This psalm has no author listed. All we are told is that it is a “song.” This song is about the kingdom of God, and is one of the songs of the kingdom. It tells us particularly about the time when the kingdom begins, a time we look forward to even today. It is a simple psalm, but a glorious one, and may God speed the day when the great event it speaks of takes place!
1. God is our refuge and strength,
The psalm starts out speaking of God. He is a refuge, a harbor from the storm. He is also a source of strength.
A very present help in trouble.
In trouble, God is these things, and also is found to be near to help. The psalmist seems to be thinking upon God as this because of the very present trouble that will be embroiling the world at the time this psalm takes place.
2. Therefore we will not fear,
Because of God’s help in trouble, the psalmist declares, “we will not fear.” Whom he means by “we” is not clear, but probably refers to all who have faith enough to trust in God in that future time of turmoil. Indeed, may God grant us the faith, when facing trouble and turmoil, to trust in Him, and not fear!
Even though the earth be removed,
This lack of fear will continue, the psalmist declares, even though the earth be removed. The question, of course, is what he means by this. Since the word “earth” in Hebrew, ‘erets, can mean either “earth” or “land,” this might refer to the land of Israel. It could refer to the land falling into enemy hands and being removed from the control of His people. However, it is hard to say that this is exactly what it means. Obviously, we are to get the idea of turmoil and instability. The earth quaking under our feet, as in an earthquake, might be the poetic figure intended. This does not have to mean the literal shaking of the ground, but rather the turning of the very ground under our feet, the very things we depend upon in life, into something unstable and undependable, seemingly slipping away from us.
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Of course, in an earthquake the very mountains might fall, but the poetic figure probably does not refer to any literal mountains. Mountains in Scripture are often used as poetic figures for governments, and the idea here seems to be not so much of mountains literally falling, but of governments falling into chaos and anarchy and being swept away. Since governments are what are supposed to bring stability to our world, we can see that multiple governments at once being swept away like this would cause great turmoil and trouble on earth.
3. Though its waters roar and be troubled,
These governments are swept into the sea, which seems to be a figure for the teeming masses of the people. The people are roaring and agitating, stirred up and troubled. Stability has left the earth, and the people of the earth are greatly troubled.
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
The people are troubled, and the governments that remain after the others have been swept away are shaken by the swelling of the people, fearful that they will turn their rage against them and bring them toppling down as well. Now, the Hebrew word “selah” occurs, urging us to pause and think about this, contrasting it with the peaceful and glorious statements of the following verses.
4. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
Our attention now is turned to a river. It is a great river, a most mighty river, and many streams and rivulets flow out from it to water many places. Many of these streams, it seems, flow into the city of God, Jerusalem, and change things there dramatically. There is no longer terror there, no longer shaking, no longer fear. Instead, the city is made glad. Suddenly, it is found in peace. What river is this, that can gladden Jerusalem in the middle of such terrible circumstances as those described in verses 2 and 3?
There can be little doubt as to the answer to this question. Of course, the river is not a literal one, nor are its streams literal water, for water would do little to cheer the city in the midst of such trouble as has been described. Rather, this river is one that flows from God through His Spirit. It is the river of His governmental power, as He goes into action and declares this world to be His Own. When He does this, He will start flowing out from heaven to earth in a mighty stream of power, of light, of truth, and of order and stability. Among the first and most joyously effected of places to receive this flow is Jerusalem, which had been in danger of being swept away with the rest when the crisis came. Now, God has proven to be the refuge and strength and very present help this psalm earlier declared Him to be, and has moved to save them from their danger.
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
Jerusalem is described as the holy (or set apart) place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Of course, the tent called the tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness has long since passed out of use and disappeared. Yet a tabernacle was a base of operations to men who lived out of tents, and this speaks of the Lord taking up Jerusalem as His tabernacle, the base from which He will take control of the entire earth, in that day.
5. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
At that time, God will again place His name in the midst of Jerusalem. His reputation will be connected with that city, and all will know that this is the place from which He is enacting His kingdom. The result will be that she shall not be moved. Unlike all the governments that have fallen and passed away at this time, Jerusalem shall not fall, and her government shall not pass away.
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The reason Jerusalem shall stand in that day is that God shall help her. He provides her this help just at the break of dawn. When we think of the light that will at last come upon the earth when the kingdom arrives here, we can see that the start of this will truly be the break of dawn for this world, and will signal the fact that the long night of darkness that has controlled the earth since the fall, and that has seen its blackest point in the dispensation of grace in which heaven has fallen silent, has at last passed away, and light is shining on earth once again.
6. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
These are the conditions we saw when the psalm began. There, they were put in poetic form; here, they are declared literally. The nations were raging, and the governments were moving, shifting and changing, unsure how to deal with all the chaos.
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
Into this tumultuous situation God’s voice suddenly speaks, and the uproar of voices falters. The political leaders trying to save their positions, the agitators trying to stir things up for their own advantage, the masses of people roaring and raging in their tumult, all fall silent and are still. Like wax the earth melts away before Him. None dare stand up against Him. None dare to resist His mighty reign. None dare shout or agitate against His glorious government. The masses of people return to their homes, struck dumb by the voice of God that has spoken from on high.
7. The LORD of hosts is with us;
The triumphant cry of the people of God is that the LORD of Sebaoth, Jehovah of armies, is with them.
