What does Psalm chapter 46 mean?Psalm 46 emphasizes two main truths about God: His strength and His established presence. This leads to the natural responses of trust and thanksgiving. Scholars are unclear if any unique event inspired this psalm. However, some phrases in this passage resemble those found in the writings of Isaiah. He was the prophet during the reign of Hezekiah, who saw God miraculously save Israel from an Assyrian siege (2 Kings 18—19). The reference to secure water also hints at Hezekiah's choice to create a siege-proof water supply for the city. This leads to speculation that this psalm was written, or commissioned, by Hezekiah. This would imply this psalm is not attributed "to" the Sons of Korah, but rather was written "for" them to use in worship. Scripture does not explicitly say so. Thus, the exact background for this psalm is unknown.
Most of this psalm speaks from the perspective of the people of Israel. The song begins with strong statements about God's protective power and availability. A "refuge," in Hebrew, is similar to the term "shelter:" a place of safety away from a particular danger. Likewise, the original Hebrew more naturally implies that God is "very present" in the sense that He has proven His ability to see and care for Israel. He is not hard to see, or to perceive, but is near and accessible. That should inspire trust, rather than fear. Modern English might speak of "being in a tight spot," which is very close to the meaning of the term translated "trouble" in this psalm (Psalm 46:1).
That established trust means His people can—or, at least, should—feel no fear, even in the face of catastrophe or disaster. Even the most frightening natural disasters are nothing compared to the power of an omnipotent God (Psalm 46:2–3).
In comparison to the raging, stumbling attitude of cultures who reject God, those who trust in Him have a constant, flowing resource in His presence (Revelation 22:1–2). Verse 5 is often applied out of context, used as a guarantee of God's protection of women, or His sympathy for women experiencing stress. Reassurance by trusting in God is good for all people, of course. However, the "she" mentioned in this passage is the city of Jerusalem. As the commander of the armies of heaven, and the One who promised to be with the descendants of Jacob, God can be fully trusted by His people (Psalm 46:4–7).
At some point in earthly history, God will fully end all war and fighting. Anyone attempting to fight against God should stop their tantrums and release their anger. Those who trust in God should let go of anxiety or doubt. In other words, both, as commanded here, should "be still," and trust in the truth of who God is. Verse 10 is another often-misapplied verse, sometimes used to support silence or contemplation. A restful trust in God is biblical (Matthew 11:30; Hebrews 4:9–10), but the main point of this passage is to end striving by relying on the strength of God (Psalm 46:8–11).
This passage makes use of the term se'lāh, which has an unclear meaning, though it appears in many psalms. It likely suggests a musical pause. Similarly, the reference to Alamoth (1 Chronicles 15:20) appears to define a style of musical performance.