Floods, Refuge, and the Voice of God: Luther's Vision of Psalm 46 (Part 1)

It seems we can think of little else right now. The motif of water, assuming a variety of roles, is one of the leading metaphors in Hebrew poetry. In many contexts water imagery is closely associated with chaos, according to Old Testament scholar William P. Brown in his exhaustive study of metaphor in the Psalms.[1]

Repeatedly, God enforces order, an extension of his righteous character and rule, on natural chaos; the “scenario of destruction paves the way for the establishment of a salutary order,” as Brown explains. God does so by His word, as He did at creation’s birth when the Spirit hovered over the formless waters. The waters, however, are not always inanimate or amorphous. In some Psalms their force is embodied in the image of the sea monster Leviathan, cast in the framework of a combat or Chaoskampf motif. In Psalm 74, Brown notes, “God achieves victory over watery chaos through the exercise of royal office”:

Yet God my King is from old,
Who works salvation in the earth’s midst.
You divided Sea (yam) by your strength;
You broke the heads of the dragons (tannînîm) of the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan.”[2] (Psalm 74:12-14a)

YHWH, agent of all powers and forces, can sovereignly choose to cause tumult as well as to silence it, as when he ripped open the Red Sea to accomplish His deliverance of Israel.

It is the resounding word, the voice of the Lord that thunders through Psalm 29, Psalm 93, and others. Psalm 29, an important enthronement Psalm recalling Israel’s royal temple liturgy, incorporates the combat motif while also drawing on the genre of storm deity hymn found in ancient Mesopotamian literature. This Psalm pictures YHWH enthroned directly upon the waters. As Brown states: “Raging floods, rather than posing a threat to YHWH, become the foundation beneath His sovereign throne. . . . [Furthermore, he observes,] in contradistinction to Near Eastern lore, the convulsion of creation is not the prerequisite for royal rule but the result of it.”[3] YHWH, agent of all powers and forces, can sovereignly choose to cause tumult as well as to silence it, as when he ripped open the Red Sea to accomplish His deliverance of Israel. His voice thunders far above the loudest floods:

The floods have lifted up their voice; . . .
Greater than the voice of the many waters (mayyîm rabbîm),
More majestic ('addîr)[4] than the breakers of the sea,
[most] majestic on high is YHWH.
Your decrees are very firm;
Holiness befits your house,
YHWH forevermore. (Psalm 93:3-5)

When Floodwaters Rise

Floodwaters can signify[5] not only natural chaos but political turmoil, the riots of the peoples. God, a royal warrior, is victor in the cosmic battle,[6] . . . poised to subdue any force that would plunge creation into chaos,”[7] which often includes the Psalmists’ and Israel’s enemies. Enemies and “deep waters” are juxtaposed in striking parallelism in Psalm 69, where the Psalmist depicts himself as “drowning” in shame, with shame covering his face as waters cover the face of the deep (69:7), and begs to be rescued from both: “Let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.” (Psalm 69:14b, KJV)[8]

In Psalm 124, a hymn of community thanksgiving, the Israelites thank YHWH for having driven back their enemies, which “would have swallowed us alive,” as well as the “raging waters” which “would have swept us away.” YHWH silences the fury of both seas and peoples, who become associated with chaos through the use of water imagery, Brown notes:

You silence the roaring of the seas,
The roaring of their waves,
The tumult of the peoples. (Psalm 65:7)[9]

Refuge in the Storm

Psalm 46, one of the great Zion psalms, “revels in water imagery of a cataclysmic scale,” as Brown describes it, “while conveying the calm assurance of God’s saving power amid national threat.”[10] This Psalm is divided into two scenes with Zion as its centerpiece, God’s city fed by God’s river, a refuge against chaos. The picture of flooding waters and roiling seas which permeates Psalm 46:1-3 stands in dramatic contrast to the calm, life-giving river whose streams “make glad the city of God.” (v. 4) As Brown points out, this is no ordinary river but a spiritual one, flowing from the very sanctuary of God. The river image recalls the crucial importance of a city’s water source as its lifeline in a time of attack or besiegement, as occurred in Hezekiah’s time. Brown here notes significantly that “within the city, water is an agent of joy; outside its walls, water . . . destroys the nations.”[11] Theologically, he continues, the river “connotes God’s solidarity;” as its streams flow through the city, His presence indwells her, which is why “‘she shall not be moved’ . . . . The river is a sign and seal of God’s holy habitation in Jerusalem’s midst.”[12]

In scene one of the Psalm, mountains totter and crash; in scene two, kingdoms fall and the earth melts. Brown sums up the stunning picture: “As cosmic chaos slides into political mayhem, . . . while both mountains and nations collapse into the churning sea, indeed as the entire earth dissolves, the city of God remains unmoved.”[13] Just as Psalm 29 ends with the voice of YHWH “outshouting” the voice of floods, notes Brown,[14] and Psalm 65 shows Him silencing the raging peoples, Psalm 46 “concludes with a cease-and-desist order against both the nations and the cosmos: ‘Settle down (harpû) and acknowledge me as God! Exalted am I among the nations, and in the earth!’ (v. 10). The command reflects a new reality, an equilibrium established by God’s dramatic intervention in which the weapons of war are silenced and chaos subsides.”[15] In each case it is the voice of YHWH, the Word, that is the prime mover which all powers obey.

