We continue the second book of the Psalms under the theme of the great exodus from Egypt. Here, the Sons of Korah continue to sing – this time according to “Alamoth”. Spurgeon indicates that this:
may denote that the music was to be pitched high for the treble or soprano voices of the Hebrew virgins. They went forth in their dances to sing the praises of David when he smote the Philistine, it was meet that they should make merry and be glad when the victories of Jehovah became their theme. We need to praise God upon virgin hearts, with souls chaste towards his fear, with lively and exalted expressions, and happy strains. Or the word Alamoth may refer to shrill sounding instruments, as in Chronicles 15:20, where we read that Zechariah, and Eliab, and Benaiah were to praise the Lord “with psalteries on Alamoth.” We are not always, in a slovenly manner, to fall into one key, but with intelligence are to modulate our praises and make them fittingly expressive of the occasion and the joy it creates in our souls. These old musical terms cannot be interpreted with certainty, but they are still useful because they show that care and skill should be used in our sacred music.
Indeed, this song – as Spurgeon summarises – is a “Song of Holy Confidence”, also known as Luther’s Psalm when he penned the hymn Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).
This chapter commences by proclaiming that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (v.1). If we do not proclaim that truth at the outset, how then can there be any confidence underlying the words which follow? V.2 even starts with the word “Therefore“. Yes – it is because of God being our refuge and our strength that we can therefore not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling (v.2-3). Are there natural predicaments not a picture of what the Israelites experienced as they passed through the Red Sea, with waters raised to the heavens and as they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-2)? Are we not going to similarly stand on the Rock when the present earth melts away under the fiery judgment of the great wedding Day (Revelation 8)?
It is the river of life which gives us everlasting sustenance – the river whose streams make glad the city of God, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22). At the centre of this river is God Himself (v.5), for which reason life can even overflow (v.4-5). Therefore, even as the nations rage, the kingdoms totter, but when the LORD utters his voice, the earth melts. Yes – even the Holy Voice and Word of the Father (John 1), the One sent by the Father (John 5:38), can cause the very earth to melt (v.6)! It is because the LORD of hosts is with us that – as Luther pens – A Mighty Fortress is Our God (v.7). As Spurgeon comments:
There is a river. Divine grace like a smoothly flowing, fertilising, full, and never failing river, yields refreshment and consolation to believers. This is the river of the water of life, of which the church above as well as the church below partakes evermore. It is no boisterous ocean, but a placid stream, it is not stayed in its course by earthquakes or crumbling mountains, it follows its serene course without disturbance. Happy are they who know from their own experience that there is such a river of God. The streams whereof in their various influences, for they are many, shall make glad the city of God, by assuring the citizens that Zion’s Lord will unfailingly supply all their needs. The streams are not transient like Cherith, nor muddy like the Nile, nor furious like Kishon, nor treacherous like Job’s deceitful brooks, neither are their waters “naught” like those of Jericho, they are clear, cool, fresh, abundant, and gladdening. The great fear of an Eastern city in time of war was lest the water supply should be cut off during a siege; if that were secured the city could hold out against attacks for an indefinite period. In this verse, Jerusalem, which represents the church of God, is described as well supplied with water, to set forth the fact that in seasons of trial all sufficient grace will be given to enable us to endure unto the end. The church is like a well ordered city, surrounded with mighty walls of truth and justice, garrisoned by omnipotence, fairly built and adorned by infinite wisdom: its burgesses the saints enjoy high privileges; they trade with far off lands, they live in the smile of the King; and as a great river is the very making and mainstay of a town, so is the broad river of everlasting love, and grace their joy and bliss. The church is peculiarly the City of God, of his designing, building, election, purchasing and indwelling. It is dedicated to his praise, and glorified by his presence. The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. This was the peculiar glory of Jerusalem, that the Lord within her walls had a place where he peculiarly revealed himself, and this is the choice privilege of the saints, concerning which we may cry with wonder, “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” To be a temple for the Holy Ghost is the delightful portion of each saint, to be the living temple for the Lord our God is also the high honour of the church in her corporate capacity. Our God is here called by a worthy title, indicating his power, majesty, sublimity, and excellency; and it is worthy of note that under this character he dwells in the church. We have not a great God in nature, and a little God in grace; no, the church contains as clear and convincing a revelation of God as the works of nature, and even more amazing in the excellent glory which shines between the cherubim overshadowing that mercy seat which is the centre and gathering place of the people of the living God. To have the Most High dwelling within her members, is to make the church on earth like the church in heaven.
Of particular significance is that the triune God is in the midst of this river. See, for example Jeremiah 2:13 – for the Father is the fountain of living waters; also see Zechariah 13:1, where there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, displaying the Son as the river and fountain of salvation; and also John 7:38, where the Holy Spirit is described as the well of water springing up into everlasting life, the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Trinity is represented in these waters – not waters or foams of judgment, but the streams of life.
The image of the coming Day is ever more prevalent in the subsequent verses – the picture of the LORD’s works bringing desolation on the earth, ceasing wars, breaking bows, shattering spears, burning chariots. This picture is already evidenced at least once before, when the waters crashed down on Pharoah’s soldiers (Exodus 14). As the Angel of the LORD led them to victory, all the Israelites had to do but “Be still and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10). He proclaims that He will be exalted among the nations; He will be exalted in the earth. The Sons of Korah repeat – He is with us (c.f. v.7) and again that He – indeed – is our mighty fortress (c.f. v. 7), as we move from proclaiming that He is our refuge and our strength, that circumstances and the present world may fade away, but the LORD is our cornerstone and will go out to make wars and strife cease, yet in all this we need but only stand in Christ, trust in Him, and be still and know that He is our God and our fortress.
Is this not the reason why we can sing as Hebrew virgins to our Bridegroom, in awesome song and reverence? We need not lift a single finger and He fights for us, protects us, and is jealous for us! Hallelujah!