I want here to peer into the eschatological character of the 46th Psalm.
It ought to be noted that the Korahitic Psalms in chapters 46-48 find historical bearings in the narrative of 2 Chronicles 20-22. This is worthy of our consideration, to be sure, but I am convinced that the fullest meaning of these songs cannot be grasped or appreciated unless it is seen through the lens of an eschatological recovery of Davidic dynasty, with Messiah Jesus set in place as the King and Redeemer of Israel. These are eschatological Psalms, charged with the powers of prophetic grace, and the 46th is not the least of them.
Hans-Joachim Kraus tells us:
“Psalm 46 radiates trust and certainty.” [H. J. Kraus, A Contintental Commentary: Psalms 1-59, Fortress Press, 1993]
I believe that the ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm, permeated as it is with the certitude of apocalyptic salvation, will not be discovered until the Day of the Lord, when the “survivors of the wilderness”, the “remnant of My people” shall return to Jerusalem with brokenness, gratitude, and “everlasting joy upon their heads”. This will be one of the many songs that will issue spontaneously from the newly redeemed nation, and it will be “marvelous in our eyes.”
There is a clear connection between this Psalm and the prophetic hope of the Scriptures. F. Delitzsch, in his classic work on the Psalms, writes:
“Isaiah and this Psalm are remarkably linked together. Just as Ps. 2 is, as it were, the quintessence of the book of Immanuel, Isa. ch. 7-12, so is Ps. 46 of Isa. ch. 33, that concluding discourse to Isa. ch. 28-32, which is moulded in a lyric form, and was uttered before the deliverance of Jerusalem at a time of the direst distress.” [Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 2006]
There is a remarkable linkage between this Psalm and the book of Isaiah. Indeed, it seems to feed into the prophetic testimony of Scripture on a larger scale, impregnating the prophetic anticipation with the theology of a God who is Himself a covenantal refuge for His people; the One who alone will soon quiet the tumult of the nations, and heal once-and-for-all the deep-seated malady of Israel’s historic sins. In that day, they shall sing:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” [v. 1]
It is no accident that the Lord is described as ‘a very present help in trouble’. Martin Luther translated this portion thusly: “…a very present help in the great distresses which have come upon us.” This is perhaps not the best translation, but it does communicate something of the magnitude of trouble that the Lord was addressing through the prophetic singers.
I believe this transcends the historical account of 2 Chronicles, and calls our attention to that time which lies ahead- the time of penultimate distress and judgment, and the ultimate redemption which will follow. It is called “the time of Jacob’s distress” in Jeremiah 30.6-7, “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time”in Daniel 12.1. Our Lord Himself used the same language in Matthew 24.21, and Isaiah described it in this way:
“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.
They will be dismayed: pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame.
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” [Isaiah 13.6-9]
This “time of distress” will be a horrific and unparalleled time of Anti-Semitism throughout the Middle East, and out into every land. The ill-boding winds of this storm have already begun to blow in the nations, and we are not far off from the time when the final tumultuous things- which lead to the final redemption- will be set into motion. There must needs be a Church in the nations which understands and is prepared to function as vessels of mercy toward the Jew, though they be pursued by enemies on every side.
The cutthroat vehemence of Islam, the swell of Anti-Semitism throughout the nations, the popularity of “replacement/fulfillment theology” in academic and missions endeavors, these ought all to concern us prophetically, pastorally, and missionally. We must be a people which trembles before God’s word, lest we grow “wise in our own conceit”, and find that we are neglecting or fighting against His own grand purpose. We as the Church have a call to the people Israel; it is missional, just as is our call to all nations, but it bears a specificity that has long been neglected. It is the “ministry of reconciliation”, and it applies to us both now, and in the events immediately leading up to the Lord’s return.
We who have been “grafted in”, and who “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree”, are fastened to the people Israel in the “bond” of the Gospel covenant. We need to pray and labor for the salvation of many in our day, situated as they are throughout many cities in the earth, and to be fitted to “feed” them in the coming wilderness; the time of trouble which is yet to come. We must necessarily see the people Israel as beloved of God, though they are largely a people still bound in the hardness of their own sin, and this will be especially costly as the nations increasingly “rage” against them. We are to bear a wisdom contrary to that of the world- it is the wisdom of the Cross, the wisdom of mercy, the wisdom which silences the proud boast of man, and magnifies the righteousness and kindness of God. Nothing lesser will fit us to be to them what God is calling us to be. Mere interest in things Jewish, much less any kind of supercessionism, will not be sufficient to make of us a witness-mercy-people to Jacob. Sentimentality cannot pierce the hardening. Only the Gospel, preached and demonstrated in power, can penetrate that veil, and indeed it must. Indeed, it will.
