by Doug Smith
Psalm 46:1-11 (NKJV)
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. A Song for Alamoth.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah.
4 There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
6 The nations 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.
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
When you are in trouble, it is a blessing to know that help is available. It is a great blessing to know that it is on the way. And it is an even greater blessing to know that your help is here.
The blessing of help in time of need is magnified even more when others are involved. If you have had vehicle trouble with a van full of small children, you know what I mean. And if you have not experienced such a thing, you can surely imagine it or relate a similar circumstance where help is needed, not just for an individual, but for a group.
In our spiritual lives, as individuals and as groups—particularly local churches—we experience crises. The world, the flesh, and the devil are set against our having joy in Christ and glorifying God in all circumstances. Persecution and temptation—external opposition, internal strife, and disappointments—threaten to shake our faith. We need help, and help is available. But God’s Word has better news for us than that help is on the way. When we turn to Psalm 46, we see the good news that our help is here. In unstable and uncertain times, we can have stability and certainty because God is our help, and He is here.
The book of Psalms functioned as a songbook and prayer book for Israel. The psalms reflect much about the experience of God’s people—joy and thanksgiving as well as repentance, complaints, and cries for help. Some psalms clearly indicate the event that is addressed in the psalm. For example, Psalm 51 describes David’s repentance after being confronted about his sin of adultery. Others, such as Psalm 46, do not tell us the exact occasion for which they were written. However, Psalm 46 is one of the eleven psalms with the inscription “Of the Sons of Korah.” It is especially appropriate that we take a brief look at the background of the sons of Korah as we consider this corporate psalm of God’s help for His people in troubled times.
Numbers 16 is the record of Korah’s organized rebellion against Moses. After the congregation of Israel separated from the rebels, God caused the ground to swallow up Korah and his followers alive to show His judgment against them. But according to Numbers 26:9-11, there were sons of Korah who did not die. Though not part of the Aaronic priesthood, the Korahites (also descendants of Levi) served in the temple. According to 1 Chronicles 9:19, they were still in existence after the Babylonian exile. Their background in being spared while their rebellious ancestor perished should have made them thankful to sing praises to God for His present help in trouble.
As we look at Psalm 46, let those of us who are believers be grateful for God’s salvation and look to Him to see that our help is here. We will notice three different emphases in this psalm. It teaches us about the people of God, the person of God, and the presence of God.
Our Help Is Here: Help for the People of God
The corporate nature of this psalm is evident throughout its eleven verses. Notice the references that indicate this nature:
v. 1 God is our refuge and strength.
v. 2 Therefore we will not fear.
v. 4 the city of God
vv. 7, 11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Many psalms are worded in the first person singular with “I” and “my” and “me,” but this is one of the corporate psalms, worded with we and our and us (6 instances). The corporate nature of this psalm reminds us that our relationship with God is not merely an individual relationship that has no relevance to our relationships with others. Rather, it changes the dynamics of our relationships to others. When we become God’s children, we find that we have brothers and sisters. I am not an only child to God, and neither are you. All God’s people are part of a larger group.
But before we discuss the importance of the group, let me ask you this: Do you have a right relationship with God? Have you been forgiven of your disobedience and reconciled to Him? God created this world, including you and me, for His glory to display His character. Yet Adam and Eve—and you and I—have rebelled against God. Our sin has rightly been called cosmic treason; disobeying God is equivalent to seeking to dethrone Him and enthrone ourselves as the king of our lives. This treason deserves eternal punishment. Yet in His great mercy, God sent His Son, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who was born of the virgin Mary, lived the perfect life that God requires and that we could never live, and died on the cross in the place of sinners, bearing their punishment. He rose from the dead and lives forever. He promises to pardon and rescue rebels like you and me if we will turn from our sin and trust Him for our salvation. If you do not have assurance that you are part of the people of God through faith in Christ, I beg you—trust in Him today.
If you have turned from your sin and trusted in Him, then you have the certain hope and assurance of salvation in Christ. But He has not saved you for yourself; you are part of a larger body, the church.
If you are trusting in Christ, part of following Jesus means to identify with His people. We do this identification through baptism or the immersion into water as an ordinance of the church in order to testify to the world that we are dead to sin and raised to walk in newness of life in Jesus Christ. To identify with God’s people, we should also join ourselves to a local congregation, becoming members of a local church, where we can participate in the decisions of the congregation and also be subject to its discipline. We take gathering with the church seriously. We attend so we may grow from the preaching of the Word and partake of the Lord’s Supper. We also fellowship and encourage and warn one another, being involved in the lives of others.
If you know Christ but have not been baptized or joined a local church, let me urge you to obey God in these areas. Do not be afraid or ashamed to be publicly united to other believers. In our individualistic society, many do not value commitment. But to please God, we must value commitment to one another and love Christ and one another enough to identify ourselves as His people.
As God’s people, we understand that our Lord’s concerns extend not just to our individual problems, but to the problems we face corporately, particularly in local churches. Whether with your local assembly or with persecuted believers gathering in Saudi Arabia or Sudan, God, our Help, is there. He is a very present help in trouble.
Our Help Is Here: Help from the Person of God
God is clearly the subject of this psalm. Twenty-five different references to Him appear throughout these eleven verses. We see a divine name or title eleven times (God, the Most High, the LORD of hosts, the God of Jacob, the LORD), a metaphorical description five times (refuge, strength, help), and deity pronouns nine times (I, He).
This God who is our Help is the God who made heaven and earth. As the Most High, there is no God or power above Him. This God is the LORD. Notice in verses 7, 8, and 11 that the word “LORD” is in all uppercase letters. This use designates that the original Hebrew has the word for the most sacred name of God—Jehovah or Yahweh. It is probably derived from the same name that God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, when He revealed Himself as I AM WHO I AM. This God has the power of self-existence, needing nothing outside Himself to exist. He has all the resources of life in Himself, whereas we need food, water, oxygen and other external circumstances to live.