How did Luther read Psalm 46 and its richly complex metaphors when he paraphrased it in “A mighty fortress,” destined to become the battle song of the Reformation and one of the Church’s great hymns of all time? Read Part 2 coming soon!

In the meantime, our ongoing prayers rise for the victims of storm and flood as well as for those doing backbreaking relief work and reconstruction. May their spirits be lifted by the stillness which YHWH’s voice can bring even in the wake of fierce devastation, the peace which He achieved in Christ when he calmed the sea of Galilee and when he has stilled past storms in our lives, and may all whose trust is placed in Him be sustained today by the strength and joy that His river of life provides for His holy Zion.

May their spirits be lifted by the stillness which YHWH’s voice can bring even in the wake of fierce devastation, the peace which He achieved in Christ when he calmed the sea of Galilee and when he has stilled past storms in our lives.

[1] William P. Brown, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor (Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox, 2002).
[2] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 109. Translation from the Hebrew by Brown.
[3] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 112.
[4] “The term indicates expansive glory, both divine (Psalm 67:5) and watery (Exodus 15:10).” Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 246, note 41.
[5] Or “target”, the technical term used in linguistic analysis of metaphor. Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 106.
[6] A motif throughout the Psalms and also in ancient Mesopotamian literature and Babylonian epics.
[7] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 112. God pronounced His created order good, and promised never to create global chaos through flooding again.
[8] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 114.
[9] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 115.
[10] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 115.
[11] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 115.
[12] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 117.
[13] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 116.
[14] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 112.
[15] Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 116-117.


Dr. Esther Crookshank is a Professor of Church Music at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. She teaches in the areas of hymnology, musicology, applied ethnomusicology, and musical aesthetics. Since 2009 she has also served as director of the Academy of Sacred Music, the seminary’s guest artist and lecture forum.

Songwriting Seminar 2017

In the Spring of 2017, The Institute for Biblical Worship hosted a Songwriting Seminar for worship students. Funded by a generous gift from Ed and Sara Fu, three students were chosen to collaborate with Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music and Craig Adams of Lifeway Worship on their music and text. After spending a weekend editing, writing, and rehearsing, the students along with Norton Hall Band debuted the songs live in concert.

We also have lectures given at the conference by Kauflin on Congregational Song and Adams on Keys to Great Christian Songs.

These songs are written for local congregations. Please feel free to use them in your church.

7 Tips for Writing a Philosophy of Worship

Whether it’s an intricately written document providing guiding principles and goals or it’s a “shotgun” approach of firing off new ideas and hoping you hit the target, every pastor has a ministry philosophy. The same is true for worship ministry. Too often, a culturally-shaped methodology informs our philosophy of worship. Over time, this chips away at theology, and we can find ourselves falling into pragmatism or even unorthodoxy. Instead, what we believe about God must always sculpt our philosophy which then informs our practice. Does doctrine determine what you do?

Have you considered writing a philosophy of worship ministry to use as a guide and check for crafting Christ-centered worship services? Though the task might seem daunting, a written philosophy can prove vital to maintaining integrity in ministry and casting a vision for worship in the congregation. Here are seven tips for writing a philosophy of worship ministry for the local church.

  1. Keep it Trinitarian: If worship is to be Trinitarian in nature, then our definitions of worship should be. Look to Paul’s doxology in Ephesians 1 as a model where he echoes over and over “to the praise of his glory” while describing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We worship the triune God, and worship that neglects any of the persons is simply unchristian.
  2. Keep it biblical: Let the Word determine your belief and practice. A powerful philosophy of worship oozes Scripture from every pore. If we desire our people to be rooted in the Bible, then our ministries must be as well. Build your ministry upon the Rock of Ages (Matt 7:24-27).
  3. Keep it focused: Avoid tangents or words that might open yourself up to speculation or question. Make every phrase crystal clear. Determine from the outset what the most important aspects of worship ministry are in your local church and stick to them. The old communication adage goes “Say what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell them what you said.” The same is true for writing a concise, focused philosophy of ministry.
  4. Keep it timeless: Avoid common buzzwords that float around in the blogosphere. Write timelessly that your philosophy will endure and be as relevant in 50 years as it is today. Words like “energy” and “experience” will fade from vernacular, but biblical words like “truth” and “gospel” will stand forever (Isa 40:7-8).
  5. Keep it simple: Though you might have a seminary education, most of your congregation will not. Use words that they know and can latch on to. Use these words in your conversations with your bands and choirs and from the platform. They might not know what “hypostatic union” means, but they do know Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” Ministry is about the people, so your philosophy should serve them.
  6. Keep it practical: How does the philosophy you write actively spell out in your local church? Rooting ourselves in the Gospel truth of the Word is paramount, but with faith comes obedience (James 2:14-19). All theology is ultimately practical because it tells us not only who God is but also how to worship and love him. Does your worship philosophy do the same? 
  7. Keep it short: Limit yourself to a two-page document. This is plenty of space to provide short, to-the-point principles. Learn to condense your writing. Make every sentence count and maximize your impact by using specific, detailed wording. Never say in two sentences what you can say in one. Would your philosophy easily fit on your church’s webpage? Could someone interested in visiting your church learn your stance on worship without reading a novel or sending a clarifying e-mail?

