Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3. though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 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 the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7. The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

8. Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought 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 shields with fire.
10. 'Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.'
11. The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge." Selah.

The people of Palestine in Old Testament days were often oppressed by the fear of two things: the forces of nature against them, and the forces of foreign nations attacking them. Prophets and psalmists showed them the way to overcome fear: by faith in the living God.

The forces of nature

There are few things more frightening than an earthquake, as any one can tell who has experienced one. It is terrifying to feel that the ground underneath is no longer secure. The earth trembles and the mountains shake. As we read this Psalm we should also remember that the Jewish people were not seafarers, and were greatly afraid of the sea, with its waters roaring and foaming (verse 3). Yet in the face of all these things, when they trusted in God they could say, "we will not fear". What an encouragement that is still! Some problems we face are familiar and commonplace. Others are different from anything we have experienced in the past. But this psalm assures us that our unchanging God is greater than any problem we face now or may face tomorrow (see Hebrews 13:6,8).

The forces of nations

From other Psalms and from many of the Old Testament narratives we realise how Israel often had to face foreign invaders whose forces were vastly greater than their own. But they could always look back in their history and see what God had done for them. Some of the words of this Psalm in fact seem to echo the song of Israel's triumph over Egypt in Exodus 15:1-18. Then, and often again, after what seemed a dark night of trouble, the morning of God's salvation dawned (verse 5, and see Psalm 30:5). Nations may rage and roar like the mighty ocean. Dictators and oppressive regimes may trample on us, but let us remember that our God is greater than them all. At his word their power can melt away (verse 6). The most powerful enemies can be left as "desolation", and their weapons of war destroyed (verse 9). As in the days of Hezekiah when the Assyrians were turned back after besieging Jerusalem in vain (see Isaiah 37), Israel relying on God could indeed feel that their city was "the city of God" (see Psalm 125:1-2). God protected it, and he continued to refresh it as by a beautiful river (verse 4). God was present there, and so they could say, "it shall not be moved" (verse 5).

The power of God

The waters might roar (verse 3), the nations might roar (verse 6), but to both the Lord said, "be still"; "I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth" (in the world of nature). In short God is saying, 'Relax, don't panic, I am in control, I am in charge of this difficult situation!' If only we can learn in prayer to turn our anxieties and worries over to this caring, ever present, and almighty God, then no matter what happens, we will be able to show a calmness which the world will envy, and which may draw others, including even our enemies and oppressors, to trust God. There is a hymn that puts it, 'With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm'. (See 1 Peter 5:7 and Philippians 4:6-7).

Meditation: "The Sovereign Lord --- says --- 'Come back and quietly trust in me. Then you will be strong and secure'." (Isaiah 30:15 Good News Bible).

For further thought and study

a Consider each of the names given to God in this Psalm. How do they help us to remember what God is like and to trust him more?

b. What powers of evil, or forces of nature, or actions by other people, are you tempted to fear? In what way does this Psalm answer your situation?

c. What other passages of Scripture, like verse 4 in this Psalm, use water to speak of the blessings that God offers his people? See Ezekiel 47:1-12, John 4:1-15 and 7:37-39.


  1. The expression in the heading to this Psalm that has not been used in earlier Psalms is "according to Alamoth". It is found also in 1 Chronicles 15:20 and may mean 'to be sung by young women'.
  2. The word "Selah", which we have at the end of verses 3, 7 and 11, has been used in many Psalms, perhaps indicating a pause for musical instruments to play, and for people to think of the words. It stands after the chorus in verses 7 and 11 and as it is at the end of verse 3 also, the chorus may have been used originally at the end of that verse too. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" is certainly the great statement of faith that sums up the message of the Psalm.