Once it seemed that the greatest threat to the world was nuclear war. To some extent this threat has receded, yet the world is still threatened by e.g. war, terrorism and ecological disaster. Now suddenly we have been confronted with the threat of disaster in the form of the coronavirus which has changed life for all of us in many ways. On a personal level in the coming days we may face crises of various sorts – sickness, bereavement, unemployment, strained relationships. The people of God also face the threat of spiritual enemies. How can we cope? Psalm 46 turns our thoughts to God, the one on whom we can rely in every crisis.
1. Strength in time of trouble (v.1-3)
The psalmist begins with an affirmation of faith – ‘God is our refuge and strength’. This perspective runs through the whole psalm. He begins with certainties, before looking at the turmoil around him. ‘Refuge’ speaks of an unchanging God who provides shelter for his people (see also John 10:30). ‘Strength’ reminds us of a God who indwells the weak to give strength for action. We are not to sit inactive in the midst of a crisis. Remember Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13 ‘I can do everything through him who gives mw strength.
The rest of v1 reads (literally) ‘very much found to be a help in distress’ – there is personal experience of God’s help in the past which helps us in the present challenges. To have the help of the Lord in a crisis we must have sought and found him as our Saviour. Jeremiah 29:13 ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’.
Verses 2-3 describe the worst imaginable crisis, when the most secure features of life collapse. Still ‘we will not fear’ – even the seas are under the sovereign control of God (Psalm 93:4). It is good to be able to remind ourselves that even the coronavirus is under the Lord’s sovereign control. Sometimes the Lord does not spare us such crises, but he is in control, his love never fails (see Habakkuk 3:18). The Lord’s strength will be sufficient to carry us through, whatever he has planned for us (as Paul found – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ‘my grace is sufficient for you… my strength is made perfect in weakness’.).
2. Grace in time of need (v.4-7)
In sudden contrast to the roaring of the waters – ‘There is a river’ (v4) – a picture of calm and serenity. It is a river ‘whose streams make glad the city of God’. The city is not Jerusalem, which has no river, but the spiritual community of the people of God, the church (see 1 Corinthians 3:16). Every believer is part of the city, and holy because God dwells there.
This is the river of God’s grace, flowing through the church, refreshing and sustaining all his people. God is a ‘fountain of life’ (Psalm 36:9). He gives life, physical and spiritual. He refreshes our souls when we feel dry and weak. He provides for all our needs, not merely for some of them (Philippians 4:19 ‘My God will supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’). If we look to God in times of need, he will supply exactly what we require. We may not know exactly what we need, but the Lord knows and makes no mistakes in what he gives.
‘God is within her’ (v5) – that is the secret of the strength and stability of believers. If we rely on what the world provides, we will be overwhelmed. Regarding the church, however, ‘she will not fall’. That stands in stark contrast to the falling kingdoms of the world (v6). All the powers that oppose God will come to nothing. In v7 we have a ringing affirmation of faith and trust in the Lord. His name ‘Lord of hosts’ reminds us of the infinite power of our God, greater than an disease. ‘God of Jacob’ speaks of the grace of the Lord to undeserving sinners whom he loves with an everlasting love. In him we have everything we need.
3. Peace in time of battle (v.8-11)
The psalm ends with a summons to all to see the evidence for the power of God. These are ‘the works of the Lord’, the one who is the covenant God who never forsakes his people. God has stretched his hand against the enemies – the ‘desolations he has brought on the earth’. The Old Testament provides many examples. These are a foretaste of what he will still do. ‘He makes wars to cease…’ – but in a fallen world perfect peace will not come until the Lord returns and ushers in the new creation, ‘a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’ (2 Peter 3:13).
It is a glorious prospect, and God’s peace can be enjoyed by his people even in the present. The turmoil we face at the moment is not war, but a virulent disease, and yet the principle is the same. The Lord is able to give his peace to his people in the most difficult circumstances. Verse 10 is a command to God’s enemies to ‘Be still and know…’ He rebukes those he has defeated. All will ultimately acknowledge him as God – ‘I will be exalted’. We are assured of the fulfilling of God’s goal that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow’ (Philippians 2:10). What a joy and privilege to bow willingly by God’s grace.
The psalm ends in an expression of faith and confidence: ‘The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress’ (v11). God will not fail us. We have all we need to face whatever hardships his providence brings, coronavirus included, and to pass through them in a manner which glorifies his name. It is a wonderful assurance to have.