A Very Present Help
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Structure and theme
This psalm is about one thing: the ascendency of God over every sphere: the powers of nature (1-3), those who would attack his city (4-7), and the entire fighting world (8-11). This is an almost defiant, strong confession of faith in crisis.
Verses 1-3 speak of catastrophes and natural powers that threaten us. The psalmist confesses that his help is in God alone. Sometimes, we are creative in what we place our trust in. We put our faith in God, but even without our knowing it, our faith is God plus something else. But God uses trials and affliction to sanctify us by helping us see that we do in fact trust in God and other things, and in order to draw our faith to him alone. ‘Our faith is really and truly tested only when we are brought into very severe conflicts, and when even hell itself seems opened to swallow us up’ (Calvin). And so, ‘In seeking comfort and protection go to God himself. All his attributes, all his titles, all his promises show that he is wise and loving. The practice of the saints in all ages has been not to rest in any means or creature; but in God only’ (Plumer).
What type of God do we put our trust in then? God is our
Refuge: He protects us, and is an unchanging shelter. 1 John 5.18 ‘We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.’
Strength: ‘God within, to empower the weak for action’ (Kidner). Ephesians 3.16-19 ‘that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
Very Present Help: because he is our refuge and strength, he is a present help. He is ready to be found, and he is enough for the situation.
All this means that those who are trusting in God are secure. How secure? Well, we need land to live. We need this planet to survive. What if the ground beneath our feet crumbles? What if the mountains, the symbol of permanency and strength, collapse like butter in the microwave, into the sea? Psalm 102.25f says, ‘of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.’ This is the ultimate undoing of the entire created order. 2 Peter 3.10 ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.’ What of us? ‘The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.’
‘If our faith were as strong as our security is good, we need fear no combination of enemies, no revolutions in kingdoms, and no convulsions in nature; but, in the most tremendous dangers, might triumph in the fullest assurance of security and victory’
In Christ, we are secure. He will bring to completion what he has began in us, because we are not of the old creation, subject to this upheaval, but are in Christ, and so part of that ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5.17). I think of those amazing words by Toplady, ‘more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heav’n.’ ‘If our faith were as strong as our security is good, we need fear no combination of enemies, no revolutions in kingdoms, and no convulsions in nature; but, in the most tremendous dangers, might triumph in the fullest assurance of security and victory’(Plumer). But, thank God our security is not based on the strength of our faith, but the strength and grace of our God in Christ Jesus.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing
— Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God