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To the Alamoths

“To the Director: Of the Sons of Korah to the Alamoths — a song.”

(Psalm 46:1 — the Superscript in English Translations)

I suppose that I sound like a broken record to some when it comes to the importance of reading superscripts; yet they are not superscripts in the Hebrew Bible and thus we ought to recognize them as being just as divinely inspired as the rest of the text of scripture…hence it is given to us for instruction, guidance, reproof, etc… to prepare us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

So what ought we take away from the superscription of this psalm. To begin with, the psalm is a psalm written by the Sons of Korah. We will again look more closely at the person of Korah later, but let it suffice to say that this family understood the meaning of grace as well as the consequences of taking a stand against God and against his anointed servant. Secondly, we should note that this song was written to the director — most likely a designation given to the Levite who would direct the temple musicians. 

This psalm is also listed as a song, which means it was sung. How we as Christians have deviated from the practice of singing psalms. Now, I am not an advocate of exclusive psalmnody for in the spirit of the “new song sung” sung by the elders and by the redeemed in heaven (Revelation  5:9; 14:3), God has blessed his church with many wonderful hymns through the ages, but I also think that we ought not abandon the old for the new. 

Now, the tune to which this psalm was to be sung was the Alamoth. We know very little about this particular tune other than it was the celebratory tune used when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:20). The term itself is actually plural in Hebrew and thus it could represent a group or series of melodies, but we simply don’t know as the music has not been preserved through the generations. 

There are speculations, though as one might suspect. The term עֲלְמוֹת (alamoth) is the plural of עַלְמָה (almah), the latter typically used to refer to a young maiden or virgin. This is the term used, for example in Isaiah 7:14, that speaks of the Messiah being born from the womb of a virgin. Thus, some commentators have suggested that the term used of the tune indicates that it is either to be sung by women or to be played on instruments in a very high key. Psalm 68:26 (verse 25 in the English translations) adds to our understanding slightly, as this term is used to speak of the dancing girls with tambourines that would follow the processional, bringing the Ark into Jerusalem. In modern Egyptian, “almah” is used to refer to belly-dancers, not too far off from a picture of young girls with tambourines. 

Regardless of the actual tune, this song was sung in celebration and stands as a reminder to us as to how we are to respond to the deliverance that God brings. How often we do not make much of all God does in our lives. He is to be praised with all of our might and in any way possible, for he has been good to us both in the good times and in the times of trouble. Our God is indeed a mighty refuge and deserves the praises we bring.

Witnessophobia

“Yahweh Tsabaoth is with us;

A high stronghold is the God of Jacob. Selah!

(Psalm 46:12 {verse 11 in English })

 

And the psalmist closes with the refrain, repeated from verse 8 (verse 7 in English versions). Though the world might come to an end, the God of Armies is with us. He is our guard and our shelter from the storms of life and the enemies that would seek to do us harm. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Lord of Hosts. And he is with us.

If we believe these words, why do we struggle so when it comes to engaging the world with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do we fear that which cannot threaten or harm us? I, like many, suffer from a fear of heights. Even in a glass elevator, where I am perfectly safe and protected as I am lifted upwards, the fear causes my pulse to rise and my grip on the railing in the elevator to grow very tight. Why? Phobias are irrational fears, and though they affect us in real ways, when you look honestly at them, they are kind of foolish. Why should I fear riding high in the air in a glass elevator? Nothing will harm me! Yet my knees grow weak. It seems that many Christians, while not necessarily suffering from a phobia of heights, suffer from a phobia of sharing their faith. Some jokingly refer to this as “witnessophobia,” but let us speak honestly — it is an irrational fear that stems from a sinful heart and a fear of rejection. Friends, don’t fall into this trap, our God is the Lord of Armies and a high stronghold and he has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Why hesitate; go, share the love and truth of Christ Jesus with a friend or neighbor that does not know him so that they too may find refuge in the Lord of all Refuge…Selah!

Come and See the Deeds of Yahweh!

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

 

Come and see the deeds of Yahweh! Indeed, the psalmist calls to us to witness the power and the might of our Lord. Usually, when you hear this kind of language, the images that come to mind are images of grace and mercy given to the undeserving, yet that is not the direction that the psalmist takes as he challenges us to come and see. Instead, he speaks of the destruction brought by God’s judgment. The word he uses here is hDÚmAv (shammah), which is a term that is always used to refer to the destruction that follows judgment. Sometimes this word is rendered as “atrocities” to give it more force from the perspective of those under said judgment.

And indeed, God’s wrath is horrific for those under his judgment. Think about those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day or in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the plagues that God set upon the Egyptians and even the judgments against those like Korah who rebelled in the wilderness wanderings. In the Israelite entrance into the Promised Land, God commanded entire cities be put to the ban; bringing death to every living thing that dwelled within the city. And then in God’s own judgment poured out against his Son, Jesus, when he was on the cross of Calvary. Indeed, these are horrific events, but events with a purpose.

