Psalm 46 - Song Of Holy Confidence
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Psalm 46:1–46:11
Psalm 46 is a song of confidence when your world or quite literally the world is on fire. In fact, Spurgeon called this the “song of holy confidence”. It is a psalm given to us for a time like the one in which we live. We find ourselves in a time of unusual difficulties - as a nation, as families and individuals, and the church of Christ. There is revolution in the streets of many of our large cities. There is an increasing acceptance of and even call for lawlessness. Political upheaval. Pandemic. Panic. Joblessness. Some say the country is at the point of a civil war. Economic collapse. Churches not allowed to meet in certain parts of the US. And on top of all that, you have your personal and family trials. Psalm 46 is about how to have holy confidence in all of this.
This was one of Martin Luther’s favorite psalms. When things seemed bleak for him - remember he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X, had a bounty on his head from Charles the V, and faced the plague (real plague). When things were bleak, he would say, “Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm, and let them do their worst”. What is it about this psalm? Well, Luther himself said this:
We sing this Psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us, and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word, against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.
We can go through this angry, broken, painful, crazy, panicked, sin-sick world with this “holy confidence” and this psalm gives us several reasons. All the reasons point to who God is. The greatness, protection, strength, majesty, nearness of God. That might sound too simple. But the message of Psalm 46 is essentially “I will not fear though the world is on fire because I know God.”
Knowing God is essential. The doctrine of God is essential. AW Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” And especially when we are living in tumultuous times, times of revolution and upheaval. If we don’t have an anchor in a big God, we will crumble under the pressure in fear and anxiety, or bury our heads in the sand or medicate ourselves with entertainment, porn, drugs, etc. We need to know God. JI Packer, in his classic book Knowing God wrote almost 50 years ago:
The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
On the other hand, Daniel 11:32 says, “Those who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” This Psalm is given to us to help. And it’s the help we need to live faithful, courageous, and obedient lives. Men and women who take action for God; who know what to do when the orcs are marching on Helms Deep.
So what does this psalm tell us about God to help us when in deep trouble? Four things: 1) God is our protection in every trouble, 2) God is a never-failing river in our midst, 3) God is the highest authority over all, and 4) God is a mighty warrior who fights for us.
God is our protection in every trouble
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (v. 1-3)
Verse 1 says God is our refuge. Verses 7 and 11 say he is a fortress. Two words communicate the same thing from slightly different vantage points. They both offer protection. A refuge is a shelter you run to. A fortress is an impenetrable castle that you are brought into - by a king for instance. Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress”, which became known as the battle hymn of the Reformation, was inspired mainly from the first two verses and verses 7 and 11. Here’s the opening lines of the song. Listen to the confidence: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” God is our protection from REAL trouble.
Notice, verses 2-3 repeats the word “though” four times (go through and describe). This imagery is one of great upheaval and shaking going on. It’s actually the language of some of the prophets when describing divine judgment. What is the psalmist's confidence though? We will not fear even though all hell is breaking loose. Why? Because God is our refuge and help. Because he is a mighty fortress. What do you do with a refuge, with a fortress? You run to it for protection!
Parents, we have taught our children to do what when they hear the tornado sirens? To take shelter - in the basement or some other safe place. Where do you run when your soul is troubled?
Let’s face it, sometimes even as children of God, we forfeit the peace of having the protection of God because we turn inward or look to our own resources to help or just look at the trouble and fuss and complain. If we knew how safe we were in the hands of Christ and what a refuge he is for us, we would run to Him with every trouble and find in Him all the help we need. I love how our Lord Jesus Christ is so concerned that we know how safe we are in his hands. In John 10:27-29 he says,
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
So like the impenetrable castle, we are in the hands of Christ, and the Father who is greater than all has us in his hand. We are safe in Christ. Colossians 3:3 says, “our lives are hidden with Christ in God.” Christ is our refuge and fortress…
God is a never-failing river in our midst
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. (v. 4-5)
This seems like a strange transition. All this tumult out there to a river bringing gladness to a city. And I think the picture we have here is of God doing something in the midst of his people, while the world is on fire out there. God is blessing his people with his life giving presence. We often talk about God being with us in somewhat generic terms. This says, “God is in the midst of her [the city or his people].” And then it says, “She shall not be moved. Why? God is in the midst of her.
