Images of God abound in the psalms. When these images enter our hearts and imaginations, our daily lives are transformed. Consider Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Because we know this psalm so well, we call on our Shepherd in times of need. We experience the rod and the staff. We sense the guiding hand when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
In just such a way the central image of God in Psalm 46 informs our lives: a mighty fortress is our God. As we approach Reformation Day, Martin Luther’s great hymn based on this image rings in our ears and becomes our rallying cry.
Both psalm and hymn bid us stay the course through times of life-threatening trouble. The hymn names the threat as “the old satanic foe” and “hordes of devils” as well as “this world’s tyrant.” Psalm 46 describes the tumult through different images. Both the cosmic chaotic waters as well as the nations “roar” (verses 3 and 6 use the same Hebrew verb hamah). Both the mountains and the kingdoms “shake,” trembling at their foundations (verses 2 and 6 use the same Hebrew word, mot). That is, everything threatens, including the cosmic, natural and political worlds. Luther knew of just such threats and felt the power of this psalm. Surely our own times are no less frightening.
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