So, what about you? Have you thought through your approach to ministry? Do you have a theology of worship guiding the songs you choose, the instrumentation you implement, or the services you craft? Spend some time sitting down and crafting a philosophy for worship ministry informed by and rooted in the Word. Your ministry and people will no doubt benefit from it. You can find a couple of sample philosophies of worship on our website here and here which might help guide your thoughts. We’d also love to hear from you, so feel free to share your philosophy of ministry with us over on the Contact page.

May the Word shape and guide your worship ministry.


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

A Sample Vision for Worship and the Creative Arts

Worship and Creative Arts Ministry

Christian worship is both the corporate and private response of a redeemed people to the revelation of the triune God found in the Word, to the glory of the Father, by the mediation of Jesus Christ the Son and his atoning work, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The church gathers each week united in the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father through the blood of Christ poured out on Calvary. The gospel shapes corporate worship practice by providing the Christ-centered foundation by which men and women worship God in Spirit and truth for his glory and for their own edification through biblical, congregational elements. The worship pastor’s task, then, is to help provide a renewed glimpse of the gospel each week through biblical and artistically creative means.

Worship should be gospel-shaped, theologically enriching, congregationally driven, missionally focused, and centered on the Word, ultimately uniting believers with Christ and one another in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

Gospel-Shaped Worship

Union with Christ in Spirit results from an authentic encounter with the triune God as the Holy Spirit guides worship of the Father through Christ. Worshipers seeking to engage with God must understand this Trinitarian source, therefore worship must paint a full picture of God, not neglecting any of the persons. Through worshiping Jesus, believers “who [are] joined to the Lord becom[e] one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17; cf. John 37b-39a; Rom 6:5). Participating in gospel-shaped worship is one of the primary ways in which believers unify their spirits with Christ. Re-presenting the gospel story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation each week reminds Christians that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness … so that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet 1:3-4). Our spiritual union with Christ through the workings of the Holy Spirit to the glory of the Father leads believers into worship.

Believers are not only unified with Christ through worship, but also with one another since “there is one body and one Spirit – just as [we] were called to the one hope that belongs to [our] call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).

Theologically-Enriching Worship

Worship must also be done in truth. Christians gather in worship to impart doctrine to one another through teaching, singing, praying, and artistic endeavors. Paul urged the church in Colossae to “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Music and song are not just about the artistic expression of the worshiper as a response to God’s revelation but also about spiritual formation. The Word of Christ dwells richly among his people when they glorify God and edify one another through song and the arts. We disciple one another by singing the truth, and that truth is the Word of God. Through art, Christians declare truth for the glory of God. The gospel provides the firm foundation on which doctrinally rich, transformative, and fresh encounters with the one, true God take place. The eternal truth of God also connects Christians to the historical and global church.

Congregationally-Driven Worship

Christians congregating for worship are a continuation of the grand story of God’s chosen people living in the world. No Christian is isolated from the narrative of God’s redemptive plan for the world, and corporate worship is a vivid reminder of this fact. Believers of countless backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and cultures gather together to witness one another affirm the same truths and grow from participating in worship, discipling one another in the process. (Rev 7:9-10). True worship of the living God includes the redeemed from every nation and tribe.

Paul also reminds his readers that participation in worship holds utmost importance: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:4-6a). Worship is not passive, but active. Christians should therefore employ their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord and the church body in a variety of ways (Rom 12:1-2).

Missionally-Focused Worship

One of the goals of corporate worship is to put words in the mouth of the people: battle cries, funeral dirges, victory chants, and songs for everything in between, to carry into everyday life and shape our devotion to the Lord. Through personal and corporate encounters with God, Christians are energized to proclaim and live out their faith to a lost and dying world. As Christians worship, the Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).