And it is clear that God in our midst does not just give us a quiet, stoic, stiff upper lip resolve. No, the river spreads joy: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Think of the streams of this river as the channels that bring this thing called “gladness” or “rejoicing” to the entire city. It reaches every neighborhood. There is enough of this joy to go around. You don’t need to go without. I believe this river is referring to the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks of river(s) regarding the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity who is given to us as God’s empowering, helping presence to be with us forever. Listen to John 7:37-39:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
I wonder if one really good thing God is up to right now is making us aware of our need for him. Making us thirsty to come to Christ and keep coming for all the rich supply we need. Listen, the stockmarket may fail. The housing market may fail. The dollar may fail. Our political institutions may fail. Your health may (will eventually) fail. But God is in our midst and he is a never ending, never-failing river of life and joy.
God is the highest authority
It is easy to be impressed with people - whether we like them or not. People with power, position, prestige, etc. But unfortunately, we often don’t have a very high view of God - to our own detriment. Listen to this indictment leveled by JI Packer in his classic Knowing God:
One reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby is because modern people cherish great thoughts of themselves, [but] have as a rule small thoughts of God. When the person in the church, let alone the person on the street, uses the word of God, the thought is rarely of divine majesty.
We need the Lord’s help here. Psalm 46 reveals God in divine majesty as highly exalted. We read in verse 4 that God is “El Elyon”, God Most High. He is the most high God. There is none higher. We need to know this. There’s no higher King, Judge, or Superpower. He doesn’t need to ask permission from anyone to do anything.
Nebuchadnezzar was probably the most powerful man of his time and he found this out. He was impressed with himself. And humanly speaking, he was impressive. He ruled a superpower, with a kingdom that stretched far and wide. But he exalted himself above God and God had to humble him. And God did humble him. He lost his mind and was driven from among men, and dwelled with the beasts of the field and ate grass, and so forth. And God told Neb this would happen until “you know that the Most High rules the kingdoms of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32). Well, after a period of time, when Neb came to and his reason returned, listen to what he says in Daniel 4:34-35:
I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
This is a pagan king talking like this. We need to talk like this. We need to talk like the modern hymn that says:
O Father, you are sovereign in all affairs of man; no powers of death or darkness can thwart your perfect plan. All chance and change transcending; supreme in time and space, you hold your trusting children secure in your embrace. - O Father You Are Sovereign
God is the highest authority.
God is a mighty Warrior who fights for us
The psalmist repeats the following refrain in verses 7 and 11: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
And then each refrain is followed by Selah, which is means to stop and meditate. Let it sink in. Who is with us? The LORD of hosts. It means the Lord of armies. A host is an army. And he is Lord of hosts, so he is the Lord of armies (of angels). Moses sings of the Lord being a warrior after defeating Pharoah and his army. Exodus 15:3 says, “The LORD is a man of war.” And he our fortress. The picture is of God going out and defeating his enemies in battle and then bringing his people into castle for protection and victory celebration. Think of all the examples in the scriptures where God fights for his people. Ultimately, Christ our Lord came to fight and win for us the war of the ages against the devil, sin, and death through His death and resurrection. God is a mighty warrior who fights for us.
And because God is our refuge in every trouble, a river of gladness that never fails, the Most high God, and the LORD of hosts, he has a message for his people: God speaking in the first person: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth” (verse 10). Do you know what being still means? Relax. Seriously relax and know that God is God.
- Relax, God is sovereign. Jonathan Edwards’ sermon title Psalm 46:10 is (LONG): “The Sole Consideration, that God is God, Sufficient to Still all Objections to His Sovereignty.”
- Relax, the Lord is in our midst. Out there it is crazy. But as the people of God, he is here among us. Share about prayer meetings.
- Relax, the Lord is a present and early help in trouble. How do we navigate these days in which we live? Verse 4 says, when morning dawns. As soon as the day starts, God is right there, with his sleeves rolled up, ready to help you.
- Relax, Christ will have the ultimate victory. “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.”
So relax knowing your God! And then, wherever God has you; whatever station in life - take action. Those who know there God will be strong and take action. Love and serve your neighbor, stand up for what is right, speak the truth in love. And all of it, even when it is costly. And do so without fear, knowing that God is your God.