Psalms were meant to be sung. The book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the Bible. We no longer know what melodies the Hebrew people sang to the Hebrew words. But we have based many of our own hymns on the psalms.
“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress,” says Psalm 46. This is a mighty psalm. It is the psalm on which Dr. Martin Luther based what many call “the battle hymn of the Reformation” – “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.” – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther composed both the words and the music at the height of the Reformation when he had a price on his head and the empire threatened to split in two.
In moments of near despair, the Reformer would say to those around him, “Come, let us sing the 46th psalm” – and so they did – in this metrical version which Luther had penned.
No hymn has been translated into more languages around the world than this one – more than a hundred versions in English alone.
There could scarcely be a better summary of this psalm than Luther’s own words: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” For the people of the psalmist’s day, for the people of Luther’s day, for God’s people today, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…”
Hearing the words of this psalm, we might wonder when Luther, or the great heroes of faith in the Bible for that matter, ever saw the earth give way or the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
We might think of God’s worldwide judgment in the flood of Noah’s day, or of God’s deliverance of His people with the parting of the Red Sea in Moses’ day. Many believe the words of this psalm match well with the Lord’s destruction of the entire Assyrian army outside the walls of Jerusalem in the days of good king Hezekiah.
We can understand how Luther, facing down the princes of Church and State, knowing that he could be hung from any tree or burned at any stake for his loyalty to the Bible, would find Psalm 46 such a great comfort.
We too live in troubled times. But we are not the first to do so. So what if the economy fails, if disease darkens our path, if war shatters our times, if only a remnant still believes the Bible, if the earth itself gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Be not afraid! For “the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” – and the Church still sings: “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott!” – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God!”