Let’s open our Bibles to Psalm 46 to discover the Psalm 46 meaning.
Psalm 46 has been a joy for me to study. And I trust it will be a blessing to you as we go through it.
Studying the psalms has been really enjoyable for me, because there’s always something new. And from lesson to lesson I never know quite what I’m going to discover in my studies that I can then bring to our assembly.
And for the psalm before us right now – Psalm 46 – the real surprise to me has been how applicable this psalm is to a certain time period in the history of the world. And that time period would be the end of the Great Tribulation into the Millennial – the thousand year – reign of Jesus Christ.
And I’ve almost been suspicious that perhaps I’m reading too much into the psalm. And yet, in order to avoid the Millennial implications of this psalm, I would really have to try very hard – really to the point of dishonesty.
So, instead of doing that, we’ll let the Bible speak and receive it as it is and try our best to understand it and rejoice in its truth right now.
So, let’s start by examining the superscription to this psalm…
<[To/For] the [chief Musician/choir director]
[for/a psalm of/by] the [sons of Korah/Korahites],
[A Song upon/Set to/According to the style of] Alamoth.>
So, this is one of 55 psalms that are addressed to “the chief Musician.” (FYI: The others are 4-6,8-9,11-14,18-22,31,36,39-42,44-47,49,51-62,64-70,75-77,80-81,84-85,88,109,139-140)
This is also one of 11 psalms that are said to be “for the sons of Korah.” (FYI: The others are 42,44-49,84-85,87-88)
But one thing this psalm doesn’t share with any other psalm is this mention of it being “upon Alamoth.” The one other place where that phrase is mentioned is in the context of bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from Obed-Edom’s house under the reign of King David. There, some men tuned their harps to this style of music. The term literally means “young women” which has made some think that perhaps this was a tune that required high voices – like the voices of sopranos.
And so, this song – that is to be set to this tune of Alamoth for or by the sons of Korah to be performed by the chief Musician – begins like this.
KJV Psalm 46:1 God is our [refuge and strength/strong refuge],
[a very present/he is truly our] [help/helper] in [i.e., times of…] trouble.
So, the psalmist is declaring that in his estimation, he considers God to be his strong refuge.
A refuge is something you can escape to for safety.
And – you know – this world has its refuges. People who reject God can try to take refuge in an altered state of mind through the abuse of alcohol and drugs. Money can appear to be a refuge to those without Christ. It seems to protect people from trouble.
And yet, these refuges will not stand the test. These refuges that men run to in times of trouble will fold – they do fold.
But not God. God is a strong refuge. We can escape to him when we’re in danger and he is there for us.
And that’s because – unlike the world’s refuges – God is able to do something about the things that are troubling us. He is a very present help in trouble.
Well, what kind of trouble are we talking about? What kind of trouble does God provide refuge from?
And that’s where the psalmist is going to point to mankind’s tendency to fear when natural disasters strike in verses 2 and 3 as the particular trouble he’s thinking about.
2 [Therefore/For this reason] [will/do] not we fear,
[though/when] the earth [be removed/should change/shakes],
and though the mountains [be carried/slip/tumble] into the [midst/heart/depths] of the sea;
3 Though the [waters/waves] thereof [roar/crash] and [be troubled/foam],
though the mountains [shake/quake] [with the swelling thereof/at its swelling pride/before the surging sea].
Now, if the term selah as some suggest marks a crescendo – then this would be it. Picture what the psalmist is envisioning. Earth, mountains, and waters all in an uproar all at the same time. If you were to find yourself in a situation in which all this was happening at once, you would be terrified.
And yet – even if this terrible combination of events were to be taking shape around you – you and I can feel the strength and the help of our God who is our refuge in times of distress. Even in times of natural disasters.
And this is where we would start to do a disservice to the entire Scripture if we failed to remember that Jesus Christ warned us that there is coming a time when things like what the psalmist just mentioned will happen. There will be great earthquakes. People will be perplexed by the roaring of the sea and its waves. That’s all according to Luke chapter 21.
And Revelation 6:14 describes a scene of the end times in which mountains are moved out of their places.
So, we can look at Psalm 46 and leave it in the realm of metaphor – but we have a good deal of evidence that these kinds of things will literally happen.
And they will happen during the Great Tribulation. And so, I think we’re starting to get the picture that this psalm will be sung by those who enter the Millennium from the Tribulation.
