Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Psalm 46:1-2, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Trouble. In the English language it’s a word that can have different meanings to different people. Much of it has to do with the context in which the word is used and the person who is using it. For example, “Mom, can you help me with this math problem? It’s giving me trouble… Just wait until your father gets home! You are going to be in trouble!… Doctor, you need to know that my family has a history of heart trouble… Excuse me, sir, but may I trouble you for directions?… Do you know how much trouble it was for me to find this gift for you?” Indeed, trouble is one word that has many variations of meaning. However, there is one common thread that connects them all. In the final analysis each variation still involves some measure of distress. The person involved is experiencing some type of strain. They are feeling the anguish of struggling against some greater need. Whether it is a difficult homework assignment or the frustration of thoughtless words they are experiencing trouble and they need help.

In the Hebrew there is also a similar sense of variation when it comes to translating the original word into English. For example, the word translated “trouble” here in Psalm 46 is used in other places in the Bible to refer to a rival (cf. 1 Sam 1:6). Most specifically the word refers to someone whose actions are a source of personal pain, someone who provokes to despair. In this case it refers specifically to a person but the main idea is still distress. Someone is experiencing trouble (at the hands of another) and they need help.

Another variation of the Hebrew word comes from its masculine counterpart (long story short… in many languages words have gender). In the masculine the word refers most specifically to something that is narrow, restricted, or very tight. In fact, as the word appears here in Psalm 46 there is a very real sense in which the wording could be translated to read, “…a very present help in tight places.” Hence, the photo that I included with this blog. Trouble in the OT? Think of the modern-day expression of being caught between a rock and a hard place. You were hemmed in on both sides. Little room to move or maneuver. You were stuck. You could struggle. You could strain. You could kick and scream until you were ready to give out and give up. But the only way you were going to get out or get through the tight place? Someone was going to have to help you. For the Psalmist that someone was God. That truth should be our same hope as well.

I am always hesitant to extract a singular verse of scripture from its larger context. I don’t want to get sidetracked right now but I think the path to heresy begins that way many times. But in this case, I think we have sufficient support throughout the OT to handle verse 1 of this Psalm on its own. No matter the situation, no matter the need, no matter the problem or difficulty, when life has us feeling hemmed in, oppressed, and depressed our God is a very present help in times of trouble. He is the One who comes to us when we are distressed, when we are stuck and struggling between faith and fear, trust and worry, dependence and despair. Be honest. Life is hard at times. Sometimes it comes at you in waves and before you fully realize it you feel like the walls are closing in on you. Stuck. Suffocating. Struggling just to survive. You scream for help but no seems to hear. But take heart. You are not alone. God is with you. And He is your help.

In fact, the original language paints a powerful picture that the English words “very present help” just cannot fully convey. Ready for this? Here we go. Our God is ABUNDANTLY AVAILABLE to help you in your trouble. Our God is EXCEEDINGLY ABLE to help you in your trouble. When you were stuck? When you were caught in that tight place? God was the One who came LOOKING FOR YOU. Before you ever cried out His help was already on the way. In fact, the provision was already prepared before the need ever arose. Take heart today. I know that your present situation is squeezing the very life out of you. But God will not fail you. In all things and in every circumstance of life He remains faithful. If you are in trouble right now, He is already there. He is going to get you out of it. He is going to get you through it. He is a very present help in trouble.