Our Shelter and Strength
(H) For the director of the choir, of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth, a song. (1) God (is) our shelter and strength, the one who helps (us) in trouble. (2) Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, (3) (though) its waters roar and foam, (though) the mountains shake with its swelling. (Selah) (4) (There is) a river whose channels make glad the city of God, the sacred dwelling place of the Most High. (5) God is in the midst of her. She shall not be shaken. God will help her at the break of dawn. (6) The nations are in turmoil. The kingdoms totter. He raises his voice. The earth melts. (7) Yahweh Sabaoth (is) with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. (Selah)
NOTE: “Sabaoth” (vs. 7) means “hosts” or “armies.” One of God’s compound names is “Yahweh Sabaoth” or “Lord of hosts.”
Two contrasting groups of words are found in these seven verses arrayed around two contrasting locations. The first group is centered on Zion, the dwelling place of God, and includes Elohim, used five times, and Yahweh Sabaoth, used once. God serves as a shelter and strength (vs. 1) because he is both a helper (vss. 1 & 5) and a refuge for those who are his.
The second group of terms focuses on the earth (vss. 2, 3, & 6) and its nations (vs. 6). The earth is pictured as “giving way” and “falling into the sea” (vs. 2). Its waters “roar and foam” (vs. 3), and its mountains “shake” (vss. 3 & 6). The inhabitants of the earth are “in turmoil,” and its “kingdoms totter” (vs. 6). Those who take refuge in God find in him security and permanence in the midst of tumultuous change.
I. Those protected by God need not fear earth’s turmoil. (1-3)
II. Zion remains secure because God dwells there. (4 & 5)
III. God preserves all who take refuge in him. (6 & 7)
Taking refuge in the protective care of our all-powerful God enables us to experience peace in a world filled with turmoil.
Martin Luther’s great hymn, A Mighty Fortress, became the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation. Its opening lines are actually a rephrasing of Psalm 46:1 & 2: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, / our helper he, amidst the flood of mortal ills, prevailing.”
Martin Luther personally experienced what this couplet describes. Soon after his break with Rome, he was “kidnapped” and hidden for a year by Frederick the Wise, prince of Saxony, a sympathizer and supporter. Excommunicated by Pope Leo X, he would likely have been burned at the stake had he not been secreted away. While under Frederick’s protection at his Wartburg Castle at Eisenach, Luther devoted himself to the monumental task of translating the Bible into the German vernacular. Just as Luther was protected in Frederick’s stronghold, so the believer is kept safe by God, our mighty fortress.
The second stanza of Luther’s hymn reminds us of another passage of scripture that provides us great encouragement in the time of trouble: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31)? Note the reference to Psalm 46:7 in the name given to Christ Jesus in the hymn: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, / were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. / Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he! / Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same, / and he must win the battle!”