Psalm 46:10 is Not About You
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know.
It’s a popular way to use Psalm 46:10, a kind of prayer that helps quiet the mind and focus on listening to God’s voice. People use it in the morning before getting out of bed, on the way to work, before a bible study, or as a reminder of the futility of the Assyrian invasion against Israel.
By itself, the verse seems pretty self explanatory- don’t worry Christian; just acknowledge God’s presence. Except the verse isn’t talking to you, or even Israel for that matter. In context, Psalm 46:10 is a command to the enemies that were warring against Judah during the reign of Hezekiah to cease battle. Let’s look at the whole psalm:
“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 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.”
The passage speaks of the magnitude of God’s power from an outside perspective, and then God Himself speaks at the end. Who exactly is he talking to in this situation? From the context we find that He is speaking to the warring nations. To “Be still” is the Hebrew word raphah meaning abate, cease, forsake, or let alone. He is telling them to cease their fighting against Israel, since He is for them they will not fall. Only one of the several pastoral commentaries I came across suggested that God was speaking to Judah in verse 10, and that was to be considered alongside the original interpretation. Unless of course you want your bow broken and your spear shattered, but then again, why would you have a spear in the first place? You wouldn’t be holding a spear unless you were fighting and the fighting going on here is from Sennacherib of Assyria. I wouldn’t want to be on that side, and it’s a good thing we’re not.
So what if this one obscure verse is used out of context, how much harm can it really do? And it’s not like the theology behind the incorrect interpretation is entirely false. There are at least three reasons why the verse should not be used the way it currently is, or any verse for that matter.
- It’s wrong: It’s wrong to twist scripture to make it say what it doesn’t and it’s just bad exegesis. Letting faulty interpretations go uncontested can become a habit that subtly creeps into the rest of our scripture reading.
- It does cause harm: If you’ve ever heard of Centering Prayer or SOZO prayer, this is a key verse in defending both unbiblical practices. Both influenced by a New Age misunderstanding of biblical meditation, these types of prayer are widely used as a means of emptying the mind to receive revelation from God or go into deep spiritual trances to alter painful memories from the past. I’ve met Christians who claim Buddhist monks taught them new ways to center themselves in prayer for ‘when reading the Bible and normal prayer just aren’t enough for more mature Christians’. This opens the door to all kinds of ungodly influences, and they all quote Psalm 46:10. It’s a technique that’s making its way from the fringe to everyday Christian life.
- We miss out on the truth: Perhaps the worst part of misinterpreting any verse or passage is that we never learn the inspired biblical truth behind it. So many helpful and practical verses that apply to the everyday Christian walk are passed over because inspirational posters and Christianese euphemisms replace them. They’re well intentioned, but at the cost of not learning more about God’s character, which makes Him more desirable and in turn gives Him glory.
So how should a modern Christian look at this verse from almost 3000 years ago and apply it to their lives? Well, God is clearly calling for Judah’s enemies to raphah in recognition of God’s overwhelming might. This is simply because God is for Judah, or in a larger sense, He is for Israel. Israel is God’s chosen people, the people of the promise. We know from Romans 2 that “he is a Jew who is one inwardly” and not just those with Abraham as their ancestral father. When seeing Israel as the Church, Assyria as the forces of Satan, and God as God, it’s safe to say that we can look at this verse as God working against evil forces for the sake of His people, the Church.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” -Matthew 16:18.
The worst part of misinterpreting any verse or passage is that we never learn the inspired biblical truth behind it.