God Arrives at the Crack of Dawn

God Arrives at the Crack of Dawn
Psalm 46, especially verse 5

We note a thing or two in Psalm 46. Here, read it for yourself from the King James Version:

Psalm 46, KJV
1
[[To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.]]
God [is] our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed,
and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3
[Though] the waters thereof roar [and] be troubled,
[though] the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
Selah.
4
[There is] a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,
the holy [place] of the tabernacles of the most High.
5
God [is] in the midst of her; she shall not be moved:
God shall help her, [and that] right early.
6
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
7
The LORD of hosts [is] with us; the God of Jacob [is] our refuge.
Selah.
8
Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
9
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth;
he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder;
he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10
Be still, and know that I [am] God:
I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11
The LORD of hosts [is] with us; the God of Jacob [is] our refuge.
Selah.

See the closing bit of verse 5: “God shall help her, and that right early.”

Now let’s see the entire Psalm again in the New Revised Standard Version, and see the NRSV treatment of verse 5b:

Psalm 46, NRSV
To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
1
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah
4
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.Selah
8
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought 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 shields with fire.
10
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.Selah

God will come when the morning dawns. Hmmm. We wonder.

And for our last look at the entire Psalm (for now), let’s see the New King James Version:

Psalm 46, NKJV
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. A Song for Alamoth.
1
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
2
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
4
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
5
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
6
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
7
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
9
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the 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 refuge. Selah

“Just at the break of dawn.” God arrives to help at the “break of dawn.”

Not until the break of dawn? God waits until then?

We were reading the NKJV translation when we took note of verse 5. This “break of dawn” phrasing choice seems out of place to us. We fancy that we might hear this in an old western cowboy movie, where the Indians attack the pioneers in the wagon train at the break of dawn. Or the outlaw is hung at the break of dawn. It seems odd, to our ears anyway, here in the Hebrew Psalms.

But okay… more on this later….


You perhaps noted while reading the three full-Psalm translations above that Psalm 46 has two of the most well-known phrases of the Bible:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (from verse 1, RSV)

and

Be still, and know that I am God.
(from verse 10, Revised Standard Version)

The three translations above present these classic lines in nearly identical translation, and we hope you recognize them.

Psalm 46 is the only psalm where these oft-quoted lines are found. Their sentiment is of course found throughout scripture and Bible verse, but the string of precise words for these two lines is found only here in Psalm 46.

Ponder the feeling and imagery of these two lines: they are comforting, soft, protective, calming lines. God is here to help. God provides shelter. Remain calm, God is here. God is ever present.

Now consider the balance of horrific imagery in 46. Turmoil is all around. Can it get any worse on earth than this: the earth is violently quaking and being destroyed altogether, the mountains are violently tumbling down and are roaring, the seas are violent, the geopolitical situation is violent, nations and states and governments are being violently toppled, there is violent warfare all around.

Amid all this violence and both natural and political upheaval, God enters the scene and adds his own violence! He makes the wars to cease but he does so by his own violent breaking and burning of machines of war.

All this is not merely something you read about in your web browser on some news site: it has moved from Moscow, Beijing, Jerusalem, Paris, London, and Washington into your local town and is heading down your street. The violent mob is at YOUR door.

And yet God speaks to you and says, “I am melting the earth. Chill out.”

You might think we exaggerate and make light of God’s word, but see the words of the Psalmist:

6 … he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 … see the works of Yahweh, … desolation …
9 … he burns with fire.
10 … Be still, …
(from Psalm 46, vv 6-10, Lexham English Bible)

The Soviet Red Army and a mob of black-hooded revolutionary thugs are in your living room, and God turns to you and says, “Relax. I’m coming to help. I’m your ever present bulwark and refuge, never failing.”

And then he adds, as He says in verse 5:

“I’ll be there at the break of dawn.”

You might be forgiven, we pray, if your immediate reaction is not one of calmness.

Bible Bits sees a fundamental lesson here in Psalm 46 regarding God’s eternal (and often temporal as well) promises of well-being, comfort, gentleness, and life+salvation on the one hand, and God’s presence with us in a temporal, natural, political, civil world of everything from pesky mosquitoes to earthquakes to noisy neighbors to rioting to carpet bombing on the other. Psalm 46 has this contrast in the extreme, and God makes no promises that you will escape the most terrible of temporal, earthly rough stuff. And yet he also declares he is your ever present help and tells you to be still!

