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Psalm 46

A. Read


God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.

 Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.


There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.


 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.

 He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.


“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

Complete Steps B, C, and D as guided 

      Then see below for a completed study.

Cultural Context

Grammatical Context


Present/with us/in the midst 1, 5, 7, 11 Earth 2, 6, 8, 9,
Though 2, (x2), 3 (x2),
Mountains 2, 3

Sea/Water/River 2,3,4
Slip/move/tottered 2, 5, 6 – all the same Hebrew word “mowt” Nations/kingdoms 6, 10
Stronghold 7, 11


Repeated Phrase

The Lord of hosts is with us; 7, 11
the God of Jacob is our stronghold 7, 11

Biblical Context

Numerous scholars affirm that Psalm 46 was written in response to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army (2 Kings 18, 19). Encouraged by Isaiah’s guidance (19:6-7), King Hezekiah prayed (19:14-19) and refused to bow down to the demands of the Assyrian king. God defended the city, and in one night, 185,000 Assyrians were destroyed (19:35). The repeated phrase, “the Lord of hosts is with us” (7,11) aligns with Isaiah’s announcement of the Messiah – “Immanuel” (33:14), God with us.  

In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews explained that the "King enthroned forever"  refers to God the Son (Hebrews 1:1-12).  Therefore, according to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews,  the sons of Korah are prophetically speaking the same words that God in Heaven spoke to God the Son, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb 1:1-3). 


Immediate Context

Psalm 46 is a part of Book Two (42-72) of the Psalms, a song from the choir director. Book Two focuses primarily on God’s sovereignty as Judge and King, who executes justice against His enemies and who rescues His people.

Psalm 46 (and the two subsequent psalms) celebrate God’s reign over the earth; they “celebrate that God was enthroned in Jerusalem and would protect the people of God from all threats” (The Book of Psalms, Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth LaNeel Tanner) because, as Psalm 45 attests, The King is eternally enthroned.  


Literary Context

Psalm 46 is a chiasm. A chiasm is a literary device in which the author presents an idea and then repeats the idea in reverse order. The term comes from the Greek letter chi (χ).

Psalm 46 uses extensive parallelism (for definitions see Cultural Context/Genre) Synonymous parallels

Psalm 45 is a celebration of a royal marriage. Psalm 46 (and the two subsequent psalms) celebrate God’s reign over the earth; they “celebrate that God was enthroned in Jerusalem and would protect the people of God from all threats” (The Book of Psalms, Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth LaNeel Tanner).


Synonymous parallels

God is our refuge and strength

A very present help in trouble

Though the earth should change

though the mountains slip into the sea

though its waters roar and foam

though the mountains quake

He breaks the bow and cuts the spear

He burns the chariots with fire

I will be exalted among the nations

​I will be exalted in the earth

Antithetic parallels

The earth: the mountains slip/the waters roar/the mountains quake                         (turmoil)

The city of God: river whose streams make glad (stability/peace)

Nations roar

kingdoms totter

He raised his voice

the earth melted and wars ceased


Change from third person to first person at verse 10

Outline and Primary Message


Outline (Following the chiastic form)


God is our refuge (1)

We will not fear (2)

God rules over the earth it seems to be falling apart (2,3)

God provides peace (4)

God is in the midst (5)

                                               Nations roar (6)

            God speaks (6)

God is with us (7)

God rules over nations though they bring wars (8)

God brings peace (9)

            Be still (10)

God is our refuge (11)

Primary message


Though the nations roar and kingdoms totter, God is the stronghold of protection for His people; therefore, stop striving against Him.



At the time of this Psalm, democratic forms of government did not exist. Kings ruled. Kings decided the fate of people. People expected the king would protect them and the King expected the people would offer their allegiance to him in return. The Nations depended on their king and offered him their allegiance. Israel depended on The King and offered God their faithfulness.


Even if this Psalm was not in response to Assyria’s attack against Israel, the message of the Psalm remains the same: In a world where the creation seems to be undoing itself, in a world where nations roar and kingdoms totter, God is with us. We need not change our allegiance. He is our stronghold. He has spoken.



Psalm 46, continuing the theme of the Book of Psalms, invites the reader to make the choice between God’s wisdom or that of the world. Will we trust in the power of kings who cause nations to crumble or will we trust in the power of The King who has wrought desolations and caused wars to cease? Will we trust in a world that is clearly destroying itself or will we trust in a God who will be exalted in the earth? Will we listen to the roaring nations or to the voice of God? The nations may believe in the power of their earthly king; after all, their voices roar and nations totter. However, God Himself has something to say.


