this present world. And as our enemies come and make their threats, we often tremble and shake and fear. What is the ruling and reigning Christ doing as His bride is attacked? He sits in the heavens and laughs at the demons who mock our redemption, as though our sins and struggles so could really lessen His commitment to see our salvation through.
In Christ we have a mighty fortress and for this reason we must “Be still…” As fierce as the threat may be, as chaotic as it may become, we’re to be still, knowing that Christ is God, and trust that however dark the situation looks, however severe the threat may be…what? That Christ will be exalted in us and in all the earth! Or to say it another way: the certainty of knowing that Christ will, however bleak it looks, be glorified in and over all things, is what brings our restless hearts to rest.
In such times as we’re now in, let’s spend time today lingering on this precious privilege which cannot be too often considered.
“The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”