Psalm 46 has become one of my “go to” psalms when I need to encourage myself or someone else to trust God in what seems to be an impossibly hard situation.
This psalm was a victory song, which was sung after a battle that was won by the Lord. Although we don’t know for certain, the battle that it could be referring to is when the Assyrian King Sennacherib (suh NAK uh rib) had his army surround Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18-19. They taunted the Jews—are you really going to trust in king Hezekiah and his God?
So Hezekiah rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and prayed to the Lord:
19 Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD God, even thou only. (2 Kings 19:19)
Please note, for the benefit of your own prayers, that Hezekiah prayed for the Lord to save them for the Lord’s glory, not just to save his own skin. Is what you pray for something that would be for the Lord’s glory—or only for your selfish purposes? And the Lord answered Hezekiah’s prayer:
35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. (2 Kings 19:35)
A massive army was destroyed in a single night by the Lord. Jerusalem was saved; God had come through for His people.
This psalm encourages us to rely on the Lord as our refuge. It encourages us to have a radical confidence in God despite impossible odds. It encourages us to be confident in God’s help, in God’s presence, and in God Himself.
BE CONFIDENT IN GOD’S HELP
Psalms 46:1 God(7x) is our refuge(3x) and strength, A very present help(2x) in trouble.
God is—He wants to be—our “refuge,”“strength,” and a “very present help in trouble.” I say, “wants to be,” because we so often turn to other things to be our refuge and help and strength.
What things do people often turn to be a “very present help” in their lives?
1. Inadequate Sources Of Help
(1) Alcohol and drugs—It eases the pain; it makes you forget. Maybe so, but the collateral damage to yourself and others around you is like trying to kill a fly with a shotgun. You end up with a bigger mess in the end.
(2) Money—when Sennacherib first attacked Judah and conquered several of the cities, the first thing that Hezekiah turned to was money:
15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king’s house. 16 At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 18:15–16)
Obviously that did not stop Sennacherib. He probably laughed and said, “Thanks, now I don’t have to tear the gold off the temple doors myself!”
Now, money is helpful and necessary in our lives. God even uses money to help us. But money cannot protect us from the dangers of this world. You can have all the money in the world, like Steve Jobs did—enough to secure the best doctors and best treatments—but still die of cancer.
(3) Talents and abilities—like money, talents and abilities are useful and necessary. But also like money, they are no guarantee of safety. A talented singer or a smart businessman or a fine farmer is still vulnerable to disease and disaster and disappointment.
2. God Is Help In Any Situation
The next verses describe the ultimate worst case scenario—it can’t be badder!
Psalms 46:2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Psalms 46:3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah(3x).
Can you imagine a greater worst case scenario than that? No, and that’s the point. God is a very present help for any sort of trouble.
3. How God Is A Help
How is God a “very present help” to us? The psalmist says that He is a “refuge” and a “strength.” There is a distinction between those two things:
(1) That God is our “refuge” means that sometimes He shields us from trouble around us. My favorite verse in this regard, one that I quote when I am anxious or stressed, is Proverbs 18:10—
10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower: The righteous runneth into it, and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
Or another verse that was a comfort to Elisabeth Elliot after the death of her husband—
1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)
God is our “refuge” and God is our “strength:”
(2) That God is our “strength” means that sometimes God is our strength through the trouble. He allows us to suffer, but carries us through the suffering. It’s His way of teaching us to depend on Him and Him alone.
Either way that He chooses to help, we can be confident in God’s help. We should also be satisfied knowing that He is wiser about what kind of help we need than we are!
We also learn from this psalm that we can…
BE CONFIDENT IN GOD’S PRESENCE
Psalms 46:4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God(7x), The holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
1. The Hidden River In Jerusalem
The “city of God” that is mentioned here has to be Jerusalem—that’s what the psalmist had in mind. But there is no “river” in or near Jerusalem. But perhaps what is in view here is what we call Hezekiah’s tunnel.
In ancient days, when a city was surrounded by an enemy, one great danger for the inhabitants was running out of food and water. They couldn’t get outside to the fields to get food or to rivers to get water. The enemy simply had to wait a few weeks and they would be able to take the city without much resistance.
Of course, cities in those days knew this and prepared themselves with stores of food. Archaeologists, for instance, have found ancient grain bins (with the grain intact) in the ruins of Jericho. It’s a good thing that God knocked the walls down, or Joshua and his army would have had a long wait!
King Hezekiah prepared for a day when an army would lay siege to Jerusalem. One of those preparations was to secure the water supply to Jerusalem. The spring that gave Jerusalem her water was outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the Kidron valley. Not a good thing—an enemy could easily keep them from getting to the spring.
So Hezekiah assigned two teams of workers to dig a tunnel, from opposite ends, almost 1800 feet long through solid rock, from the spring outside of Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam, inside Jerusalem. Then they hid the spring by covering it up (2 Kings 20:20).