Word-Centered Worship

The Bible not only provides a clear picture of gospel-shaped worship, but it also regulates the approach to worship. Through the Word, God mandates what must take place during corporate worship. The Bible depicts worship practice through:

  • declaration with song and voice (Ps. 96, 150; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Titus 2:11-15)
  • praying (Acts 2:42, 4:23-31, Eph 6:18)
  • public reading of Scripture (Ezra 8:3; 1 Tim 4:13)
  • teaching and preaching (Ezra 8:8; Acts 2:42, 5:42; 2 Tim 4:2)
  • service and the giving of resources (Acts 2:44-45; 2 Cor 9:6-7; Phil 4:16)
  • baptism (Acts 2:41; Eph 4:5)
  • observance of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:17-24)
  • exercise of spiritual disciplines (Acts 13:2-3; 1 Tim 4:7)

This regulation may appear restricting, but in reality, it allows for creativity within biblical bounds. The Lord delights in the creative nature of his people, and Christians glorify God through creative endeavors. What is crucial to this regulative principle of worship is the centrality of the Word to worship. The Word guides and shepherds man, while providing the substance of worship – the revelation of Jesus Christ. God directly reveals himself to man through the Scriptures, and so man’s understanding of who God is and the redemptive work of Christ comes from the text. God’s revelation fuels and appropriates man’s response. The Bible gives us glimpses into the lives of those who had direct encounters with God (Ex 33:17-23; 2 Chr 5-7; Isa 6, Acts 4:42-47; Rev 4:8-11) and lets us see how people in the Scriptures responded to God’s revelation in various scenarios. The responses always take the form of the elements listed above. The Scriptures, then, provide the guiding principles for worship.

The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ – eternally begotten of the Father and giver of the Holy Spirit – is the source, mediator, and object of our worship, now and forevermore. “For his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). May we, his redeemed people, worship him now both in Spirit and truth by the power of the gospel!


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

Christ's Ascension Matters

Scripture reports that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared several times in physical form to many people. Forty days later, the book of Acts tells that Jesus was again with his disciples:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power then the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:6-11 ESV)

Last Friday I had the privilege to attend commencement ceremonies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. President R. Albert Mohler’s address to graduates was inspired by the account of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. His message was entitled, “As if It Had Been the Face of an Angel.” This title harkened to verse 15 of Acts chapter 6: And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)

Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven: Christ’s ascension.

Dr. Mohler pointed out that the original text indicates Stephen’s face had the same other-worldly glow as did Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence and receiving the Ten Commandments. Scripture gives even more explanation of Stephen’s angelic countenance: But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)

Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven: Christ’s ascension. Jesus Christ did ascend to heaven – not as a non-corporal spirit being, rather, in a new physical body given by God at his resurrection.

Why is this important? As Gerrit Scott Dawson writes, “Through the ascension we discover that the incarnation continues. Jesus remains united to our human nature ... If Jesus’ new life does not continue, then he could have died again ... The resurrection requires an ascension to be completed ... To put it bluntly, if Jesus did not go up as a man, he cannot come again as a man. The Judge would not be our Brother, not the one tempted in all ways as we are, not the man with the nail-scarred hands and the ‘rich wounds yet visible above.’ He might be God in that case, but he would not be human. And we would be lost."[1]

What God allowed Stephen to see gives a clear and true understanding of the role Christ now plays on our behalf.

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2)

Robert Webber put it this way, “Jesus Christ, this man who is God, participated in our humanity to die for us and to be resurrected for us, and he now has ascended to the very throne of God to continually represent us to the Father. For ‘he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’(Hebrews 9:24 NIV). He who did everything that ever needed to be done to save us now continually stands before the Father interceding for us!"[2]

This year (2017), Ascension Day is Thursday, May 25th. If Jesus Christ is your Savior and the Lord of your life, take some time to reflect on how perfectly he loves us and how grateful we are for his continuing work on our behalf before the throne of God in heaven.

[1]. Dawson, Gerrit Scott. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004), 3-5.

[2]. Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), 159.


Marc Brown serves as the Minister of Worship and the Arts at First Baptist Church Mount Washington, Kentucky, where he lives and serves with his wife Cyndi and their daughter, Miriam. Marc earned a B.A. in music from Western Kentucky University, a Masters of Church Music from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Worship Studies degree from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.

New Doxology album released!

"The Wondrous Mystery" is now available!

The latest from Doxology is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play Music, and other major music providers.

The album features four original arrangements created just for Doxology:

  • Cliff Duren arranged "Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery" and "Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor," two originals from Matt Boswell and friends
  • "Victory in Jesus" was also arranged by Cliff Duren
  • "And Can It Be" is arranged by Dan Forrest

Southern Productions will be releasing a new video soon featuring the group as well. We'll post that here when it's released, so check back soon. Grab your copy today and help spread the word! Be sure to tell us what you think of the album in the comments below.