God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (v. 1). A favourite theme of many of the psalms is the fact that God is the refuge of his people (e.g., 61:3; 62:7–8; 71:7; 142:5). The words ‘refuge’ (machaseh) and ‘strength’ (ʿoz) are often used in conjunction to depict God’s character and his actions on behalf of his people. The confession here is communal (for the Hebrew text has ‘for us’; and also in vv. 7 and 11). The people acknowledge that when in trouble God is near to help. The translation ‘an ever-present help’ is a traditional one, but the MT simply says ‘in trouble he will be found a help—exceedingly.’ The emphasis should rather fall on how great a help the Lord is, rather than trying to describe its continuous nature.
46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. The first clause is verbless (the verb is understood), putting the emphasis on the nouns. The latter clause literally reads, “He is found very much [to be] a help in troubles.” Note the phrase “at break of day” in 46:5b, which suggests the prompt availability of God’s help (see also “The Text in Context,” and Pss. 27:9; 44:26; 63:7).
1. Refuge gives the defensive or external aspect of salvation: God the unchanging, in whom we find shelter. Strength probably implies the dynamic aspect: God within, to empower the weak for action. Both are summarized in the words a very present help in trouble, where the term very present has implications of his readiness to be ‘found’ (as the root is used in, e.g., Isa. 55:6) and of his being ‘enough’ for any situation (cf. the Heb. of Josh. 17:16; Zech. 10:10).
1. “God is our refuge and strength.” Not our armies, or our fortresses. Israel’s boast is in Jehovah, the only living and true God. Others vaunt their impregnable castles, placed on inaccessible rocks and secured with gates of iron, but God is a far better refuge from distress than all these: and when the time comes to carry the war into the enemy’s territories, the Lord stands his people in better stead than all the valour of legions or the boasted strength of chariot and horse. Soldiers of the cross, remember this, and count yourselves safe, and make yourselves strong in God. Forget not the personal possessive word “our;” make sure each one of your portion in God, that you may say, “He is my refuge and strength.” Neither forget the fact that God is our refuge just now, in the immediate present, as truly as when David penned the word. God alone is our all in all. All other refuges are refuges of lies, all other strength is weakness, for power belongeth unto God: but as God is all-sufficient, our defence and might are equal to all emergencies. “A very present help in trouble,” or in distresses he has so been found, he has been tried and proved by his people. He never withdraws himself from his afflicted. He is their help, truly, effectually, constantly; he is present or near them, close at their side and ready for their succour, and this is emphasised by the word “very” in our version, he is more present than friend or relative can be, yea, more nearly present than even the trouble itself. To all this comfortable truth is added the consideration that his assistance comes at the needed time. He is not as the swallows that leave us in the winter; he is a friend in need and a friend indeed. When it is very dark with us, let brave spirits say, “Come, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm.”
“A fortress firm, and steadfast rock,
Is God in time of danger;
A shield and sword in every shock,
From foe well-known or stranger.”