Sometime around 1527-29 Martin Luther was inspired by his reading of Psalm 46 to write his now famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
So, let’s check out this great Psalm to see the source of his inspiration. The first verses say:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
And then there is a repeated refrain in verses 7 and 11 which says:
The key words describing our awesome God being, that He is our refuge, strength, ever-present help, and fortress. The key message for us then being that therefore we will not fear, whatever happens!
These days, there would be few people on earth who do not understand the words ‘refuge’ and ‘refugee’. The situation is such that we even have an organisation called the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), which seeks to “protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.”
And the statistics are mind blowing! “As of 2017, 65.6 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations, per the UNHCR.” (wikipedia) That’s almost 3 x the population of Australia, were I live.
So, there are lot of people needing a refuge!
But, in reality, all of us need a refuge at some time in our lives. Sometimes that is a physical place just to get out of the way of a storm or other danger. Other times it may be other people to turn to in times of crisis or distress of some kind. There is no shame in admitting we need a refuge!
Here in Psalm 46, the psalmist is talking about a greater, stronger, safer, more reliable refuge than all of these. And that refuge is found in God himself. What a wonderfully comforting truth. That Our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the One who is our refuge, our strength, our ever-present help in trouble and our all-powerful fortress to run into and be safe.
The word ‘fortress’ usually describes “a military stronghold, especially a strongly fortified town’ [see picture of the Rock Fortress, Altiplano, Argentina *], or it can be “a person or thing not susceptible to outside influence or disturbance.” It comes from the French word meaning “strong place.” (Google Dictionary).
God is our “strong place” where we can run to and be safe from the dangers of this life. This word is used of God 17 times in the Psalms. For example:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)
The words used are self-explanatory. They speak of stability, strength, immovability and total dependability. And that is our God!
And I love the truth, that He is not only strong but He is “an ever-present help in trouble.” A strong refuge is of little use if it is far away, if it is in some way inaccessible. A refuge must be near and our “God is ever-present. As Moffatt puts it, ‘we shall find him near’ when discouragement, trial and temptation flood upon us.” (# 37)
Of God it is spoken: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
And so the Psalmist is able to say with confidence,
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress… Therefore we will not fear.
And Martin Luther concludes:
“A mighty fortress is our God, a
bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing…
And though this world, with devils
filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us”
And to this, Father, we say Amen! Thank you for being our refuge, our fortress and our ever-present help, not matter what comes against us. Hallelujah!