They’ll be joyfully praising God – “He is our strong refuge! He has been to us a very present help in the trouble and tribulation we’ve gone through! In fact, we’ve seen great earthquakes, mountains moving from their places, and the sea roaring – but we could be fearless because of our strong protecting God!”
Nature at Peace
Well, moving on, the author of this psalm really seems to enjoy going from one extreme of – on the one hand – chaos and danger and disorder to – on the other – peace and tranquility and serenity – all because of God being our refuge.
And so, we saw the temptation to fear caused by a multitude of natural disasters. And that’s now followed up by a picture of a peaceful quiet river flowing through the city of God in verses 4 and 5.
4 There is a river, the [streams/channels] whereof [shall make glad/bring joy to] the city of God,
the holy [place of the tabernacles/dwelling places] of the [most High/sovereign One].
5 God [is in the midst of her/lives within it];
[she/it] [shall not/cannot] be moved: [i.e., in contrast to the mountains and earth, etc.…]
God [shall help her/rescues it],
[and that right early/when morning dawns/at the break of dawn].
So, what a contrast we have. After the raging of nature – which we don’t fear because God is our refuge – now we have the calm and serene scene of a river flowing through God’s city. And the streams of this river make that city glad. Not anxious and fearful – like the scene we just left earlier. But glad.
And this city is the place which houses these “holy tabernacles” or dwelling places “of the most High.” And because of that “God is in the midst of her.” He dwells there in those tabernacles or dwelling places.
And because of that, this city “shall not” and cannot “be moved.” And it’s that way because God – who’s in the midst of that city – will defend it. He will “help” it “right early.” And that’s a picture of help for this city when morning dawns or when dawn breaks. In other words – right away.
What City is Made Glad?
Now, I think we’re all wondering – what city is the psalmist speaking of? You might assume he’s talking about Jerusalem. After all, that’s where the holy dwelling places of God were in the Old Testament.
And I think that’s right. He’s speaking of Jerusalem.
And yet, there’s one problem with identifying this city as Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has no rivers.
There’s the Jordan River off to the east about 20 miles. But it’s kind of hard to imagine that he’s speaking of that river that’s so far away making glad God’s city.
Let me put it in terms that might be helpful for us. Our church in Whitewater, WI here is 20 miles away from Rock Lake in Lake Mills. It’s about 20 miles away from Phantom Lake in Mukwonago. And it’s about 20 miles away from Geneva Lake in Williams Bay/Lake Geneva. The same distance that Jerusalem is from the Jordan River.
It would be strange to think of Rock Lake or Phantom Lake or Geneva Lake making glad the city of Whitewater. The distance is too great.
And I think the same would hold true for Jerusalem and the Jordan River. They’re just too far away from each other to be correlated like that.
So, how do we make sense of what the psalmist is saying here? He’s saying that Jerusalem will be made glad by a river.
And this is where the Millennial emphasis of this psalm really starts to get unavoidable.
This is a prophetic reference and it’s looking forward to Jerusalem in the Millennium.
Actually, twice in Scripture we hear of a river flowing from Jerusalem. Once in the Millennial Jerusalem and once in the New Jerusalem.
River in Millennial Jerusalem
Millennial Jerusalem is revealed to us in Ezekiel 47. So, let’s turn there.
In Ezekiel 47 we’re in the middle of the prophet Ezekiel being led around by an angelic figure and being shown a future temple – so it can’t be Solomon’s temple, of course, which was in the past from Ezekiel’s time reference.
Further, this temple in Ezekiel is not the temple constructed by the returned exiles after the Babylonian Captivity. Neither is it the temple constructed by Herod the Great.
How do we know that? Well, let’s read what Ezekiel is shown in his vision to see if it sounds anything like these other temples. We’ll read verses 1 through 12 of Ezekiel 47.
KJV Ezekiel 47:1 ¶ Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the [house/temple]; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.
2 Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.
3 ¶ And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles.
That’s about 1,500 ft east of the Temple Mount which would be right about at the base of the Mount of Olives…
4 Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees.
That’s about 3,000 ft east of the Temple Mount, which is the spot where tourists usually stop to take a look at the Temple Mount from a high spot on the Mount of Olives…
Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins.
By the way, this is about 4,500 ft east of the Temple Mount, which is right on top of the Mount of Olives – really close to the biblical city of Bethphage. Now, water doesn’t flow up mountains. So, how is this water going to be flowing up this mountain? The answer: It won’t. Remember – at the end of the Tribulation, according to Zechariah 14:4, Jesus Christ’s feet will touch the Mount of Olives and split it west to east, creating a huge valley. That’s how this water is going to be flowing east out of the Temple like we’re seeing here…
5 Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.
