George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 46

1. Structure

There are three well-marked stanzas: vv. 1-3, 4-7, and 8-11. The second and third of these end with: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah”. The first stanza has only “Selah”, so it looks as though the refrain has somehow dropped out at the end of v. 3.

2. Historical setting

All the Korah psalms fit the Hezekiah period remarkably well. This psalm and Psalms 47 and 48 form a trilogy on the same theme: the destruction of Sennacherib’s Assyrian army (2 Kings 18). The awesome army of the Assyrian “wolf” is decimated by divine power (46), and God is at last glorified in the earth (47). And Jerusalem, the “city of the great king” (48:2; Matt. 5:35), is preserved.

Various passages (Isa. 29:6; 30:30,31; 31:8,9) suggest that the Assyrians were destroyed by a mighty exercise of divine power — hurricane, earthquake, or the Cherubim of glory; maybe, in fact, by all of these combined! The vivid language of this psalm adds to the picture.

Refuge = Machseh: “that to which one flees”. Not s.w. as vv. 7,11. Many from surrounding cities and villages fled from the depredations of Sennacherib, until the only refuge remaining was the city of Jerusalem. So, thankfully, they pressed into it, until it was filled to overflowing.
Though the earth be removed. There is the strong suggestion of earthquake here (cp. v. 3). Literally, “at the changing of the earth” — perhaps as of a worn-out garment (a figure that appears in the related Psa. 102:26).

The waters roar. In Isaiah’s figure, the mighty waters of the Euphrates River (Biblical symbol of Assyrian power) “invade” God’s Land. What a contrast with “the waters of Shiloah that go softly” (v. 4; Isa. 8:7,8; and note “Immanuel” and “Lord of hosts” in Isa. 8:10,13 — compared with vv. 5,7,11 here).
There is a river. Nachar (a constantly flowing stream), in contrast to nachal, or wadi (an erratic, often-dry desert stream bed). This river, this nachar, which gladdens the city of God is almost certainly Hezekiah’s conduit, driven through solid rock by two teams of engineers, so as to insure an adequate supply of water for the besieged people of Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:2-5; cp. Psa. 42:7, notes). (Before this time, Jerusalem had depended upon rock-cistern storage for rain water, and upon the fountain of the Virgin’s Spring located outside the walls of the city.) At the same time as the conduit was being constructed, a new wall was going up to enclose the area of Siloam, at the south end of the city, as a sizeable reservoir. Hezekiah’s conduit is, even today, an amazing feat of planning and execution. But it is more than that: it is also an eloquent symbol of the silent, hidden purpose of the Almighty (the “still, small voice”), by which Israel was sustained during her severest trials (cp. Psa. 87:7; Isa. 22:9,11).

The most High is Elyon, a title of the Almighty often associated with Gentiles: Gen. 14:18; Deut. 32:8; Psa. 18:13; 47:2,3; Isa. 14:14. It is first used of Melchizedek, priest of Elyon and king of Salem, the exalted (v. 10 here) or elevated (Psa. 48:2) city of God.
She shall not be moved — and this in spite of the devastating cataclysm destroying the Assyrian camp less than a mile away (the ancient name of Mt. Scopus is “the camp of the Assyrians”). The great “waves” of the Assyrian flood surged through Judah — sweeping everything before them — but they could not overflow Jerusalem, which was in God’s plan fixed and immovable (Psa. 124:1,4,5; 125:1,2).

Moved. The same word is used, for contrast, in v. 2 (mountains “carried”, or moved) and v. 6 (kingdoms moved).

God shall help her, and that right early. Literally, at the dawn of the morning (RV mg.), or “at the opening of the dawn” (Eureka, vol. 2, p. 17). The best commentary on these words is 2 Kings 19:35 and Isa. 37:36:

“And when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses!”
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. What a superb contrast here. When the feared Assyrians “raged” (like uncontrollable waters: Isa. 8:7), many kingdoms trembled. God speaks but once (in His storm and earthquake), and the whole earth is demoralized and abjectly silent!
The Lord of hosts is with us. “Immanuel”! The Isa. 7:14 prophecy about, first, Hezekiah and then Christ is alluded to here. There is fair evidence for reading Lord of hosts as referring to the Cherubim of Glory (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; Isa. 6:1-3; 37:15,16; Psa. 24:10; 80:1,4; Hag. 2:7). The LXX suggests “hosts of angels” — hence...

The God of Jacob, the Jacob who saw God’s angelic host at Mahanaim (Gen. 32:1,2; cp. 28:15).

Refuge. Misgab (as in v. 11) signifies an impregnable place. A “fortress” (RSV). The same word occurs in Isa. 33:16 (Isa. 33 has quite a number of verbal contacts with Psalms 46-48).
Behold. This Hebrew word is normally used of seeing a divine revelation, in this instance the “theophany” of desolations wrought by the angel of the Lord.

What desolations he hath made in the earth (eretz: Land, i.e. of Israel). And even this sounds like an understatement when contemplating 185,000 corpses!
He maketh wars to cease. After this the warlike Assyrians left Judah severely alone for a long time. The rest of this verse describes the havoc in the Assyrian camp (cp. Isa. 9:4,5, which foretold all this).

