Psalm 46: Help, Hope, and Victory in the Midst of Trouble: Part I
One theme of Psalm 46 is help, hope, and victory in the midst of trouble. It is a well-known psalm often linked with Martin Luther and the hymn A Mighty Fortresses is Our God. He loved to sing this song amidst the ever-present trouble and danger surrounding his view of the sufficiency of Scripture, salvation, the exclusive sufficiency of saving grace as a gift, and his view of the Church. His own personal journey to salvation and the God of salvation undergirded his view of self, God, the Bible, and salvation.
This period of history is known as the Reformation period. To Luther, sometimes mountains seemed so high, holes so deep, roads so long, and he so insignificant. However, he believed God’s name and glory were at stake but many disagreed. In his God-ordained and given situation, he was continuously faced with at least two questions: What was he to do? How was he to respond? As should all believers, he went to the word of God for answers. For him, Psalm 46 offered help, hope, and victory in the midst of trouble.
It is important to put each individual psalm in a context. It is easier to do this for some psalms compared to others. Psalm 46 is part of four kingship Psalms (Psalms 45-48). They celebrate the security of the physical city of Jerusalem and future hope. They also celebrate the kingship of God through His messiah (David) and ultimately through The Messiah (the greater David, Jesus Christ).
Psalm 46 is also a member of book II of the Psalter (Psalm 42-72) with its theme of the rise and glory of the Davidic kingdom but continuing resistance and conflict. These psalms look not only at the king but the God of the nation of Israel and all the nations.
In a redemptive-historical context, Psalm 46 pictures the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God dwelling in His holy place in the city who is the fortress for His people (v.4-5). From this vantage point He speaks, kingdoms fall, and the creation melts (v.6). In time, Israel’s God will be exalted above the nations (v.10 – see Psalm 2). Psalm 46 unveils and celebrates the sovereignty of God and His victory over His corporate enemies – other nations and some people within Israel.
Psalm 46 is a victory Psalm celebrating the Victor King. Therefore, it offers hope, help, and victory in times of trouble. However that victory had not yet come for David or the psalmist. God’s people were to live in the reality and expectation of the certainty of God’s mighty hand and its victory temporally and eternally.
Psalm 46 is many things. For one, it is a confession of faith from a man who did not necessarily envision victory. But he did focus on the God of victory and the truth that there is help, hope, and victory especially in times of trouble. You might ask: how was that possible? If he was a victim to circumstances, how could he change his thinking and wanting? This psalm, among others, teaches the believer that he is never a victim in any circumstance; rather he is a victor in Christ (Romans 8:35-39). The psalmist applied this fundamental principle. He knew that every person lives out of an identity. Knowing who you are and who God is were essential truths that guided his thoughts and desires.
The psalm highlights the sovereignty of God and His ascendancy by accentuating His power in three areas: over nature (v.1-3), over attackers of the city (v.4-7), and over the whole warring world (v.8-11). The Psalm opens with two non-negotiable truths (v.1: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble): God is present and powerful; and yet trouble is always present in a sin-cursed world. The word translated as trouble conveys the idea of being squeezed and in a tight fit. People used to say that they were being squeezed and in a bind. Pressure from without is being described.
Pressure comes from a variety of causes and includes being sinning against and the consequences of our own sins. Pressure however is not the key. It is the person’s response to it that is. Pressure is the context for the moral drama played out in every person’s heart no matter his circumstances.
From the outset, the author of the Psalm recognizes that there are times when God’s people face trouble. The nation was in the midst of trouble. What is a believer to think, want, and do in those times? Don’t miss the triad of thoughts, desires, and actions. These are linked and represent what is going on in the whole person both his inner and outer man.
