Psalm 46: Peace

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

– Psalm 46

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 many reporters described it as an earth-shattering event. The opening lines of this Psalm also employ the language of geology to describe life changing political events.

Verses 1–3 describe a world that is greatly troubled, where there is massive upheaval and the fear of conflict. Under such circumstances, when the stable foundations of our lives are under threat, whether by war or anything else, it is understandably very easy to be anxious and frightened about the future (v. 2).

In verses 4–6 the Psalmist expresses his conviction that in spite of what others say that Jerusalem will never fall – but it did (2 Kings 25).

The Babylonian exile is the painful reminder that the words of the Psalm are not to be taken in some wooden and literalistic way – as if faith in Israel’s God was some sort of rabbit’s foot or lucky white heather, a talisman or charm against any evil befalling them or us.

And yet the Psalmist’s confidence that God ‘is our fortress’ (vv. 7, 11) should not be lightly dismissed. When we feel the ground is giving way, when our bodies succumb to illness and the ravages of time, when the familiar falls away, when dreams are shattered, when our world is shaken, Jesus has promised us that we can know a peace that passes all understanding.  ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27).

God never promises us immunity from trouble or from tragedy but we can experience a measure of that promised peace in our lives because ‘the Lord Almighty is with us’ (v. 5). The God the Psalmist worshipped is the God who became flesh in the person of his Son, who shared our lives and who even now dwells in our hearts by his Holy Spirit.

The Psalm is profoundly personal speaking to us in our discomfort and distress but concludes with a hope that embraces the whole world. Not only are we invited to see how God has brought peace – and challenged to be part of what God is doing (Matthew 5:9) – but we are promised that the God who is with us and whose peace we can know now will one day bring peace to the whole earth.