And this is about 6,000 ft east of the Temple Mount, which is about where the Mount of Olives currently starts sloping down toward the Dead Sea…
6 ¶ And he said unto me,
Son of man, hast thou seen this?
Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river.
7 Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.
8 Then said he unto me,
These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.
And so, in other words, this water coming from the temple in the Millennium will go east through the new valley hewn into the Mount of Olives – past where it currently starts to descend toward the Dead Sea and it will make the salt water of the Dead Sea non-salty…
9 And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: [i.e., which currently doesn’t happen in the DEAD Sea – but will in the Millennium…] and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.
10 And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi [i.e., which is on the western shore of the Dead Sea – about 23.5 miles southeast of Jerusalem…] even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea [i.e., Mediterranean Sea…], exceeding many.
11 But the [miry places/swamps] [thereof/of the river] and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.
12 And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for [meat/food], whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof [be consumed/wither]: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for [meat/food], and the leaf thereof for [medicine/healing].
So, Ezekiel sees this vision of a river flowing from the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the Millennial Temple.
And with the water flowing from that Temple changing the Dead Sea into a living sea filled with fish – with fruit trees surrounding the river and the sea – you can understand how this river will “make glad the city of God!”
River in New Jerusalem
But let’s briefly look at the other river that comes from Jerusalem in Revelation chapter 22…
And all the information we have on it is in verses 1 and 2 of Revelation 22…
KJV Revelation 22:1 ¶ And he [i.e., the angel who was showing John all of these things…] shewed me [i.e., the Apostle John…] a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. [i.e., not the Temple, but the throne – Rev 21:22 declares that there will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem…]
2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
OK, so I will say that I think that this river is different from the river in Ezekiel 47.
In Ezekiel 47 the river is coming from the Temple. In Revelation 21 we’re told that there is no Temple and so the river in Revelation 22 is coming from the throne of God – not a physical Temple.
The vision in Ezekiel 47 must relate to the Millennium – when Christ will reign on the earth from Jerusalem. The vision in Revelation 22 – on the other hand – is of a time after the Millennium – after Satan leads one last rebellion against Jesus Christ and is destroyed once and for all.
So, let’s bring this back to Psalm 46. I believe that the river mentioned in Psalm 46 is this river from Ezekiel 47.
Psalm 46 is Unavoidably Millennial
And really, I think we can now see that Psalm 46 is thoroughly Millennial. Now, I’m sure that this psalm was used by ancient Israel as they went to war and had the Lord deliver and protect them from their enemies.
And yet, the Apostle Peter tells us that Old Testament prophets didn’t always know what exactly their prophecies would turn out to be. They searched concerning what time the Spirit of Christ was indicating to them and so forth.
So, it’s entirely possible that the Holy Spirit breathed out through the psalmist here a psalm that is really going to be used in all its glorious meaning in the Millennium when Christ reigns from Jerusalem.
And so, think about it. How does this psalm start? God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in time of trouble. Don’t you suppose that Israel will be declaring this after 7 years of Tribulation and then their sudden deliverance by their God the Lord Jesus Christ?
And because God is our strong refuge we won’t fear – even when the mountains start falling into the sea and the sea is roaring and nature just seems to be going crazy! And isn’t that what Israel will experience in the Tribulation right before the Millennium?
And then – there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. God is in her midst. She won’t be moved. He will protect her. Is this not what Israel will experience in that great Millennial day when God is literally in the midst of her in the person of his Son Jesus Christ?
So, yes, this psalm is thoroughly Millennial in its emphasis – whether or not the psalmist himself even knew it.
And now, we’re going to see the psalmist transition from peace and calm back to thinking of things that are chaotic and out of order. He’s already spoken of how he wouldn’t fear even when nature was out of control. But now in verse 6 he’s going to speak of the nations being out of control.
6 The [heathen/nations] [raged/made an uproar/are in uproar],
the kingdoms [were moved/tottered/are overthrown]:
And this will certainly happen in the Tribulation right before the Millennium.
But then God will step-in in the person of Jesus Christ and this will happen…
he [uttered his voice/raised his voice/gives a shout],
the earth [melted/dissolves].
And the emphasis given to God’s voice here is interesting in light of the fact that when Jesus returns in Revelation 19 we’re told that he will slay Israel’s enemies with what? With the sword of his … mouth!
His voice which comes from his mouth melts the earth in Psalm 46. And the sword that comes from his mouth slays the enemies of Israel in Revelation. Notice the connection with his mouth and the destruction of the wicked.