But this heavy item of Christian doctrine is far removed from Bible Bit’s mission interests in the smaller bits of God’s written word. So we won’t argue the point further. We do however wish to point out the contrast between the two well-known lines, with their imagery of gentleness, and the remainder of this most awful, violent psalm. And that God is involved in both halves of the contrast. Psalm 46 is most striking.

A remarkable psalm. Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble…

Be still, and know that I am God
(Psalm 46 from vv 1 and 10, American Standard Version)


We will return to our “crack of dawn” bit here in a moment, but first we want to bring to your attention another item of small interest in our Psalm 46. This has to do with the structure of this Hebrew poetry, and what appears to be a case of something being dropped out of the text. Here let us illustrate using the text from the New American Standard Bible along with some modifications and wording tweaks to better show our thoughts on structural issues.

First, the final two stanzas of this three stanza hymn, picking up at (we removed verse number labels) verse 4:

Stanza 2
A There is a river whose streams make the city of God happy,
A’ The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
B God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
B’ God will help her when morning dawns.
C The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
C’ He raised His voice, the earth quaked.

Refrain: The LORD of armies is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Selah – Instrumental Break: Guitar Solo

Stanza 3
A Come, behold the works of the LORD,
A’ Who has inflicted horrific events on the earth.
B He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
B’ He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.
C “Stop [striving] and know that I am God;
C’ I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.”

Refrain: The LORD of armies is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Selah – Instrumental Break: Oboe solo to end

Note the A – A’ – B – B’ – C – C’ form. Three pairs of Hebew-style statement + statement’ in each stanza.

If you buy our construction of the English (and by the way, we really oughta be doing this in the Hebrew) you’ll note that we submit here that the lyric form has distinct stanzas (think: song verses) of three lines of thought (A, B, C) each and that each line of thought — in good Hebrew poetry fashion — comes in a sort of call & response, or thought + thought’ (A + A’, B + B’…) form.

Some of the commentary material we consulted (Ellicott, Cambridge, Keil & Delitzsch, points out that Psalm 46 is thought by some to have a corruption at the end of what we will label as the first stanza. This piqued our interest, and we are attempting to display this for you to see here.

You will note the mysterious Hebrew “Selah’s” at the end of the verse 10, at the end of verse 7, and at the end of verse 3.

You will also note the repeated “refrain” preceding the 2nd and 3rd of these Selahs, or rather, at the end of stanzas two and three. But not the first. There is no refrain connected to the first Selah, at the end of verse 3.

And so, our speculation is that our first stanza (which we will show now below) seems to have a hanging Selah, with a missing preceding refrain, and is also missing a chunk of material which would form the C’ addition to the C line which we see in verse three. Here is our speculatively complete Psalm 46 (again, from the NASB with our embellishments):

Worship Song #46

Directions & Notes: For the praise band director. Composed by the sons of Korah. A feature for oboe and congregational sing-along.

A God is our refuge and strength,
A’ A very ready help in trouble.
B Therefore we will not fear, though the earth shakes
B’ And the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
C Though its waters roar [and] foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
[ speculative missing C’ addition to C ]
[ and also a missing refrain ]

Selah – Instrumental Break – First oboe solo.

Stanza 2
A There is a river whose streams make the city of God happy,
A’ The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
B God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
B’ God will help her when morning dawns.
C The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
C’ He raised His voice, the earth quaked.

Refrain: The LORD of armies is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Selah – Instrumental Break: Energetic Guitar Solo

Stanza 3
A Come, behold the works of the LORD,
A’ Who has inflicted horrific events on the earth.
B He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
B’ He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.
C “Stop [striving] and know that I am God;
C’ I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth.”

Refrain: The LORD of armies is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Selah – Instrumental Break: Oboe solo to end

Now let’s return to God’s curious arrival at the break of dawn.

Not only do we find the English wording curious, but as a matter of doctrine, we scratch our heads at the notion that God will delay any length of time whatsoever once he has determined that He will be there to comfort His followers. And in this particular psalm, God is already intervening in the cataclysmic events and God has announced that He is an ever present help, and has for all intents and purposes told us to “be still” because he and his protective bulwark are already present. Yes?

So are we interpreting the “God will arrive at dawn… early in the morning… at the break of dawn” to literally?