God’s providence as represented by times of trouble requires the believer to evaluate the trouble, the God of the trouble, and himself in the trouble. The psalmist recognized God’s power and control. He the characterized his God who happened to be the king’s God and Israel’s God. His gaze was first vertical toward God (v.1-3).
v.1: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.
v.2: Therefore we will not fear; though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
v.3: though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
The psalmist describes a choice and a habit for and of the believer: he can either trust in God by seeking Him and His truth or trust in self. These are mutually exclusive. The two responses are opposite of what God calls, expects, and has gifted His people with and to do (Proverbs 3:5-8). The first is characterized by fear of the Lord and the habit of seeking the presence of God because God is ever-present. He is man’s environment (Psalm 139). If the believer is a victim and he is at the mercy of circumstances – God’s providence – he will not fear the Lord. In fact, it would be fruitless and heartless to ask him to do it! If he is not a victim but feels like it, the loving action is to motivate him to think God’s thoughts and desire what God desires. That is what victors do!
The other response is trust in self, wise in one’s own eyes, and fear of man. Trust in self and sinful fear and worry are bed fellows; each conveys a type of thinking and wanting focused on control. Ask yourself: What is fear? What is worry? Elsewhere we are told that they are “emotions.” Actually they describe a way of thinking and wanting that results in physiological and perhaps physical changes in the body. Fear and worry are not simply just are of life. They originate in the heart and the brain. Which comes first I don’t know. But they represent you – all of you – and reflect you in terms of your relationship with God at that moment. There is sinful fear and godly fear. There is no godly worry. The root of the word translated as worry (merizo) means to divide or separate. Worry flows from a double or divided heart – God and me. Such is sinful fear which is actually unbelief and idolatry.
God’s people always need God and His strength and protection. Psalm 46 focuses on the God of circumstances and His help, hope, and victory. At times this need seems more acute. We always need God! The believer should never get enough of God no matter the circumstances! He is to hide non-negotiable truths in his heart to be used daily (Psalm 119:9-11).
1. What are the circumstances the psalmist finds himself?
2. What are his choices?
3. What does he say he won’t do? See Psalm 56:3-4.
4. He compares the steadfastness of God with what? See Romans 8:19-22
Psalm 46: Help and Hope: The Proper Perspective: Part II
We continue the mini-series Psalm 46: Help, Hope, and Victory in the midst of trouble. The author of this Psalm describes what he did and what all believes are to do when circumstances seem out of control and he or God or both are not in control! Man lives out of an identity and is a chooser. God puts the believer in situations (God’s providence) in part so that the believer sharpens and develops his capacity to function as a faithful child of the King (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
God’s people always need God and His protection and strength. When circumstances don’t make sense to us and our lives are uncertain and unstable, believers tend to function as so do unbelievers. They give evidence of sinful fear and worry in response to God and his providence. The psalmist states categorically: in the midst of tough times – trouble – he will not sin. He will not be sinfully fearful or worry. He gives the reason: God is his/our refuge and our strength.
Experiences (God’s providence) and your response to Him in them are linked. Uncertainty is part of the life of saving faith and true hope. In one sense, believers know the end but they don’t know all the steps to the end. If they did, they would be God! From man’s view and perspective but not God’s there is uncertainty. The situations and the uncertainty are never pleasant. They are part of the curse being played out. At this point, someone may say: my soul is troubled because of the circumstances. Rather, as Jesus taught in John 14:1-2 and the psalmist taught in Psalm 42-43, the person troubles his own soul! This concept is of vital importance.
Circumstances like Mother Nature and Satan have no power in themselves to twist and turn a believer’s thinking and wanting (1 John 5:18). Circumstances don’t keep you up at night – you keep yourself up saying you can sleep! David on the run wrote in Psalm 3 and 4 that he slept (3:5; 4:8)! In response to God and your circumstances, you may eat less lose or even feel bad. Bad feelings become a way of life! Their connection with thoughts and desires are denied and overlooked.
