“Be still and know that I am God.”

by K.W. Leslie, 06 November

Psalm 46.10.

Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:

Psalm 46.10 KJV
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.

Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and know God is God.”

Other times Christians wanna encourage one another to relax. People get agitated, emotional, panicky, flustered, and once again Psalm 46.10 pops up: “You need to just be still and know God is God. God’s on the throne. He can solve every problem.” Or less patiently, “Can you be still for a minute, and know God is God?”

Actually, this less-than-patient last example, though still wrong, is closest to what Korah’s sons were talking about in this particular psalm.

No it’s not a call to relaxation.

The entirety of Psalm 46 is about God our help. ’Cause sometimes we need his help. There are natural disasters, there are man-made disasters, and in these events “the LORD of War is with us / Our fortress is Jacob’s God.” Ps 46.7, 11 KWL

The LORD’s consistently here to provide comfort when people are suffering. Unfortunately many Christians only expect emotional comfort from him at these times. Not necessarily physical comfort. We lack the faith to call upon God for that.

But Korah’s sons, who wrote the psalm, referred to God as YHWH Chevaót. It’s a phrase that tends to get turned into LORD of Hosts, or LORD of Heavenly Armies, or the LORD Almighty. More precisely, whenever God goes by that title, he’s not here to be passive. He’s here to fight. Other religions have their gods of war, and sometimes our God has to be our God of War.

But remember God’s character. When God takes on the mantle of LORD of War, he’s not suddenly dropped the love, and become angry and bloodthirsty, like the End Times nuts describe him. He’s tired of all the abuse his people are going through. He intends to defend them.

So in this psalm, that’s what we see: God kicking ass.

Psalm 46.8-10 KWL
8 Come see the LORD’s work which laid waste to the land.
9 To the ends of the earth, wars stopped.
He breaks the bow. He saws the spear into pieces. He burns chariots with fire.
10 “Quit it! Accept that I’m God.
I’m way above your nations. I’m way above the earth.”

This isn’t, “Just be quiet and trust me, my child.” This is, “Surrender, conquered foe. I don’t care about your petty squabbles. I know best.” Something we definitely need to hear whenever we’re behaving like God’s enemies.

Whereas those who quote this verse: They tend to not be God’s enemies. (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they’re not hypocrites who actually are his enemies; who quietly undermine him with their disobedience while they pretend he’s just the best.) These people wanna follow God, and aren’t in angry rebellion against his will; they’re seeking his will. The problem is they’re quoting the wrong verse to support their idea. This is a verse for rebels. Not followers.

“Be still.”

In the 1600s, when the King James Version was translated, “Be still!” didn’t mean to stop and meditate for a bit. Not even close. It meant “Shut up!”

Our culture doesn’t use “Be still!” anymore, unless you’re watching a Shakespeare play or something from that period which uses that language. Instead of telling noisy kids to be still, or telling a person who’s said too much to be still, we tend to go with the just-as-blunt “Shut up!” It means the same thing.

Hence we’ve lost sight of what “Be still” means, and many a Christian has repurposed it as a nice statement. That’s why it looks so ludicrous when people put it on plaques and wall decorations: Those of us who know what it means, know we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know their King James English. You’re never gonna find a nice “Be still!” in the KJV. It always means, “Shut up.”

When we find that word harpú/“be still” in the scriptures, we’ll find the root verb rafá has nothing to do with quiet. It has to do with quitting. It might mean leaving someone alone, Ex 4.26, Dt 9.14, 2Ki 4.27, Jb 7.19 abandoning them, Dt 4.31, 31.8, Ps 138.8 losing heart, 2Sa 4.1, Ne 6.9, Is 13.7, Jr 49.24 or just plain being lazy ’cause you’ve quit already. Ex 5.17, Pr 18.9 The point of “Be still” or “Shut up” is to get people to stop. Not so much getting people to stop talking.

It’s not used as a positive thing. Nor is it a positive command: God doesn’t tell people to “be still” because they need to calm down and regroup. It’s because they’re doing evil and need to quit it.

Now if you want a verse about being quiet so you can meditate, there are way better ones to choose from. But nowhere do the scriptures require us to meditate in silence. Silence is optional. Some people prefer to meditate in silence. Others need some kind of noise: Soft music, white noise (i.e. sounds of rain, surf, animal noises, a noisy fan)—and some of us like to turn the music up to 11 and blast the distractions out of the room. If you have the ability to concentrate in a crowded, noisy place, like a prayer service or a coffeehouse, go right ahead. I do. But those people who use “Be still!” as if God only wants silent prayer spaces: They’re using this verse wrong.

Same with having a jumbled mind. Face it: Some of us have no problem focusing on God, and some of us have lots of trouble focusing on God. We’re distracted. Or hyperactive. Or in pain. We may not be mentally able to focus—and once again, God never commanded us to focus. Those who use “Be still!” as if God demands a mental ability which not all of us have: Again, using this verse wrong.

Does God want us to withdraw from the world and spend some time with him? Of course he does. Jesus taught so, Mt 6.6 and did so. Mk 1.35 But how we do it is between us and God. If I wanna have a noisy, scatterbrained prayer time, so be it.

If I wanna meditate with others, like prayer rooms do, like monks do, there must be ground rules about how we worship together. Not all of them will come from the bible. They don’t have to, y’know. They ought not contradict the bible at all, but that still leaves a lot of room for a lot of prayer practices. If the other people insist on praying in silence, I gotta be okay with it if I wanna pray along with them. If the others want some thumping worship music, I gotta be flexible. But we’ve no business claiming God ordered things to be done our way. He left it up to us.

From time to time some “prophet” will insist God wants things done a certain way. I put “prophet” in quotes because—no surprise—a lot of these “prophets” are projecting their will upon God. They’re the ones who happen to love doing things that particular way; they assume since it helps ’em worship God so well, it must be God’s idea. That’s why it’s almost like God custom-designed the worship space for their preferences—what a lucky coincidence! But that doesn’t mean it’ll work for everybody, which is why many Christians simply can’t stand houses of prayer, prayer towers, prayer circles, and monasteries. It’s not because they hate prayer. It’s because they’re different, and pray different.

From time to time, some of these prophets’ll get up and apologize for setting too-strict limits on the people. They’ll open up the worship and meditation space to greater freedom. And you might notice I’ve no longer put the word “prophet” in quotes, ’cause this change of heart usually comes from the fact the Holy Spirit straightened them out. True prophets are more likely to not demand their own way, ’cause love doesn’t do that either. 1Co 13.5

So you wanna relax, and contemplate God in silence? Go for it. You wanna jump for joy, and bask in God with loud music? Go for it. Who says there’s only one way to meditate? Certainly not God.

And those who insist otherwise: Be still.