The change from third person to first person at verse 10 is compelling and should draw our complete attention. The heading tells us this psalm is "set to Alamoth. A Song." This means it is either a song set to the voice of a high-pitched singer or a high-pitched instrument (Easton's Bible Dictionary). Can you imagine – following the soprano voices of the choir comes the solo thundering voice of Almighty God: "Stop!" "Cease!" "Enough!"

This verse is often translated, "Be still." The Hebrew "räfä;" however, (from Strong's Concordance) is ָר ָפה raw-faw'; a primitive root; to slacken (in many applications, literal or figurative): —abate, cease, consume, draw (toward evening), fail, (be) faint, be (wax) feeble, forsake, idle, leave, let alone (go, down), (be) slack, stay, be still, be slothful, (be) weak(-en).

Continued Below...

“We sing this 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

In Exodus, the same word is translated “So he let him go” (4:26) or RELEASE

In Deuteronomy, He will not forsake thee (4:31), He will not fail thee (31:6, 8) or He will not STOP caring

In Judges, “Then their anger was abated toward him (8:3), or WEAKENED, CEASED, STOPPED

In 1 and 2 Samuel, “Stay and I will tell thee” (15:16) Stay now thine hand (24:16) or STOP

Obviously, the term, räfä, carries greater meaning than merely to be still as in quietly meditating. Following how writers used this term throughout the Old Testament, God is more likely telling the nations here, “Enough is enough!” He is admonishing Israel’s enemy, “Stop the tumult and the warfare; stop for a moment and consider the God of the Israelites” (The Book of Psalms, Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth LaNeel Tanner).


The mountains are slipping (mowt) into the roaring sea and therefore their very survival is endangered; the nations roar and kingdoms totter (mowt) and their very survival is endangered. Nonetheless, God raised His voice – “Stop!” Stop striving toward your goal to destroy My people. I am God, I rule the earth, and I rule the nations. I am God, and only I will be exalted.

How, then, can we apply the message of Psalm 46 and specifically Psalm 46:10 to our lives today?

The imagery of the Psalms is captivating and causes us to pause and reflect in a way mere words often cannot. The author used several metaphors in Psalm 46 that help us experience the Psalm more vibrantly.

Psalm 46:1, 7, 11 REFUGE/STRONGHOLD – In the concluding words of the introduction to the Book of Psalms, this term sums up the psalter’s theology: “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (2:12). Those who reject God’s wisdom devise plans against God and His people; nonetheless, “God who sits in the heavens laughs... [and] scoffs at them” (2:4). They have no idea how useless their devised plans are: God has “installed [His] King upon Zion, [His} holy mountain” (2:6). Those who take refuge in Him, accordingly, laugh at the enemy’s plans from their shelter in Zion. Our refuge, our hiding place, our shelter from the enemy’s storms is found with the real king, the true authority - we are hidden with Christ in God’s holy mountain.

46:2-4 WATER – “Through water imagery, the psalmists channel chaos to target various conditions of human and divine distress” (Seeing the Psalms, William Brown). Notice how Psalm 46 uses this imagery to both convey tragedy on a catastrophic scale and then contrasts that imagery with the healing waters of Zion: “though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she will not be moved. God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar; the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

The repetition employed by the psalmist increases the impact of his imagery: waters and nations roar as mountains slip (mowt) and kingdoms totter (mowt), but by the streams in Zion, the city is not moved (mowt). Where God dwells, there is calm; the waters are not catastrophic in distress but shine brilliantly in gladness and peace. Though mountains and even nations fall tragically into the roaring ocean, while the earth seems to be “uncreating” itself, we are invited to safety in the stronghold of Zion, but more, we find joy there as well – God’s “streams make glad.”

These literary devices help us make an application to our own lives: when our world seems to be falling apart, when our very existence feels threatened, when we think we may drown in the waters of physical pain, heartbreak, confusion, or fear, we can find safety in the stronghold of Zion. Jesus Christ, the King on the Throne, remains on God’s holy mountain, exalted above the chaos. We can not only find protection there, but we can also find joy in the middle of the chaos because He is in the midst.

Interrupting the psalmist’s metaphors, however, the voice of God speaks: "Be still and know that I am God” (46:10). This command is not demanding silent meditation, but is, instead, a command to stop asserting any authority other than the voice of God into any situation of your life. We are not commanded by God to sit still and think about Him amid our troubles. This command is directed to the chaos in our lives – stop!

We wait confidently in our mighty refuge, our stronghold of protection, though everything around us seems to be falling apart. With the knowledge of who God is and what He has done (46:8-9), we confidently wait for Him to speak to the situation – “Stop!” It’s not a passive waiting; it is a confident, expectant, courageous, joy-filled waiting on God. We see this kind of attitude in the story of Hezekiah and the Assyrian nation who came against Judah (2 Kings 18, 19) and understand why scholars think Psalm 46 was written in response to this attack.