Bad feelings and circumstances become a reason – an excuse – for not trusting God and denying the fact. It is proper to ask as she Jesus asked: why is your heart troubled (John 14:1-2)? He did not let them answer because He knew. However it is a great question to ask yourself the origin of your “upset-ness. Honesty before God and self are critical to getting victory in the problem not necessarily out of it. The psalmist in Psalms 42-43 did that (42:5, 11; 43:1). He asked himself why the churning inside. He counseled himself as Jesus counseled the apostles: hope in God!
The psalmist demonstrated to all believers in all ages the proper course of action in any circumstance especially when we are being squeezed. First, consider “squeeze-ability.” By that term I mean things outside of a person seem out of control including God’s. Times are simply tough. The person is squeezed so that what is in his heart is exposed. Consider the example of a sponge being squeezed. Only what is in the sponge will pour forth eventually depending how much is there and how hard and how long the squeeze is. The human heart is like a sponge. Only what is in it will come out (Matthew 7 and Mark 15).
Each believer has a different level of squeeze-ability. God is in the business of increasing our capacity to respond in a godly way as we grow in Christlikeness. He will exceed any believer’s capacity to respond in a God-honoring way. That is part of the promise God that gives in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Christ faced unmitigated hard times. He was squeezed. What came was the pure love of God manifested as fear of the Lord. When squeezed the believer is equipped to and energized by the Holy Spirit to call to mind, to remember, to focus on truth, to come to yourself in Christ as did Daniel (1:8), the psalmist (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:1; 73:16-18) and the Prodigal (Luke 15:17-18) Truth sets us free from bondage to self and circumstances. What holds us will mold us. Biblical thinking and wanting always trumps being led by feelings.
Please notice that the psalmist says we will not sin (v.2: we will not fear.). Sinful fear was not an option. He made a cognitive, purposeful decision. He was no automaton nor was Christ. Daniel in 1:8 resolved in his heart not to sin: he would not defile himself. Eating and drinking or not doing them was not the issue. Pleasing God was. In Psalm 46, the psalmist speaks collectively: we will not fear sinfully. Rather he put on the fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is a God-consciousness and God-awareness that God is God, the Creator, Controller, Owner, and Possessor of His world and I am in it as a child and image bearer of His. I must give an account to Him. That is heavy but simple theology and is a duty, blessing, and privilege of the believer.
Circumstances are not the controlling influence. They are the context for the person’s response. Some have said that chaos or lack of order exert undue power on people. The statement seems to impart power and authority to chaos and disorder. But God is the God of order and disorder! Chaos, chance, and Mother Nature are descriptive terms. They are not a force or power. We must be careful on we define terms!
1. What was the psalmist convinced?
2. How was it possible for him to choose?
3. What did he choose not to do and to do?
4. How do you think he worshipped?
Psalm 46: The Proper Response and Results: Part III
We conclude the mini-series: Psalm 46: Help, hope and victory. As expressed in earlier blogs, the first verse expresses the theme of Psalm 46: there is help, hope, and victory in the midst of trouble because God is our refuge and our strength in times of trouble. Therefore, help, hope, and victory in time of trouble must be spelled God’s way. The rest of the Psalm unpacks this declaration. However, God’s presence is not always appreciated. Such was the case with David who had unconfessed sin (Psalm 32 and 38) and with Job who demanded that God give an explanation for his treatment of Job (23:2; 33:7).
The psalmist of Psalm 46 relished the presence of God. He gives three reasons why we can trust God as our refuge and strength and as our source for help, hope, and victory in the midst of trouble. They are all centered on God’s presence, promises, purposes, and power. Those three are God’s presence in any and all circumstances; His people; and the universe with its many nations.
As expressed in Psalm 46, Luther knew firsthand man’s desire for help, hope, and victory in and out of trouble. Man is a seeker by God’s creational design. He will seek and he finds what he thinks is treasure (Matthew 6:19-34). The heart is the storehouse of man’s treasure: is it God or self? Seeking refuge and security in self is antithetical to seeking God and His truth. It is counterproductive for gaining the help, hope, and victory expressed in Psalm 46.
