THE BOOK OF PSALMS
God is Our Refuge
Psalm 46 and 2 Chronicles 20
Our 2 great authorities on the OT, Keil and Delitzsch, have once more proposed a setting for this psalm. Since Ps. 46 claims to have been written by the sons of Korah (the Korahites), K/D have connected this psalm with an OT episode which features the Korahites. According to 2 Chron. 20, the armies of the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites rose up against the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of Jehoshaphat. Now Jehoshaphat, a righteous king, entered the Temple and presented the situation to the Lord. First of all, he reminds God that these armies are not fighting against the Jews but against God Himself who had installed the Jews in the land of Judah. By trying to oust the Jews out of their homeland, these armies were rebelling against God’s will. Next, Jehoshaphat informs God of their treachery. Hundreds of years earlier when the Israelites under Moses’ leadership were passing through Edom, etc., they could have ransacked and destroyed the Edomites, etc.; however, because of God’s command, they refrained from doing so. How have the Edomites, etc., repaid this original kindness? By attacking Jerusalem when they felt she was vulnerable.
God informs Jehoshaphat that he will not have to fight against those who have come to attack him because God Himself will wage war against them: “The battle is not yours but God’s!” All He wants Jehoshaphat to do is to take the Temple singers, the Korahites, with his army and approach the enemy. At daybreak, the Korahites are to begin singing. When Jehoshaphat obeys the Lord’s command, the Ammonites and Moabites suspect that the Edomites have betrayed them and thus attack the Edomites. After the Moabites and Ammonites have slain the Edomites, they in turn slaughter each other. Judah achieved a great victory without lifting a sword; all they did was to sing the word of the Lord. Towards the end of the episode, the author of 2 Chronicles claims that all the surrounding nations marveled at what God had accomplished for His people.
THEME—GOD IS OUR REFUGE
The very first verse presents the theme of the psalm:
“God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.”
The history of the southern kingdom of Judah is rife with stories about her seeking refuges of places of security during times of pursuit. David found numerous refuges in the caves which dotted the Judean mountain regions when fleeing either from the Philistines or from Saul. At one point, David is in the innermost recesses of a cave hiding while Saul, who is sleeping, is closer to the mouth of the same cave. Places of refuge like this came to symbolize God being a place of safe refuge, security, for His people during times of trouble.
It is interesting that he word translated “refuge” is similar to the Hebrew word Masada. When students of Jewish history hear the word “Masada,” they immediately think of Herod’s fortress built by the Dead Sea which was named “Masada.” The fortress was built on a mesa approximately 1500 feet above the surrounding plain. One could approach the summit of the mesa by a narrow road called the “Snake Path” which wound up the side of the mountain. Since it was easy with bows and arrows to pick off invaders trying to make their way up this Snake Path, this fortress was for all intents and purposes impregnable. Just a few people were all that was necessary to defend it.
Much has been made about the way the Romans conquered this fortress in 73 AD by building a large earthen ramp which got close enough to the fortress for this ramming machines and bridges. Few, though, mention that the only way the Romans were able to build the ramp was by using Jewish slave labor. If the Romans had used any other people to build this ramp, the Jewish defenders would have easily picked off the laborers with bows and arrows; however, even though they knew it sealed their fate, they refused to attack their own people. Masada really was impregnable at that time. As impregnable as Masada was, it pales in comparison to God, our Masada. God’s people do not build up ramps so that God’s enemies can overthrow Him. When God’s people turn to Him for refuge, they are completely safe.
Our translations make 2 mistakes regarding the second part of this verse. First, they say that God is a VERY PRESENT help in trouble. The words simply do not mean “very present.” Actually, these words should be translated “help which has been well-proved in troubles.” The psalmist is saying that he is not basing this theme upon mere speculation or wishful thinking but upon the fact that God has proven Himself to be a strong refuge for His people. From personal experience, the Jews knew that they were secure in God. When the Jews saw their enemies lying slain in the field, they knew that they could trust God to protect them. Second, the word translated TROUBLE should actually be translated “troubles” (plural). The plural can refer either to a situation in which many troubles are befalling a person (financial, health, marital—when it rains, it pours) or to a single situation which has many troubling aspects to it. In either case, no matter how many troubles befall us, God is a strong refuge for His people.
RESULT—NO FEAR (46:2-3)
The result of coming to God as a strong refuge is peace, no fear, rest. Moreover, it is a peace which can withstand the most terrifying circumstances.
“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 its mountains quake at its swelling pride.
The psalmist here is describing the direst of circumstances—the upheaval of all creation.
I have never experienced an earthquake; however, I have been told that an earthquake is one of the most unsettling experiences a person can undergo. It is unsettling first because you never know when it is going to hit. We have days of warning before hurricanes hit, minutes before a tornado hits, however, no warning at all before an earthquake hits. Second, it is so unsettling because it takes away the last vestige of physical security—the ground. We all know the Dow Jones fluctuates. We know that this country may follow God under one President and reject Him under another; however, the ground is always safe and secure. Earthquakes destroy even this illusion. If the ground is not safe and secure, then surely nothing in this whole world is ultimately safe and secure. Well, the psalmist is not describing an earthquake that measures 3.5 on the Richter scale. I don’t know if human scales can even measure the earthquake of vv. 2-3; it is that severe. This earthquake is off the charts. Even though it is that severe, God’s people can be at rest because He is their refuge.
The truth, though, is that unless Jesus returns in our lifetime, we will never experience the cataclysmic upheaval of vv. 2-3. Our spiritual, emotional, and physical earthquakes are much less intense than the one described in these verses; however, if God’s people can be at rest during the earthquake of vv. 2-3, then surely they can be at peace during their times of upheaval.