Judah’s King Hezekiah did “what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (18:3), and God gave him victories over his enemies. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and refused to pay him the tribute his father King Ahaz had agreed to pay in return for protection. The Assyrians eventually conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and soon after that came up against the cities of Judah. By the 14th year of his reign, Hezekiah grew increasingly fearful of the Assyrian army. His faith in God declined, and he began to place more confidence in the ability of money to stay the hand of his enemy than God. He offered him tribute money again, even cutting off the gold from the temple doors, so the king of Assyria would not attack Judah. Money did not prove to be a successful deterrent.

Eventually, an official from the Assyrian army came to Jerusalem to taunt Hezekiah,

“Come make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give and I will give you two thousand

horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them.” Then turning to the men of Judah, the official continued,

“to the men who sit on the wall, doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine…

do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand, nor let Hezekiah

make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the

hand of the king of Assyria. Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the

king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah?

Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand,

that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (18:27-35, italics added)


It was one thing to laugh at the size of Judah’s army by claiming they didn’t have enough men to mount horses even if their enemy gave them. It’s also understandable for people who don’t know God to laugh at people who have faith in God. It’s a whole other category of insult to place the God of Israel in the same category as the “gods of the nations.”  The official had no idea!


Hezekiah’s response was proper: he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, headed to the house of the Lord and sent word to Isaiah the prophet to pray, “perhaps the Lord heard the words of [the official] to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words” (19:4). Hezekiah knew full well that God had promised the demise of the Northern Kingdom if they did not turn their hearts back to Him; they had not and were conquered (17:7). He also understood that the same fate lies ahead for Judah if they did not keep their hearts faithful to God. Hezekiah did not approach God based on Judah’s merits; he knew first-hand how deep their sin ran. If God responded to his cry for help, he hoped God would respond to honor His name against the Assyrian’s blasphemy.


God responded to Hezekiah through Isaiah, “do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me…. I will make him fall by the sword in his own land” (19:6, 7). The Assyrian, nonetheless, double-downed in a letter to Hezekiah: “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, have you heard what the kings of Assyria have done… Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them?” (10-12).


Hezekiah headed back to the house of the Lord and placed the letter before God as he prayed,


O Lord, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth.

You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to the word s of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood, and stone. So, they have destroyed them.

Now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God.”



God, through Isaiah, replied to Assyria:


“Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice,

And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel! Through your messengers you have reproached the Lord,

And you have said, “With my many chariots I came up to the heights of the mountains, To the remotest parts of Lebanon;

And I cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypresses. And I entered its farthest lodging place, its thickest forest.

“I dug wells and drank foreign waters, And with the sole of my feet I dried up

All the rivers of Egypt.”

Have you not heard? Long ago I did it; From ancient times, I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass,

that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore, their inhabitants were short of strength,

they were dismayed and put to shame; They were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb,

As grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up. But I know your sitting down,

And your going out and your coming in, And your raging against Me. Because of your raging against Me

And because your arrogance has come up to My ears, Therefore I will put My hook in your nose, And My bridle in your lips,

And I will turn you back by the way which you came.”



Assyria had no reason to boast; every victory they had accomplished was only because God set it in motion for His purposes. Their prideful arrogance led them to believe the God of Israel was no more capable of protecting Israel than had any other god of any other nation. But God had not relinquished His throne to Assyria; He reminded them who He was and reprimanded their arrogance. Basically, God told them what He spoke to Israel’s enemies in Psalm 46, “Stop! Know that I am God and I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”


He had not relinquished His powers to any enemy of His people. No matter how things appeared to man’s eyes, God was entirely in control of the earth and its inhabitants


– and He planned to prove that to Assyria. Later on, we read that in one night, an angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 Assyrians; “and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead” (19:35). Yes, indeed, “God will help her when morning dawns” (Ps 46:5).


Martin Luther received his inspiration for the great church hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” from Psalm 46. Said Martin Luther, “We sing this 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.” When chaos seems to be destroying your world or when the voices of destruction threaten you and cause you to doubt the work of God or His ability to rescue you, allow the voice of God to break into the situation and declare Stop! Enough is enough! I am God! I am still on the throne, and I still rule the forces of nature and the works of man. Find refuge from the heaviness of heart this earth brings beside the quiet streams of Zion. He resides there, and he still laughs at an enemy who devises plans against His people. Find joy as you laugh with Him. He is a mighty refuge from a world filled with chaos.

"And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever."

A Mighty Fortress is our God

Martin Luther

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