Monday, April 21, 2014

Be Still and Know...

A verse in the Bible that manages to find its way on coffee mugs these days is Psalm 46:10, which reads, "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Yet, if we maintain the American hermeneutic of reader-response, we will simply handle this beautiful verse in the mud of our own feelings rather than the glorious meaning of God's Word here.

Psalm 46 in Context

The theme in this Psalm is that God is our protection and that the glory of God will be praised in all His creation. Note the absence of man-centeredness in the themes. This Psalm is all about God: His might in protection and His greatness displayed in His creation. "God is our refuge and strength," says the Psalmist. Both our protection and our strength against our enemies are not a co-operating effort, nor does our strength and protection originate with us. The fortress of might belongs solely to God. Furthermore, God is a very present refuge and strength. God is with us.

Earthquakes and floods compromise the strength of foundations of buildings built by humans. No matter the amount of rebar or concrete, natural disaster has a force grander than its strength. Thus, these buildings of refuge have untrustworthy strength. God is a fortress with almighty strength that cannot be compromised by anything or anyone. His might is sovereign over all things; thus, all things (including kingdoms, world leaders, and people) "melt" simply by the voice of our sovereign God, like a candle to a flame. The voice of God that melts all the earth is a mighty fortress of refuge for those who love and trust Him, and is a melting fear that strikes the heart of men of disobedience! The voice of God is found in His Bible.

The last paragraph of this Psalm is a call to worship this all-powerful God whose voice melts the earth and is a powerful fortress. "Come, behold the works of the LORD," commands the Psalmist. Behold which of His works? "How he has brought desolations on the earth," declares the Psalmist. God is a mighty fortress against His enemies and a God who is mighty in battle, making all wars cease and utterly destroying the armies of His enemies. He "breaks the bow and shatters the spear," destroying His foes and their weapons of war. God is a God that utterly destroys the kingdoms, the peoples, and the weapons that oppose Him. This destruction is from the hot melting power of His voice alone, with no contribution from us.

Be Still...

In the call for the faithful to worship this powerful and sovereign God comes the command to "be still." The word is הַרְפּ֣וּ (harpoo), which means to cease. This is under the phrase, "behold the works of the LORD," from verse 8. The works of the LORD are (1) ceasing wars and (2) ceasing His followers. In Hebrew parallelism, which is a form of poetry in the Hebrew language, the Psalmist beautifully uses the word מַשְׁבִּ֥ית (masbith) to illustrate ceasing wars in verse 9, then using a different word to cease (or "be still") the worshipers of God.

Imagine the scene of a lopsided battle. Tanks, helicopters, fighter jets against a weak enemy with sticks. A battle with God on our side is even more lopsided than this! The enemy stands no chance. God melts His enemies and breaks their weapons with His thunderous voice. This mighty God ceases all wars. In the same way, God ceases His worshipers! God commands us to be still in the very same way as the warriors that stood against Him. All of our opinions on life, all of our anxieties, and all of our striving are to be ceased in hearing the voice of God.

...and Know that I am God

Beholding the great might of our God who melts His enemies with His voice and causes His followers to be stilled leads to a knowledge of God. In Jeremiah 9:23-24, God says, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom" but "let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me." However, this is not simply an acknowledgement of God's glory and great works that is divorced from awe and wander. James 2:19 tells us that even the demons know God...and tremble! This knowledge of God melts His enemies and stills His followers!

The knowledge of God referred to here is not simply in our knowing about God, but a knowledge coupled with a ceasing (being still) from our trust in ourselves, leaning on our own understanding, and our works apart from loving God. To be still and know that YHWH is God is a knowledge that boasts in God, not boasting in our own ambitions or in jealousy. A knowledge of God with our boasting arrogance is a knowledge that is demonic (James 3:15). A worshipful knowledge of God boasts in the Name of God that is exalted among all the people and all His creation.


Those called to behold the great works of God are called to be theologians and practitioners. First, we study the voice of God in His Word. Second, this study leads to obedience. Our words are not in self-defense or self-exaltation, but the words as learned in His Word. Our works are not self-preservation or self-ambitious, but works flowing from the grand knowledge of God. We are not craftsmen working on ourselves, but pots molded by God's Word for we are His craftsmanship to do His works in which God Himself prepared to do before He even created (Ephesians 2:10).

When our knowledge, our deeds, and our boasting are entirely dependent on God through His Word, God who gave all the knowledge and has done all the work receives all the glory. His Name is highly exalted in all His creation! Be still, cease in your selfish striving and arrogant boasting, rest in God and in the knowledge of Him, and you will have a mighty Fortress and a Strength that cannot be thwarted. We can persevere through all temptations that spring here in the wilderness. As Martin Luther put it in his hymn "A Mighty Fortress is our God," which he wrote to correspond to Psalm 46:
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
one little Word shall fell him.

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