The psalmist was most likely a priest. As a man of letters, he would have known the history of Israel better than most. And their path had not been a smooth one. They continually faced dangers from foreign armies as well as dangers within. Consequently, the psalmist looked for help from his almighty God. In verses 2–11 of Psalm 46, he develops the theme of God's omnipotent help by describing three very grave situations and then declaring his response.
Situation 1: Nature, in upheaval.
Reaction: I will not fear. (46:2–3) Selah!
Situation 2: Jerusalem, under attack.
Reaction: I will not be moved. (46:4–7) Selah!
Situation 3: Battlefield, after war.
Reaction: I will not strive. (46:8–11) Selah!
"I will not fear!"
In the second and third verses, the psalmist introduces some of the most terrifying scenes in all of life. The NASB translators have chosen to insert the word "though" before each of four calamities. The imperfect tense in Hebrew is often used to describe events that haven't yet happened (future) or to denote hypothetical situations. In this case, the songwriter imagines natural disasters so extreme, they challenge the imagination:
"Though the earth should change." What is more stable and predictable than the earth's landscape? It only changes under the most extreme and frightening circumstances, such as earthquakes, landslides, mudslides, and volcanic eruptions.
"Though the mountains slip into the sea." In Hebrew literature, nothing is more immovable than a mountain. To a Hebrew, a mountain falling into the sea would herald the end of the world.
"Though its waters roar and foam . . . though the mountains quake at its swelling pride." In the ancient mind, the ocean represented impenetrable mystery, often used as a metaphor for the dark, foreboding mystery of death. For this priest, it is a fearsome world in which a mighty, immovable mountain worries that the sea might overtake it.
Californians especially have become all too familiar with these scenarios; they live with the daily prospect of mudslides, earthquakes, and the massive shifting of fault lines! Even so, these natural disasters strike fear in the hearts of these residents. Those who have experienced them can identify with the psalmist's fears. He feels weak, totally helpless. As the earth beneath him shifts, rolls, and slides, his belongings instantly become insignificant and life seems dreadfully insecure. Even so, the songwriter declares, "I will not fear."
Why? How could anyone in such a threatening situation say that? Look back to verse 1 for the answer: because God, our heavenly Father, is our immediate helper, our immutable, ever-present source of strength! The psalmist resolved to reject fear in the face of overwhelming circumstances . . . but not on sheer willpower. He chose to view every situation as incapable of harm compared to the sovereign care of the almighty, awesome Lord. Selah!
From Living the Psalms by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
In Embraced by the Spirit, we step away from the heat of theological battle that analyzes and criticizes and move quietly and closely to the One who has been sent alongside to help.