This setting might not fit with what you expect for a setting of Psalm 46. I’ve done this intentionally to turn our focus us back to the words of Psalm 46 in their context. In its full context, that is, when all the words and verses of Psalm 46 are taken together, the meaning of those verses and the Psalm itself will actually become more clear. Besides that, when the Psalm is fully understood, Luther’s interpretation and application of the Psalm, as he encapsulated it in “A Mighty Fortress” (LSB 656), will also make more sense.
As is the danger for much of the Biblical “Wisdom Books” (Job—Song of Song of Solomon), the Psalms often get taken out of context. This happens with verses or even half verses. So also some verses of Psalm 46 are taken out of their context, often for memes or T-Shirts.
Psalm 46:1 (“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”) is used this way, but this does fit with a major theme of the Psalm. So, while it may be incomplete idea, it’s not an incorrect application. This main idea is fleshed out in the rest of the Psalm.
Psalm 46:5 (“God is within her; she shall not be moved”) is also misused. It’s often applied for women’s ministries. A nice little pick me up for women. The problem is “her” refers not to a human woman. It refers to “the city of God” (Ps 46:4), that is, Jerusalem where the Temple was, “the holy habitation of the most high.” (Ps 46:4) While well intentioned, it’s a complete misunderstanding and misapplication to use the verse this way.
Psalm 46:10a (“Be still, and know that I am God”) is by far the most misapplied verse of Psalm 46. It’s often applied in a “Keep calm and carry on” sort of way. When taken out of context, it’s thought that God is speaking to all believers, telling them to be still and let Him be God. The context of Psalm 46 proves this is not so. Psalm 46:10 is actually God speaking to the nations who “make wars” (Ps 46:9) against His people. He is telling them to sit down and be quiet as He “brings desolations,” judgment “upon the earth” (Ps 46:8).
The thrust of Psalm 46:10 is similar to the ideas expressed in Psalm 2:4–6, 9. Psalm 46:10 is God telling the “nations,” the Gentiles, the unbelievers that He’s God, they’re not. They need to be quiet as He destroys them for the sake of His people whom they are warring against, persecuting, and destroying. The comfort of Psalm 46 is not to keep calm and let God be God, but it’s rather that the God who tells the nations, “Sit down, be quiet,” is on His people’s side. As the Antiphon written by the Sons of Korah says, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Ps 46:7, 11)
Based on this proper understanding of Psalm 46:9–11, Luther’s final stanza of “A Mighty Fortress” (LSB 656) makes much more sense. Here they are side by side:
|9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;|
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
|4 The Word they still shall let remain|
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
Finally, the setting provided here attempts to force our minds to put the verse of Psalm 46 back into context. The strong, minor key is one attempt to do this. Singing Psalm 46:10 in this key will remind us of whom God is speaking when He says, “Be still…” The antiphon (Psalm 46:7, 11) is also sung at the beginning and end of the Psalm, but it is also sung wherever there is a “Selah” in the Psalm: Psalm 46:3, 7, 11.