Note: The following sermon was delivered September 3, 2017, at the Virginia Scottish Games Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Service.
Psalm 46: 1-11
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will 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. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God
I’m fascinated by the different translations of the Bible. Both the King James and New International Version translate verse 10 as, “Be still and know that I am God.” The New American Standard says, “Cease striving.” But it also points out that it would be just as valid to translate this verse as “Relax … or Let Go.” Remember that for later. We’ll come back to that.
Now, as I set about writing this sermon, I began to think of all the disasters of which I could speak, and, with Houston, southeast Texas, and southwest Louisiana still ringing in our minds, I didn’t have to think hard. But I’m also obliged to remember governmental issues around the globe (I’m looking at you, North Korea), terrorist activities, and things like that happening in the world.
Each, in their own way, is a disaster visited on humanity, but those aren’t the disasters I want to talk about today. I want to consider the day-to-day disasters, because, friends, if we can’t handle the little day-to-day troubles, that come our way, we’re going to be buried when the big troubles come. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, but the wise man runs to God, because …
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
This psalm is normally seen as one of consolation. You’ve probably heard a thousand preachers and saints of the church quote this at funerals. Well, I have good news for you. This psalm is for the living. It’s a psalm of victory as well as consolation, because it’s believed to have been written about King Hezekiah, whose related story can be found in 2 Kings 18-19.
Therefore we will 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.
These are hard words to hear when you feel attacked in your day-to-day life. No one knows this better than Hezekiah, king of Judah. It was a hard time in the history of Israel. Hezekiah was king, but he wouldn’t be for long if Sennacherib had anything to say about it. Sennacherib was the brutal king of the quickly growing empire of Assyria. Nations had toppled before Sennacherib’s army of chariots, and now he was coming for Jerusalem. Terrifying enough is the act of watching all the cities fall as an army comes steamrolling your way, but Sennacherib had a nasty habit of toying with the inhabitants of a fortified city. He loved cutting off their food and water, reducing them to animals that were desperate enough to feed on — well — each other.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
Sennacherib and his chariot had crossed hundreds of miles to get to Jerusalem … and he had boasted all the way. “Where are the kings of the other nations I’ve encountered? They are dead. Their gods could not save them. If Hezekiah thinks that his God can save him, then he’s a fool!” Hundreds of miles he’d come, but Sennacherib still had to cross one river. And what river was it? Good question.
Did you know that Jerusalem didn’t have a river? Get a map out some time. Seems like a crazy place for a city. It’s something like 10-20 miles from a real, live river. The closest thing they had was a spring, but it was almost a half mile away. So how did they get water? Well, Hezekiah had an underground tunnel system built — and by “built,” I mean hewn out of bedrock — that actually piped in water from that spring.
So, what is this river “whose streams make glad the city of God”? Look again at verse five: God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved … God is in the midst. His presence, His protection, His grace, and His love flow like a river without end. That’s the river the prideful Sennacherib had to cross.
And that’s the same river that our enemies and our problems have to contend with when we turn it over to God − which is exactly what Hezekiah did. He withered at the thought of facing Sennacherib in battle, because he knew the Children of Israel were no match for the Assyrians on their own. So he modeled for us the type of reaction we should have in the face of adversity. He prayed.
“O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone,” (2 Kings 19: 16-19).
This is exactly what Psalm 46: 5-7 speaks of: God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Sennacherib arrived late in the day − too late to start a war. So he set up camp. Diplomats came from Jerusalem to greet him, hoping to keep the carnage and destruction to a minimum. Instead, the ever-boastful Sennacherib said (and I paraphrase), “Don’t let Hezekiah fool you into believing that your God can save you. Look at my track record, boys. I’ve trashed better nations than you.” And maybe he had, but he had no idea that …
God will help her when morning dawns.
Sennacherib had slandered and desecrated the name of the Lord, and the Lord didn’t like it at all. So, He sent an angel. Now, a visit from an angel can mean one of two things: good news, or bad news. And it was bad news for Sennacherib.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
And how! In the case of Sennacherib, the war was over in a single night. The Lord sent an angel through the Assyrian camp. And you can imagine what happened. When Sennacherib awoke in the morning, 185,000 of his mean were dead … and Sennacherib was witness to the awesome power of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Needless to say, Sennacherib beat a hasty retreat without ever firing an arrow — something the Lord had told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah.
On a more ironic note, Sennacherib fled back home and did what all defeated kings did; he went straight to the temple of his god. And as he worshiped his god of wood and stone − his dead god who could not protect him − his sons crept up on him and slaughtered him where he knelt.
The Lord has used this moment in Israel’s history to speak to the Israelites and uses it still to speak to us today. He says:
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The Lord will always be exalted. Through our victories and our failures, the Lord is given opportunity to receive glory. He is exalted in the Earth.
And in English literature. Any of you who have come to these Kirkin’ services for any length of time know of my love for poetry. So please indulge me as I read a personal favorite, The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron.
The Destruction of Sennacherib
By Lord Byron
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
“Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!” Praise God … our refuge and strength … our very present help in trouble. If you’re in trouble today, you don’t have to worry. All you have to do is pray.
Imagine that. The God of the Universe is so intimately involved with His children that He’s willing to defend us to the hilt. Granted, he often expects us to put forth some effort. Sometimes he directs us to pick up the sword and go to battle, armed only with the knowledge that the strength in our arms is His.
But just as often, as in Hezekiah’s case, all He wants us to do is pray and trust.
Pray … Be still .. Cease striving .. Relax .. Let go … And let Him.
If you have a need, if you have a battle, God is here. If you’ve never trusted the Lord, and you’re looking desperately for a “refuge and strength” and someone who will be that “ever-present help in trouble,” look no further than God. The same God who defended Israel and struck down 185,000 men wants to lift you up in His arms. Through His Son Jesus, you will find solace and strength and comfort as you have never known before.