One of the most popular verses in the Bible is Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” You can go into a Christian gift shop and find paperweights, wall plaques, t-shirts, and various other types of merchandise that prominently feature this verse.
But what does it mean?
Obviously, the verse speaks to us in God’s voice: “know that I am God.” It is a proclamation that God exists, and that God can be known. Especially in our age of profound cynicism, skepticism, and nihilism, this is a bold statement indeed. Even people of faith sometimes find it difficult to truly know God. We know about God, but do we actually know God? J.I. Packer’s classic bestseller, Knowing God, sold over a million copies because it addresses this very question: knowing about God is not enough, we are called to know God, directly, intimately, incarnationally.
Back to Psalm 46: the Psalmist suggests that one way, perhaps the best or most efficient way, to know that I am God is simply by being still.
Surely, to know God requires more than just to stop fidgeting.
When we place Psalm 46:10 in context, we realize that it’s at the end of a Psalm filled with martial imagery (remember, this was the Psalm that inspired Martin Luther to write A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). God is our refuge and strength when kingdoms fall and the nations are in an uproar. Waters may roar and mountains may shake, but we need not fear for God is our present help.
But then the Psalm pivots and the psalmist points out not only that God is our “mighty fortress,” but that God “makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire” (Verse 9). So more than just a defender, God actually brings peace, and causes conflict to end.
That’s the setup for this invitation (commandment): to be still, and to know this God who is both a strong defender and the one who brings resolution to conflict.
So on one level, “Be still” carries a connotation of laying down your arms — to become vulnerable, undefended; to place trust in God alone. It is a gesture of openness and trust.
Looking at the Hebew word translated as “be still” — הַרְפּ֣וּ (har·pū) which comes from רָפָה (raphah) — we can see that it carries a rich array of meanings, including stop, desist, relax, cease. But it also carries a connotation of releasing, dropping, or sinking.I think we could make the case, therefore, that the stillness required to truly know God is an interior stillness. We are invited to relax and sink into the silence found deep in our minds and our hearts — the silence beneath our thoughts and between our heartbeats. There, in that undefended place of deep interior quiet — that’s where we are invited to encounter the living God.
After all, our hearts and bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19, Romans 5:5). So to be still and know God, find the silence deep within. And in that silence the Spirit will meet us and invite us to know, truly know, God’s presence.
The Bible study software I use (for Hebrew word study as well as for interpreting the text) is Verbum. Not only is it filled with great scripture-related resources, but you can also get many texts by the great mystics on the Verbum platform as well. To learn more about Verbum, click here: www.verbum.com (this is an affiliate link; if you purchase Verbum, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you).
Today’s post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Eerdword, the Blog for Eerdmans Publishing Co. Here’s the link: www.eerdword.com/2019/09/12/be-still-and-know-that-i-am-god/