Psalm 46 (NIV)
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
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This is a bold psalm for turbulent times. The psalmist pictures a world where everything is “in trouble” (v. 1) and crashing in around us: “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” (vv. 2–3). It is a picture of calamity and the perfect storm of fear and anxiety. These dramatic images in the psalm are then contrasted with the “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” (vv. 4–5). It is not hard to see why this psalm became the basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Psalm 42 reminds us that even when our world is engulfed in war and turmoil, even when our economy falters, even when angry men fly planes into buildings, or corruption seems to prevail at every turn, the Most High God remains solid and true, holy and righteous, and unshaken in the midst of the world’s turmoil. Nations may be in an “uproar” and governments falling (v. 6), but God is in control. “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire” (v. 9). The final outcome of God’s work in the world may be peace, but it only comes about through the forceful intrusion of his judgments, overturning wickedness, and bringing about justice.
It is at this point in the psalm that we often hear verse 10 cherry-picked from its context: “Be still, and know that I am God.” In its original context, it is not meant to invoke the quiet, reflective stillness, which it is often used to convey. Rather, this verse is extending the same bold voice of the earlier verses. This is not a whispered “Be still,” but the same commanding “Be still!” that Jesus boldly shouted over the stormy waters in Mark 4:39. He used the same language when he cast a demon out. It is not so much a word of calm consolation or gentle persuasion, but the bold, forcible disarming of a world in turmoil and erupting in conflict and disorder. God’s rule comes crashing in and sets things right. What a great assurance is ours that however unstable and rebellious the world gets, God is going to intervene and set things right. Praise be to the Lord!