Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
A Sure Stronghold Is Our God
(Note: "Ein feste Burg is unser Gott.")
When, during the reign of Jehoshaphat, the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites (more particularly the Maonites, for in 2 Chronicles 20:1 it is to be read מהמּעוּנים) carried war into the kingdom of David and threatened Jerusalem, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziכl the Asaphite in the temple congregation which the king had called together, and he prophesied a miraculous deliverance on the morrow. Then the Levite singers praised the God of Israel with jubilant voice, viz., singers of the race of Kohaath, and in fact out of the family of Korah. On the following day Levite singers in holy attire and with song went forth before the army of Jehoshaphat. The enemy, surprised by the attack of another plundering band of the sons of the desert, had turned their weapons against one another, being disbanded in the confusion of flight, and the army of Jehoshaphat found the enemy's camp turned into a field of corpses. In the feast of thanksgiving for victory which followed in Emek ha-Beracha the Levite singers again also took an active part, for the spoil-laden army marched thence in procession to Jerusalem and to the temple of Jahve, accompanied by the music of the nablas, citherns, and trumpets. Thus in the narrative in 2 Chronicles 22:1-12 does the chronicler give us the key to the Asaphic Psalm 83 (76?) and to the Korahitic Psalm 46-48. It is indeed equally admissible to refer these three Korahitic Psalms to the defeat of Sennacherib's army under Hezekiah, but this view has not the same historical consistency. After the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign the congregation could certainly not help connecting the thought of the Assyrian catastrophe so recently experienced with this Psalm; and more especially since Isaiah had predicted this event, following the language of this Psalm very closely. For Isaiah and this Psalm are remarkably linked together.
Just as Psalm 2:1-12 is, as it were, the quintessence of the book of Immanuel, Isaiah 7:1, so is Psalm 46:1-11 of Isaiah 33, that concluding discourse to Isaiah 28:1, which is moulded in a lyric form, and was uttered before the deliverance of Jerusalem at a time of the direst distress. The fundamental thought of the Psalm is expressed there in Psalm 46:2 in the form of a petition; and by a comparison with Isaiah 25:4. we may see what a similarity there is between the language of the psalmist and of the prophet. Isaiah 33:13 closely resembles the concluding admonition; and the image of the stream in the Psalm has suggested the grandly bold figure of the prophet in v. 21, which is there more elaborately wrought up: "No indeed, there dwells for us a glorious One, Jahve - a place of streams, of canals of wide extent, into which no fleet of rowing vessels shall venture, and which no mighty man-of-war shall cross." The divine determination expressed in ארוּם we also hear in Isaiah 33:10. And the prospect of the end of war reminds us of the familiar prediction of Isaiah (Isaiah 2), closely resembling Micah's in its language, of eternal peace; just as Psalm 46:8, Psalm 46:11 remind us of the watch-word עמנו אל in Isaiah 7:1. 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.
We have already incidentally referred to the inscribed words על־עלמות, on Psalm 6:1. Bttcher renders them ad voces puberes, "for tenor voices," a rendering which certainly accords with the fact that, according to 1 Chronicles 15:20, they were accustomed to sing בּנבלים על־עלמות, and the Oriental sounds, according to Villoteau (Description de l'Egypte), correspond aux six sons vers l'aigu de l'octave du medium de la voix de tenor. But עלמות does not signify voces puberes, but puellae puberes (from עלם, Arab. glm, cogn. חלם, Arab. ḥlm, to have attained to puberty); and although certainly no eunuchs sang in the temple, yet there is direct testimony that Levite youths were among the singers in the second temple;
(Note: The Mishna, Erachin 13b, expressly informs us, that whilst the Levites sang to the accompanying play of the nablas and citherns, their youths, standing at their feet below the pulpit, sang with them in order to give to the singing the harmony of high and deep voices (תּבל, condimentum). These Levite youths are called צערי or סועדי הלויים, parvuli (although the Gemara explains it otherwise) or adjutores Levitarum.)
and Psalm 68 mentions the עלמות who struck the timbrels at a temple festival. Moreover, we must take into consideration the facts that the compass of the tenor extends even into the soprano, that the singers were of different ages down to twenty years of age, and that Oriental, and more particularly even Jewish, song is fond of falsetto singing. We therefore adopt Perret-Gentil's rendering, chant avec voix de femmes, and still more readily Armand de Mestral's, en soprano; whereas Melissus' rendering, "upon musical instruments called Alamoth (the Germans would say, upon the virginal)," has nothing to commend it.
