Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm has been called Luther's Psalm. It was that which he was accustomed to sing in trouble. When the times were dark; when the enemies of truth appeared to triumph; when disaster seemed to come over the cause in which he was engaged, and the friends of the Reformation were disspirited, disheartened, and sad, he was accustomed to say to his fellow-laborers, "Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm."
The author of the psalm is unknown. It is not ascribed to David, but to "the Sons of Korah," and there are no indications in the psalm that David was the author, or that it refers to his times. There is reason to believe that most of the psalms attributed to the "Sons of Korah" were composed subsequent to the time of David.
The title of the psalm is, "To the chief Musician, for the Sons of Korah, a song upon Alamoth." On the phrase "To the chief Musician," see the notes at the title to Psa 4:1-8. On the phrase "For the Sons of Korah," see the notes at the title to Psa 42:1-11. The word "song" in the title occurs also in that to Psa 30:1-12. (see the notes at that title), and also in the titles to Ps. 45; Psa 48:1-14; Psa 65:1-13; Ps. 66; Psa 67:1-7; Ps. 68; Psa 75:1-10; Psa 76:1-12; Ps. 83; Psa 87:1-7; Ps. 88; Psa 92:1-15; Psa 108:1-13; and Ps. 120-134 inclusive. Nothing seems to be indicated by it in regard to the nature and character of the psalms where it is found. The word "Alamoth" occurs only here and in Ch1 15:20, where it is found in connection with the mention of certain singers or musicians, evidently referring to some kind of musical instruments which those who are mentioned used; "so the singers" Psa 46:1-11 :19, "Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, to sound with cymbals of brass; and Zechariah, and Aziel, and Shemiramoth, etc., with psalteries on Alamoth." The word from which this is derived - עלמה ‛almâh - means properly a "virgin," or a youthful spouse (compare the notes at Isa 7:14); and the phrase here, and in Ch1 15:20, would seem properly to denote "after the manner of virgins;" that is, with the female voice, answering to our treble or soprano, as opposed to the deep bass or baritone voice of men. Then the reference might be to some musical instruments that were suited to accompany that voice, or whose tones resembled that voice, as distinguished from cymbals, trumpets, harps, etc. The form of the instrument is now unknown.
It is not possible now to ascertain the occasion on which the psalm was written. It was evidently in view of trouble, or of some impending calamity; apparently some national calamity, or some time when the nation was in danger, and when it was felt that their only refuge - their last hope - was in God. It would seem to be not improbable that the psalm was composed when wars were ragtag abroad in the earth; when the nations were convulsed; and when Jerusalem itself was besieged and threatened with ruin. The main thought Of the psalm - the central idea in it - is, that, amidst these general and far-spreading agitations and convulsions among the nations of the earth, the people of God were safe. They had nothing to fear, even though those convulsions and agitations should be multiplied and increased; even though they should be carried so far that the very foundations of the earth should be shaken, and the mountains removed and carried into the midst of the sea.
There was to them an Infinite Protector; there were unfailing sources of peace; they had nothing to dread. It was their duty, therefore, to be calm, still, confiding, for God would be exalted among the nations of the earth. It is possible that the psalm refers to the invasion of the land of Israel by Sennacherib, and to the miraculous destruction of his host, as recorded in 2 Kings 19 and Isa. 36; 37. All the circumstances in that invasion - the tumul tuous hosts summoned for the war Isa 36:2; the overthrow of numerous nations by their armies Isa 36:18-21; the siege of Jerusalem itself Isa 36:2; the confidence of Hezekiah and of his people in God when the city was besieged Isa 37:14-20; and the final overthrow of the Assyrian host by the angel of the Lord Isa 37:36, agree well with all the statements in the psalm, and seem well to "illustrate" the psalm, though it be impossible now to determine with precise accuracy to what particular historical occasion it has reference. The circumstances in that invasion, however, are so similar to those supposed in the psalm, that, perhaps, we shall not be likely to err in supposing that the psalm "had" reference to that occasion.
The psalm is divided into three parts or strophes, the close of each of which is indicated by the word "Selah," in Psa 46:3, Psa 46:7,Psa 46:11.
I. The first strophe, Psa 46:1-3. In this there is the general statement that God is a refuge and strength, and that the people of God would have nothing to fear though the earth should be removed, and though the raging waters of the ocean should shake the very mountains.
II. The second, Psa 46:4-7. In this there is the statement that the people of God had an unfailing source of consolation, like an ever-flowing river, making glad the city of God; that God himself was in that city as its Protector; that though the nations raged, and the kingdoms were moved, he had only to utter his voice and even the earth would be dissolved; that they had nothing to fear while the God of hosts - the God of mightier armies than those which had invaded the land - was with them.