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
The God of Jacob is their refuge, their protection from the storm in this time of trouble. Again the psalmist uses the word “selah,” connecting here the noise and raging of the kingdoms prior to this with the quietness and peace that will reign when God goes into action and makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth.
8. Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Men living at that time, in the kingdom of God, are called upon to come, to look upon, and to consider the things that Jehovah has done.
Who has made desolations in the earth.
What He has done is that he has made desolations in the earth. This word “desolations” can mean that, as when a city is desolate without inhabitants, but it can also mean astonishing things, horrible things, that that would make one appalled to look upon them. This might appear to be hard to deal with, for we would expect that when God takes control of the earth and makes it His kingdom, that He will do wonderful things in the earth, not horrible things. Even if we take the meaning as “desolations” or “astonishments,” what is this talking about? What things will God do this to in that great time to come?
We really need look no further than the very next verse to find an example of things that God will make desolate. When He makes wars to cease, this will bring to an end the vast military complexes of nations like the United States of America. All the war colleges, all the army bases, all the tradition and hierarchy and politics involved, all will be brought to an end. Any army bases that remain and are not converted to other uses will be, indeed, desolate. The same will be true of military colleges. One might well look on these things in those days and be astonished, that something that has lasted throughout the earth’s history could so thoroughly and completely be brought to an end.
Yet the military is only one example of things that might be made desolate and an astonishment in those days. We might think of the vast healthcare industries of many nations. Even the poorest of nations have their doctors. Yet in the day when God provides perfect health and healing to all on earth, the healthcare industry as we know it today will all pass away, and only God’s commissioned healers to aid in the case of accidental injury will remain.
Another example is what we call the “vice industries.” Take, for example, the porn industry, which is such huge business in many nations today. Yet in that day, this all will be desolate. Not an employee will remain to this industry. No longer will there be any customers for it. Not a magazine will be published, and not a picture will be posted on any website. This industry will be desolate, and will have come to an end. Indeed, God will have made a very great desolation indeed when He desolates pornography once and for all. People will look upon it in astonishment and horror from that time on.
So, now perhaps we are getting the idea of just how great and how good these desolations will be!
9. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
Here we read the example already cited of a desolation He is going to make in the earth. He is going to bring what we call the art of warfare to an end. This is not just in the big and notable nations, but even to the most remote parts of the earth, called here the “end” of the earth, that He does this.
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He not only stops the wars, but He also destroys the very instruments of war from the earth. Let us not be troubled, either, by the mention of more or less antiquated weapons here. We may not use bows nor spears, but if one wished to describe a gun to a person living when the Psalms were written, the first word comparison he would use, if he were wise, would be to a bow. The same certainly could be said for a missile and a spear. The technology may have advanced, but the basic idea of these weapons has remained the same. So whatever technology might be and whatever the weapons might look like at the time, God will destroy them.
He burns the chariot in the fire.
Our chariot might be the tank, but we can certainly see that the basic idea, that God is going to destroy this weapon of war, remains the same. Man may have obsoleted the chariot, but he only did it by making something far worse and more destructive. Yet God will make all such things desolate!
10. Be still, and know that I am God;
In the day when God does this at last, He calls upon men with these words. How good it would be if God would tell all men to stop in this reckless clamor they are involved in to just be still and consider the fact that He is God! That is just what He will do in the day when these things take place.
I will be exalted among the nations,
This statement by God is not just wishful thinking, but a statement of promise, a statement of fact. God is not saying these words idly. We know very well that God is not exalted among the nations today. God is thought very little of among the nations today. They might put “In God We Trust” on their currency, but the fact is that nations mostly trust in themselves, or their military, or their wealth, or their political systems, or anything but the God of all men. The nations use God as an excuse to foment their citizens to go to war, or a scapegoat to blame their own failed policies upon. They mock God, or discredit Him, or discount Him altogether. Yet not always will this be so. Someday, God will be exalted among all nations. Every one of them will think highly of Him. Every one of them will give Him first place.
I will be exalted in the earth!
It does not “wait for heaven” for God to be thus exalted. He is not exalted in some land far away, but unable to win the victory here in the “real world.” No, it is right here, on this earth, that God will be exalted. He has declared it, and this prophecy, like all others, will come to pass.
11. The LORD of hosts is with us;
This refrain is repeated from verse 7, reminding us that this is indeed a “song.” These will be the words of Israel in that day, though in many ways these words could be repeated by men of every nation at that time as well. They declare triumphantly that Yahweh Sebaioth, the LORD of armies, is with them, and in that day, He will be. Long ago, the LORD allowed Israel to be scattered among all nations. They have suffered many things there, and seen much sorrow and heartache in their long exile from the place of the LORD’s favor. Yet in that day, they will be back in their land, and their LORD will be with them once again, and they will rejoice.
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
In that day, the God of Jacob will be the refuge, the place of protection, of His people.
The psalm ends with the Hebrew word “selah,” which calls upon us to reflect on this glorious reality, and to connect this to the next psalm. The next psalm is connected to this one in that it is a psalm of praise in light of what this psalm declares: the advent of the government of God upon the earth, and His exaltation among all nations, as well as Israel’s coming under His protection. If we read these two psalms together, the connection is very clear.
To the Chief Musician.
This psalm was dedicated to the Chief Musician to be used for public worship among the songs of Zion.