God’s sacred name not only refers to His self-existence but also speaks of His covenant relationship with His people. This God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and—as focused on in Psalm 46—Jacob—is the same God for the Korahites, for the Israelites, for the first-century believers in Christ, and for you and me. The God who showed mercy and faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has not changed—His people can still count on Him. Notice that this sacred name is paired with “of hosts” in verses 7 and 11. This reminds us that God is omnipotent and commands all the powers of the universe. This self-existent, faithful, promise-keeping, all-powerful, exalted creator God is our Help!
The metaphors in Psalm 46 indicate our dependence on God. He is our refuge, the One we run to for shelter. We trust in Him to protect us. He is our strength. Apart from Him, we are weak and faint. We have reason to fear if He is not our refuge and strength in trouble. He is also our help, providing the aid we need in our distress. This God is our fortress who protects us in troubled and unstable times—our stronghold and safe place. He is our defense. We do not need to fear trouble. We can trust God.
God’s names, titles, and descriptions remind us of His character, but we also learn about Him through His works. This God dwells with His people and helps them “at the break of dawn” (v. 5)—not a second too late. He opens His mouth and unleashes His omnipotent decree: “he uttered his voice, the earth melted” (v. 6). When He thus speaks, compliance is the only option. None can withstand His judgment. Regardless of your view on global warning, we haven’t seen anything yet! God will one day speak, and the heavens will be destroyed by fire, and “the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:12 NKJV). The psalm mentions the desolations God has brought on the earth. We can see astonishing things today that show the power of God. The Grand Canyon shows evidence of the catastrophic effects of the power of God. Hurricanes, tornados, and volcanic eruptions are just glimpses of the infinite strength of the Almighty. This God has power to stop wars, break the bow, shatter the spear, and burn the shields with fire.
God says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (v. 10). Calm down. Quiet your troubled soul. Make certain that you truly know that God is God and that He will be exalted in the earth. Consider the greatness of God, Who is the permanent, powerful, preeminent protector of His people. We should not fear trouble if we know Him. We should not fear to take the gospel to those near and far away, even if they react with hostility. God is our refuge and strength, and He will be exalted in the earth. Our Help is here.
Our Help Is Here: Help in the Presence of God
Notice how Psalm 46 emphasizes the presence of God: “God is…a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). He is “in the midst of” the city of God (v. 5). He is “with us” (vv. 7, 11).
It is not unusual to experience a period of waiting for help to arrive after we call for it. We may know that it is available, and we may know that it is on the way; but it is another thing altogether to know that it is here. It could be available but not come to us. It could be on the way but encounter a roadblock.
God is not just potential Help or Help who might arrive—He is already on the scene. The child of God never has trouble in which the Lord is not present, ready to help. He dwells among His people in their midst. He is with us even now.
God has always desired to be among His people. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden before they sinned. He manifested Himself to Abraham. He dwelled with His people in the tabernacle and later the temple. Jesus Christ Himself is the fulfillment of the temporary dwelling places God made use of. John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled or pitched His tent] among us.”
Knowledge of God’s presence should encourage us. His river makes the city of God glad. He was with Joseph in the midst of all his trials (Gen. 39:2-3, 21, 23). God’s promise of His presence encouraged Moses and Joshua and the returned exiles who rebuilt the temple (Ex. 3:12, Josh. 1:5, Hag. 1:13; 2:4). God has also promised to be with believers today. Jesus Christ, when charging His disciples with the Great Commission, told us, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The unchanging one, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, has promised never to leave us so we can say with boldness and confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).
This God dwells with you if you are a believer. He dwells in a special way in the midst of His called-out ones, His church. If you are trusting in Him today, you can be encouraged that God is with you, a very present Help in trouble. Our Help is here.
It is a great encouragement when needed help arrives. But the help of God is far greater and more necessary than any human help we may need. We all need God’s help every day in the troubles of this life. We are tempted to fear and worry when the circumstances we face seem like the earth shaking and mountains falling into the sea. When things threaten to change life as we know it, we need the help of God to survive the storm. It may come. Things may change. But God, the only source of stability in unstable times, is unchangeable.
The sixteenth-century Reformer and German pastor Martin Luther wrote a famous hymn based on this psalm. We know it as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther faced many trials from the world and the devil as well as his own flesh. It is written of Luther that,
In the darkest times he used to say, “Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm, and let them do their worst. He says, “We sing this Psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us, and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word, against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin. 1
God’s help is promised to His people forever. But there are those who will not survive storms and calamity and judgment. Friend, if you are not looking to Christ today, you are in trouble and great danger. You do not know when you will draw your last breath. God will judge all people with His perfect justice. He requires perfect obedience to His commands, but we have all failed in this regard. The penalty for such an offense against the infinitely high dignity of God is eternal, conscious torment in hell. Yet because of His great love, God sent His Son Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled the requirements of His holy law to take our punishment if we trust Him. If you forsake your sin and efforts to make yourself acceptable to God and simply trust in the One who has done the work for you, you will find a very present help in trouble.
Are you facing fear and anxiety? “God is our refuge and strength, avery present help in trouble” (v. 1). Our Help is here. Are you discouraged? Our Help is here. Are you tempted? Our Help is here.
Uncertain, unstable times should serve as a reminder to look to the certain, stable, faithful God. “Be still, and know that [He is] God” (Ps. 46:10). He can be trusted. He is our refuge and strength. Encourage one another with this truth from Psalm 46—our Help is here.