III. The third strophe, Psa 46:8-11. In this we have a reference to the mighty power of God as actually put forth in the desolations, which "he" had made in the earth. He had shown that power by making wars to cease; by breaking the bow, and cutting the spear in sunder; and by causing the warchariot to be burned in the fire. They had, therefore, nothing to fear while such a God was their Protector, and it was their duty calmly to confide in him, and leave the whole issue with him, for it was his purpose to exalt himself among the nations of the earth.
God is our refuge and strength - God is for us as a place to which we may flee for safety; a source of strength to us in danger. The first word, "refuge," from a verb meaning to "flee," and then "to flee to" - הסה châsâh - or to take shelter in - denotes a place to which one would flee in time of danger - as a lofty wall; a high tower; a fort; a fortress. See the notes at Psa 18:2. The idea here is, that the people of God, in time of danger, may find him to be what such a place of refuge would be. Compare Pro 18:10. The word "strength" implies that God is the source of strength to those who are weak and defenseless; or that we may rely on his strength "as if" it were our own; or that we may feel as safe in his strength as though we had that strength ourselves. We may make it the basis of our confidence as really as though the strength resided in our own arm. See the notes at Psa 18:2.
A very present help - The word "help" here means aid, assistance. The word "trouble" would cover all that can come upon us which would give us anxiety or sorrow. The word rendered "present" - נמצא nimetsâ' - means rather, "is found," or "has been found;" that is, he has "proved" himself to be a help in trouble. The word "present," as if he were near to us, or close by us, does not accurately express the idea, which is rather, that "he has been found" to be such, or that he has always "proved" himself to be such a help, and that, therefore, we may now confide in him. The word "very," or "exceedingly," is added to qualify the whole proposition, as if this were "emphatically true." It was true in the most eminent sense that God had always been found to be such a helper, and, "therefore," there was nothing to fear in the present distress. Psa 46:2.
Therefore will not we fear - Our confidence in God shall be unshaken and abiding. Having Him for our refuge and strength Psa 46:1, we can have nothing to fear. Compare Psa 56:3.
Though the earth be removed - literally, "in the changing of the earth;" that is, though the earth should be changed. This may either mean, Though the earth should change its place or its very structure in these convulsions; or, though it should perish altogether. Compare Psa 102:26. The idea is, that they would not be afraid, though the convulsions then occurring in the world should be continued, and should be extended so far as to destroy the very earth itself. God would remain their friend and protector, and they would have nothing to fear.
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea - Margin, as in Hebrew, "into the heart of the seas." This may either be understood literally, as implying that they would "not" be afraid though the mountains, the most fixed and firm things of earth, should be uprooted and sunk in the ocean - implying that nothing earthly was stable; or, the mountains here may be referred to as emblems of that which seemed to be most settled and established on earth - the kingdoms of the world. The idea is, that in any convulsion - any change - any threatened danger - they would place confidence in God, who ruled over all, and who could not change. It will be seen at once that this entire description of trust and confidence in God is applicable to the time of Hezekiah, and to the feelings which he manifested when the land was invaded by the hosts of Sennacherib, and when wars and commotions were abroad among the kingdoms of the earth. See the introduction to the psalm. It was, also, eminently suited to console the mind in the circumstances to which Luther so often applied the psalm - the agitations, convulsions, wars, dangers in Europe, in the time of the Reformation. It is suited to any time of trouble, when commotions and revolutions are occurring in the earth, and when everything sacred, true, and valuable seems to be in danger.
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled - The waters of the sea. The idea is, that they would not be afraid though everything should be in commotion, and be as unsettled as the restless waves of the ocean. The earth might be changed, the mountains removed, the agitated sea roar and dash against the shore, but their minds would be calm. The word rendered "be troubled" means to boil; to ferment; to foam; and here it refers to the ocean as agitated and lashed into foam. Nothing is more sublime and fearful than the ocean in a storm; nothing furnishes a better illustration of the peace produced by confidence in God amid the agitations which occur in the world, than the mind of a seaman that is calm when the ocean is heaved in wild commotion.
Though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof - The rolling ocean breaking against; the sides of the mountains on its shore, and seeming to shake them to their foundation. The word rendered "swelling" means properly majesty, glory; then pride, haughtiness, insolence. Literally, "though the mountains tremble through their pride." Compare Psa 124:5. On the word "Selah," see the notes at Psa 3:2.
There is a river - There is no allusion here to any particular stream or river, but the image is designed to represent a state of peace and calm security in contrast with the rough and troubled ocean. While the ocean rages, and foams, and dashes against the mountains as if it would overturn them, the state of Jerusalem, the city of God, was well represented by a calm and gently-flowing river; a river of full banks, diffusing joy and fertility and beauty wherever it flowed. This image, to represent happiness, abundance, peace, joy, is one that is often employed in the Scriptures. Compare Isa 32:2; Isa 33:21; Isa 41:18; Psa 1:3; Rev 22:1; Psa 36:8. The "idea" here is simply that Jerusalem would be calm and serene amidst all the external agitations in the world - calm as a gently-flowing stream. The streams - the canals - the water-courses of such a river flowing around each dwelling and along each garden, would diffuse happiness and beauty everywhere.
