I keep seeing Psalm 46:10 pop up these days. And it’s almost always used out of context. Most use this verse as a quiet and peaceful silence before the Lord. “Rest in the presence of the Lord” is what most are meaning when they quote this verse. The theology is true but it’s not honest to the Psalm 46:10 meaning. Good theology from wrong verses tends to have unhealthy fruit, so I thought it might be helpful for us to see what Psalm 46:10 is saying in its context.
Psalm 46 was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm. It’s been, rightly, used by followers of God for years as an encouragement when it seems like all the earth is giving way. In fact, that’s what the psalmist is doing in the first part of the psalm. When the worst possible thing happens God is still a certain refuge. When his presence is our greatest good we have no reason to fear because we know that He is going to accomplish His purposes in the world.
But Psalm 46:10 is unique to this psalm. Everything else in the psalm is written in third person. But in verse 10 God steps in and speaks with a command. “Be still” might be better translated as the KJV does, “cease striving.” It means to drop down your weapons. It’s fundamentally speaking not to the people of God but to that nations which are giving the psalmist so much trouble.
Some who have read this have been thrown by the change from third person to first person. And in doing this they say that God certainly is still speaking to Israel. I disagree. God is speaking for Israel but to the enemy.
Imagine a father watching on as his son is being bullied by another boy. At first he doesn’t respond because he wants to see how his son handles the situation. He knows that there is a bit of toughening which can happen in a moment like this. And so he remains silent. But eventually, as he sees his little boys world starting to crumble, he steps in and uses his power to silence the bully. “Alright, that’s enough! You need to stop the teasing.” That father is speaking for his son, but to the bully. And that is what God is doing here.
When God tells them that he will be exalted among the nations, that he will be exalted in the earth he is flexing his muscle. He is reminding both Israel and the enemies that they’re fighting a losing battle and they ought to drop their weapons. Stop fighting against YHWH because it’s a foolish and losing battle. Instead make him your refuge.
Psalm 46:10 Meaning
Certainly, there is something to be said for us when we are kicking against God’s sovereign action in our lives. I think Peter is saying something similar in 1 Peter 5:6-7. Humbling ourselves under his mighty hand is another way of encouraging believers to “be still” in the midst of suffering. As Schreiner notes,
“The humbling enjoined probably means that they are to accept the suffering God has ordained as his will instead of resisting and chafing against his will while suffering.” (Schreiner, 239)
So, yes, we must cease warring against our loving Father if that is what we are doing. But Psalm 46:10 is predominately meant as an encouragement. It’s a reminder to the people of God that our King will be exalted among the nations. The earth will melt, the chaotic sea will be calmed. It’s probably not an accident that Jesus uses the words, “be still” when he spoke to the raging sea.
“Be still and know that I am God” is not a call for passivity as much as it is a call to actively watch as God continues His work of redemption. He is calming the sea. He is silencing the enemy. He is going to be exalted among the nations. And if that’s your hearts desire then it’s a call to be deeply encouraged. God wins. And if you’re in him, so do you.
If you are warring against God, stop.
If you are in the boat and the waves of the chaotic sea are threatening you, then actively watch and trust and refuse fear as you wait to hear the King declare, “Be still!”
This article about the Psalm 46:10 meaning originally appeared here.