We were discussing the psalms, recently. The leader of my small group challenged us to spend some time with them, and find one that speaks to us.
I was thumbing through them, filled with my normal mixture of good and not-so-good motivations. I end up in psalm 46, and found “Be still, and know that I am God.” I love those 8 little words… not a single one of them is over 4 letters.
The good motivations that were satisfied by settling on this verse: it satisfies the intent of the “assignment”; they do, in fact, speak to me.
And the not-so-good: A) It’s kind of a cop-out to run with words you already know. B) I was secretly pleased that it was small enough for me to spout it off the top of my head because it came up next week, I knew that I could recite it, with out having to look it up.
Guilt or conviction or whatever got the better of me. I decided the least I could do was spend some time with the whole psalm, rather than focus on just those little words out of context. I had read them before, but never really reflected on the often-quoted verse in the larger context of the whole psalm.
The psalm is a profound study in contrasts. It goes back and forth between a really powerful description of how rough life can be and promises about how awesome God is. Some of this roughness is not directly connected to God’s actions. For example, we’re told the earth will give way, mountains will quake fall and into the sea.
Other rough things are actually directly connected to God. Interestingly, they are usually things that we think we hope for. Verse 8 says “Come and see what the Lord has done,(AD) the desolations(AE) he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars(AF) cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow(AG) and shatters the spear; he burns the shields[d] with fire.”
Usually, I think I want wars to cease; it’s awesome that God breaks the bow and shatter the spear. Yet it appears that these very actions, somehow, will feel like “desolations.” It’s at this point that the often quoted verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” pop up.
The idea that this is where God gives us this reassurance here reinforces the idea that there will be something unpleasant in these ending to war. But more than this, it’s not the psalmist speaking directly to his readers. He doesn’t say, “I (the psalmist) want you to be still and remember that God is in control.”
The psalm reports that God says “Be still and know that I am God.” But this isn’t the only part of the quotation. It goes on: “I will be exalted(AJ) among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
I’m not saying that we should not find comfort in the idea of being still and reminding ourselves that God is in control. I am saying that the full context is a little wider than just comfort. In the full context it’s an expectation, a statement of fact. It’s partially a sort-of security blanket for us to grab on to… and yet it’s also something like a description of reality and a perscription for getting on board with this reality.