The Psalm is credited to the sons of Korah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:19. In the introductory statement the tune is said to be based on “after the manner of virgins” but some debate has been based around whether this is the name of a familiar tune or a Hebrew expression for using high voices.
The Psalm is composed of four parts:
- Verse 1: Designation of the sons of Korah as authors and reference to the manner of performance
- Verse 2-4: Confession of trust of the community, even if the creation were sinking into chaos
- Verse 5-8: View of the undisturbed security of the city of God, which can not be shaken by the attack from outside
- Verse 9-12: Looking back on the victory of God and on his peacemaking power.
In verses 8 and 12, a is chorus repeated. This chorus was originally probably between verses 4 and 5, but probably fell off by a Abschreibefehler.
Portions of the psalm are used or referenced in several Jewish prayers. Verse 8 is the ninth verse of V’hu Rachum in Pesukei Dezimra, and is also a part of Uva Letzion.Verse 12 is part of Havdalah. Yemenite Jews include it as part of Yehi Kivod.
A cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach is based on Psalm 46, and Ludwig Hailmann wrote the Reformation era song “Praise God, ye pious Christians, rejoice with David, the psalmist”. In the 17th century, the composer Johann Pachelbel wrote a motet from Psalm 46 called ist unser Gott und Zuversicht Stärcke, and in 1699, Michel-Richard Delalande also composed his grand motet based on the Psalm and Jean Philippe Rameau also used this Psalm for his “Grands Motets”
Shakespeare’s alleged involvement
For several decades, some theorists have suggested William Shakespeare placed his mark on the translated text of Psalm 46 that appears in the King James Bible, although many scholars view this as unlikely, stating that the translations were probably agreed upon by a committee of scholars. The 46th word from the beginning of Psalm 46 is “shake” and the 46th word from the end (omitting the liturgical mark “Selah“) is “spear”. Shakespeare was in King James’ service during the preparation of the King James Bible, and was generally considered to be 46 years old in 1611 when the translation was completed.
However, as the 1560 Geneva Bible version of Psalm 46 has the words “shake” and “spear” in almost exactly the same position, it is most likely that the presence of Shakespeare’s name is merely a coincidence.