The invasion of Ukraine has shocked many and brought heartbreaking devastation into the lives of countless innocent civilians. At a time of fear and confusion, with dreadful forces moving in ruthlessly, where can stability and a sense of peace be found? Where can the believers there look as they face their world torn apart? There is encouragement in Psalm 46 for Christians in Ukraine, as indeed for our brothers and sisters in Syria and other war-torn parts. This encouragement goes hand in hand with (and informs) the practical help we offer. We do what we can to help because we are confident that the Lord is their-and-our refuge and strength. If we struggle to know how best to pray for them, we can make use of the words of this psalm.
From the 17th century, David Dickson’s comments on Psalm 46 speaks to the current situation to point out that even when tragedy and appalling injustices come into the experience of the Christian church, the Lord is our refuge. He is always acting one way or another in the interests of His people and always ensuring that His people suffer no eternal harm.
Perhaps too when people are alarmed at the thought of potential nuclear conflict there is much that can be drawn from the psalm. The psalmist can say that even though the earth was removed, and the mountains sunk into the sea they need not fear. Even supposing the whole framework of the world was changed, and the whole work of creation was either dissolved or confounded, yet faith finds a foothold in God Himself (v2). In the following updated extract, Dickson applies the Psalm to the severe troubles that may afflict Christians in this world.
1. God is our refuge
From the knowledge that God has defended His church in the past, the Lord’s people can strengthen themselves in the faith of God’s word concerning His care for His people. On this basis they guard their hearts against the fear of all possible trouble in time coming (verses 1-3).
Even if the church was destitute of all human strength within herself, and forsaken, and even pursued by all kings and princes, yet she has God for a hiding place, and for providing what is sufficient for her subsistence. “God is our refuge and strength.”
Although the Lord will not exempt His people from trouble, yet He will be near them in trouble. When they discover their weakness, then He will help them, and will not delay His help too long. He will give help in time of need effectually; for God is to His people “a very present help in trouble.”
Nothing can guard the heart of God’s people against the terror of possible or imminent troubles, other than faith in God. When the Lord’s people have fixed their faith on Him, they draw this conclusion, “Therefore will we not fear.”
The touchstone of confidence in God is the terror of apparent trouble. A fixed faith looks on the greatest dangers and troubles that can be imagined, with resolution to adhere to God and to whatever truth persecutors oppose, whatever may come. “We will not fear, though the earth be removed.”
2. God is our helper
The church looks on the Lord’s word and ordinances joined with the blessing of His Spirit among them, as a sufficient consolation against whatsoever trouble can be imagined.
Trouble without comfort may fall on those who do not know God, yet believers within the church can have no trouble in which they may not find consolation and joy to uphold them against all causes of sorrow (v4). The consolations which God provides within the church are not like the consolations which the world can offer, which are in all respects insufficient to overcome trouble. Like a river of refreshing water, the consolations of God are abundant, constantly running, ready at hand, able to make us effectual conquerors over trouble, and able to make us rejoice in the Lord in the midst of trouble (v4).
God will never forsake His people who seek Him, but where they are following His ordinances in any measure of sincerity, there will He be. “God is in the midst of her.” As the consolation of the church depends on God’s settled residence in it, so also does the church’s stability, and its continuance from generation to generation. “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved” (v5).
God’s presence among His people will not exempt them from trouble, but it does exempt them from perdition in trouble. He will not spare the bush from burning, but from being consumed. “For God shall help her” (v5). The Lord may not appear at the point of time when we would like, yet He shall come and help in the time of need most timeously or “right early” (v5).
3. God is with us
The psalmist refers to an experience when God took steps to deal with the enemies of the church, at a time when in great confluence and power they made assault against her.
It is no small indignation which the world holds against the Lord’s kingdom, His people, and work among them, nor is it any slight power from which the church is in danger of suffering hardship. Rather, the church must expect to encounter fury in its height, and force in its farthest extent. “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved” (v6).
It is not the worldly power of the Lord’s people which can sustain the assault of their raging enemies. Rather, God Himself must take her side against her oppressors. And that is what the Lord does. He steps in for His people. “He uttered his voice.” It does not cost the Lord much to dispatch the enemies of His people. Let Him but say the word, and they are gone. As snow before the sun, or fat dropped into the fire, they are consumed. “He uttered his voice, the earth melted.”
