April 25, 2014

Difficult Scriptures: Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10, NIV)

What is so difficult about this Scripture? I mean, the psalmist is saying … uh, he’s telling us to … uh …

Ok, what do you say? How are we to be still? And in being still, how do we know that he is God? What does it even mean to know he is God? Don’t we know this by being busy for him, doing the things he wants us to do?

And what does it mean for this God to be exalted?

Your thoughts?

Comments

  1. The NET Bible note says:

    34 Heb “do nothing/be quiet (see 1 Sam 15:16) and know.” This statement may be addressed to the hostile nations, indicating they should cease their efforts to destroy God’s people, or to Judah, indicating they should rest secure in God’s protection. Since the psalm is an expression of Judah’s trust and confidence, it is more likely that the words are directed to the nations, who are actively promoting chaos and are in need of a rebuke.

    35 Elsewhere in the psalms the verb רוּם (rum, “be exalted”) when used of God, refers to his exalted position as king (Pss 18:46; 99:2; 113:4; 138:6) and/or his self-revelation as king through his mighty deeds of deliverance (Pss 21:13; 57:5, 11).

    Or is it cheating to find and post answers this way? :)

  2. We actually just studied this very scripture in seminary.

    In its original context, it was meant to be taken in a military sense. “Be still and know that I am God…,” etc., is basically a warning to the enemies of Israel that if any other armies wanted to mess with them, they would have to go through YHWH first.

    Pretty fierce, if you ask me. And not at all the pastoral feel-goodery that we typically make this passage out to be in our churches and prayer devotionals.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      What do you mean by “original context”?

      The context for the passage seemed to me to be reflected in the first verse, “God is OUR refuge and strength. . .” (emphasis mine, needless to say). Further context is provided in verses 7 & 8, “The Lord of hosts is with US; the God of Jacob is OUR fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord. . . ” (again, emphasis mine). Finally, there’s verse 11, “The Lord of hosts is with US; the God of Jacob is OUR fortress” (emphasis mine, yet again).

      • I mean what I said–the context in which it was written, and the audience for which it was intended.

        OUR and US refers to the Hebrews. And particularly the Hebrew army, in this case.

  3. But we can’t just be still; that would make us lazy pew sitters, right?

  4. Oftentimes Eugene Peterson’s The Message sheds some light on darker corner’s of Scripture. I like his translation of the verse:
    “Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything.”

    • David Cornwell says:

      I like this also. I’ve been reading a book on the true meaning of sabbath, not just a day, but as a way we look at life. This verse and translation fits that meaning.

  5. As my pastor likes to say now and then, “Don’t just do something…sit there” (and listen to the forgiveness of your sins).

  6. Personally, this is one of my favorite scriptures. In these words, the Psalmist is reminding us that it is in the stillness that we KNOW God. Knowledge of this kind is knowledge of the heart, knowledge of the being, knowledge of the soul….as opposed to knowledge of the mind. Here we know God….not just about God. It is in this stillness that we remember our Oneness with God, and thereby remember our original nature as beings of contentment, joy, compassion and peace. Isn’t this afterall what we are all truly seeking? It is this stillness that I encourage in my students and Spiritual Direction clients. The good news is that the Western Contemplative traditions are full of tools through which this stillness can be realized.

  7. I just read the whole of Psalm 46 and I think it could be taken either way that the commenters above are mentioning. It IS a beautiful Psalm. I like the “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth.”

    God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
    though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

    There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
    God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
    Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

    The LORD Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

    Come and see what the LORD has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
    He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.

    He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
    He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

    The LORD Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      I just read the whole thing also. Out of curiosity, which version is that, Joanie?

      The whole psalm seems to be proclaiming that God is in control and bigger than whatever the world, our enemies, etc. send against us. Indeed, in all that strife, God glorify himself through it and reflect some of that glory onto his people.

      As for the verse in question, the verse immediately preceding it says (KJV):

      He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
      Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

      In a world of “might makes right” God kicks the mighty’s butt and tells his people to just chill, ‘cuz he’s got things under control. How is he exalted? By being who he is. The Mighty One of Israel.

      • Isaac, I used the NIV for the Psalm because that is what Jeff was using in the initial post here.

        I am all over the place in the versions of the Bible that I read. Maybe someday Jeff or Chaplain Mike will start a post about what our favorite version is and why. I bet THAT will generate a lot of responses. Some folks are quite devoted to their choice, methinks. I like the versions that keep the poetic sound, but I also like to read The Message because it’s fun to see what Eugene Peterson does with the passages and sometimes he clarifies things that are confusing. I did see one time, though, that his version of a passage left me totally perplexed. I don’t remember what passage it was though. That was unusual, because usually he clears things up.

  8. An alternate translation is “Cease striving and know that I am God.” I’ve always taken this as a hint to the Marthas among us who see Mary taking the best part in listening to Jesus.