The tunnel was dug at a 6 percent grade so that water would flow from the spring into the pool of Siloam. In effect, it gave Jerusalem a hidden river, one that would allow her to stand longer against an enemy.
An unbeliever might credit human genius for providing a better defense for Jerusalem through a feat of fabulous engineering. But not the psalmist:
Psalms 46:5 God(7x) is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God(7x) shall help(2x) her, and that right early.
Psalms 46:6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered his voice, the earth melted.
Psalms 46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God(7x) of Jacob is our refuge(3x). Selah(3x).
God is the One who was protecting and providing for Jerusalem. He was present with His people.
2. The Hidden River In The Christian
We do not have Hezekiah’s tunnel, but if you are a Christian, you do have a hidden river of living water that you can depend on.Do you know what it is? Jesus tells us in John 7—
37 …If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:37–38)
Who or what is this rivers of living water?
39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive…) (John 7:39)
Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit within. We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He is the hidden river of strength that no enemy can take away from us. How does the Holy Spirit help the believer? A couple of the ways He does is…
(1) He strengthens the believer, for example, to speak about Christ to others:
8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
(2) He comforts and encourages the believer:
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17)
What if you are not experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? Two possible reasons are:
(1) You aren’t really a Christian. It’s easy to think that you are a Christian because America has so much of Christianity as part of our culture. Have you really placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?
If you have, your life will change. There will be evidence of the Holy Spirit living in you. The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, and so forth—will be growing in you. Is it? Have you changed?
(2) If you are a Christian, have you been grieving the Holy Spirit?
30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
We grieve the Spirit by walking in sin, or even, I think, by not depending on Him. It’s like ignoring your best friend—he or she is saddened because you haven’t been around lately. It doesn’t mean that He leaves us, but it does mean that we will not experience the power of His presence in our lives.
To ignore the presence of the Holy Spirit when we face a crisis is as foolish as a resident of Jerusalem refusing to drink from the pool of Siloam during a siege!
Finally, this psalm encourages us to…
BE CONFIDENT IN GOD HIMSELF
The first thing the psalmist does in this last stanza is to encourage us to “behold the works of the LORD.”
Psalms 46:8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, What desolations he hath made in the earth.
Psalms 46:9 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.
You can see the psalmist looking down from the wall of Jerusalem and beholding the fallen Assyrian army—185,000 of them on the ground. Sennacherib’s war had ceased—his great vision of a conquest was defeated by God. He would slink home to Nineveh where two of his sons would kill him while he worshipped his false god (2 Kings 19:37).
Today, God still acts on behalf of His people. The question is if we bother to behold His works or even recognize them as works of God.
The story is told about the man whose home was in the middle of a flood. He cried out to God to save him. Just then, someone in a four wheel drive truck came along and offered a ride. He refused, saying that he trusted God to rescue him.
The water rose further. Soon he was stranded in the second floor of his home when a boat came by. Again he refused the offer of a ride, claiming again that the Lord would save him.
The waters rose more, and stranded on the roof of his submerged home, he saw a helicopter approach. A rescuer dangled down from a rope and yelled at him to grab on. But the God-fearing man again refused.
The waters rose even more and…he drowned. His body was never recovered.
In Heaven, the man approached the Lord and complained, “Why didn’t you save me?” The Lord responded, “I sent you a pickup, a boat, and a helicopter—what more did you expect?”
The Lord may not work in the way you expect. We may look for Him to slay the 185,000 Assyrians in our backyard and miss the fact He provided water for Jerusalem through the hard work of men digging a tunnel through the bedrock.
But most of all, we need to behold the work of Christ on the cross. His sacrifice there paid the penalty for our sins. It’s Christ’s cross work that will make the war against sin finally cease.
We are to behold and to…
2. Be Still!
Psalms 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God(7x): I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
Psalms 46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God(7x) of Jacob is our refuge(3x). Selah(3x).
The command to “be still” is really a command to trust and believe.
Imagine that you are drowning in a lake and you are thrashing to and fro and all about. A rescuer swims up to you and says, “Be still…cease splashing so that I can take you to safety.” Why do you quit splashing? Because you believe him—you trust him.
You cannot gain Heaven by striving to be the best person you can be. Your work counts for nothing for your salvation because it is all tainted with sin.
Most people think that their good works ought to count for something. A new TV show, called “The Good Place,” perpetuates this false idea. It’s about a woman who dies and goes to Heaven, which the show calls “The Good Place.”
She meets this head angel, who explains that everything we do in life, is rated with a number. Eating breakfast might be plus one point; looking at a bad magazine is minus ten points; helping a poor person is plus 125 points and so on. Those who die with lots of positive points go to “the Good Place.”
But that’s not what the Bible says—
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Will you be still and know—believe—that Jesus is God? Are you going to quit splashing and allow Jesus to save you from drowning in your sin?