This psalm reflects the feelings with which a people, secure in the sense of Divine protection, looks on while surrounding nations are convulsed, and calmly awaits the issue. Such a situation was that of Israel in the seventh century B.C, while the giant powers of Egypt and Assyria were rending the East by their rivalries, and also during the wars of the Ptolemies and Seleucidæ. The former period suggests itself as the more probable date of the psalm, from its resemblance to much of the language of Isaiah when dealing with events that culminated in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. Compare especially the recurrence of the expression, “God is with us,” Elohîm immānû, with the prophet’s use of the name Immanuel. The refrain, though missing after the first stanza, marks the regular poetical form.
Title.—For the first part see titles Psalms 4, 42, A song upon ‘alāmôth. This plainly is a musical direction, but the precise meaning must still remain matter of conjecture. Since ‘alāmôth means maidens, the most natural and now generally received interpretation is “a song for sopranos.” (Comp. title Psalms 6)
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.
A very present help.—Better, often found a help.
It is interesting to compare the heathen poet’s conception of the fearlessness supplied by virtue (Hor. Ode 3:3).
“They roar, they foam, its waters.”
Comp. Homer’s equally concise description, including in three words the “rush,” the “swell,” and the “roar” of ocean (Iliad, xxiii. 230).
Swelling.—Or, pride. (Comp. Job 38:11.) The change in construction in this verse seems to confirm the suspicion that the refrain has dropped away.
There may not, however, be any such local allusion. The river, flowing calmly and smoothly along, may be only a symbol of the peace and blessing of the Divine presence, as the tumult and tempest of the sea in the last verse are of the world’s noisy troubles. Indeed, the LXX. (comp. Prayer Book version) seems to connect the river of this verse with the waters of the preceding.
Streams.—See Note on Psalm 1:3, where the same word occurs.
“Raged heathen, tottered kingdoms
Gave with His voice (the signal) (and lo !)
Melts the earth.”
Refuge.—Rightly in the margin with idea of height, as giving security.
Desolations . . .—Either, silence of desolation, “silence” being the primary sense of the word, or (as in Jeremiah 19:8), wonders, which silence by their suddenness and marvel. So LXX. and Vulg., and this is confirmed by Psalm 46:10.