A Mighty Fortress

  By Bob Brubaker  |  

There is a famous hymn written by Martin Luther around the 1500’s based upon Psalm 46 called, A Mighty Fortress. The hymn became the battle hymn of the reformation in a way of encouragement to all as they faced persecution of various sorts for standing up for the word of God. This began when Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis on the door of the church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 as complaints against various doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic church at that timed that were in direct conflict with Scripture. As a result, Martin Luther was tried at a place called Worms and offered freedom if he would recant all that he had written. Luther, however very boldly stood and said, “here I stand and I can do no other.” That kind of boldness in standing for what was right before God became the theme of the Reformation that spread through Europe, England and beyond and with the boldness of the people came the consolation from the hymn that Martin Luther had written, “A mighty Fortress.” Here the words:

  • A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing: Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
  • Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth is his name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.
  • And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim,— we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,— one little word shall fell him.
  • That word above all earthly powers— No thanks to them—abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours, Through him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also: The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

The hymn really captures the truth from Psalm 46. Notice how God, our mighty fortress, is portrayed as a present help (verses 1-3), our provider (verses 4-7), and our protector (verses8-11).

Psalm 46:1–11 (ESV) — 1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

God, our present  help

We can’t help but notice how the psalmist refers to God as our refuge and strength in verse one. A refuge is a place where you run for help, and strength is what you seek when you are weak and worn out. Where do you turn? To God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV) — 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 (ESV) — 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

And it gets better with the words, “very present help” in trouble. He’s not just present, He’s very present. We tend to forget that when we don’t feel Him present – which is why we must rely upon the truth of God’s word rather than feelings.

Hebrews 13:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God, our provider

The river in Psalm 46 looks much like the river of Revelation 22 which points to the eternal care and provision of the people of God by the one who provides for His people on this side of eternity as well as on that side.

Revelation 22:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

Notice again the words in this section how God is the one who is present and because He is present, His people find all they need in provision as well as protection. So much so that He is called their fortress.

God, our protector

Although these benefits from the “very present God” seem to overlap in the three sections, there is a definite description of protection in the last section of verses 8-11.

We are told to behold the works of God. See His hand in creation, in history, in your own life, and in the present condition in the world. God is active in carrying out His will. This is what God told Job when he was wanting to complain about his situation.

Job 37:14 (ESV) — 14 “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Just stop right there before you complain. Notice how God deals with Job and also how the psalmist brings us a word from God:

Psalm 46:10 (ESV) — 10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

It’s hard for us to just “be still,” but that is the way we enjoy the blessing of seeing the works of God and enjoying His care in providing and protecting us.

Connecting to the concluding verse of Psalm 46, Martin Luther uses the phrase, “Lord Sabaoth is his name” which is the “Lord of hosts.” Take all the host of heaven, of which there are many and know that the Lord Jesus Christ is head over it all. With Him on your side what can happen to you, other than what He allows for your good?

John 10:27–30 (ESV) — 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Romans 8:28–31 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

So the conclusion of Psalm 46 and the hymn taken from the psalm is “God is our fortress,” and He is a mighty fortress.

Godspeed,

Bob Brubaker

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