The streams whereof - The allusion here is undoubtedly to the canals, watercourses, or rivulets that were led off from the main stream for the purpose of supplying fountains and watering gardens. Thus the city of Damascus is watered by streams or canals cut from the river Barrady, that flows down from the regions of Anti-Libanus. The greenness - the beauty - the fertility - of Damascus is owing wholly to the waters of the river thus conducted to every house and garden in the city. Compare introduction to Isa 17:1-14. So here, the flowing river of divine mercy and goodness is conveyed, as in smaller canals or streams, to each home and heart, producing peace, calmness, joy - while the world around is full of commotion and trouble.
Shall make glad the city of God - Jerusalem, considered as the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed especially to dwell: Psa 48:1.
The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High - Of the "tent" where the Most High is supposed to abide. The word is applicable to any habitation or dwelling-place; but in the Scriptures it is applied especially to the sacred tent erected by Moses in the wilderness, and ultimately removed to Mount Zion by David, as the divine abode on earth. It is sometimes, also, applied to the temple; and if this psalm was written, as I have supposed, in the time of Hezekiah, it would be applicable to that. Compare Psa 84:2; Psa 132:5. The tabernacle and the temple were alike divided into two parts - the holy and the most holy place - and hence the "plural" term is sometimes applied to them. Compare the notes at Heb 9:2-3.
God is in the midst of her - God is in the midst of the "city" referred to above - the "city of God." That is,
(a) he dwelt there by the visible symbol of his presence, the Shekinah;
(b) he was there "actually" as a help and a protector.
It was his chosen abode, and as long as such a Being dwelt in the city, they had nothing to fear.
God shall help her - That is, in her danger, he will interpose to save her. This is language such as would be used in reference to a place that was besieged, and would well apply to the state of things when Jerusalem was besieged by the armies of Assyria under Sennacherib. The language expresses the confidence of the people in the time of the impending danger.
And that right early - Margin, "when the morning appeareth." Literally, "in the faces of the morning," as the word is commonly used; or, more literally, in the "turning" of the morning - for the verb from which the word is derived means properly "to turn," and then "to turn to or from any one." The noun is applied to the face or countenance, because the person is "turned" to us when we see his countenance. The poetic idea here seems to refer to the day as having turned away "from" us at night, and then as turning about "toward" us in the morning, after having gone, as it were, to the greatest distance from us. "Possibly" there may be an allusion here to what occurred in the camp of the Assyrians, when the discovery that the angel of the Lord had smitten them was made early in the morning, or when men arose in the morning: "The angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose in the morning" (that is, when men arose in the morning), "behold, they were all dead corpses," Isa 37:36.
The heathen raged - The nations were in commotion, or were agitated like the waves of the sea. This language would well describe the consternation of the nations when the Assyrians went forth to conquest, and when, having subdued so many other kingdoms, they made war on Jerusalem. Compare Isa 36:18-20.
The kingdoms were moved - That is, those who were invaded, as well as those that made the invasion. There was a general convulsion or shaking among the nations of the earth.
He uttered his voice - God spoke; he gave command; he expressed his will. Compare Gen 1:3; Hab 3:6.
The earth melted - The very earth seemed to melt or dissolve before him. Everything became still. The danger passed away at his command, and the raging world became calm. The Bible abounds in language of this kind, showing the absolute power of God, or his power to control all the raging elements on land and ocean by a word. Compare the notes at Psa 33:9. See also Psa 107:25, Psa 107:29; Mat 8:26.
The Lord of hosts - The God commanding, ordering, marshalling the hosts of heaven - the angels, and the starry worlds. See the notes at Isa 1:9. Compare Psa 24:10. The reference here is to God considered as having control over all "armies," or all that can be regarded and described as a marshalled host, in earth and in heaven. Having such a Being, therefore, for a protector, they had nothing to fear. See Psa 46:11.
Is with us - Is on our side; is our defender. The Hebrew phrase used here is employed in Isa 7:14 (notes); Isa 8:8 (notes), to describe the Messiah. See the notes at those passages.
The God of Jacob - See the notes at Psa 24:6. The meaning is, The God whom Jacob acknowedged, and whom he found to be his friend, is with us.
Is our refuge - literally, a high place, as a tower, far above the reach of enemies. See Psa 9:9, note; Psa 18:2, note. So the margin, "an high place for us."