We must stress, though, that people do not automatically possess the peace the Korahites describe in this section. This kind of rest is not the lot of every person; neither is it the lot of every believer. This kind of peace is experienced only by those who take refuge in the Lord, that is, by those who allow the Lord to be the God of their lives. Making the Lord anything less in our lives results in fear, even during times of insignificant troubles. Do you want to see a Christian troubled and anxious? Look for a Christian not following the Lord. If you see a Christian at rest, s/he is operating out of their relationship with the Lord.
DESCRIPTION OF GOD’S PEOPLE DURING TROUBLES (46:4-7)
The psalmist continues by illustrating what he means by the people of God being at rest. He compares God’s people to a city which is under siege.
“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.
At first, the city does not look like it is under siege. The psalmist describes the joy that the city is experiencing because of the river flowing through it. The presence of water is something hard for us to appreciate. Texas has so many man-made lakes that the state, once arid, has become quite humid. We’re constantly watering our yards, running fountains, going swimming, etc., because we take water for granted. In that part of the world though, water is a precious commodity. The force which controls the water supply controls the country. When an invading army wanted to conquer a city, all it had to do was cut off its water supply and wait.
Well, this city (the people of God) does not have to worry about water being cut off. Water is guaranteed in this city. She is totally safe and secure. In v. 5, the psalmist explains what he means by water (a necessity for physical life) flowing through the city: “God is in the midst of her; she will not be moved.” Just like physical water is necessary for a city’s survival, so God is necessary for the survival of His people. God’s people are completely safe and secure because God is with her.
Moreover, God is going to help His people at exactly the right time. This is the point at which most Christians fail. We all believe that God will protect us, or at least we claim we believe this. For a little while, we hold onto this belief, but when it seems like God is taking His own sweet time, we get frustrated and give up. Instead of operating out of love and joy, we get frustrated and angry. Moreover, it never fails; right after we give up, God kicks in and saves the day. If only we had waited a little bit longer, we would have made it through the trial. The problem is that whereas we believe that God is going to protect us, we don’t believe He will protect us at the right time. According to our calendars, God is always just a tad late. The truth, though is that our timing is always premature; God’s timing is always perfect. In this psalm, the perfect timing for God’s intervention is dawn. At the present, it is night; however, when dawn breaks, God will intervene for His people.
Now the security this city feels is not based upon human circumstances but upon the protection of God. The city is not safe and secure because no one is threatening her. In fact, from a human standpoint, she is in dire straits:
“The nations made an uproar; the kingdoms tottered.”
Her enemies are outside her gates raising the battle cry. No enemy just ever attacks. They first have to send out heir emissaries and make all kinds of threats: “We’ll torture your men until they can stand it no longer, and then we’ll get down to the serious pain! We’ll pillage, rape, and plunder!” They always make an uproar before they attack.
Moreover, they are armed to the teeth, tottering in the sense of shaking with eagerness because they desire to attack the city immediately and destroy her inhabitants. Though her enemies are outside the gates making threatening advances against the city, the city is nevertheless at peace, just as in Ps. 23:5 where God prepared a feast for His people in the presence of their enemies. With God in control, God’s people can be at peace no matter the outward circumstances. God does not promise a trouble-free life; in fact, He almost always guarantees a life of trouble. What He does guarantee is His strength and peace to endure these troubles so that we can enjoy peace and rest.
The city of God is justified in enjoying the sensation of peace:
”He raised His voice; the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God is Jacob is our stronghold.”
When morning dawns, God acts and acts swiftly. There is no long drawn-out battle in which victory hangs in the balance. It is over in a flash. God speaks, and His enemies are destroyed. Second Chronicles 20 informs us that the Jews did not have to fight against their enemies; instead, at God’s signal, they sang praises to God and then God destroyed their enemies. It’s almost comical how the battle turned out. For several months the 3 hostile nations had made such elaborate plans to attack the Jews. They had trained and armed their armies to the teeth. All this preparation and maneuvering, and yet it is over in a flash. Moreover, it did not even take strategizing on the part of the Jews to destroy their enemies. It was word—God’s Word, not the normal implements of war, God used to achieve the victory. This foreshadows the future when the enemies of God under the leadership of the Antichrist in arrogance array themselves against the Son of God who destroys them instantaneously with the Word of His mouth. Christ speaks, and they are destroyed (Rev. 19:21).
Normally, we view vv. 8-11 as being an address to God’s people. Yet the singers of this psalm are God’s people. God is not being addressed because He is spoken of in the third person. Who is being addressed then in these verses? After God demolishes the Edomites, etc., He summons the rest of the foreign nations to survey the destruction He has inflicted upon the enemies of His people:
“Come, behold the works of the Lord who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the ends 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."
On the plain in front of the victorious Jewish armies lie the dead. God has destroyed all the implements of war: bows, spears, and chariots. Victory is complete!
What lesson does God want the rest of the world to learn from this? To give it up! To leave God’s people alone. As Captain Picard says in Star Trek The Next Generation: “Resistance is futile!” If you mess with God’s people, you will suffer the same fate the Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites suffered. God takes care of His people.
This should not surprise us. God claims to be both our Father and our Bride-groom. Well, fathers care for their children, and grooms care for their brides. You can talk about me and you can say some pretty ugly things to me; however, don’t ever talk about my children and my wife. That’s where I draw the line. I would be a sorry father and husband if I did not. I’m sure you men know what I mean. Well, as good as dads and husbands we are, we pale in comparison to God who is the ultimate father and groom. If we care that deeply for our children, how much more deeply does He care for us. This is a warning not only to non-Christians but also to Christians who feel free to treat other Christians any way they desire. They are asking for God’s intervention on behalf of His people under attack. That’s not a place I would want to find myself in. As Christians, we can disagree, but we need to be careful how we treat the Christians we disagree with. We may just be finding ourselves having to deal with God.