The Forty-Sixth Psalm
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea...
We live in troubled times. Very troubled times and I can say that over and over again. From natural disasters that leave communities desolate and ravaged to personal illnesses whose cause and cure remain elusive in spite of the technological advancements of the twenty first century to Wars, rumors of Wars, Civil unrest, terrorism, economic uncertainty, etc ;the Words of Eliphaz the friend of the Patriach Job has never seemed more true: "...man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." See Job5:7
How do we respond and deal with the uncertainties of the future? Does the Holy Scripture provide help in dealing with the struggles of our times? That is the purpose of the Forty-Sixth Psalm— trust in the unfailing presence and ability of the Lord inspite of doubts, tests and trials.
An Overview of the Psalm
The Forty-sixth Psalm was composed by the Sons of Korah and was to be sung with a soprano voice ("Alamoth" means "girls", that is, the soprano or female voice); perhaps it is only appropriate that a Psalm that talks about calamities and troubles should be sung in a soprano voice to emphasize the theme of the Psalm which is trust in God.
The Psalm is divided into three stanzas marked out by the word "selah". Selah is an ancient musical notation—a cadence that probably means to pause and meditate on what has been sung. Throughout the Psalm, the refrain is seen— God is with us and God is our refuge.
The first stanza from verses one through three speak about physical catastrophe from earthquakes to landslides, tsunamies, etc then a selah—pause and let that sink in. The second stanza from verses four through seven talk about the stability that the presence of God gives then a selah— pause and think about it. The last stanza runs from verses eight through eleven and here there is a focus on what God does how he speaks peace in the midst of a war and the right response to the knowledge of God's presence.
About Physical Catastrophes
The Psalm opens with a summary : God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of need. The Psalmist does not deny the presence of need or trouble instead he tells us that God is our refuge and our strength. As our refuge, He is our hiding place and he shelters us from the fury of the catastrophe; as our Strength, He is our might and He enables us to go through and come out victorious.
Again, he says that God is a very present help in time of trouble. This describes God's ever abiding presence. His Presence is in the Present Tense; the construction of the phrase in the Hebrew text describes firstly, an abundance of help i.e help that exceeds the need and secondly, help that can be depended upon to be found. In Hebrews 11, this thought is amplified in the promise of the Lord,
"Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 13:6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me."
Since we have the Lord as our Refuge, our Strength and our Helper in times of trouble therefore we will not fear. The Basis for our Boldness is the Lord. It doesn't matter how bad or hopeless the situation may seem— even if the earth is removed and the mountains be uprooted and planted again in the midst of the sea. We will not fear because the Lord is our Refuge and Strength!
Now Pause and Chew on that for a minute.
The Difference the Presence of the Lord Makes.
The second stanza begins with a reminder of what sets Israel apart from other nations— the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle in Israel is the physical dwelling place of God with His Glory domiciled in the Most Holy Place where the High Priest once every year goes to make atonement for the sins of the people.
Unlike other nations without the presence of God, Israel is marked by Stability even in the midst of upheavals.
In Isaiah, the idea of the presence of God and its benefits is clearly expressed in God's promise to Israel,
Isaiah 43:1 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. 43:2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. 43:3 For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour..."
The lesson here is, the presence of God makes a difference. God is in the midst of her so she shall not be moved but for other nations— the nations raged and the kingdoms were moved. The presence of God represented by the Tabernacle of Glory describes Israel as God's own dwelling place, hence the supernatural stability.
Then the closing refrain, The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
The Right Response
The last part of the Forty-Sixth Psalm shows us how to respond in the midst of chaos, calamities and catastrophes: the stanza opens with an action word, "come and behold the works of the Lord". The way to respond is to fix our gaze on what God is doing rather than the calamities all around us.
We choose to focus on God rather than the destruction all around because we see God as the sovereign one who works through all things for our good. So we do not act as if we are helpless but we act as those who belong to the Living God who is alive and well and in charge of His Creation. That is the first.
Secondly, our response is marked by Stillness. He says "Be still and know that I am God" The Believer is exhorted to cease striving and stop stressing and simply start trusting. Trust God. OK? Stay calm and trust Him to come through. Do not panic. No need to fret and fear and be anxious; the Lord is our refuge and strength —a very present help in time of trouble so we rest in that oasis.
Cease Striving and know — discern, recognize, perceive and experience God as very God. The believer is called out of anxiety and worry to a place of rest and stillness and quietness where he stops trying to make things work by Himself and instead commits his life to God. The Hebrew word translated Be still is "raphah" and it means to relax, let alone, let drop; it tells the one who believes to Let Go and Let God, literally! Step aside, and let God be God.
Now how difficult can that be when again it is repeated, the Lord of hosts is with us and the God of Jacob is our refuge?
Pause, think and meditate on that.
(Dedicated to Chukwuma Kelechi Ogonna)