We deny it. We fake it. We mask it. We try to ignore it. But the truth stubbornly persists: we are weak and inadequate creatures! Being sinful, we fail. Being prone to illness, we get sick. Being feeble, we get hurt. Being mortal, we ultimately die. Pressure grinds the churning place. Anxiety gives us ulcers. People intimidate us. Criticism undermines us. Disease scares us. Death haunts us. This explains why Job complained, "Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil" (Job 14:1). The Living Bible renders the verse, "How frail is man, how few his days, how full of trouble!" The apostle Paul writes, "We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23).
How can we continue to grow in this bag of bones, covered with weaknesses too numerous to mention? We need a big dose of Psalm 46. What hope these words bring to those struggling through the grind of personal weakness! Martin Luther found courage in this song and later composed lyrics of his own:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.1
According to the superscription, the psalm was "set to Alamoth." These words are addressed to the choir director. The word alamoth is derived from the Hebrew noun almah, a term meaning "maiden, young woman." It's possible this means the song was composed for soprano voices or a choir of women. As far as we know, the place of worship back in the days of the psalms had no such choir. 1 Chronicles 15:20 offers a clue; it says that harps were "tuned to alamoth." The marginal reference in the New American Standard Bible says: "harps of maiden-like tone." Quite likely, this song was to be played on soprano-like or high-pitched instruments. Perhaps this was to make the psalm unique and easily remembered, much like certain lilting strains of Handel's "Messiah" ("For unto us a child is born" or "O Thou, that tellest good tidings to Zion"). This song was to be perpetually remembered.
As you were reading the lyrics, did you notice any repeated words or phrases? Verses 7 and 11 are identical, and the familiar command "Selah" appears no less than three times. This is most likely a musical notation indicating a pause, encouraging quiet reflection. The music may have continued to play for a short interlude, allowing the audience to think about the last few lines before the singers resumed.
The three pause markings assist us in understanding this song. They are built-in hints the reader should not overlook. As in many of the psalms, verse 1 states the theme, which we might render:
"God is an immediate source of strength when we're in a tight squeeze!"
The term translated "trouble" in most versions of the Bible is from a Hebrew verb meaning "to be restricted, to tie up, to be narrow, cramped." It reminds me of an expression we sometimes use. We refer to being "in a jam," or "between a rock and a hard place." It means to be in a pinch or tight squeeze. The psalmist declares that God is immediately available, instantly present in any situation, certainly at those times when we are weak!
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.