Depending on one’s reasoning and explanation for the circumstances of life is an attempt to sidestep biblical truth. The word for help in verse 1 is powerful. It is used of military and personal assistance. It describes one aspect of the wife’s relationship to her husband (Genesis 2:18, 20). She is his helper. It pictures Israel’s proper gaze for help after they had returned from the exile. Times were bleak. They had few people, fewer priests, no temple, and no ark: I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).
One refrain is given in verses 7 and 11: The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is with us. The psalmist wanted this truth to be at the ready recall for himself and his people. It is so easy to focus on anything but God in God’s tough providence. Self always rears its head! God is King of the earth: Creator and Controller. He is Israel’s God; He is the lesser King David’s God; and He is the psalmist’s God. In the end He is the greater David’s God. The earth is His footstool (Psalm 24:1-2; Isaiah 66:1-2; Acts 17:24-28). God is building His kingdom and calling people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation into it (Revelation 5:9).
In verses 4-6, the psalmist declares that God is personal and present in the midst of His people. The psalmist is giving a proper vertical focus which is a key to properly responding as a lover of God in any situation. A very real question for every believer in any situation is this: will he as a new creation use his Holy Spirit-energized motivation to please God or will he please self? The psalmist does not say so in this psalm but we know that God indwells believers and His Church. God is with His people – Immanuel! The psalmist drew strength and courage from these facts and the faith to believe them and act on them.
In verses 8-10, the psalmist gives an invitation! Come and see the works of the Lord..(v.8). Yahweh is the word translated as Lord. Yahweh is the covenant name of God used infrequently in book II but frequently in book I. Its emphasis is one of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness as the Promise-maker and Promise keeper. The people are in covenant with Him (an intimate relationship) because He is in covenant with them. It was God’s initiative to establish and keep covenant. God’s covenant-keeping is ultimately and fully in the sending of His Son to secure His people and in the sending of the Holy Spirit to grow and prosper His people and His Church.
The invitation is an invitation to invest in and experience the very nature of God. It is similar to David’s call in Psalm 34:8, Paul’s call in Philippians 3:7-11, and Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28-30. Tasting God is a metaphor for reinterpreting with the eyes of saving faith, true hope, and biblical truth what a person takes in by the senses and interprets them by feelings, circumstances, and or human reasoning divorced from truth. When a person uses any of the latter three as his one’s interpretative grid, he will put off trusting God and put on sinful fear, worry, and self-trust. God will not be honor and the person can expect a downward spiral of misery (Proverbs 13:15; 26:11).
Verse 10 is well-known at least the first part: Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. The word for be still means to sink. It may mean to humble self. This could fit as part of replacing self-pleasing with a form of piety. It may refer to their low situation because of God’s providence.
No matter the case, the people need to be content in the situation knowing that God is present, faithful, makes promises and keeps them; and He always provides a way of escape even if it is staying in the situation His way for His glory. In one sense it summarizes the contents of the psalm. It is calling on all people to know and to apply what they have learned. There is no excuse! They are not to be und the circumstances as a victim. God is the God of all circumstances! Clearly, the psalmist and Israel know these facts. Circumstances don’t change them. Israel and individuals are to act according to those facts.
Verses 2 (we will not fear) and 10 (be still and know) form a sandwich. They are two pieces of bread. In between them is the person’s heart. The command not to fear is the call to fear the Lord. Fearing man and the circumstances is denying God’s sovereignty and His care for His people. God will not tolerate those charges and the people who make them. The psalmist and others like him have done God’s people and Church a great service. We will do well to heed the Holy Spirit’s truth.
1. How is man described in this psalm?
2. What is the refrain give in verse 7 and 11 and what is its significance?
3. What is the proper vertical gaze that the psalmist speaks?
a. How did Jesus display it and why? See Hebrews 12:1-3.
b. How does Psalm 121 capture that gaze and under what conditions?