By James Boice
Theme: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
In this week’s lessons on Psalm 46, on which Luther’s great hymn is based, we are reminded that our complete confidence and trust rests in the Lord, who promises to be with his people forever.
Scripture: Psalm 46:1-11
Almost everyone associates Martin Luther with the book of Romans, particularly Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith” (KJV). However, we forget that Luther was converted not only by his study of Romans, but also by his study of the Psalms. Luther taught the Psalms for years and loved them very much. His favorite was Psalm 46. It is said of Luther that there were times during the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation when he was terribly discouraged and depressed. But at such times he would turn to his friend and co-worker Philip Melanchthon and say, “Come, Philip, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm.” Then they would sing it in Luther’s own strong version:
A sure stronghold our God is He,
A timely shield and weapon;
Our help he’ll be and set us free
From every ill can happen.
We know it as, “A mighty fortress is our God.”
Luther said, “We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin.”1
A great Lutheran scholar, H. C. Leupold, wrote, “Few psalms breathe the spirit of sturdy confidence in the Lord in the midst of very real dangers as strongly as does this one.”2
No part of Luther’s hymn is as close to Psalm 46 as the first stanza, which calls God “a mighty fortress” and “a bulwark” in trouble. In the Hebrew text, as in Luther’s hymn, the emphasis is on God himself, the point being that God alone is our refuge, he and no other. Nothing in the universe can be a comparable refuge.
Some people think they will be secure if only they have enough money. So they lay it up in bank accounts, stocks and other tangible assets. Like the rich man of Jesus’ parable they say, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Jesus called a person who does that a fool, since in the end death comes and he or she must stand before God at his final judgment. Money cannot protect us from judgment. It cannot even shield us against heartbreak, failure, sin, disease or disaster in this world.
Other people think they will be secure because of their specialized training, skills or personal talents. But even the best educated and highly skilled persons suffer sudden reversals of fortune.
Still others expect security from their families, friends or business connections. But these are all only human supports. They are uncertain at best, and at times they are suddenly swept away. The Reformers knew how unstable and uncertain these things could be. They knew that God is unshakable and trustworthy:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also: The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.
- Read Psalm 46 and compare it to Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Write down how Luther made use of the psalm in his hymn.
- What things do people seek refuge in apart from God? In what ways are these substitute refuges shown to be foolish?
Application: How has God been a fortress and refuge for you? Praise him for how he demonstrates the truth of this psalm in your life.
For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering James Boice’s complete study of the Psalms for 25% off the regular price. Order yours today.
1The story and quotation are from C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 344.
2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 363.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.
Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.