Psalms 46 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Psalms 46, 47, 48, are closely connected. They form a trilogy of praise, in which some signal deliverance of Jerusalem from foreign enemies is celebrated. In Psalms 46 the leading idea is the Presence of Jehovah in the midst of His city and people as the ground of their confidence: in Psalms 47 it is the universal Sovereignty of Jehovah as the King of all the earth, of which the recent defeat of Zion’s enemies is an illustration: in Psalms 48 it is the Safety of Zion, the result and the proof of God’s presence in her midst.
These Psalms cannot be merely general expressions of confidence in Jehovah as the protector of Zion. They plainly owe their origin to some definite historical event. The Psalmist writes as the representative of those who have recently passed through some terrible crisis of anxiety, who have seen with their own eyes a signal manifestation of God’s power on behalf of His people, comparable to His mighty works of old time, and who have recognised in the course of events the proof not only of Jehovah’s love for His own people but of His universal sovereignty.
The miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the army of Sennacherib in the reign of Hezekiah (b.c. 701) may be assigned as the occasion of these Psalms, with a probability which approaches certainty.
Hezekiah had asserted his independence of Assyria, and Sennacherib had come to chastise his rebellious vassal. The exact course of events is obscure, but it appears that Sennacherib after ravaging Judah compelled Hezekiah to make a humble submission and pay a heavy indemnity, without however requiring the surrender of Jerusalem (2Ki 18:13-16). But reflection quickly convinced him that it would be imprudent to leave behind him such a strong fortress as Jerusalem in the hands of a vassal of such doubtful loyalty as Hezekiah, while he marched on into Egypt, and therefore while he was besieging Lachish with the main body of his army, he sent a force under the command of his chief officers, the Tartan and the Rabsaris and the Rabshakeh, to demand the surrender of Jerusalem. It was an anxious moment. A refusal seemed certain to ensure condign chastisement when Sennacherib returned victorious from his Egyptian campaign. Jerusalem would share the fate which had befallen Samaria twenty-one years before. But relying upon Jehovah’s promise to defend His city, communicated through the prophet Isaiah, Hezekiah refused the demand, and Sennacherib’s envoys returned to their master, who was now besieging Libnah. Gladly no doubt he would have inflicted a summary vengeance on his defiant vassal. But Tirhakah’s army was already on the march, and all that Sennacherib could do was to threaten. His letter to Hezekiah was a contemptuous denial of Jehovah’s power to defend Jerusalem. Hezekiah took it to the Temple, and “spread it before Jehovah,” appealing to Him to confute these blasphemies, and vindicate His claim to be the living God. Then it was that Isaiah uttered that sublime prophecy in which he declared that Sennacherib’s pride was doomed to be humbled, and that Jerusalem would be preserved inviolate.
And so it came to pass. A sudden and mysterious visitation destroyed Sennacherib’s army. Unable to face Tirhakah, he returned to Assyria, leaving Jerusalem unharmed.
A deliverance so marvellous, so strikingly verifying Isaiah’s prophecy, and so visibly demonstrating the will and power of Jehovah to defend His people, could not fail to make a deep impression, and must have evoked the most heartfelt expressions of thanksgiving and praise (cp. Isa 30:29). And when we mark the numerous coincidences of thought and language between these Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah, we can scarcely doubt that some of the noblest of these thanksgivings have been preserved to us in these Psalms.
Details will be found in the notes: here it may be sufficient to call attention to some of the broader features of resemblance. The leading thought of Psalms 46, expressed in the refrain ( Psa 46:7 ; Psa 46:11), is the echo of Isaiah’s great watchword Immanuel (Isa 7:14; Isa 8:8; Isa 8:10; cp. Mic 3:11). The truth of the universal sovereignty of Jehovah, the assurance that God ‘our King’ is the King of all the earth, which is the prominent idea of Psalms 47 (cp. Psa 48:2), is implicitly contained, if not so explicitly expressed, in the teaching of Isaiah (Isa 6:5; Isa 37:22 ff.). The inviolability of Zion, the dwelling-place of Jehovah, which is the theme of Psalms 48, is a fundamental principle of Isaiah’s message in the reign of Hezekiah (Psa 29:3 ff.; Psa 31:5; &c).
Proof is of course impossible, but these Psalms will gain vastly in vividness and reality if they are studied in close connexion with the prophecies of Isaiah, as the expression of the gratitude and the hopes which animated the noblest spirits in Jerusalem at that critical moment of the nation’s history. If not written by Isaiah himself, as some commentators have thought, they must at least have been written by one of Isaiah’s disciples who was deeply penetrated with the spirit and language of his master’s prophecies.
Psalms 75, 76 in the Asaphite collection probably refer to the same event, and should be compared.
A brief mention of two rival theories is all that is necessary. (1) Delitzsch adopts the view that the occasion of these Psalms was the discomfiture of the confederate forces of the Moabites Ammonites and Edomites, who invaded Judah in the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20). Jahaziel, an Asaphite Levite, foretold their defeat. The army marched out with Korahite singers at its head. The arms of the invaders were turned against one another, and in the neighbourhood of Tekoa their forces were annihilated. The victory was celebrated first in the valley of Beracah, and then by a triumphal thanksgiving procession to the Temple. A deep impression was produced upon surrounding nations by the report of the victory. This view however is improbable, for ( a) upon that occasion Jerusalem was not directly threatened, and ( b) it fails to account for the connexion of the Psalms with Isaiah’s prophecies. That the prophet is copying the Psalmist is unlikely.
(2) Others have found an appropriate occasion in the attack of the confederate forces of Pekah and Rezin upon Judah in the reign of Ahaz, mainly on the ground of resemblances to Isaiah’s prophecies of that period. But inasmuch as Ahaz had refused to trust Jehovah and faithlessly appealed to Assyria for help, the retreat of the invaders can have been no occasion for thanksgivings like these Psalms, which ascribe Judah’s deliverance wholly to the goodness of Jehovah.
Psalms 46 consists of three equal stanzas, each followed by a Selah. The second and third end with a refrain ( Psa 46:7 ; Psa 46:11), which may perhaps have originally stood at the close of the first also. Comp. Psalms 42, 43. In the first stanza the primary truth that God is the refuge of His people is presented as the truest ground for fearless confidence (Psa 46:1-3): the second refers to the specific illustration of this truth exhibited in the recent deliverance of Zion (Psa 46:4-7): the third treats this manifestation of Jehovah’s power as the earnest and pledge of His final supremacy over all the nations (Psa 46:8-11).
Luther’s famous hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, “the battle-song of the Reformation,” is based upon this Psalm. See Winkworth’s Christian Singers of Germany, p. 110.
The title should be rendered as in R.V., For the Chief Musician; (a Psalm) of the sons of Korah; set to Alamoth. A song. Alâmôth means damsels (Psa 68:25), and the phrase set to Alâmôth, which is applied in 1Ch 15:20 to instruments, probably denotes that the music of the Ps. was intended for women’s voices (cp. Psa 68:11, note). The Ancient Versions were entirely at fault as to the meaning. The LXX renders ὑπὲρ τῶν κρυφίων , ‘concerning secret things,’ Vulg. pro occultis: Symm. ὑπὲρ τῶν αἰωνίων , ‘concerning eternal things’: Aq. ἐπὶ νεανιοτήτων , and similarly Jer., pro iuventutibus, ‘for youth.’
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".