Come, behold the works of the Lord - Go forth and see what the Lord has done. See, in what his hand has accomplished, how secure we are if we put our trust in him.
What desolations he hath made in the earth - Or, in the land. The word "desolations" might refer to any "ruin" or "overthrow," which he had brought upon the land of Israel, or on the nations abroad - the destruction of cities, towns, or armies, as proof of his power, and of his ability to save those who put their trust in him. But if this be supposed to refer to the invasion of the land of Israel by Sennacherib, it may point to what occurred to his armies when the angel of the Lord went forth and smote them in their camp Isa 37:36, and to the consequent deliverance of Jerusalem from danger. Without impropriety, perhaps, this may be regarded as all appeal to the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go forth and see for themselves how complete was the deliverance; how utter the ruin of their foes; how abundant the proof that God was able to protect his people in times of danger. It adds great beauty to this psalm to suppose that it "was" composed on that occasion, or in view of that invasion, for every part of the psalm may receive a beautiful, and an ample illustration from what occurred at that memorable period. Nothing "could" furnish a clearer proof of the power of God to save, and of the propriety of putting confidence in him in times of national danger, than a survey of the camp of the Assyrians, where an hundred and eighty-five thousand men had been smitten down in one night by the angel of God. Compare Kg2 19:35; Ch2 32:21; Isa 37:36.
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth - Either in all the land, or in all the world. The overthrow of the Assyrian army would probably put an end to all the wars then raging in the world. The Assyrian empire was then the most mighty on the globe; it was engaged in wide schemes of conquest; it had already overrun many of the smaller kingdoms of the world Isa 37:18-20; and it hoped to complete its conquests, and to secure the ascendancy over the entire earth, by the subjugation of India and Egypt. When the vast army of that empire, engaged in such a purpose, was overthrown, the consequence would be that the nations would be at rest, or that there would be universal peace. Compare the notes at Isa 14:6-7.
He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder - That is, he makes them useless, as a bow that is broken is of no value, or a spear that is cut into parts.
He burneth the chariot in the fire - The war-chariot, that which was employed in battle. See the notes at Isa 2:7; notes at Psa 20:7. The expression here may refer to a custom of collecting the spoils of war into a heap, and setting them on fire. This was particularly done when the victors were unable to remove them, or so to secure them as to preclude all danger of their being taken again and used against themselves. Tiffs custom is alluded to by Virgil, AEn. viii. 561, 562,
"Qualis cram, cum primam aciem Prseneste sub ipsa
Stravi, scutorumque iucendi victor acervos."
The idea here is, that God had wholly overthrown the foe, and had prevented all danger of his returning again for purposes of conquest.
Be still - The word used here - from רפה râphâh - means properly to cast down; to let fall; to let hang down; then, to be relaxed, slackened, especially the hands: It is also employed in the sense of not making an effort; not putting forth exertion; and then would express the idea of leaving matters with God, or of being without anxiety about the issue. Compare Exo 14:13, "Stand still, and see the salvation of God." In this place the word seems to be used as meaning that there was to be no anxiety; that there was to be a calm, confiding, trustful state of mind in view of the displays of the divine presence and power. The mind was to be calm, in view of the fact that God had interposed, and had shown that he was able to defend his people when surrounded by dangers. If this the divine interposition when Jerusalem was threatened by the armies of the Assyrians under Sennacherib, the force and beauty of the expression will be most clearly seen.
And know that I am God - See, in what I have done, the evidence that I am God. See a work accomplished which none "but" God could effect. Compare Isa 37:36.
I will be exalted among the heathen - That is, among the nations. The nations abroad that do not worship me, but worship idols, shall see in these deeds full proof that I am the true God, and that I am worthy of universal adoration. Compare the notes at Dan 3:28-29; notes at Dan 4:1-3, notes at Dan 4:37. See also Exo 9:16; Rom 9:17.
I will be exalted in the earth - In the lands abroad; all over the world. The defeat and destruction of the armies of Sennacherib were eminently suited to make a deep impression on the world that the God of the Hebrew people was the true God.
The Lord of hosts is with us ... - See Psa 46:7. This is the conclusion, or the result of the whole. As applied to the invasion of Sennacherib, this would be clearly seen, for all that occurred in that invasion was adapted to leave the impression that Jehovah, God of hosts, was with the Hebrew people. He had interposed in time of danger; he had saved his city and nation; he had overthrown one of the most mighty armies that had ever been assembled; he had caused the boasting conqueror himself to retrace his steps to his capita; he had wholly delivered the nation from all danger; and he had shown how easy it was, in ways which they could not have anticipated, to bring deliverance. The truth thus conveyed was adapted to the people of God in all lands and at all times, as showing that God has power to defend his people against the most formidable enemies, and that all their interests are safe in his hands.