We’ve got to see by the eye of the Spirit, a seeing which is founded upon His precious Word. We have a prophetic call as a people, to “declare to My people their transgressions and to the house of Jacob their sins”; to live as “broken bread and poured out wine” [Chambers] on their behalf; to point them to the Atonement Lamb, their own Messiah, Who was “despised and rejected by men”, “pierced through” for their “transgressions”, “crushed” for their “iniquities”, and by Whose wounds they will one day be “healed” as a nation.
Already we hear the early rumblings of that diabolical “rage against the holy covenant”, and its tremors can be felt throughout the Middle East, through much of Europe, and it is peppered out through all nations.
Jewish history bears the long, painful story of the spasms of certain triumphs and colossal sufferings, showers of mercy and seasons of national chastening, and that painful story has not yet reached the close of its final chapter.
Who shall weep and pray for the Jew? Who shall befriend him sacrificially? Who shall tell him of Christ’s “once-and-for-all” sacrifice and of His soon coming to deliver His people and establish the Kingdom upon the holy hill of Zion? Not Islam! Not western media! Not supercessionist scholarship! Not nominal Christian religionists! No! It is our responsibility. It behooves the the Church in our day- She who finds herself in a continuum with the prophets and apostles of old, She who is made up mostly of Gentiles- it behooves Her to take up this“yoke” and “burden” for the salvation and everlasting joy of the Jewish Nation. It is a burden which belongs to the King of Israel. To carry it with Him until the day of His appearing is the profoundest of privileges; to neglect it is to make of the church and its mission a sub-apostolic, sub-Pauline distortion.
This issue of Israel is no trinket of eschatology, saints. The “man of sin” is no cartoon villain. Biblical apocalyptic expectations are no mere genre of literature, subject to the sizing-up of scholars and historians. It is the Word of God Himself, and we stand before its majesty. It is not subject to us. We are subject to it, so long as we are seeing rightly. Much that has been prophesied in Scripture is already afoot in the earth, and we must learn to live as a Danielic people, clinging to the Word, devoting our lives to prayer, and living as incarnational witnesses in the midst of a Babylonian age.
This time of trouble will mean the final discipline of Yahweh’s beloved covenant people Israel, and an elect remnant “shall be saved out of it.” The tribulation will be “like no other”,but the prophets testify of it’s brevity, and we have the sure word that the vehement hatred of the nations will be immediately halted when the Lord returns to raise the righteous dead, to destroy the “one who makes desolate”, to judge the nations, and to rescue and redeem the remnant of His people.
In that day, when the Gospel is “writ large through the experience of the remnant” (as one of my mentors used to say), that is, on a national scale, Israel shall declare for the first time with a united, God-intoxicated, nation-voice: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The apostle reminds us that “God is able to graft them in again”, and so He shall. When He does, their joy will be full; their faith, on a national scale, will never fail again. The fulfillment of the “everlasting covenant” [Jer. 32.37-42], that is, the eschatological salvation of Israel and Her final return to the Land, will irrevocably put the Gospel of God’s “glorious grace” on display; and this, in a most breathtaking manner.
“Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” [Ez. 37.28]
Marvel, child of God. You have a role in the unfolding of this “eternal purpose”.
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. [vv. 2-3]
The magnitude and power of God’s judgments and mercies will brand the future remnant- and indeed, the whole of created order- with a kind of priestly fearlessness. What they will have witnessed with their own eyes, in terms of the sweep and scope of God’s judgments, as well as the copious power of His goodness in the eschatological redemption, will fashion them as a people who “live, move, and have their being” “by the power of an indestructible life”. They will go on into the Millennial time bearing that life and witness unto the nations.
They will never fear Islamic rage or the predicament of their own unrighteousness again. The wrath of God, and the ancient veil of hardness, will have been irrevocable lifted from them. The Ancient of Days will “hide His face from them no more.”
Though apocalyptic cataclysms and cosmic shakings have occurred, though their long history has been so blighted with national apostasies, they will finally be at rest in the righteousness and presence of their Messiah-Saviour, and this will settle them, both inwardly and externally, as they have never before been settled- in the “bond of the covenant”, “with none to make them afraid”. They will no longer trust in military power. They will no longer seek after a righteousness of their own through a Christ-less Judaism. They will no longer self-medicate on New Age festivals, orgies, drunkenness, narcotics, or the pursuit of enlightenment on pilgrimages to India and Nepal. “Messiah shall be all in all.”
