“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah. (Psalm 46:1-11, ESV)
Psalm 46 is a glorious psalm. The best known and most loved verse is likely verse 10 where the LORD himself speaks, saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To many today, Psalm 46:10 is welcoming, comforting, and encouraging. Without question, Psalm 46:10 is intended to be all of those things. However, the context of Psalm 46 frames this welcome, comfort, and encouragement in an odd way that usually gets little attention from modern readers.
Notice that Psalm 46 was written by the Sons of Korah, that is, descendants of Korah. You may remember that back in Number 16, Korah and his kin objected to God elevating Moses as the top leader in Israel. In response, the LORD caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah and his supporters. Some of Korah’s descendants survived this horrible event, and they eventually made a name for themselves as worship leaders in Israel.
Also notice that Psalm 46 begins by referencing the possibility that they earth would give way – precisely the judgment that befell Korah in Numbers 16. It was in response to this possibility that the sons of Korah sang about the presence of God being a comfort to his people (Psalm 46:4-5). This family knew that God had the ability and the right to make the kingdoms totter and the earth melt (Psalm 46:6). This family knew that God had the ability and the right to bring desolations on the rebellious, wicked nations (Psalm 46:8).
Notice that it is in this context – in a humble recognition of the power and judgment of the LORD – that the sons of Korah recorded these words from the LORD himself, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The context here is radically different than, say, Psalm 23. The emphasis in Psalm 23 is on the provision and protection of the Good Shepherd. Conversely, the emphasis in Psalm 46 is on the anger and the judgment of God – God who is the LORD of hosts.
Psalm 46 is calling us to the realization that one way or another, the LORD will be exalted among the nations (Psalm 46:10). He will either be exalted in the salvation of his people or in the judgment of his enemies, but either way, the LORD has every intention of exalting his name in the earth.
Lastly, notice the name that is twice repeated in Psalm 46 – God is the LORD of hosts, the God of Jacob (Psalm 46:7, 11). The title “LORD of hosts” is “Yahweh Sabaoth.” It’s the name we sing in Luther’s famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It’s a name that reminds us that the LORD commands the hosts of heaven, and as commander of the hosts of heaven, the LORD will bring judgments and desolations on his enemies. In Psalm 46, the sons of Korah are calling us to be still and recognize that God is the LORD of hosts.
However, the sons of Korah are not calling the people of God to tremble in terror before the LORD of hosts. Rather, the sons of Korah are calling the people of God to recognize that the LORD of hosts is also the God of Jacob. Do you remember Jacob from the book of Genesis? His name meant “liar” or “deceiver,” and he was a scoundrel first-class. Remarkably, Psalm 46 tells us that the LORD of hosts has also made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and, of all people, Jacob. The LORD of hosts is the God of Jacob.
This is good news for sinners. If the only thing we knew of God is the fact that he is the LORD of hosts, Yahweh Sabaoth, we would be left to tremble at the judgments and desolations that he brings against his enemies. However, when we learn that the LORD of hosts is also the God of Jacob, we find gospel hope. God isn’t looking for good people or righteous people to be on his side. The Bible is clear, there are no good people, no righteous people – no, not one (Romans 3, Psalm 14, 53).
No, the LORD of hosts isn’t looking for good or righteous people. Rather, he is looking for sinful scoundrels like Jacob who will acknowledge their sinfulness and joyfully submit to the LORD of hosts. The sons of Korah remind us that the LORD of hosts is with his people, the God of Jacob is a fortress for his people.
May the LORD of hosts, the God of Jacob make us to be these kind of people. May we be quick to acknowledge our sinfulness before the LORD of host, and may we be quick to joyfully take refuge in the God of Jacob, our fortress.