Now see the wording choice — and meaning choice — of these three thought-for-thought (or perhaps paraphrase), loosely phrased translations:

New Living Translation: God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it. (Psalm 46:5, NLT)

The Voice: The True God never sleeps and always resides in the city of joy; He makes it unstoppable, unshakable. When it awakes at dawn, the True God has already been at work. (Psalm 46:5, The Voice)

Easy-to-Read Version: God is in that city, so it will never be destroyed. He is there to help even before sunrise.

These three more easily provide the take-away that God is there, and has been there, and and there to protect, from morning to night and tomorrow, day after day. Especially The Voice translation, which explicitly claims this.

We looked at many English translations of verse five, and these are the only three translations which come close to wording and idiom meaning which suggest (more or less) that God is around all the time, before now and after now. Yet these three are “looser” English translations not intended for critical word-for-word study, but instead for meaningful, easier-reading, devotional time.

Now for sure, one could read “at the break of dawn” as figure of speech which also means that God is around all the time, before now and after now. And we suppose that, based on all we’ve learned as Christians regarding the nature of God and his relationship with believing followers, this is in fact what it DOES mean.

Nevertheless, we find “at the break of dawn” a curious thing.

Are we missing something? Is the psalmist truly saying that is away for now, but will arrive at dawn? Or should we read this as we would read “God is there morning and night, at dusk and dawn, day after day, 24/7/365?”

Do you have insight on this turn of phrase and wording which we have missed?

For your pleasure, here is a large selection of renderings of verse 5 from a variety of translations. All of these, if taken explicitly straight-up, declare that God is away for now, but will arrive early tomorrow morning:

God will help it when the morning dawns.
God will help it when morning dawns.
God will help it in the morning early.
God will help it at the break of dawn.
God will help it at the beginning of the day.
God will help it at daybreak.
God will help it at break of day.
God will help her, and that right early.
God will help her when the morning dawns.
God will help her when the morning comes.
God will help her when morning dawns.
God will help her right early.
God will help her right early [at the dawn of the morning].
God will help her in the early dawn.
God will help her at the face of morning.
God will help her at the break of dawn.
God will help her at daybreak.
God will help her at dawn.
God will help her at break of day.
God shall helpe it very earely.
God shall help it very early.
God shall help it early in the gray morrowtide.
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
God shall help her, at the approach of morning.
God shall help her, as the morning dawns.
God shall help her, and that right early.
God shall help her in the early morning.
God shall help her at the dawn of the morning.
God shall help her at the approach of the morning.
God will assist it in the early morning.
God rescues it at the break of dawn.
God himself is living in that city; therefore it stands unmoved despite the turmoil everywhere. He will not delay his help.
God helps her at the turn of the morning!
God helps her at the turn of the morning!
God doth help her at the turn of the morn!
God doth help her at the turn of the morn!
From the very break of day, God will protect it.
Elohim will help it at the break of dawn.
Elohim shall help it at early boker.
At daybreak his help will be seen with the appearing of the dawn.
when daybreak comes, God will help it.
the Lorde wyll helpe her, and that ryght early.
he will help her at the break of day.
for God helpeth her, & yt right early.
at early dawn he will come to its aid.
at break of day God comes to its rescue.
He will help it at dawn.
He is there to help even before sunrise.
God at your service from crack of dawn.

We did come across one final translation — but this based on the Greek Septuagint text, not the Hebrew — which offers an alternative. Here is the Brenton Septuagint Translation:

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her with his countenance. (Brenton Septuagint, Psalm 46:5)


By the way: When Jacob wrestled with the angel / a man / God throughout the night at Penuel (Genesis 32:22-32), the wrestling ended at the break of dawn.

Another by the way: Martin Luther’s well-known hymn, Ein Feste Burg, known in English as A Mighty Fortress is our God, was inspired by Psalm 46.

God bless you! May glad bless you with His grace and mercy and nice things in today’s temporal now, and for all eternity!

If you choose to respond to this post, please provide scripture and commentary from the best sources you can find. 🙂

We are indebted here and in most of our posts to the Blue Letter Bible, Bible Gateway, and Bible Hub.

We pray you arise at the crack of dawn every day and read the actual Bible for yourself. However good it might be to read ABOUT the Bible and ABOUT being a Christian, you must first read the blog of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the actual Bible itself. Read the actual Bible for yourself! 🙂

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