Some of us are facing difficult circumstances that no one knows about. Many have health issues or problems at work, with relationships, or in school. It has been said: “We see through a tear much more than we could ever see through a telescope.” Our true selves are revealed in the way we deal with trials.
When Michelangelo finished his statue of Moses, he tapped the stone shoulder and said, “speak!” People asked him, “How did you get Moses to look so lifelike?” Michelangelo simply said, “I kept chipping away at everything that wasn’t Moses.” This is much like the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, continually chipping away at everything that’s not of Christ through trials.
Psalm 46 was written as a refuge for God’s people in this age of suffering. It reminds us that God is in control—even when everything around us seems out of control. It teaches us about the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. Nothing comes into our life that has not first passed through his hand. At the same time, this psalm holds out a promise. There is a time coming when wars and devastation will cease, for the Lord will reign over all the earth with righteousness and power.
Examining this psalm shows that God will bring everlasting peace by being present to calm His people, comfort His people, and control the nations.
God is Present to Calm his People
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
A very present help literally means God is findable. But we know from Romans 1:20 that the power of sin causes us to refuse that truth. Atheists and agnostics exist because of the power of sin over man’s mind. Sin so corrupts us that we ignore all of creation which clearly demonstrates God's existence. That’s why Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'”
The word refuge can be used of any shelter that one might use for protection in a storm or a war. Isaiah 4:6 and 25:4 talk about that same kind of refuge. But the word is also used figuratively with God as our refuge. It means that He can provide protection from the troubles of life.
God is not only this findable refuge, but He also gives strength. He sustains the righteous to face anything that comes their way. God is their source of strength when everything around them seems to be crumbling. He is like a strong tower against the enemy. And the strength that He gives to His people is like a mighty mountain, as described in Psalm 30:7, “O Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong...” God so abundantly helps people that He literally is what help is all about. God, in His nature, is help. He is our sustainer who supplies the strength we need.
The word trouble has a sense of confinement. It’s a strait, a tight bind. It refers to those difficult, life-threatening situations where there seems to be no way out—no room even to move. But praise God for verse 1! He is a refuge that provides for us a sense of security and safety. He is findable, and He will help us in the confinement that we are in, even though there appears to be no way out.
We will not fear is a proper conclusion to the theology in verse 1. If God is a strong refuge, if He does give help in times of trouble, then there truly is nothing to fear.
The imagery of the earth changing points back to Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16. If you recall, Korah assembled against Moses and Aaron. But God punished them for their rebellion. Numbers 16:31-33 records, “...the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.”
But Numbers 26:11 says, “The sons of Korah, however, did not die.” So, there were the sons of Korah who witnessed all that transpired and lived to tell the tale. Psalm 46 was actually written by the sons of Korah. And if anyone could have written about trusting the Lord in the midst of a changing earth, it would have been them.
The Lord can be trusted, and in Him, we have an indestructible refuge amid any convulsion.
God is present to comfort his people
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Why would streams make a city glad? In the ancient world, it was essential to build cities where there was a source of water. The old city of Jerusalem is in the hills and not near any major rivers. But it does have a source of water, the Gihon Springs, which they channeled into the city. Even though Jerusalem was built in a place that may have looked foolish, God allowed the springs from underneath the earth and come up and feed it. God was its sustenance. The source of Jerusalem’s security was not merely in the water supply or the walls or the battlements but in the reality of God’s presence.
Dawn is associated with sunrise. A new day after the darkness of night—the darkness of our storm. The image of dawn is drawn from creation when darkness and the chaos were superseded by light. God spoke and said, “Let there be light.” (Gen 1:3) This became an appropriate image for God’s intervention in history to help His people. So, it might look like it’s dark. It might seem like there’s no way out. But God will come to help just like when He created light.
Psalm 46:3 presented the idea of sea raging, and now that word is used for the nations who made an uproar. Before it was the sea which was raging, now it’s the nations who are raging. But this verse concludes that these powers are easily destroyed by God. The figurative use of melt is vivid. It’s a picture of what was once a strong element, now dissolved. The menacing powers of the earth invade and threaten God’s people, but God speaks the word and they all melt.
God is present to control the nations
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving 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 stronghold. Selah.
In the midst of some immediate conflict, perhaps a siege, the psalm calls people to behold the works of the Lord. This addressed the wicked who needed to realize their doom was sealed and the righteous who needed to build their confidence. Perhaps we need to be reminded of this today. The next three statements describe the mighty works of God. Because the future belongs to God and God alone, those who have communion with Him may rest in the security of faith for the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Unconditional Trust in God
Psalm 46 is about unconditional trust in God no matter what happens. Whatever we are facing, whatever storm is in our life, if God is our Savior and stronghold, we will not be shaken. That’s why Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a bulwark never failing.”
Our God is ever-present. He’s a refuge, a strength, a help, a stronghold. Since God is the only real source of safety and security in times of great disaster and danger, the true believer need not fear because God’s protection and ultimate victory over the world is inevitable. Aren’t we glad this physical life we have is not the end?
Joni Erickson Tada, an international advocate for those with disabilities, who is living as a quadriplegic once said, “Without a doubt, what helps us the most in accepting and dealing with suffering is an adequate view of God. Learning who He is and knowing that He is in control.” Some of us face health issues. But our body is just a tent. It is not going to last. God wants to use our tent to put his glory on display and how he chooses to do that is up to Him. Do not fight against the Lord. Cease striving and know He is God.
The more believers focus on the power of God, the presence of God, and the promises of God, the more they will find comfort and confidence to endure the storms of life.