    • That is the NASB, Marc. I almost used that version for this, but I decided to go with the more familiar “be still,” hoping someone would come up with the “cease striving” translation. Thanks!

  9. This makes me think of:
    1 Kings 19:11-13 – 11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”

    Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

    Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
    & also.
    Colossians 1:19-20
    19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    This may show my Quaker leanings. peace.

  10. Steve Newell says:

    It’s amazing how God works through the small things: a piece of bread, a sip of wise and a little water. We want a god who does big things but it is small things that impact us daily.

  11. The verse itself establishes two commands for us:
    Be Still
    Know who God is
    and two reasons:
    God’s Exaltation among Nations
    God’s Exaltation in the Earth

    Great cross reference for the first part is Hab 2:20
    For the second part look at 1 Chr 29:11

  12. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    How are we to be still? And in being still, how do we know that he is God? What does it even mean to know he is God? Don’t we know this by being busy for him, doing the things he wants us to do?

    As far as answering these questions, it reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha. Sometimes God needs to tell us that its better to sit at his feet and be with him than to be busy doing stuff for him.

    For many of us we need to be reminded that we’re not God. He doesn’t NEED us to accomplish his mission. He doesn’t NEED us in order to be exalted. He was doing just fine before we got here and he’ll do just fine after we’re gone.

    For many of us, that’s not really good news. I can’t tell you how many preachers, pastors, and clergy I’ve talked to that turn 50 and start worrying about their legacy. But God doesn’t call us to build a legacy. We can’t build his kingdom and ours at the same time. Let’s face it, without his help we can’t even build his kingdom! As Fr. Corapi is fond of saying, even the ability to be obedient or to do good things is a grace from God. What is humility? Realizing and keeping in perspective the fact of who we really are. And who we really are is totally defined by God. Without him we’re nothing. With him, we’re kings and priests, but we’re also slaves.

    So, we ought to let God be God and not try to fill his unfillable shoes.

    • Steve Newell says:

      I am also reminded of the story of Elijah where God comes to him not in a mighty wind, earthquake or fire but as a quiet whisper (1 Kings 19).

      • I have always linked these two passages together in my heart as well. As a driven type “a” and recovereing perfectionist, these helped me stop running around from pillar to post and just be quiet and still….and LISTEN!

    • Randy Thompson says:

      As I 60 year old pastor, I can’t tell you how dead on your comments are on pastors and “their” legacy. It took me some time, but I pretty much came to the same place you did: “We can’t build his kingdom and ours at the same time.” Better God’s Kingdom than my legacy.

  13. Randy Thompson says:

    You know, it seems to me that if Psalm 46:10 starts a conversation, we’ve completely missed the point of it!

    The following comes from “Living Prayer,” which is by a wonderful writer, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, an Orthodox bishop (pages vii-viii).

    “One of the reasons why communal worship or private prayer seem to be so dead or so conventional is that the act of worship, which takes place in the heart communing with God, is too often missing. Every expression, either verbal or in action, may help,l but they are only expressions of what is essential, namely, a deep silence of communion. We all know in human relationships that love and friendship are deep when we can be silent with someone. As long as we need to talk in order to keep in touch, we can safely and sadly assume that the relationship is still superficial; and so, if we want to worship God, we must first of all learn to feel happy, being silent together with him. This is an easier thing to do than one might think at first; it needs a little time, some confidence and the courage to start.
    “Once the Cure d’Ars, a French saint of the eighteenth century, asked an old peasant what he was doing sitting for hours in the church, seemingly not even praying; the peasant replied: ‘I look at him, he looks at me and we are happy together.’ The man had learned to speak to God without breaking the silence of intimacy by words. If we can do that we can use any form of worship. If we try to make worship itself out of the words we use, we will get desperately tired of those words, because unless they have the depth of silence, they are shallow and tiresome.
    “But how inspiring words can be once they are backed by silence and are infused with the right spirit:
    ‘O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise’ (Ps. 51:15).”

    Silence is putting aside our words and thoughts to make room for God’s presence; silence is the discipline of having ears to hear. As Henri Nouwen put it, “Silence is the home of the word. SIlence gives strength and fruitfulness to the word.” (“The Way of the Heart”).

    Where there is a quiet, silent heart, God’s word has strength, fruitfulness, and depth. Where God’s word has strength, fruitfulness and depth, God is exalted. Where God is exalted, God’s Name is hallowed and His Kingdom comes.

    • Excellent, Randy. I love what Bishop Bloom wrote and I always love what Nouwen wrote. Words spoken from the depths of silence are the words that have the power of God’s love attached to them. Pray that we will all seek to be silent before God so that he can speak to our hearts and minds, healing them as only God can heal.

