God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (Ps 46:1-7 ESV)
There were times in Israel’s history when enemies stood at the doorstep of victory. Senacherib of Assyria once besieged Jerusalem after having conquered the Northern kingdom. From a human perspective it seemed certain that Jerusalem would fall. This is the scene that the psalmist is describing. “Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” is a reference to such disaster. Jerusalem is nestled in mountains (hills we might call them), and the sea is a reference for a place of turmoil and chaos, i.e. “war” and its aftermath.
But the people will not fear though this threat is very real. There reason for hope is the power of God and his track record of saving them in the past. A glimmer of this reminder is found in the “river whose streams make glad the city of God.” It may be a reference to Hezekiah’s tunnel dug underneath the city to allow water to flow into it as a countermeasure against a siege that prevented anything going or going out. But this is only a metaphor for the Holy Spirit who brings life into the city. Nothing can stop it. He will not be cut off.
In the New Testament there is a similar allusion. Jesus comes across a fig tree without fruit and curses it. Later the disciples notice that the tree is withered and they are amazed. And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Mt 21:21-22). Jesus’ reference points to a judgment upon Jerusalem, something that came within the generation of the disciples. Given that Jerusalem really does fall (and did to Babylon in the OT), the psalm is especially needed to assure the people of God’s faithfulness and remind them of His power and plan.
Have you heard stories of ancient warfare and the siege of castles? Can you imagine being trapped inside during a siege? Besides food and water, what do you imagine would be your greatest need?
Chronological Reading Plan plus Psalms: Lev 8-10, Ps 46