PSALM 46 OVERVIEW
Title. To the Chief Musician. He who could sing other Psalms so well was fitly entrusted with this noble ode. Trifles may be left to commoner songsters, but the most skilful musician in Israel must be charged with the due performance of this song, with the most harmonious voices and choicest music. For the Sons of Korah. One alone cannot fulfil the praise, there must be picked choristers under him, whose joyful privilege it shall be to celebrate the service of song in the house of the Lord. As to why the sons of Korah were selected, see our remarks at the head of Psalm 42. It may be well to add that they were a division of the Levites who took their turn in serving at the temple. All the works of holy service ought not to be monopolised by one order of talent, each company of believers should in due course enjoy the privilege. None ought to be without a share in the service of God.
A Song upon Alamoth. Which may denote that the music was to be pitched high for the treble or soprano voices of the Hebrew virgins. They went forth in their dances to sing the praises of David when he smote the Philistine, it was meet that they should make merry and be glad when the victories of Jehovah became their theme. We need to praise God upon virgin hearts, with souls chaste towards his fear, with lively and exalted expressions, and happy strains. Or the word Alamoth may refer to shrill sounding instruments, as in 1 Chronicles 15:20 , where we read that Zechariah, and Eliab, and Benaiah were to praise the Lord "with psalteries on Alamoth." We are not always, in a slovenly manner, to fall into one key, but with intelligence are to modulate our praises and make them fittingly expressive of the occasion and the joy it creates in our souls. These old musical terms cannot be interpreted with certainty, but they are still useful because they show that care and skill should be used in our sacred music.
Subject. Happen what may, the Lord's people are happy and secure, this is the doctrine of the Psalm, and it might, to help our memories, be called THE SONG OF HOLY CONFIDENCE, were it not that from the great reformer's love to this soul-stirring hymn it will probably be best remembered as LUTHER'S PSALM.
Division. It is divided by inspired authority into three parts, each of which ends with Selah.
Verse 1. God is our refuge and strength. Not our armies, or our fortresses. Israel's boast is in Jehovah, the only living and true God. Others vaunt their impregnable castles, placed on inaccessible rocks, and secured with gates of iron, but God is a far better refuge from distress than all these: and when the time comes to carry the war into the enemy's territories, the Lord stands his people in better stead than all the valour of legions or the boasted strength of chariot and horse. Soldiers of the cross, remember this, and count yourselves safe, and make yourselves strong in God. Forget not the personal possessive word our; make sure each one of your portion in God, that you may say, "He is my refuge and strength." Neither forget the fact that God is our refuge just now, in the immediate present, as truly as when David penned the word. God alone is our all in all. All other refuges are refuges of lies, all other strength is weakness, for power belongeth unto God: but as God is all sufficient, our defence and might are equal to all emergencies. A very present help in trouble, or in distress he has so been found, he has been tried and proved by his people. He never withdraws himself from his afflicted. He is their help, truly, effectually, constantly; he is present or near them, close at their side and ready for their succour, and this is emphasized by the word very in our version, he is more present than friend or relative can be, yea, more nearly present than even the trouble itself. To all this comfortable truth is added the consideration that his assistance comes at the needed time. He is not as the swallows that leave us in the winter; he is a friend in need and a friend indeed. When it is very dark with us, let brave spirits say, "Come, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm."
"A fortress firm, and steadfast rock,
Is God in time of danger;
A shield and sword in every shock,
From foe well known or stranger."
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. The LXX referring to the notion of the theme (~lc), occultavit, render it uper twn krufiwn, for the hidden; and the Latin, pro arcanis; and the rest of the ancient interpreters take the same course; the Chaldee referring it to Coreh, and those that were hidden, i.e., swallowed up, by the earth with him, whilst these sons of Coreh escaped; as if the mention of the sons of Coreh in the title, by whom this song was to be sung, referred the whole Psalm to that story. Accordingly, verse 2, when the Hebrew reads, "Though the earth be removed," the paraphrase is, "When our fathers were changed from the earth." Henry Hammond.
Title. The title is peculiar, "Upon Alamoth," suggesting "a choir of virgins," as if this virgin choir were selected to sing a Psalm that tells of perils and fears and alarms abounding, in order to show that even the feeble virgins may in that day sing without dread, because of "The Mighty One" on their side. Andrew A. Bonar.
Title. -- "Upon Alamoth." (To be sung) en soprano. Armand de Mestral, quoted by Perowne.
Whole Psalm. 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. Martin Luther.
Whole Psalm. Luther and his companions, with all their bold readiness for danger and death in the cause of truth, had times when their feelings were akin to those of a divine singer, who said, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" But in such hours the unflinching Reformer would cheerily say to his friend Melancthon, "Come, Philip, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm; and they could sing it in Luther's own characteristic version": --
A sure stronghold our God is He,
A timely shield and weapon;
Our help he will be, and set us free
From every ill can happen.
And were the world with devils filled,
All eager to devour us,
Our souls to fear shall little yield,
They cannot overpower us.
S. W. Christophers, in "Hymn Writers and their Hymns," 1866
Verse 1. God is our refuge and strength, etc. It begins abruptly, but nobly; ye may trust in whom and in what ye please; but GOD (ELOHIM) is our refuge and strength. A very present help. A help found to be very powerful and effectual in straits and difficulties. The words are very emphatic: (dam acmn twrcb hrz[), ezrah betsaroth nimtsa meod, "He is found an exceeding, or superlative, help in difficulties." Such we have found him, and therefore celebrate his praise. Adam Clarke.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. The song of faith in troublous times.
- Our refuge. Our only, impregnable, accessible, delightful place of retreat is our God.
- Our strength. Our all sufficient, unconquerable, honourable, and emboldening strength is our God.
- Our help. Ever near, sympathising, faithful, real, and potent is our God.
Verse 1. A very present help in trouble. Religion never so valuable as in seasons of trouble, sickness, and death. God is present helping us to bear trouble, to improve it, and to survive it. Present by gracious communications and sweet manifestations; present most when he seems absent, restraining, overruling, and sanctifying trouble. Trust and wait. James Smith.