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.
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.
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. (Psalm 46)
I love this psalm; the whole thing is worth studying and memorizing and tattooing on your pectoral muscles, but I want to focus on verse 10, which I conveniently put in bold for you above. If you’re as much of a grammar nerd as I am (which I realize is unlikely, and I’m okay with that), you might notice that the author switches over from the third person narrative to the first person—going from “He makes, He breaks, He burns” to “I am, I will.” In other words, God is now speaking directly and giving a command to all people; this change begs us to take notice and perk up our ears. Amidst riots and violence, mask wars, political debates and debacles, this verse couldn’t be more appropriate. And the advice and comfort it gives us is sorely needed.
“Be still.” This is not a suggestion; it’s a command. One that seems laughable right now. But it probably isn’t any more laughable than when it was written, which was during a time of war and unrest for the Israelites. That phrase “be still” comes from the Hebrew word “rapa,” which means “to slacken, let down, or cease.” So really, God is saying, “Drop your weapons.” Sometimes those who are fighting need to be pulled apart physically—those of you with more than one child may not have a problem picturing this, disentangling flailing limbs on sweaty kids while yelling, “Drop your nerf gun!” No? Just me? Well, I think we can all agree that our country is full of tangled limbs right now, and God our Father is commanding us to drop our weapons and be still.
Oftentimes this “be still” command is interpreted as “be quiet in God’s presence,” and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that sentiment. But it is more than that. God wants us to stop our frantic activity and cease fighting a battle we cannot win, one that is out of our control. Which leads us to the next part of the verse—when we realize our limits, we look to the one who is limitless.
“Know that I am God.” He is holy. He is sovereign. He is all-powerful. He is eternally faithful. We know that we can drop our weapons and surrender to his plan for us because we understand that he is a big God. The people of God are secure in him through Jesus. God exhorts the whole world to submit and give him glory.
Martin Luther, who wrote the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress” that’s based on this psalm, said this: “We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because He is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends His church and His word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.” In short, God is the defender of his own name, his own people, and his own Word.
“I will be exalted.” Over and over again, God was exalted in Israel. When he led his people out of Egypt (Exodus 13-14). When he knocked down the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). When he was with Elijah on Mt. Carmel and proved his power over any man-made god (1 Kings 18). And when his Son, Jesus, died on a cross and the curtain was ripped in two and the sky turned dark, causing even unbelievers to say, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
And God will be exalted through this weird time we find ourselves living in, full of unrest and division and the unknown. Nations are raging and kingdoms are tottering, but we trust in his promises. A deliverance from ____________________ (insert various world problems here) will probably not be fast enough for our liking, but God doesn’t work on our timeframes, and he doesn’t have to answer to us. We trust that he will one day stop all wars and be exalted among all nations and every knee will bow and confess that he is Lord.
God’s voice has power over everything and every being. He used his voice to create the world; he used his voice to accomplish his glory and protect his people. He used it to calm the storm and show his power over wind and wave. And he uses his voice to call us to himself and give us new life in his name.
This is something to be still and stand in awe of; we can drop our weapons and rest in him.