Any experience of the Lord working for His church is enough to confirm the faith of His people that He is perpetually present in His church to assist His people in their difficulties. “The Lord of hosts is with us.” Whatever the Lord is, in wisdom, power, and other attributes, the church may apply that to herself, and may be sure to have the fruit of it as her need requires. If hosts of heathen and huge armies of whole kingdoms come up against His church, yet still we may be sure that God, the Lord of Armies, will stand up against them, and for His church. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v7).
The covenant of God made with the church in former ages is good enough security to the church in subsequent times, for obtaining whatsoever benefit His covenant includes. “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (v7). The rights which belong to the church corporately, are just as good a security for the use of every particular believer as if they were made out personally to every member by name. Wise citizens reckon as belonging to them whatever they can claim by their town charter, no less than their own private possessions. Likewise, whatsoever the believer can claim by virtue of the great charter made to the church, he should reckon it as sure to be his as if his own name had been specified in the promises. Because God is undoubtedly the God of Jacob, and the refuge of His children, therefore He must undoubtedly be the God and the refuge of those who are members of that city and family.
4. God is working
When God does works of wonder in favour of His church, perhaps the majority do not even recognise that it is the Lord’s doing. Such is their indifference, ingratitude, unbelief and perverseness, that either they think very little of His work, or they ascribe the praise to the instruments God has used, or some other thing besides God. This is why there needs to be a call to set people to their duty, “Come and behold the works of the Lord” (v8).
When God enters into judgment with the enemies of His people, He pours out on them astonishing calamities. What they intended to do to His people, He does to them (v8). When it seems good to the Lord, He can give peace universally to His church, and a breathing space from the trouble of outward enemies. He makes “wars to cease to the ends of the earth.” (v9).
Long preparations for war, and building up stores of arms and ammunition, may well have been made against God’s church with great labour and expense. Yet the Lord can soon make short work of them. He can make them completely useless when he pleases; breaking the bow, cutting the spear and burning the chariot (v9).
At a time like this, people’s passions are raised, and their minds are in tumult, busy with many things and distracted from what is most necessary. They can hardly understand what they are doing or what their duty is. Therefore it is good for them from time to time to gather in their straying thoughts, and silence their agitation, and humbly compose themselves to observe whatever God requires of them. “Be still, and know that I am God.”
It is better to be wise and acknowledge the Lord by the words of His instruction, than to learn it by doleful experience and danger of destruction. Nothing is more effective for the Lord’s people as a way of quieting their minds against the fear of trouble and persecution, than to settle their faith about God’s taking care of His people and of His own cause, and about His mind declared against His and their enemies. “Be still, and know that I am God” (v10).
The Lord will lose nothing by the opposition of his enemies. He will not fail to enlarge His glory, the more people go about to suppress it. He will make inroads on His adversaries’ lands, and make them know Himself to be God, if not by their conversion, then by their confusion and destruction. “I will” (He says) “be exalted among the heathen.”
Even in the church, little notice is sometimes taken of the majesty of God, and outside the church He is always disregarded. Nevertheless, He will see to His own glory, not only in the church, but also among the enemies of the church – and not only among those who have actually invaded His people, but also among those far and near who have taken no notice either of Him or of His people. “I will be exalted in the earth” (v10).
Whatever manifestation of God’s power is made in the world by His judgements against His enemies who do not know Him, yet He is always exercising His power for His church, and not against her. “The Lord of hosts is with us”. The church of God need not care how many are against them, seeing they have more for them then can be against them, namely, God, and all creation at His command. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v11).
The strength of the church stands in renouncing her own, and fleeing into God’s strength, and not in opposing their enemy by strong hand, but by falling back on God. “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (v11).
We need to make God the basis of our confidence, and our communion with God the basis of our comfort. God is sufficient for us against every evil, and God is sufficient to us for supplying every good. We need to fix and settle the grounds of our faith, by more often subscribing this truth, and more often avowing it. “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge”, is repeated.
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