First, the psalm offers several images that illustrate Who God is. According to verse 1, “God is our refuge and strength...” The Hebrew word for refuge is machăseh. From the verb châsâh, which means “to flee for protection,” machăseh connotates a shelter, a safe place where people can experience hope and trust. The Hebrew word for strength is ‛ôz, which can refer to might, force, majesty, security, and power. God, then, is a powerful protector to Whom we can flee for help and safety. He is majestic and mighty yet sheltering and secure.
The verse continues, describing God as “a very present help in trouble.” We'll come back to the idea of God's presence in a little while, but first let's reflect God as “help in trouble.” The Hebrew word for help is ‛ezrâth. It's a simple word that means exactly what it says, one who helps, who provides assistance, who succors. God is our help. We can always turn to Him when we are in distress. He is constant.
So far, then, the psalm tells us that God is our refuge, our strength, and our help. The word “refuge” appears twice more, in verses 7 and 11, both of which assure us, “The God of Jacob is our refuge.” The Hebrew word here is different from the one used earlier. It is miśgâb, and it refers to a cliff or high place, an inaccessible location, a tower and a defense, a secure retreat. With this word, we can picture God as a heavenly high place. He brings us up to Him and keeps us securely above our enemies, who can't reach us when we are in God.
We also see two “official” titles for God used in this psalm: the God of Jacob (verses 7 and 11) and the Lord of hosts (verses 7 and 11). Jacob is another name for Israel, and both names can refer either to the father of the twelve sons who became the twelve tribes or to the twelve tribes themselves. To say “the God of Jacob” is to encompass all of Israel's history into one nice, neat title. God is the God of everything Israel ever was, is now, and ever will be. He is the God of His people's ancestors, the God of the current generation, and the God of their descendants. He is the God Who has worked marvelous deeds in the past, the God Who defends His people now, and the God Who will continue to do so in the future in new and ever-surprising ways. He is with His people, near them always and forever. The second title, the Lord of hosts, reminds us that while God is imminent to His people, He is also transcendent and far above them, “exalted among the nations” and “in the earth”, as verse 10 tells us. He is the Lord of hosts, the God of the angels. His mighty hand stretches farther than we can ever know. He is infinitely perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, and ever present. The angels worship Him on high with songs of praise, for He is their God as well as our God.
We just noted that God is ever present. Psalm 46 asserts this several times: God is with His people; He will not leave them alone. Verse 1 tells us that God is “a very present help in trouble.” Verse 5 assures, “God is in the midst of the city”. Verses 7 and 11 note that “The Lord of hosts is with us”. God is with us. He will not leave us to our own devices. He watches, He sees, and He acts on our behalf.
How does God act? What does He do for His people? The psalm answers. God helps His city, Jerusalem (symbolic perhaps of all of Israel and today of the Church). The Hebrew for help is ‛âzar, which implies surrounding with protection. When the nations are in chaos and kingdoms fall, God's people will be secure, for God “utters His voice” and “the earth melts.” At the word of God, wars end, violence ceases, stillness reigns. Those battling against His people experience defeat and desolation. Their bows break; their spears shatter; their shields burn up. God shows His might; He exhibits His power on behalf of His people. He protects them, delivers them from their troubles, and makes them secure in their holy city.
How, then, should God's people respond to Who He is and what He does? The psalm tells us this, too. First, we should not fear. No matter what happens, if the earth suddenly changes, if the mountains shake and tumble into the sea, if the waters rise up with a roar, we must not fear. God is with us. He acts on our behalf. If the kingdoms around us fall and the whole world descends into confusion, we must not fear. God will protect us. Verse 10 gives us words directly from God, instructing us on how we are to respond to Him: “Be still, and know that I am God!” Stay quiet, relax, don't move, let go. Be still. Let God do what He does best. Let Him take control. Wait, watch, pray. Be still. Know that He is God. He is mighty. He can save us. He wants to save us. He is in control over everything. He is our refuge and strength, our help, the God of Jacob, the Lord of Hosts. He is with us. Know that and be still.