Jesus: The Lord of Hosts
And so, when Jesus comes to finish the Tribulation – he isn’t alone. He comes with the armies of heaven according to Revelation 19:14. He will be the Lord who commands armies – or another way to put it in familiar Old Testament terminology – he’s the Lord of … hosts.
That’s the one who will be with Israel in the Millennium – as they will recognize at that point and as the psalmist foretells in verse 7…
7 The LORD [of hosts/who commands armies] is [with us/on our side];
the God of Jacob is our [refuge/stronghold/protector].
Now, Jesus Christ is known as Immanuel – God with us. And here – when Jesus finally defeats his foes and the foes of his people – he’ll be known as Yahweh with us. That’s what they’re declaring here.
And this reality – that Yahweh will be with them is such an amazing fact that they’re not going to say this just once in this short psalm of 11 verses – but they’ll say it twice.
And once again this reality of Yahweh being with them is so amazing that they see to it that they add a selah after stating this amazing new reality for them.
Destruction Marks His Coming
Well, when Jesus – whose name means “Yahweh saves” – comes to physically and spiritually save his people the Jews and usher in his Millennial reign, it obviously won’t be without quite a bit of destruction. He needs to destroy all the numberless armies that have gathered against Israel in those future days.
And so, the psalmist actually looks forward to that reality in verse 8.
8 Come, [behold/witness] the [works/exploits] of the LORD,
what [desolations/destructions] he hath [made/wrought/brought] [in/to] the earth.
And so, yes – Jesus will bring a good deal of destruction with him when he comes to set things right on this earth.
And yet, here’s the peaceful result of his violent second-coming...
9 He [maketh wars to cease/brings and end to wars] [unto the end of/through] the earth;
he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in [sunder/two];
he burneth the chariot in the fire.
So, you might be aware that World War 1 was known as the “War to End All Wars.” And yet, it’s pretty obvious that that war didn’t live up to that ambitious alias.
But there will be a war to end all wars – at least for one thousand years. And it’s called the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the Great Tribulation.
And this is an event foretold in both New and Old Testaments. In fact, Isaiah chapter 2 gives us a glimpse into this time when Jesus reigns from Jerusalem. I’ll read verses 2 through 4 of that chapter where the prophet says…
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say,
Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths:
for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he [i.e., Jesus!...] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
So, no more war between nations. That will be the reality when Jesus Christ comes to reign on the earth from Jerusalem. That’s what we’re told in the New Testament. That’s what we see in this psalm. That’s what we hear about in Isaiah. It’s all over the Scripture – this blessed reality that is quickly coming!
A Message of Peace
And in light of this reality – that Jesus Christ is coming again and will rule and establish perfect peace and justice on this earth, he has a message for us that’s just as applicable for us as it was for the original recipients of this psalm – in verse 10…
10 [i.e., He says…] [Be still/Cease striving/Stop striving], and [know/recognize] that I am God:
I will be exalted [among/over] the [heathen/nations],
I will be exalted [in/over] the earth.
Folks, it’s certain. Jesus is coming back to this earth. And when he does, every wrong will be made right.
Your crumbling body will be brand new. Where you experience poverty on whatever level, that’ll be taken care of. Your relationships will be in perfect harmony. You will never be hungry or thirsty again. You will never ever again struggle with sin. You will never be confused again. You will never be afraid of violence or war.
It’s coming! Because Jesus is coming.
But he’s not here yet. And these blessings that I’ve just mentioned and so many more aren’t ours… YET!
But they will be. Some day. And so, what God wants us to do right now as we wait for these things is to be still. Be calm. Don’t strive in anxiety and fear.
Instead, know and recognize that Jesus Christ is God. And he’ll see to it that he will be exalted over the nations and in all the earth. And everything will be made right when his kingdom comes.
Trust him to do this in his timing. Be patient. Be calm. Be looking for Christ’s return. He’s coming again and that’s a sure thing.
Jesus is With Us Now
And this one who is coming soon, is even now with us. The psalmist ends by repeating what we’ve already seen in verse 7…
11 The LORD [of hosts/who commands armies] is [with us/on our side];
the God of Jacob is our [refuge/stronghold/protector].
And is this not what Jesus promised? That he would be with us always – even to the end of the world.
Jesus will be with us in this world in a special way in the future. And Jesus is with us right now as we serve him.
So, be still. Recognize his sovereignty in your life. And let’s pray with these realities in mind.