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A very good practice of interpreting the Bible is to first understand what a particular passage of Scripture meant in the time in which it was written. Then, the next step is to apply the message to the time in which we live.
What was the meaning of the Psalm to the people who prayed it in the day in which it was written? What can we learn from the Psalm to enrich our prayers today? Those are the themes of this article.
God Our Refuge and Strength
Martin Luther was inspired by Psalm 46 to pen his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah (Psalm 46.1-3)
The Canaanites who surrounded the people of God believed that the mountains held up the sky. If the mountain pillars gave way, they thought the sky might fall in on them. They also believed that the sea and rivers were chaotic gods that fought against life and order.
An earthquake or a powerful thunderstorm was viewed by these ancient pagan religions as gods that warred against the order of creation and the good of people.
In contrast, God’s people trusted God to be their refuge. Those who lived in a relationship with him were lifted above the chaos and confusion of life and placed in a secure fortress of protection.
There are plenty of things to worry us in our world today. We can overcome the fear of troubling threats to our safety by living in a personal relationship of trust in God.
This Psalm is a declaration of both our ability to know God and to trust him for every aspect of life.
The City of God
The Temple is the place where heaven and earth touched. The Temple was not merely a magnificent building and a source of nation pride. It was the place on earth where God made his presence known.
Notice the number of times God is mentioned in the next four verses. He, not the Temple, is the source of strength that surrounded the Temple.
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 the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46.4-7)
God revealed his presence in the form of a cloud that filled the Tabernacle, during the time that Moses led the people of God to the promised land (Exodus 40.34-35).
When the Temple was dedicated, God’s glory filled the Temple in a dramatic way (2 Chronicles 7.1-3).
Both the Tabernacle and the Temple were significant because God made himself known to his people in a tangible way in those two structures.
What made Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and the Temple so important was God’s presence. The Psalm makes this quite apparent with the phrases: “God is in the midst. God will help it. The Lord of hosts is with us.”
The presence of God protected the people of God from both the chaos of earthquakes and floods, but also from the flood of aggression from the nations.
Jesus extended the availability of God’s presence to us, through his life and ministry. The Gospel of John identifies the presence of God in a person, not just in a place.
John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
As Jesus lived and taught in Israel, people everywhere came into contact with the glory and presence of God. Through the Holy Spirit, God continues to be present everywhere he is welcomed into the hearts of people.
Both the Bible and history teach us that God’s presence is not a “sure fire” way to avoid the storms of life or hostile nations. However, the Bible and the experience of God’s children testify to God’s activity in the midst of all the troubles of life.
During a time in history that is fraught with chaos and confusion, aggression and anger, worry and fear, prayer takes us into the presence of God. We can reside in a place of refuge with our Lord.
Be Still and Know that I am God
Verses 7 and 11 declare, “The Lord of hosts is with us.” The armies of heaven are under the authority of God. When the mountains tremble, the oceans roar and the nations threaten, there is no safer place to be than on the side of the Lord of hosts.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46.8-11)
Verse 10 can be translated, “Be still, and know that I am God,” as it appears in the version I am using in this article. Another good translation is “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”
“Be still,” implies that we should get into a quiet place to discern God’s activity in our midst. Indeed, God has most frequently met his people in a solitary place where their minds are receptive to his voice.
Moses was in the wilderness tending the sheep of his father-in-law when God called him. David was also tending sheep, when he encountered God’s directions for his life. Jesus had a frequent practice of arising early in the morning to meet with his Father in heaven.
If we value the presence of God, we will find ways to meet with him. Certainly, that will involve getting still enough and receptive enough to sense his presence.
The translation, “cease striving,” has attracted the attention of many. It recognizes that God is the Lord of heaven’s armies. It trusts God to conquer the enemies of chaos and world aggression.
People who “cease striving” allow God to fight their battles. They trust him to be both their refuge and their active defender.
As we face the corona virus pandemic, political unrest in our country and around the world, tension among ethnic groups, and a difficult economy, Psalm 46 is a valuable resource for prayer and trust. I pray that God blesses you, as you engage with God through this Palm.
May We Pray for You?
Maywood Baptist Church has a prayer team that is honored to pray for you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and ask the prayer team to join in prayer.