Often Christians shy away from the language of God’s wrath, but in doing so, they leech the Gospel of its power. If we do not have a clear-eyed-view of what it is that we are being saved from, we will not appreciate the salvation that is extended. James says that the demons tremble at the name of God (James 2:19); unbelieving men and believing men alike rarely give God’s wrath a second thought. Why this contrast? It is because the demons know the justice of God is poured out in wrath and that they are bound to receive it in full; men have deceived themselves into thinking that God is little more than a senile grandfather who dotes on his grandchildren. What a rude awakening many will receive.

So what is the purpose of such events? On one level they are meant as a warning to us to drive us to our knees in repentance. In addition, they are a reminder that God is a just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Sometimes, when we look at judgment, we may be tempted to cry out as children so often do, “not fair!” Yet, were we to really grasp the magnitude of our own sin we would be forced to concede that God indeed is fairness defined. It is only through and because of the work of Christ that we have any reason to hope for an escape from judgment because he took our judgment upon himself.

Indeed, come and see the justice of our God! To you who believe, know that in our God we have a strong refuge but to you who stand firmly in your own arrogance and pride; beware, for the judgment of God is horrific indeed. Hell is a place where the fires burn and are never quenched, where the worms consume and never go away, where we are eternally in the process of being torn down and are separated from anything that is good. Such is the just punishment for our sins against a Holy and Righteous God. Praise be to God for the redemption that is given in Jesus!

A Place of Refuge

“God is to us a place of refuge and strength;

A helper in distress he is very much found to be.”

(Psalm 46:2 {verse 1 in English Bibles})

 

While the wording of the second line of this verse is a little awkward in English, I rendered it so in the hopes of preserving the original Hebrew word order. Often, when the Hebrews were wanting to add emphasis, they would use what we today call a “chiastic structure.” So called for the Greek letter c (chi) which is shaped like an “x,” as you move from line one to line two, there is a repetition of ideas in reverse order — if you assigned letters to the ideas, the first line would go “A, B” and the second line, “B’, A’.”

This verse is a great illustration of this Hebrew approach to writing. The psalmist begins by making the statement, “God is to us a place of refuge and strength.” The first concept is God, he would be “letter A” as we approach the verse. The second concept is “a place of refuge and strength” would be letter “B.” Were we to hear this statement about God for the first time, we might be inclined to ask ourselves, “what then does it mean for God to be our place of refuge and our strength?” The psalmist answers us in the second line of this verse, though he reverses the order to drive the point home with emphasis. To be a place of refuge means that he is a helper in distress (B’) and then the pronoun (he — which refers to God) is placed in the back end of the line (A’).

Okay, so one might be tempted to say, “that is nice, but unless I happen to be studying Hebrew poetry, why is that important?” And that would be a good question. My answer is in two parts. First and on the most basic level, this is the word of God and he has chosen to give us his word in lots of different styles and forms — in this case, in poetic form. This word is designed to equip us to do every good work in life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It should follow, then, that the better we understand this word that God has given us, the better we will live out our lives to the honor and glory of God in Christ Jesus.

On a more personal note, though, think of the Bible as a love letter from God to ourselves. When we receive a letter from one we love and adore, we savor every word and dash that our lover has given us. We read it over and over and over again and dwell on each idea that is expressed. Why not also do this with God’s word? Is there any better love letter that we might receive? Is there any person who loves us more greatly or more deeply that God does? Oh, beloved, immerse yourself in God’s word — drench your life in it that you may grow richly in it and dwell upon the author of that word even more closely and deeply every day of your life.

And as we move back toward the words of this verse, note one more thing in this description. God is our helper in distress. The word that the psalmist uses here is h∂rDx (tsarah), which in Hebrew is the polar opposite of salvation. Thus the psalmist is not just speaking of troubles with rambunctious children or an irritating neighbor; the psalmist is speaking of everything being wrecked in his life, not only physically, but spiritually as well. The psalmist is not crying out these words because he has had a bad day, but because he desperately needs someone to save him…to deliver him from his wretched state. It is in this context and especially in this context that God shows himself to be a place of refuge and strength to the weak. This is what the Apostle Paul relates as well to the church in Corinth. God had sent an evil spirit to torment Paul and he had pleaded with God to remove the tormenting from him:

“For this, I urged the Lord three times in order that it might withdraw from me. Yet, he told me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; for power is completed in weakness.’ Therefore, with pleasure I would boast in my weakness in order that the power of Christ might rest upon me. Therefore I will pleasure in weakness, in violence, in trouble, in persecution, and in distress for Christ — for when I am weak, I am strong.”

(2 Corinthians 12:8-10)