Chariots (agaloth) is, literally, carts (probably ox-drawn). The Assyrians were bringing up heavy siege equipment from the capture of Lachish, when overtaken by the avenging angel. (The LXX — followed by NEB and NIV — has, by one vowel change, “shields”.)
Be still, and know that I am God. ‘Let go, desist’; cease from your own labors. “Give in” (Moffatt). And Hezekiah’s faith rested on this:

“ ‘Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us that with him: With him is an arm of flesh: but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles.’ And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2 Chron. 32:7,8).

And the people rested themselves on the faith of Hezekiah also! (In general, see also Exod. 14:13 — the words of Moses, in a time of comparable deliverance: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord”.)

3. Messianic reference

In general the psalm may be applied to the final but futile attempt in the Last Days to destroy Jerusalem when it has become the city of the great king (Ezek. 38; 39).

Though the earth be removed. “The earth is utterly broken down... clean dissolved... moved exceedingly... ” (Isa 24:10,19-23).

Though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. This was achieved figuratively in the first century by the faith of the disciples (Mark 11:23), and will be achieved literally in the days of Messiah’s glory (Isa. 54:10; Psa. 76:1-6; Zech. 14:4,5).
The waters roar. The sea and the waves roaring (Luke 21:25; cp. Psa. 89:9; Jer. 31:35,36). The nations are like a troubled sea which cannot rest (Isa. 57:20,21; cp. Psa. 48:22).
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad. The waters of Shiloah (Isa. 8:5-7), or Siloam, remind us of the miracle performed by Christ in conjunction therewith (John 9:1-7). We too have, in a spiritual sense, been born blind. We too have been bidden by Jesus to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. So, washing ourselves in the pool of “the One Sent” (John 9:7), we see — for the first time — the hidden resources of strength and sustenance and protection to be found in the Lord of hosts: Christ, the “river of life” (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1), the river flowing from under God’s throne (Ezek. 47:1-5), “a spring whose blessings never fail”.

And, further, the Kingdom of God will witness “living waters” going forth from Jerusalem, both literal and figurative (Zech. 14:8; Joel 3:18; Isa. 30:25; 33:21; 41:18; 43:19,20; John 7:37), and in Christ himself a “fountain” for the purification of sin and uncleanness (Zech. 13:1).

The holy places of the tabernacles of the most High. The Son of David has not yet established the full glory of his temple in his glorified saints.
She shall not be moved. Quoted in Heb. 12:28, about the “heavenly Jerusalem... the general assembly, and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven”. What a contrast with v. 6 here.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. 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. A soul-satisfying picture of the final end of all human frightfulness, and of war itself: Isa. 2:4; Ezek. 39:9; Hos. 2:18; Hag. 2:22; Rev. 11:18.
Heathen... the earth (the Land?) — Gentiles and Israel. The evil of men tamed, and God exalted at last.

4. Other details

A very present help. “A well-proved help” (RSV mg.). The word conveys the sense of a readiness to be found (cp. the use of the root word in Isa. 55:6).
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. “The Psalmist could see for himself, as others in his place, seas roar and mountains tremble, and yet be still, and know that ‘there is a river, whose streams make glad the city of our God’; and we can echo his words when the sea and the waves roar, and some men fear, and some men doubt and some blaspheme, and we can be still and know ‘that our redemption draweth nigh’ ” (A.D. Norris).
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad. Compare Isa. 12:3: “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”

Tabernacles. Mishkan is used here of Solomon’s temple. Perhaps the intensive plural is meant, thus referring to “the great tabernacle”.

5. Postscript

Through the sacred pages flow two very different streams. The raging torrent, the seasonal river overflowing its banks, is used by Isaiah as a figure for the advancing Assyrians (Isa. 8:7,8). The waters thereof roar and are troubled; proud billows and lashing waves, lofty as hills, sweep aside mountains in their path (Psa. 46:3). But in their tumultuous course the wild waters come at last against the immovable height of Zion (Psa. 125:1):

“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11).

For here, beneath Zion’s hill, flows another stream which is the secret of her survival. It is not harsh and overpowering; its waters go softly and gently (Isa. 8:6) through the rock-hewn channel of Hezekiah’s conduit (2 Kings 20:20) into the pool of Siloam (John 9:7).

It sustains the lives of thirsty watchmen on Zion’s walls. In its silent, unerring course it speaks of the sure and certain purposes of God. Its whispering waters speak in a still, small voice of the blessings of faith in God.

This is the river of life, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy places of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; God shall help her. Let us drink of this stream; its quiet waters will restore our souls and bring us inward peace in the midst of stormy trials.

6. Help in the Morning

(“God shall help her when the morning appeareth”: v. 5)

O Thou whose ear is ever bowed
To strains of human care;
Who writest on my darkest cloud
Thy rainbow soft and fair:
When silent grief implores Thy aid,
And begs Thy hand to move,
Let my extremity be made
The chariot of Thy love.

A triumph of Thy loving skill,
I rest upon Thy grace,
Though midnight pains and tears conceal
The glory of Thy face.
Help me to wait till light appears,
And let the morning prove
How false and baseless were my fears,
How faithful is Thy love.

                        William Wileman

Next Next Next