1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
(A brief study of Psalm 46, adapted from my church's Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 29 Feb 2008)
Psalm 46 is a very well-known and comforting Psalm. It is well-known that Martin Luther would sing it when he felt discouraged or sore-tried in his fight against Rome. We read that there were moments when Luther would feel something akin to despair, and he would ask with the Psalmist: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” In such hours, he would say to Melanchthon, “Come, Philip, let us sing the 46th Psalm” and the two friends would sing it together using Luther’s famous paraphrase of it.
But this Psalm is not only a comfort in times of ecclesiastical or political conflict. It is of great comfort whenever we are facing an uncertain tomorrow or anticipate a severe trial.
Every Christian may sing this Psalm, for this Psalm is given by our Lord, that we may sing with Him. He speaks of Himself apart from us, but once in verse 10 where He says, “I am God.” But everywhere else, He puts Himself as one amongst us that we may sing with Him as ‘we’ and ‘us’.
How does this Psalm comfort us in times of severe trial? It comforts us by encouraging us first of all to…
1. Fear Not
We need fear not because God is our strength and very present help in trouble.
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
We all go through different kinds of trials. It could be wars or quarrels. It could be church splits or severe disagreements. It could be natural disasters or political turmoil. It could even be personal struggles—conflict in the soul or the prospect of an impending trial.
Whatever it is, it can be very fearful to think about what will happen next. Indeed, very often we will think of the worst scenario, and we can get unduly worried.
Well, the Psalmist does not comfort us by saying that it will not be as bad as we think. The fact is that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and what happens may indeed be as bad if not worse than what we anticipate it to be. It is foolish, therefore, to comfort ourselves by saying, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).
What then shall we do? Well, in a certain sense, the Psalmist teaches us not to imagine the best scenario, but to imagine the worst. What else would we mean when we sing:
…though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
How else could we imagine a worse scenario—than the earth being knocked out of orbit, the mountains blown off and cast into the sea, and where there are gigantic tsunamis and earthquakes everywhere? We are speaking metaphorically, of course. But is it not true that sometimes when terrible things happen to us, we feel our whole life crashing around us and everything in turmoil?
But what shall we do if the worst should indeed happen? Well, the Lord by His spirit would remind us that we need not fear. We need not fear because we have God as our refuge and our strength. When everything crumbles around us, when the whole world crumbles beneath our feet, we would still have somewhere to hide, and someone who will give us strength.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
God who loves us will always be there for us to hide us, to strengthen us and to help us no matter how bad things may turn out for us.
Therefore, we need not fear. Rather let us learn to run to Him, to hide in Him and to find strength in Him. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
But not only should we not fear, we also need …
2. Move Not
4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. 6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
What is it to be moved? It is to be shaken. It is to despair and to give up. It is to allow Satan to have victory. When a kingdom is moved as in verse 6, the kingdom is destroyed or displaced, and the people are scattered and brought to despair of ever returning to their home land.
If the church is moved, she is shaken from her moorings of truth. She begins to doubt the purpose of her existence. Her members begin to scatter. Her leaders are too discouraged to do anything.
If a Christian is moved, he is in despair. He loses confidence not only in himself, but in God. He doubts God, and he is tempted to forget about living a righteous and holy life. Indeed, he is tempted to leave the faith altogether.
But we need not be moved. We need not be moved because the Lord is in us (v 5) and with us (v. 7). He will help us. He will help us early when we are in need of help (v. 6).
How is the Lord in us and with us?
Verse 4 gives us a clue.
4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
What is this river? It has been suggested that it could represent God the Father (Jer 2:13); and God the Son (Zec 13:1). But it appears to me that this river is very likely a reference to the Holy Spirit and the blessing that He brings to His people. The Lord Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit when He says:
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38).
One of the verses that the Lord is referring to, I believe, is Zechariah 14:8, which reads—
“And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem…” (Zec 14:8a).
God is with us and in us by His Spirit. For this reason, we shall not be moved. For He will never leave us nor forsake us; and as the apostle John puts it, we have and will overcome because greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world (1 Jn 4:4).
The believer in whom the Spirit dwells will not be moved, therefore the church which comprises of believers in whom the Spirit dwells will not be moved.
Let us therefore pray for the Spirit as the Lord teaches us to:
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Lk 11:13).
If we want to remain steadfast in the midst of adversity, let us learn to pray for the Spirit and rely upon the Spirit.
But finally, in the midst of adversity, let us learn to…
3. Fret Not
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. 9 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. 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” What is the meaning of being still? It is not to sit there and be inactive. It is essentially to fret not, not to allow emotional turmoil to overwhelm us.
But why are we to be still and to fret not? The reason is very simple, namely that the Lord, He is God. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Who is this ‘I’? This I is He who identifies Himself with us when we sing ‘us’ and ‘we’, but He is also God. Who is this ‘I’, but Christ Himself.
The writer of Hebrews tells us:
“2 [God] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:1-3).
Christ has been appointed the heir of all things and by the Word of His sovereign power is bringing all things to pass.
The natural disasters in the earth, the wars and the peace in the world do not come by chance. They are ordained by the Lord, and brought to pass by His sovereign power. They are all the works of the Lord, verses 8 and 9.
Why does He bring all things to pass? He brings all things to pass for His own glory (v. 10), and for our sakes, which is the reason we can confess, “The LORD of hosts is with us” (v. 11).
Therefore, in the midst of turmoil in our soul and in our lives, let us learn to be still and know that He is God. Let us cease to fret, let us cease from frantic activity. Let us be still and let God be God, to taste and see that He is good; and He will see to it that His name will be exalted and good may come out of the turmoil.
Beloved brethren and children, do you have occasion to be tempted to despair? Are you going through a particular trial at the moment?
Fear not, for God is our strength and very present help in trouble. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He does not stand by to watch. He is ever present to help us moment by moment, so that help is but a prayer away.
Move not, for God is in us and with us by His Spirit. We are not powerless for He who dwells in us not only comforts us with a sense of our Father’s love, but gives us the strength that we need, to cling on to the promises of our Lord.
Fret not, but be still and know that He who is God and our Sovereign LORD is also our compassionate Great High Priest, who was tempted at all points like as we are and yet without sin. He has been through a trial far more intense than any of us will ever experience. He understands and He cares. He is interceding for you. He will see to it that your trial will work out for your good and redound to our Father’s glory.
—JJ Lim (28 March 2009)
Pastor of Pilgrim Covenant Church (PCC)