I wondered what it would yield if I put the lyrics of Luther’s greatest hymn up against a few simple study notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible on Psalm 46, the psalm by which “A Mighty Fortress” was inspired.
Let me know what you get out of it. Right click and open in another window to hear the audio, if you so desire. I highly recommend your doing so. And thanks to ReformationArt.com for the use of many of the engravings I’ve featured in my posts this month.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal 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.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Now, compare Psalm 46 from the English Standard Version, of course!
1 God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,3 though its waters roar and foam,though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
[a river. Jerusalem has no river. This figurative reference most likely draws upon the ocmmon equation of Jerusalem in the promised land with the Garden of Eden, which had a prominent river (Gen. 2:10). Both Eden and Jerusalem served as loci of God’s special presence on Earth. Ezekiel’s vision also included a river flowing from God’s temple throughout the land (Ezekiel 47). Note also the river of life flowing from God’s presence in Revelation 22:1-2 and Jesus’ teaching about the living water that flows from those who believe in him (John 4:14; 7:38).
he city of God . . . Jerusalem. As the Israelites looked at the temple, they felt secure in this symbol of God’s protecting presence. Later on in Israel’s history the people presumed on God’s presence and viewed the temple as an inviolable sanctuary that necessarily ensured their safety from the Babylonians (Jer. 7:4). Psalm 46 describes the faithful, devoted and obedient looking to the temple for security.]
5 God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
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.
Psalm 46 Introduction. This psalm is a moving affirmation of trust in the Lord in the midst of extreme adversity [ That parallels Luther’s experience easily ]. The source of the psalmist’s confidence was that God was with his people [ Ditto, Brother Martin ]. The Lord in his temple would protect them. To assert that “God is with us” is at the heart of the covenant. There are some affinities here with Psalms 48, 76, 84, and 87, which are called “Zion Songs.” Though Zion is not specifically mentioned in Psalm 46, it is alluded to in verses 4 and 5. Martin Luther was moved by this psalm to write “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As the Israelites could look at the temple in faith and know that God was with them, so Christians can look to Jesus Chrsit as their Immanuel, “God with us.”