Bible blog 2147

Pslam 46 translated with commentary


For the choir leader; from the Korahites; To “Alamoth”; a song.

God is our shelter and our strength

A help very easily found in adversity;

so we will not be afraid

even if earth is altered

or mountains crumble

into the midst of the sea;

if its waters howl and froth

and the mountains tremble at its arrogance.


A river with its channels delights the city of God

the holy dwellings of the Most High.

God is within the city; it shall not be shaken;

God is ready to help it from dawn of day.

Nations howl; kingdoms crumble;

He sends out his voice; the earth melts.

The God of armies is with us;

Jacob’s God is our rock.


Go and look at the works of Yahweh,

the desolations he has laid on the earth:

He puts an end to wars throughout the earth;

he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

he consumes the chariots in fire.

”Be at peace and know that I am God

Supreme over the nations, supreme over the earth!”

The God of armies is with us;

Jacob’s God is our rock.

This famous psalm is also beautifully structured and expressed. The opening immediately states the fact of God’s protection and proceeds to assert that trust in God overcomes the worst that can happen. The details use traditional imagery of the chaos which is the enemy of creation.  It’s difficult to provide in English an equivalent of the Hebrew mixture of forceful imagery like “howl” and neutral description like “altered.” The images of chaos can stand for both military and natural disaster.

The waters of chaos are contrasted with the quiet channel which brought water into Jerusalem. It becomes an image of the life-giving presence of God: both enter the city  from “outside” and bring joy. The holy temple is the place where God makes his holiness available to the people, who do not need to pray their God to come and help;  he is with them.

The reader may ask exactly how God helps his people in the chaos of international strife. The answer is both odd and revealing: he sends out his voice. Many scholars interpret this expression as referring to divine thunder. I think it is the voice of God’s Torah, his Word, before which the solid earth acknowledges its malleability.

The psalmist wonderfully tells the people to “look at the works of the Lord” as one might look at the works of a Pharaoh. But here the “works” (as in Shelley’s Ozymandias) are the bleak remains of empires, the “desolations”, the lone and level sands. The leftovers of empires littered the lands that the psalmist knew.

The claim that God destroys the weapons of war and brings warfare to an end may be no more than the truth that wars and the empires they establish both come to an end. The power that endures belongs only to God and those who trust in God’s wisdom.

This psalm is not a boast that God is the secret weapon of Israel which is bigger than anyone else’s weapon. Rather it sets out a stubborn trust in the Holy One who is known in the temple and the torah, and teaches his people how to endure in the midst of the big batallions.











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