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.(Heb.: 46:2-4) The congregation begins with a general declaration of that which God is to them. This declaration is the result of their experience. Luther, after the lxx and Vulg., renders it, "in the great distresses which have come upon us." As though נמצא could stand for הנּמצעות, and that this again could mean anything else but "at present existing," to which מאד is not at all appropriate. God Himself is called נמצא מאד as being one who allows Himself to be found in times of distress (2 Chronicles 15:4, and frequently) exceedingly; i.e., to those who then seek Him He reveals Himself and verifies His word beyond all measure. Because God is such a God to them, the congregation or church does not fear though a still greater distress than that which they have just withstood, should break in upon them: if the earth should change, i.e., effect, enter upon, undergo or suffer a change (an inwardly transitive Hiphil, Ges. ֗53, 2); and if the mountains should sink down into the heart (בּלב exactly as in Ezekiel 27:27; Jonah 2:4) of the sea (ocean), i.e., even if these should sink back again into the waters out of which they appeared on the third day of the creation, so that consequently the old chaos should return. The church supposes the most extreme case, viz., the falling in of the universe which has been creatively set in order. We are no more to regard the language as being allegorical here (as Hengstenberg interprets it, the mountains being equals the kingdoms of the world), than we would the language of Horace: si fractus illabatur orbis (Carm. iii. 3, 7). Since ימּים is not a numerical but amplificative plural, the singular suffixes in Psalm 46:4 may the more readily refer back to it. גּאוה, pride, self-exaltation, used of the sea as in Psalm 89:10 גּאוּת, and in Job 38:11 גּאון are used. The futures in Psalm 46:4 do not continue the infinitive construction: if the waters thereof roar, foam, etc.; but they are, as their position and repetition indicate, intended to have a concessive sense. And this favours the supposition of Hupfeld and Ewald that the refrain, Psalm 46:8, 12, which ought to form the apodosis of this concessive clause (cf. Psalm 139:8-10; Job 20:24; Isaiah 40:30.) has accidentally fallen out here. In the text as it lies before us Psalm 46:4 attaches itself to לא־נירא: (we do not fear), let its waters (i.e., the waters of the ocean) rage and foam continually; and, inasmuch as the sea rises high, towering beyond its shores, let the mountains threaten to topple in. The music, which here becomes forte, strengthens the believing confidence of the congregation, despite this wild excitement of the elements.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.(Heb.: 46:5-8) Just as, according to Genesis 2:10, a stream issued from Eden, to water the whole garden, so a stream makes Jerusalem as it were into another paradise: a river - whose streams make glad the city of Elohim (Psalm 87:3; Psalm 48:9, cf. Psalm 101:8); פּלגיו (used of the windings and branches of the main-stream) is a second permutative subject (Psalm 44:3). What is intended is the river of grace, which is also likened to a river of paradise in Psalm 36:9. When the city of God is threatened and encompassed by foes, still she shall not hunger and thirst, nor fear and despair; for the river of grace and of her ordinances and promises flows with its rippling waves through the holy place, where the dwelling-place or tabernacle of the Most High is pitched. קדשׁ, Sanctum (cf. el-Ḳuds as a name of Jerusalem), as in Psalm 65:5, Isaiah 57:15; גּדל, Exodus 15:16. משׁכּני, dwellings, like משׁכּנות, Psalm 43:3; Psalm 84:2; Psalm 132:5, Psalm 132:7, equivalent to "a glorious dwelling." In Psalm 46:6 in the place of the river we find Him from whom the river issues forth. Elohim helps her לפנותבּקר - there is only a night of trouble, the return of the morning is also the sunrise of speedy help. The preterites in Psalm 46:7 are hypothetical: if peoples and kingdoms become enraged with enmity and totter, so that the church is in danger of being involved in this overthrow - all that God need to is to make a rumbling with His almighty voice of thunder (נתן בּקולו, as in Psalm 68:34; Jeremiah 12:8, cf. הרים בּמּטּה, to make a lifting with the rod, Exodus 7:20), and forthwith the earth melts (muwg, as in Amos 9:5, Niph. Isaiah 14:31, and frequently), i.e., their titanic defiance becomes cowardice, the bonds of their confederation slacken, and the strength they have put forth is destroyed - it is manifest that Jahve Tsebaoth is with His people. This name of God is, so to speak, indigenous to the Korahitic Psalms, for it is the proper name of God belonging to the time of the kings (vid., on Psalm 24:10; Psalm 59:6), on the very verge of which it occurs first of all in the mouth of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:11), and the Korahitic Psalms have a royal impress upon them. In the God, at whose summons all created powers are obliged to marshal themselves like the hosts of war, Israel has a steep stronghold, משׂגּב, which cannot be scaled by any foe - the army of the confederate peoples and kingdoms, ere it has reached Jerusalem, is become a field of the dead.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.(Heb.: 46:9-12) The mighty deeds of Jahve still lie visibly before them in their results, and those who are without the pale of the church are to see for themselves and be convinced. In a passage founded upon this, Psalm 66:5, stands מפעלות אלהים; here, according to Targum and Masora (vid., Psalter, ii. 472), מפעלות יהוה.
(Note: Nevertheless מפעלות אלהים is also found here as a various reading that goes back to the time of the Talmud. The oldest Hebrew Psalter of 1477 reads thus, vide Repertorium fr Bibl. und Morgenlnd. Liter. v. (1779), 148. Norzi decides in favour of it, and Biesenthal has also adopted it in his edition of the Psalter (1837), which in other respects is a reproduction of Heidenheim's text.)
Even an Elohimic Psalm gives to the God of Israel in opposition to all the world no other name than יהוה. שׁמּות does not here signify stupenda (Jeremiah 8:21), but in accordance with the phrase שׂוּם לשׁמּה, Isaiah 13:9, and frequently: devastations, viz., among the enemies who have kept the field against the city of God. The participle משׁבּית is designedly used in carrying forward the description. The annihilation of the worldly power which the church has just now experienced for its rescue, is a prelude to the ceasing of all war, Micah 4:3 (Isaiah 2:4). Unto the ends of the earth will Jahve make an end of waging war; and since He has no pleasure in war in general, much less in war waged against His own people, all the implements of war He in part breaks to pieces and in part consigns to the flames (cf. Isaiah 54:16.). Cease, cries He (Psalm 46:10) to the nations, from making war upon my people, and know that I am God, the invincible One, - invincible both in Myself and in My people, - who will be acknowledged in My exaltation by all the world. A similar inferential admonition closes Psalm 2:1-12. With this admonition, which is both warning and threatening at the same time, the nations are dismissed; but the church yet once more boasts that Jahve Tsebaoth is its God and its stronghold.
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.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.