  14. My thoughts, given the context of addressing the heathen nations, its like the teacher or principle at school scolding/correcting a mischievous student and saying “Sit DOWN! Be STILL! I’m in charge here and you need to know that!”

  15. I think this verse is a self contained message of Gospel. Where as our overly law-oriented generic evangelicalism would interpret this as a command for active restraint from certain activities, it simply misses the forest for the trees. The verse really means what it actually says! Be still! Not, do this and then I will be your God. I ALREADY AM YOUR SAVIOR! Stop and listen to the music! [insert cliche joshua bell illustration here]
    When we approach this verse strictly as an imperative, we run the risk of doing the very thing this verse was written to stop us from: Being too busy serving God (and earning his favor) to recognize that it isn’t necessary because he has already freely showered his grace upon us. IF we are to serve God, start there! Let his JOY be our strength, not our ability to perform.
    To me, this verse is a sigh of relief, not a demand. He IS God, and he HAS brought me out of bondage and slavery. He is not depending on me to be glorified: He will be, through or despite me. And it’s my privilege to be a vehicle through which his grace can be seen.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “our overly law-oriented generic evangelicalism would interpret this as a command ”

      Rather than issuing orders God is speaking to our hearts here, asking us to quietness rather than demanding. When it turns into a demand, it adds to the unquiet we already have.

  16. Youngs Literal Translation says “Desist, and know that I am God, I am exalted among nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
    You might say this is the entire foundation of monasticism (centering prayer, etc.) and certainly of our faith as well. What sheep knows the voice of its master without stopping to listen?

  17. Vickie Jacobs says:

    Psalms 46:10; “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”
    Sometimes a larger meaning is lost when just one verse is taken out but there might be much here to glean still.
    Isaiah 28:10 says that precept must be upon precept, and line upon line, here a little and there a little. So I will look at the words to gain the deeper meaning for us living today:

    HEATHEN=is 1471 (Hebrew) and it means a foreign nation, Gentile, a troop of animals , a flight of LOCUSTS.
    There are four types of locusts in scripture. It decribes them as an army that is used by God to spoil, take others possessions. The bible is describing those who can do that to us for today.
    Joel 1:4 and 2:25; “That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.”(so everything that person has is totally gone because these people stole it by laws or deception) (2:25)”and I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army(those today) which I sent among you.” (God sent this army on us)
    We also see locusts as one of the ten plagues of Egypt (Ex 10:14 )and Isaiah 33:4 and Nahum 3:15,17.

    EARTH=is 776 and it means to be firm, a land, common, country, field, ground, NATIONS, way, wilderness, world.

    EXALTED=is 7311 and it means to be high, to bring up, set up on, lift up on and MOUNT UP.
    Isaiah 40:31; “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
    EXALTED is used twice here in this verse and when something is used twice in scripture it is describing two time periods as I Corinthians 10:6,11,(and Ecc. 1:9) explains that those events are our examples for us today that it will happen again.
    We are living in a time that the heathen(those described as locusts) are making it hard on us as individuals and family. As it happened to those that were in Egypt. God’s promise for us today is that he will return that which has been taken and more. In Revelation 10:11 it says concerning the nations: “And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
    This was such a small area 2000 years ago that no one knew any nations outside of their own small neighbor so this is another whole study here and this verse wasn’t referring to John to do this but his two witnesses. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. Another study also.

  18. textjunkie says:

    This is also one of my favorite verses, which has played a role in some of my key decisions in life–so it’s hard to discuss it without tearing up a bit.

    But be that as it may, it’s not that tricky: Be still. When your mama told you, “Be still!!” did you ask for a dissertation, or did you shut the heck up, quit bouncing around, and pay attention to what she was saying or telling you to do?? (Ok, maybe no one else’s mom or dad said that, but mine definitely did.)

    Look at the rest of the psalm: Wars will cease. Battles will end. Sturm and drang are not what God is pushing, in this psalm. It is peace, both physical and mental.

    So does God mean for us to sit on a pillar in the desert forever and do nothing else? No, not always. Sometimes, God does want us to physically stop, get on our knees (or sit on a pillow or lie in bed or whatever), and *listen*. Physically be still, and make that a practice (cf. Jesus going off by himself to pray). Sometimes, it’s not the physical stillness God wants (because how do you look after the widow and orphan while you’re sitting on a pillar?) but the mental stillness, the ceasing from striving, worry, fussing, planning, distraction. Quiet your mind, and know that God is God. You can do that without being physically still.

    Personally, I find that any contemplation of God leads to a deeper appreciation of how amazing God is, and “exalted” is a light word for it.

  19. In the NASB, it reads “Cease striving and know that I am God…” (where cease striving = Let go, relax). I’ve always interpreted it as a reminder that God is Creator and Sustainer, and that He can do all things. ~Brenda