God alone is our all in all. All other refuges are refuges of lies, all other strength is weakness, for power belongeth unto God… God is all-Sufficient… He is more present than friend or relative can be, yea, more nearly present than even the trouble itself. [Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Vol. 2, Funk and Wagnalls, 1886]
They will have been saved from Satan’s rage “against the holy covenant”, saved from the age-old pressure of prejudice from Anti-Semitic peoples, saved from their own sin, and saved from the wrath of God. This realization will crash in upon them at the Day of the Lord, like a mighty waterfall upon the cracked desert floor, when they shall “look upon Me whom they have pierced”. When they are permitted to “look full in His wonderful face”, “even the trouble itself” will diminish in their minds, “in the light of His glory and grace.”
“When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, We were like those who dream.” [Ps. 126.1]
In that day, they shall declare, “God alone is our all in all,” and “the nations will know” by that national witness, that Jesus- the King of Israel- is also the Lord of heaven and of earth.
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. [vv. 4-7]
This strophe gives description to a “river whose streams make glad the city of God”, Jerusalem, which will become in striking manifest manner, “the holy habitation of the Most High”. He has already staked His claim on the city. It is a Divinely elected Land, and His election of that Land is calculated to stumble and offend the pride of the nations. For those who have an “ear to hear what the Spirit says”, this is an immeasurably sweet thing. For our humbling is His exaltation, and His exaltation is our eternal joy and perpetual good.
“For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’” [Ps. 132.13-14]
The eschatological river will make Jerusalem “glad” in a watershed way when the Lord returns, but it must be noted that the gladness of that river has become the portion of the saints in this age. Our Lord declared: “He who believes in Me, out from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The Church is to be a pilgrim people, tasting the “powers of the age to come”, treasuring the King of Israel, who has become our King and Redeemer, and to set forth a witness of His grace by the force of that same river, which is the life and virtue of the Spirit of holiness Himself. Hear Delitzsch again:
“What is intended is the river of grace, which is also likened to a river of paradise…”
It is the grace and life of God, on the basis of the New Covenant, which makes of us a glad people; a people stilled and contented, in the Jesus Himself. Kraus describes the future city thusly:
“Delighted by streams, like a paradisiacal place, the ‘city of God’ appears in v. 4. Pictures of an archetypal tradition illumine the sanctuary.”
Oh, how brightly Jerusalem will one day be illumined! And how glorious are the prospects for the Church in this age- that people which has received the palpable down payment of the full-orbed resurrection glory to come. Are we living in a manner that gives witness to the paradise to come? Are the “righteousness, peace and joy” which characterize the Kingdom of God finding expression through us? Are we “delighted by streams” of grace, and is the “sanctuary” that we are as the people of God illumined by the “river whose streams make glad” the whole of His house? We need to be experimentally cognizant of the fact that on the basis of the Atonement, “the LORD of hosts is with us”, and it is only on this basis that we shall have the power and grace to invite “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and indeed, the nations themselves, to “look unto Jesus”. To see and treasure Him, whether by the eye of faith or face to face in the Resurrection, this is the glory of the Gospel. Are we seeing Him? Are we treasuring Him? To do so is to drink of the gladdening stream, and this alone will make us His witnesses.
“Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how He has wrought 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.” [vv. 8-11]
The final strophe invites us to behold the “works of the LORD.” This refers to the “desolations” that He will bring upon the earth in the “Day of His power”, the “Day of His appearing”, the “Day of the LORD”. This speaks not only of the trouble that will come to Jacob, and the subsequent outpouring of eschatological mercy, but also of the devastation that God will bring upon ungodly nations; those nations who did not “know God” and who obeyed “not the Gospel”; those nations who took delight in their ill-treatment of Israel, the LORD’s “firstborn son”. Just as the Lord used Assyria and Babylon to discipline the nation Israel, then turned to judge the same nations for their pride, idolatry, bloodlust, and prejudices, so shall He do at the turn of this age. The soil of the earth will be compressed with the weight of war and tumult, the image of God in mankind will be smeared and devalued by the ravages of combat, and the Lord will return “in flaming fire” to purge the nations, silence the storm, and to quiet His people in the warmth of His shepherding, redeeming love. Hear Delitzsch again:
“The prospect of the end of war reminds us of the familiar prediction of Is. 2, closely resembling Micah 4, of eternal peace… The mind of Isaiah and that of Jeremiah have, each in its own peculiar way, taken germs of thought [lit., become impregnated] from this Psalm.”
It is only in this context that we will be able say, in the fullest Biblical sense, that the Kingdom of God has been established. This recovery and establishment of the Davidic throne will take place in Jerusalem, that city which until His appearing will have been the center of the controversy and tumult. In that glorious Day, the prophet tells us:
“Many nations will come and say, ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” -Micah 4.2
So Hans Joachim-Kraus writes:
“From the city of God YHWH is able to give evidence of His power ‘to the ends of the earth.’ The area of influence is universal; the center of the world is the hill of God [Is. 2.2].”
