What Is the Meaning of the Verse "Be Still and Know That I Am God"? (Part One) - Liz Kanoy




We live in a culture of beautiful verse graphics and products with single verses printed or sewn on, and there is nothing wrong with this—but if we never look at the full passage that a verse is part of we can lose the original context in our interpretation and application.
“Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10, is a popular verse for comforting ourselves and others—many people tend to think this verse means to rest or relax in who God is. This verse does encourage believers to reflect on who God is, but there is more to this psalm than one verse—and verse 10 is actually more of a wake-up call to be in awe than a gentle call to rest. Taking time out of our day to meditate on Scripture and be silent with listening ears toward God is mentioned in other sections of Scripture (Psalm 119:15, Joshua 1:8, Luke 5:16, and others). But this command—“Be still…”—is written in the context of a time of trouble and war; therefore, we should consider the verse with that context in mind.
Instead of interpreting “be still” as a gentle suggestion, the meaning in this psalm lends itself more to: “cease striving” or “stop” and more specifically in this context “stop fighting,” which is directed toward the enemies of the people of God. The people of God should interpret the command for themselves to read more like: ‘snap out of it,’ ‘wake up,’ ‘stop fearing’—acknowledge who your God is—be in awe! However, it is good to note that there’s nothing wrong with the words in the translation “be still;” those words are not incorrect, it is simply helpful to note the context of the phrase. Verse 10 has something to say to both the enemies of God and the people of God, but it is the people of God the psalm is written to. Verse 1 starts, “God is our refuge and strength” (emphasis added). The Psalms are for God’s people.
In this article we’ll take a look at the context of Psalm 46:10 and the various views on it; let’s start by reading Psalm 46 in its entirety.
 
The Message of Psalm 46:
To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 
Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” 

The Biblical Background of Psalm 46

The first thing we learn is that this psalm is a song for the choirmaster or director of music, of the sons of Korah according to Alamoth. What does this mean—who are these people and what are these terms? Well-known pastor and author, Charles H. Spurgeon wrote a commentary, a seven-volume “magnum opus,” over a twenty-year span in the London Metropolitan Tabernacle’s periodical called The Sword and the Trowel. Once the seventh volume was completed in 1885, the commentary has been known as The Treasury of David, which you can access in full on BibleStudyTools.com. Concerning the heading of Psalm 46, Spurgeon explained:

To the Chief Musician. He who could sing other Psalms so well was fitly entrusted with this noble ode. Trifles may be left to commoner songsters, but the most skilful musician in Israel must be charged with the due performance of this song, with the most harmonious voices and choicest music. For the Sons of Korah. One alone cannot fulfil the praise, there must be picked choristers under him, whose joyful privilege it shall be to celebrate the service of song in the house of the Lord. As to why the sons of Korah were selected, see our remarks at the head of Psalm 42. It may be well to add that they were a division of the Levites who took their turn in serving at the temple. All the works of holy service ought not to be monopolised by one order of talent, each company of believers should in due course enjoy the privilege. None ought to be without a share in the service of God.
A Song upon Alamoth. Which may denote that the music was to be pitched high for the treble or soprano voices of the Hebrew virgins. … Or the word Alamoth may refer to shrill sounding instruments, as in 1 Chronicles 15:20 , where we read that Zechariah, and Eliab, and Benaiah were to praise the Lord ‘with psalteries on Alamoth.’ We are not always, in a slovenly manner, to fall into one key, but with intelligence are to modulate our praises and make them fittingly expressive of the occasion and the joy it creates in our souls. These old musical terms cannot be interpreted with certainty, but they are still useful because they show that care and skill should be used in our sacred music.

A Summary of Psalm 46:

Psalm 46 is a song for Zion, God’s holy city where his people dwell with him—the city is holy because God dwells in it.  This psalm is all about security with God that God is our true home. It’s mostly written in third-person, but at verse 10 there’s a change and God speaks directly. Throughout the 11 verses, we also read several descriptions about God—his characteristics and attributes: he is our refuge, he is strong, present, and a great help to those who are weak. God is higher than all else and able to rule above all. At his voice the earth melts.
We read this is the God of Jacob, he is with believers, and he is exalted among the nations and in the earth. He is a fortress and protects the weak that belong to him. The psalmist is probably living through some sort of turmoil or war as he mentions the phrases: trouble, the nations rage, the kingdoms totter, war, the spear, bow, and chariots—though the psalm is also pointing forward to a future time when wars will cease. It is clear by the end of the psalm that waring against God is always in vain, and the people of God who are protected by their Mighty Fortress have nothing to fear.

Zondervan’s Handbook to the Bible 5th ed., edited by David and Pat Alexander, notes:
This psalm [Psalm 46– the one on which Luther based a famous hymn [A Mighty Fortress is Our God] – may have been written following King Sennacherib of Assyria’s attack on Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32), some natural disaster, or in anticipation of the events heralding the Messiah’s coming. Verses 4-5 have a parallel in Revelation 22:1-5, where the ideal is perfectly realized. The psalmist glories in God’s presence with his people (1, 4-5, 7, 11), and his real and unassailable protection.”
A big takeaway from Psalm 46 is that the people of God are always secure no matter what environment they may be living in on earth—turmoil, war, destruction, etc.—God has secured the souls of believers through his Son Jesus Christ.


Comments