The Context of Psalms 46: Be Still and Know
Psalms 46 opens with instructions for how this Psalm (or song) was to be performed in worship. We see before the Psalm begins that it is written to the “sons of Korah”. As Charles Spurgeon writes in his Treasury of David, “trifles may be left to commoner songsters, but the most skillful musician in Israel must be charged with the due performance of this song, with the most harmonious voices and choicest music.” Therefore, these instructions suggest that this particular Psalm carried enormous meaning and held a place of extreme significance in the time it was written in that should only be performed by chosen musicians and skilled singers.
Psalms 46 then continues in the third person as the songwriter describes attributes of the Lord. It’s apparent from the language described in the early verses of Psalms 46 that the writer is probably living through a time of war, conflict, or at the very least, personal strife. It is also possible that Israel itself was facing war or international conflict when this was written and that the songwriter wrote to encourage the children of Israel to stand in the strength of the Lord.
Knowing this provides incredible insight into the interpretation of Psalms 46:10. In every situation described in this chapter, the writer emphasizes that the Lord is a “refuge and strength” and their “stronghold”. More importantly, “The Lord of hosts is with us”. This is actually repeated twice in this Bible chapter.
The entirety of Psalms 46 is written in third person to remind the reader (or listener) that God is their strength and at work in the midst of their struggle. When we reach verse 10, however, something happens. The point of view shifts from third person to second person. Instead of writing about the Lord, here the Lord Himself addresses the reader/listener directly.
“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalms 46:10).
Like all great poetry, when form or pattern is broken, it forces the reader to pay attention. Something important is about to be communicated. The change in point of view cues us to pay attention.
"Be Still and Know That I am God" - Bible Reading
Who Is God Telling To Be Still?
There are several interpretations and theories regarding the subject of God’s address in Psalms 46:10. Both are meaningful, and it is quite possible that God addresses both subjects.
One interpretation suggests that God is directly speaking to Israel’s enemies. It’s important to note that this is unlikely since the rest of the Psalm is focused on encouraging and strengthening the children of Israel. To shift into the second person is one thing, but to conclude that God is shift to an entirely different audience for only verse might be a bit of a stretch. An indirect audience? Absolutely. But the Psalms are primarily written for the people of God, and this seems to be the case here as well.
If we accept, however, that the Lord does address Israel’s enemies, He would essentially be telling them to “cease striving”, or in this case, “stop fighting” His chosen people. In communicating to Israel’s enemies, He would be also making His presence known across the earth as true to prophesy, one day, every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Romans 14:11).
Another way to read this verse would be to stop fighting and see that I have chosen Israel as my people. I will stand by them and defend them against all enemies, including you. So back off! I am the Lord. I am powerful. I am in charge. And I will be exalted.
The second interpretation, which is probably more accurate, sees God address the children of Israel, His chosen people, directly.
The Meaning of Psalms 46:10
As God addresses Israel, He is not just telling them to “be still” or “rest”. If this is written during a time of war, which it most likely is, God is commanding them to “stop fighting” and open their eyes to who He is. In some translations, it is phrased “cease striving.”
It’s easy to be fearful when things aren’t going well or when we are faced with challenges and conflict in our life. In the midst of their struggle, however, God tells His people to wake up and recognize who’s on their side.
In that light, the tone of this verse can be read: stop striving, stop fighting, and stop trying to do things on your own. Stop stressing about the battle ahead and trust me. Wake up! I am the Lord. I am your refuge and your strength. You have nothing to fear or worry about when I am with you. I will fight your battles and deal with your enemies. So get out of my way. Step back, open your eyes, and acknowledge who I am and what I can do. Let me be God. Don’t try and do my job for me. Be patient, be still, and let me go to work.
This verse would have been an encouragement to the children of Israel in a time of war and can be just as comforting to believers today in their struggle and strife.
“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
In the midst of conflict and life turmoil, sometimes we just need to open our eyes, step back, stop what we’re doing, and acknowledge who God is and what He can do. Doing so provides comfort in the chaos and peace in the midst of struggle.
Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s and young adult author who teaches writing and communications at Life Pacific University. As a former youth pastor, he has a heart for children and young adults and is passionate about engaging youth through writing and storytelling. His blog, Perspectives Off the Page, discusses the creative and spiritual life through story and art.