Fear is a powerful force in our lives. It can operate in sinister ways that we are often not aware of. A humiliating experience or a disappointing situation from our past can cause us to be fearful of anything similar in the present. Fear cripples us and changes us in different ways and never for the better. It can make us defensive and hyper-vigilant for the slightest threat. For example, fear can produce undue anxiety and panic, causing us to lose our ability to think rationally.
Psalm 46 talks about fear and how to overcome it. This psalm was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm.
From this psalm he found the inspiration for the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The controlling thought of the psalm is found in the first line “God is our refuge and strength an ever-present help in trouble.” The first word of line two is incredibly important “Therefore.” It unequivocally states that because God is our refuge, therefore we will not fear.
H. C. Leupold appropriately wrote, “If one really appropriates the truth embodied in the first verse of this psalm his attitude cannot be any other than one of complete fearlessness. No out of control anxieties, no exaggerated feelings of uneasiness, God is our refuge. No middle of the night shakes and sweats, God is our refuge. No morning dread or evening depression, God is our refuge. God is our strength.”[i]
The background of this psalm is thought to be about what is written in 2 Kings, chapters 18-19. Hezekiah became king in Judah when he was just 25. Three years into his reign, the Assyrians attacked their sister nation, Israel, by blockading the city of Samaria. Three years later Israel surrendered. The Assyrians grew in power and conquered everyone in their path. Now they were knocking at Hezekiah’s door. King Sennacherib and his commanders were intimidating and arrogant. They mocked Hezekiah and his God and any possibility of defending his country against the inevitable conquest. Hezekiah experienced fear, but he modeled for us how to handle it.
If you read these verses in light of Hezekiah’s problems, they mean so much more: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Ps 46: 1-3).
Hezekiah laid out his problems before God and waited for his answer. He asked God, “Would this mighty army take the city of Jerusalem the way they had taken Samaria?” The answer came, "Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria:
"He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
or build a siege ramp against it.
By the way that he came he will return;
he will not enter this city, declares the Lord.
I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant" (2 Kings 19:32-34).
Compare that with what is said in Psalm 46:4-7:
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
When we come to verses 8-11, we are talking about peace. It is the imposed peace of the victor—God who will ultimately destroy every human weapon. As the victor destroys his opponent’s weapons, so will the Lord Jesus Christ break every bow and shatter every spear.
Ps 46:8-11 “Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields 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 Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
We are told to “Be still and know that He is God.” Look what God did to the Assyrian army: “That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning-there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew” (2 Kings 19:35-37). If God is our refuge, there is no need to fear, no matter what we are facing.