During a historic financial collapse in America in the early 1900s, copper miners in Arizona seized upon the opportunity to unionize and demand higher pay and better working conditions.
During labor negotiations, the mining companies held firm, stating that any employee who complained about their conditions would be fired. The miners were stuck with two unfortunate options: continue working in the mines for low pay and bad conditions or be fired and face even greater financial hardship. They were stuck between a rock (the quarry wall) and a hard place (unemployment). From their struggle, this phrase was first coined.
To this day, being stuck between a rock and hard place means you’re faced with two options—and neither of them are good!
Martin Luther knew something about this predicament, as he battled for reformation within the Catholic church. He was given the option of recanting his biblical convictions or potentially losing his life for protesting the corrupt doctrine of the church.
During those difficult days, Luther often turned to Psalm 46 and sung it to himself as an encouragement and source of strength.
Psalm 46 was written at a time when the nation of Judah was trapped inside their city, surrounded by a vast Assyrian army. They were quite literally stuck between a rock (their city walls) and a hard place (the army encamped around them).
Hezekiah, King of Judah, pleaded with God for help in his time of trouble. God graciously responded and delivered the nation, miraculously slaying 185,000 Assyrian soldiers the night before they planned to attack Jerusalem. Out of this great victory came this wonderful Psalm celebrating God’s deliverance of His people.
Just as Luther sang this text for comfort, God invites us to learn some encouraging lessons from Psalm 46.
GOD CONTROLS THE “ALTHOUGH’S” IN OUR LIVES.
Psalm 46 begins:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, although the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, although its waters roar and foam, although the mountains tremble at its swelling” (verses 1-3).
Notice the repetition of this truth. While we know the truth that God is our refuge and help, there are times when it seems that He isn’t.
These “although” circumstances, when the waters roar and the mountains tremble, become moments when we’re tempted to doubt that God is indeed our refuge and strength.
Satan loves “although” moments, doesn’t he? He sows those little seeds of doubt, Although God says he loves you, He allowed this to happen. Although God says He is your refuge, He seems to have left you stranded.
For the nation of Judah, that “although” was an enemy army too big for them to conquer. For Luther, the “although” was the world’s largest religious power united against him.
What is the “although” for you?
Do you believe God is your refuge when bankruptcy is your only option?
Is God still your strength when the doctors have no more answers for your condition?
Do you feel His present help when your marriage ends or your children abandon you?
God says, Although circumstances may be against you, though you may not see it right now, I am your refuge, your strength, and your help. Rely on Me; only I can deliver you.
GOD INVITES US TO PAUSE, NOT REACT.
Three times in this Psalm, including at the end of verse 3, the word “Selah” appears. “Selah” is a Hebrew musical expression that prompts an interlude. It tells the musicians to stop singing and pause long enough for the previous words to sink into the hearts of the worshipers.
“Selah” serves as a question, as if the text is asking us, what do you think about what you just read?
Frankly, we need more Selah in our lives today.
We need less panicking and more pausing.
We too quickly react to circumstances and culture. We tend to panic when bad things happen; when politicians make immoral policy decisions; when Christianity is marginalized by our mainstream culture.
These are moments when God invites us to pause, slow down, and reflect on His faithfulness, goodness, and care in our lives.
Rather than becoming overwhelmed by “although’s,” make them moments of intentional Selah—moments to pause and reflect on the faithfulness of God. Then go back to singing about His timing as you continue trusting in His sovereign plan.
Martin Luther wrote his own original song of praise based on the opening three verses of Psalm 46. Next time you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, you might want to sing along:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing,
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortals ills prevailing;
For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.