1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
The apostle Paul said that God is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27). This truth is beautifully brought to light in Psalm 46. It’s a reminder of God’s constant watchcare over His people. Not only that, it’s a reminder to His people to put their trust in Him.
“God is our refuge and strength” (verse 1). The word translated, “refuge” means “shelter from storm or danger.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament it is translated, “shelter,” “hope,” and “trust.” In its usage here, it portrays God as a protector. The presence of a refuge indicates that God is aware of our struggles and of our need for shelter from the storms of life. It also reminds us that we do not have to stay in the storm for God has made a way out (I Corinthians 10:13). The word translated, “strength” is elsewhere translated, “power,” “might,” “boldness,” “loud,” and “mighty.” We are weak but God is mighty. Satan and his efforts to destroy us are weak, but God is mighty. Granted, it may not seem like Satan is weak, but compared to God he is. John wrote, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4). Paul asked, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
God wants us to know that He is our refuge and strength and He wants us to come to Him for shelter in the time of storm and strength in the hour of weakness. That’s why He is “very present” (verse 1). The original word for “very” means, “exceedingly.” The word for “present” is most commonly translated, “find.” In short, our God is exceedingly easy to find. Unlike the false god, Baal who could not be found by his worshippers when they needed him (I Kings 18:26-29), Jehovah God is near at hand. Psalm 139 speaks of His omnipresence. Hebrews 13:5 records Him saying, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Our God is very easy to find and, in the context of Psalm 46, the writer indicates that God is very easy to find when His people are in trouble. Psalm 34:18 echoes this truth. “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Psalm 145:18 reminds us, “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.”
Psalm 46:2 begins a series of blessings that result from the fact that God is a very present help in trouble. Because He is this helper, the faithful can overcome fear, even though everything around us is falling apart. Verses 2 and 3 were not necessarily literal events. Perhaps they were figurative representations of political or societal upheaval. Whatever they were, they were events in the lives of God’s people that were distressing. They were situations that could promote fear.
Who among us has not experienced fear? Perhaps you have known, or even at this moment might know, the fears associated with such life-changing events as the loss of a job, health challenges, family difficulties, or the death of a loved one. Fear is one of Satan’s most powerful tools. It was in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:10). Frightened Israelites allowed it to keep them out of the promised land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). It was in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the streets of Jerusalem, and in the Roman courts when Jesus was betrayed and murdered (Matthew 26-27). Satan would have us cower but God would have us trust in His power to help us through the darkness of life’s troubles. Because God is a very present help in trouble, the faithful can overcome fear, even though everything around us is falling apart.
In verses 4 and 5, we learn that because God is a very present help in trouble, we can be assured that He will bless us. In stark contrast to the two previous verses, these present a picture of joy in the presence of God and remind us that while Satan will try to destroy, God will bless. Satan will promote chaos. God will deliver calm.
A great example of God’s blessings in the midst of Satan’s efforts to destroy can be found in the life of Joseph as recorded in Genesis 37-41. Notice the contrasts:
Another great example can be seen by reading the entire book of Esther. Therein we see how Satan tried to destroy the entire nation of Israel, but God instead turned his curses into a blessing.
Sometimes the storms of life become so great that they are all we can see. Satan’s efforts dominate our thoughts. It’s especially during these times that we need to go to God’s Word and through the eye of faith see that which is beyond. Consider these words from Paul in II Corinthians 4:16-5:1:
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Going back to Psalm 46:5, notice that God will help “right early” (King James Version). The New King James Version reads, “just at the break of dawn.” These words show us God’s readiness and willingness to help. Centuries later, James would write of God “who gives to all liberally and without reproach” (James 1:5).
In Psalm 46:7 and 11, we find that because God is a very present help in trouble, we can take comfort in knowing that He is ever near. This is a point that has been addressed earlier. Suffice it to say that just knowing God is ever by the side of the faithful can give us comfort even in the darkest hours of our lives.
There’s a story about a male rite of passage that was supposedly observed by one of the Indian tribes. The boy would be taken into the forest by his father, blindfolded, and then left alone. To pass the test, the boy was required to sit on a stump or log all night and not remove the blindfold until morning. He was not allowed to cry for help. If he survived the night, he would be a man. In the morning, feeling the rising sun on his face, the boy would remove the blindfold. Only then would he discover his father standing nearby. Without the boy knowing, his father had been there all night, watching over him and protecting him. Our God is ever near.
Psalm 46, verses 6, 8, and 9 teach us that because God is a very present help in trouble, we can know that He is still in control. The bottom line in these verses is that, whatever was going on in the world of the original hearers of this psalm, God was aware of it. He would punish those who were doing the evil. In short, God would take care of it in His time. He had the situation under control.
Sometimes our troubles remind us that we really have very little control. We spend our lives determining exactly how we want things to be. We set time frames and expect things to happen within those time frames. If things don’t work out the way we planned, we get discouraged and may even blame God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t plan. It is to say, however, that we should plan but remember that our plans are not always God’s plans.
Let’s look at Acts 16:6-7 for a moment. Luke wrote, “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” This is a somewhat curious passage. Paul was forbidden to preach the Word in Asia. He tried to go to Bithynia but was not allowed. He did go to Macedonia and the Gospel was spread throughout Philippi, Thessalonica and other important cities in that region, perhaps much quicker than if Paul had gone to the areas to which he had planned to go. The lesson here is not that the Holy Spirit is going to tell us where to go and what to do because He is not. The lesson here is trusting God, remembering that He is still sovereign, and using whatever happens in our lives as an opportunity to grow in the Lord and be more effective in His service.
Some things that happen in our lives are just out of our control but God is still near and still ruling over His creation. We may not understand why things happen, but faith allows us to trust that God is still near. Again, let’s think about Joseph. He had no control over the way people treated him. He did, however, have control over his responses to his situations. Life is not so much about us controlling everything as it is about how we react to what happens to us. In Joseph’s case, he reacted to each challenge in faith and God blessed him.
To summarize what we’ve learned thus far from Psalm 46:
Now, what do we do with these truths? According to verse 10, we take this knowledge and relax (the meaning of “be still”). We settle down. We calm down. We stop worrying. God is exceedingly easy to find. We must look to Him.
When troubles come, we turn to God in faith for He is exalted above any difficulties caused by man or by Satan. We turn to His Word to build our faith (Romans 10:17). We turn to Him in prayer to cast every care upon Him (I Peter 5:7). We put away worry, doubt, and fear. We say with Paul as he and his fellow travelers were rocked by the tempestuous wind on their way to Rome, “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (Acts 27:25). We say with him again, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). We say with Jesus in the shadow of the cross, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). We remember the words of Romans 8:38-39:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And we relax and know that God is, taking comfort in the fact that He is a very present help in trouble.
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