432

God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

This song in celebration of Zion's security (see also 48 and 76) has heartened God's people throughout the ages. Luther echoed it in "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (469). Traditionally ascribed to (or assigned to) the "sons of Korah," the psalm was no doubt     composed for liturgical use at the temple. As a song concerning the royal city of the kingdom of God on earth, it expresses Israel's hope in the certain triumph of God's kingdom. The psalm's imagery of a river that "make[s] glad the city of God" (v. 4) serves as a metaphor for the unfailing flow of God's sustaining and refreshing blessings, which make the city of God like the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2: 10). In this psalm we confess fearless trust in God, "our refuge" (st. 1), and extol God's refreshing river and protective presence (st. 2). God stills the rage of the nations, inspiring us with faith's strong confidence (st. 3). The LORD's mighty victories assure us of the people's peace (st. 4), and God's reassuring word "Be still, and know. . ." inspires us again with the confidence of faith. (st. 5). The versification is based on the 1650 Scottish psalter version, which was altered in both the 1871 and 1912 American psalters and now again in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal. Hymns based on Psalm 46 are at 468, 469, and 610.
 
Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Difficult times occur in the lives and communities of God’s people because this is a fallen world. The confessions demonstrate this perspective:
  • Belgic Confession, Article 15 teaches that “…by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race…a corruption of the whole human nature...” As a result, God’s people are “guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all [our] ways” (Article 14). In addition, “The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt that they are enemies of God and of everything good. They lie in wait for the church and every member of it like thieves, with all their power, to destroy and spoil everything by their deceptions” (Article 12).
  • Our World Belongs to God continues to affirm that “God has not abandoned the work of his hands,” nevertheless “our world, fallen into sin, has lost its first goodness...” (paragraph 4). And now “all spheres of life—family and friendship, work and worship school and state, play and art—bear the wounds of our rebellion” (paragraph 16).
Yet, in a fallen world, God’s providential care is the source of great assurance, comfort and strength. Through these thoughts, our trust in God is inspired.
  • Belgic Confession, Article 13 is a reminder that God’s providence reassures us that God leads and governs all in this world “according to his holy will…nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.” Further, this Confession identifies that this “gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father, who watches over us with fatherly care...in this thought we rest.”
  • Belgic Confession, Article 13, is a reminder that much is beyond human understanding and so “we do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend.”
  • In Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9, Question and Answer 26 we testify that we “trust God so much that [we] do not doubt that he will provide whatever [we] need for body and soul and will turn to [our] good whatever adversity he sends upon [us] in this sad world.”
  • In Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, Question and Answer 28, we are assured that through our trust in the providence of God we can have “good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.”
  • When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask not to be brought into the time of trial but rescued from evil. In doing so we ask that the Lord will “uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle...” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 52, Question and Answer 127)
Belgic Confession, Article 26 speaks about the intercession of Christ as the ascended Lord. “We have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” We, therefore, do not offer our prayers as though saints could be our intercessor, nor do we offer them on the “basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.” Because Jesus Christ is our sympathetic High Priest, we approach the throne “in full assurance of faith.”
 
No greater assurance can be found than that expressed in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 1: “I am not my own by I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
 

In all difficult times, we eagerly await the final day when God “will set all things right, judge evil, and condemn the wicked” (Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 57).

432

God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength

Additional Prayers

We praise and worship you, O God, because you are with your people;
powerfully and miraculously you defend your church and your Word
against all fanatic spirits, against the gates of hell,
and against the assault of flesh and sin.
All glory and praise to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forevermore. Amen.
432

God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength

Tune Information

Name
GERARD (NOEL)
Key
F Major or modal
Meter
8.6.8.6 D

Recordings

432

God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength

Hymn Story/Background

This song in celebration of Zion's security (see also Psalms 48 and 76) has heartened God's people throughout the ages. Luther echoed it in "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Traditionally ascribed to (or assigned to) the "sons of Korah," the psalm was no doubt composed for liturgical use at the temple. As a song concerning the royal city of the kingdom of God on earth, it expresses Israel's hope in the certain triumph of God's kingdom. The psalm's imagery of a river that "make[s] glad the city of God" (v. 4) serves as a metaphor for the unfailing flow of God's sustaining and refreshing blessings, which make the city of God like the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2: 10). In this psalm we confess fearless trust in God, "our refuge" (st. 1), and extol God's refreshing river and protective presence (st. 2). God stills the rage of the nations, inspiring us with faith's strong confidence (st. 3). The LORD's mighty victories assure us of the people's peace (st. 4), and God's reassuring word "Be still, and know. . ." inspires us again with the confidence of faith (st. 5). The versification is based on the 1650 Scottish psalter version.
 
The tune NOEL is also known as EARDISLEY or GERARD. Arthur Seymour Sullivan adapted this traditional English melody (probably one of the variants of the folk song "Dives and Lazarus"), added phrases of his own to recast the melody in common meter double, and published it first in his Church Hymns with Tunes (1874). In that collection Sullivan set this tune to the Christmas carol "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," which explains one of the tune names. Though NOEL has frequent changes of harmony, do not sing it too slowly; keep the rhythmic energy moving. Antiphonal performance may highlight the refrain (second half of st. 3 and 5) in this psalm: all sing stanzas 1, 3, and 5; alternate groups sing stanzas 2 and 4. The folk origin of the tune suggests unison singing to most, but Sullivan's harmony will attract some choristers. Either way, this is lively music.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Arthur Seymour Sullivan (b. Lambeth, London. England. 1842; d. Westminster, London, 1900) was born of an Italian mother and an Irish father who was an army bandmaster and a professor of music. Sullivan entered the Chapel Royal as a chorister in 1854. He was elected as the first Mendelssohn scholar in 1856, when he began his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He also studied at the Leipzig Conservatory (1858-1861) and in 1866 was appointed professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music. Early in his career Sullivan composed oratorios and music for some Shakespeare plays. However, he is best known for writing the music for lyrics by William S. Gilbert, which produced popular operettas such as "H.M.S. Pinafore" (1878), "The Pirates of Penzance" (1879), "The Mikado" (1884), and "Yeomen of the Guard" (1888). These operettas satirized the court and everyday life in Victorian times. Although he composed some anthems, in the area of church music Sullivan is best remembered for his hymn tunes, written between 1867 and 1874 and published in The Hymnary (1872) and Church Hymns (1874), both of which he edited. He contributed hymns to A Hymnal Chiefly from The Book of Praise (1867) and to the Presbyterian collection Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship (1867). A complete collection of his hymns and arrangements was published posthumously as Hymn Tunes by Arthur Sullivan (1902). Sullivan steadfastly refused to grant permission to those who wished to make hymn tunes from the popular melodies in his operettas.
— Bert Polman
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