Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This psalm reflects the feelings with which a people, secure in the sense of Divine protection, looks on while surrounding nations are convulsed, and calmly awaits the issue. Such a situation was that of Israel in the seventh century B.C, while the giant powers of Egypt and Assyria were rending the East by their rivalries, and also during the wars of the Ptolemies and Seleucidæ. The former period suggests itself as the more probable date of the psalm, from its resemblance to much of the language of Isaiah when dealing with events that culminated in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. Compare especially the recurrence of the expression, “God is with us,” Elohîm immānû, with the prophet’s use of the name Immanuel. The refrain, though missing after the first stanza, marks the regular poetical form.
Title.—For the first part see titles Psalms 4, 42, A song upon ‘alāmôth. This plainly is a musical direction, but the precise meaning must still remain matter of conjecture. Since ‘alāmôth means maidens, the most natural and now generally received interpretation is “a song for sopranos.” (Comp. title Psalms 6)
To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.(1) Refuge and strength.—Better, a refuge and stronghold, or a sure stronghold, as in Luther’s hymn,
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.
A very present help.—Better, often found a help.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;(2) Though the earth be removed.—Literally, at the changing of the earth. Possibly with the same figure implied, which is expressed, Psalm 102:26, of the worn-out or soiled vesture. The psalmist was thinking of the sudden convulsion of earthquake, and figures Israel fearless amid the tottering kingdoms and falling dynasties. Travellers all remark on the signs of tremendous volcanic agency in Palestine.
It is interesting to compare the heathen poet’s conception of the fearlessness supplied by virtue (Hor. Ode 3:3).
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.(3) Though the waters . . .—The original is very expressive in its conciseness:
“They roar, they foam, its waters.”
Comp. Homer’s equally concise description, including in three words the “rush,” the “swell,” and the “roar” of ocean (Iliad, xxiii. 230).
Swelling.—Or, pride. (Comp. Job 38:11.) The change in construction in this verse seems to confirm the suspicion that the refrain has dropped away.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.(4) A river . . .—Heb., nāhar, i.e., a perennial stream, as distinguished from nāchal, a torrent bed dry except in the rainy season. Plainly, then, the “Cedron” is not here alluded to. But many commentators think “Siloam” is intended. (See Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 180, and comp. Isaiah 12:3; Ezekiel 47:1-5; John 7:37.)
There may not, however, be any such local allusion. The river, flowing calmly and smoothly along, may be only a symbol of the peace and blessing of the Divine presence, as the tumult and tempest of the sea in the last verse are of the world’s noisy troubles. Indeed, the LXX. (comp. Prayer Book version) seems to connect the river of this verse with the waters of the preceding.
Streams.—See Note on Psalm 1:3, where the same word occurs.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.(5) Right early.—Literally, at the turning of the morning. Evidently metaphorical of the dawn of a brighter day.
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.(6) The absence of conjunctions, and sudden change from the preterite to the future, lends a vividness to the picture.
“Raged heathen, tottered kingdoms
Gave with His voice (the signal) (and lo !)
Melts the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.(7) Lord of hosts.—See Note on Psalm 24:10.
Refuge.—Rightly in the margin with idea of height, as giving security.
Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.(8) The Lord.—Many MSS. read Elohîm instead of “Jehovah.”
Desolations . . .—Either, silence of desolation, “silence” being the primary sense of the word, or (as in Jeremiah 19:8), wonders, which silence by their suddenness and marvel. So LXX. and Vulg., and this is confirmed by Psalm 46:10.
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.(9) He maketh.—Comp. Virg. Æn., 3:560.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.(10) I am God.—The introduction of the Divine Protector Himself speaking just before the refrain is a fine touch of art.