Artur Weiss tells us that in this strophe “the psalm now reaches its climax”.
The Divine command, “Be still and know that I am God”, is two-fold.
Firstly, to the nations, it is a word of apocalyptic woe, so as to say, “Your manner of government and life, your whole center of motive and being, I am now revealing as an idolatrous affront against My glory. In living according to your own vain imaginings, in your mistreatment of my elect People and Land, you have heaped up sin and treasured it above Me and My Word. You have not loved humility and truth. You have relished in a manner of living and thinking that is totally opposed to the beauty and glory of My Kingdom. My Son will now appear to call to an end your bloodlust, your arrogance, your child-trafficking, your pornographic empires, your self-righteousness, your greed, your man-centered nationalism, your lust for power, your abuse of the widow and the orphan, and the various kinds of religion and anti-religion which constitute an accumulation of thousands of years and multiplied billions of boastings against My Name and My throne. You have not acknowledged My Son, and you’ve been lapping at the spilled water from broken cisterns instead. You have done this in all of your wars and in all of your playing. It will not go on any longer. Be still and know that I am God! My Day has come. In My mercy and long-suffering I have waited until this appointed time, and it is now come. I will be exalted, and it will be for Me, and for My people, the entry into a Sabbath age in which My righteousness, peace and joy will permeate and govern the earth. The nations will study war no more, and My Son will rule with ‘universal sway’ from Zion.”
Secondly, it is a word to the remnant of Israel, passing into the Millennial time in natural bodies, newly redeemed and filled with the Holy Spirit as an entire nation. It is a word so as to say, “Be still. Though you had also been drinking from broken cisterns; though you sought to establish a righteousness of your own; though you were concerned with prosperity and affluence instead of My Name; though you had rejected my Son, your Atonement Lamb and your Messiah-King; though you trusted in man-centered government, military power, and all kinds religions that do not glorify My Son; though you were instigators against Me, and were engaged in all kinds of immoralities even within the Land that I have elected; though you had been reduced to cowering by the surrounding nations, I am mighty to save you from it all. Though ‘your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow’; though you had been ‘broken off’ as a nation, I am able to graft you in again, and indeed, I have great and ineffable delight in doing so. It is for the magnification of My righteousness and grace, and it is upon the basis of My covenantal love for you. I will ‘rejoice over you with gladness’, I will ‘quiet you by My love’. Be still and know that I am God– even your God- and I will be exalted in the nations of the earth.”
“The reason why the presumptuous sinner fears so little, and the despairing soul so much, is for want of knowing God as great; therefore, to cure them both, the serious consideration of God, under this notion, is propounded: ‘Be still, and know that I am God;’ as if He had said, ‘Know, O ye wicked, that I am God, who can avenge Myself when I please upon you, and cease to provoke Me by your sins to your own confusion; and again, know, ye trembling souls, that I am God; and therefore able to pardon the greatest sins, and cease to dishonor Me by your unbelieving thoughts of Me.’” [William Gurnall, quoted in Spurgeons ‘Treasury of David’]
In that Day, the presumptuous and sinful nations who had abused their power and feared so little, will be reduced to ashes. And the remnant of Israel, whose “power” had been brought to an end during the final “time of distress”, and who had no other hope remaining, will be crowned with lovingkindness at the appearance of Her long-awaited Messiah-Redeemer. Her heart, riddled with fear and hopelessness and disillusionment up to the last moment, will experience the tidal rush of Gospel redemption on a national scale. Her sin, anxiety, fear, confusion, bewilderment, pride, and unbelief will be swept beneath the waves of covenantal mercy, and She will once and for all be stilled in the presence of redeeming love. She will know that the Lamb Who was slain, the Father Who sent Him, the Spirit Who will then rest upon Her, is God indeed.
She will glory as no other nation has gloried, not in the exaltation of Herself, but in deepest worship of Her God, through the sure Mediator, Her suffering Servant-King, Her Atoning Lamb, Her Greater David, Her Faithful and True Friend, Her Lord and Her God. “None shall make her afraid” again, and we, enjoying the wonder of Resurrection realities, shall share joyfully in the earthly establishment of the selfsame Kingdom. Together, with the remnant we shall declare:
“The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” [v. 11]
“Everlasting joy” will be upon our incorruptible heads. Let us now live in the light of that which is to come. May our life together and our mission to our cities, to the Jewish people, and to unreached regions of the earth in these dark days be themselves a palpable, tangible demonstration of the power and grace that will rest upon Israel in the coming golden age.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, for love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Peter 4.7-11]