“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10a
“Selah Grace” is the name of a baby girl recently baptized.
The infant girl to whom the parents gave this name has Down syndrome. Those born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of a chromosome—chromosome 21. The parents learned about the possibility of this early in the pregnancy. The joy that characterizes the expectation of a child is suddenly dampened and very quickly the mind runs in a multitude of directions, accompanied by all kinds of concerns and fears. And very quickly we all wondered what the future held.
“Selah” is a Hebrew word that does not have an easy translation. It is a technical musical term, probably showing accentuation, pause, or interruption.
How fitting to name the infant “Selah”! When the mind is running fearfully in every direction, we have to pause. We have to interrupt our racing thoughts. We have to pause in order to direct our thoughts. We have to reflect on the knowledge that our God is doing this.
In the eleven verses of Psalm 46 the word “selah” appears three times. As we read this psalm, there are three times we are to pause. The setting of this familiar psalm is one that occasions fear. In the middle of frightening circumstances the psalmist calls us to pause for a while and reflect on God. The psalm answers our fears with the knowledge that God is our refuge and strength, that He is a very present help in trouble, and that He is with us.
The psalm presents God as a refuge and strength in the face of severe troubles and earth-shattering events. There are three general sources that occasion fear in
the lives of the child of God and of the church of Christ in the midst of this present evil world.
First, there is the ungodly world. Sometimes they attack God’s children and His church with great anger: “the heathen raged” (v. 6). Sometimes they attack with weapons of destruction: war, bow, spear, and chariot (v. 9). Sometimes they attack with mockery and ridicule.
The power and might of the ungodly is always much stronger than that of Jesus’ little flock. They would love to remove God’s people from this world. So did Cain, Lamech, the men of Sodom, Athaliah, and Haman.
Sometimes, the world attacks with sweet allurements. They make sin appear so nice and attractive. And the world has found ways to make disobedience to God readily available. Those who have faced such temptations are greatly concerned for the less mature members of the church, who are more easily distracted from the truth and from godliness. Spiritual pilgrims and strangers can easily be afraid for the future.
The second source of fears for the church and believers is Satan and his host. He is behind every scheme and every attack against the true church and against the elect of God. He mightily uses the world of the ungodly, though they are not conscious of him. And he has an ally in the old man of sin that still resides in every believer. The devil is the roaring lion who is constantly seeking to devour. He tempts (Gen. 3:4, 5); he slanders saints (Job 1:9-11); he opposes the righteous (Zech. 3:1); he removes the good seed (Matt. 13:19); he sows tares (Matt. 13:38); he is a murderer, abides not in the truth, and speaks lies (John 8:44); he wrestles with believers (Eph. 6:12) and inspires lying wonders (II Thess. 2:9). The knowledge of the devil’s power is very frightening.
The third source of fears for the believer is his heavenly Father, who puts afflictions and crosses into the lives of His people and church. It is God’s will that His people, through much tribulation, must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6 from Prov. 3:11, 12). And there are times when God makes “us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us,…a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people” (Ps. 44:13, 14).
When our Father brings such difficulties, we become fearful about the present and the future. We easily have serious concerns when we learn that the child we are expecting is one with special needs. Also we fear when it is God’s good pleasure that our fellow saints sin against us, whether it be hurtful gossip or a form of abuse. And God’s people stagger before the anguish of the sudden deaths of loved ones.
There are many things in the pilgrim’s path that occasion fear!
It is in this setting that God issues the command of our text: “Be still”!
This Hebrew word is given various translations: sink down, be disheartened; to relax or let drop, abandon, relax, refrain, let alone, or to be quiet.
That we are told to be still implies that the child of God naturally has many other reactions to fears and frights, all of which are wrong—sinful.
Sometimes it is our desire to be active either to fix the problem or to remove the cause of our pain, sorrow, or difficulty. Also, we can become angry and rise in rebellion. It is easy for us to conclude that we have the right to be angry and to exercise revenge. Sometimes we want to bargain with God. Other times we run ahead, creating in our minds various scenarios of what we think might happen in the future. Generally, we want to talk instead of listen. Or we conclude that God has forgotten to be kind and that His mercy is forever gone (Ps. 77). It is not usual that we claim the right to know why God is doing what He is doing, already having concluded that God did something wrong.
When we are told to “be still,” we must not conclude that God wants His children to act unaffected or stoical before divine judgments. We are not to try to act unconcerned about the commotions in the earth and the horrific sins in the world.
The command to “be still” is a call to be quiet in body and in mind while living assured of God’s love. Such spiritual, quiet resting in the arms of our Savior is opposed to being restless or fretful, fearful and impatient.
We are to be silent in the sense that we do not object or complain against God, nor fight against His way. Our silence means that we decide not to blame or condemn God, nor to accuse Him of being unfair and unrighteous. David put it this way: “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace.” And, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it” (Ps. 39:1, 2, 9).
Positively, to be still is the silence of consent. It is a decision to live by faith and not by sight. It is to trust. It is to believe that God’s love ceases never. It is to believe that divine love governs everything that befalls us.
The believer confesses that God is always righteous in all that He does and that He is good…always…to every one of His own!
The reason we have for being still is that we know that God is God!
“Be still, and know….” Know by faith. The knowledge of faith holds for truth what God has revealed in His Word. Since the fall into sin, man by nature does not know correctly. Therefore, we are admonished not to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5). Additionally, God is infinite. He is infinite in His being so no creature is able to possess the knowledge that God possesses. To know God at all, and then to know Him accurately, we must go to Scripture. It is the revelation that God Himself gives of Himself. He will tell us accurately about Himself. We then are able to know correctly because “the Bible tells me so.” Further, God’s infinity means that His knowledge and wisdom are infinitely higher than our knowledge and wisdom (Is. 55:7-9). And “if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (I Cor. 8:2).
What are we to know? “Know that I am God.” Scripture teaches that God is the supreme Being who is every perfection, every attribute. And He is such infinitely (that is, immeasurably), and eternally (that is, forever). It is not that God possesses every virtue, but that He is every virtue. “God is love” (I John 4:8). He is omniscient and He is wisdom. He is goodness, holiness, truth, righteousness, and justice. He is love, grace, mercy, and longsuffering. God is every perfection perfectly. Also, Scripture declares God’s amazing works. God reveals Himself in every one of His works. In the Scriptures we find revealed God’s wondrous works of old, which evidence His ability to know and to do always what is best. “I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of all thy doings” (Ps. 77:10-12).
Know that God is God, that is, that He is in control of all things with a perfect wisdom and the greatest love for His own. Psalm 46 speaks of God as sovereign in creation in verses 2 and 3. God’s control over every host is implied when God is identified as Jehovah of hosts (vv. 7 and 11). The psalmist specifically calls the readers to see the works of Jehovah in verse 8 when he writes of the desolations God made in the earth. God performs astonishing things as is obvious in the questions He asks Job in Job 38-41. The psalmist also speaks of God’s sovereignty over the heathen as they rise up against His church. The heathen’s rage may move kingdoms of the earth, but when God utters His voice, then the earth and all within it melts (v. 6). The wicked can do nothing against God’s church but according to His will, for He makes wars to cease. He breaks the bow and the spear and burns the chariot (v. 9). He controls all and every antichristian force of earthly power. God is God!
Further, we must reflect on the truth that this God is our God for ever and ever (cf. Ps. 48:14). Jehovah of hosts is ours. He is our refuge and strength (v. 1). The God of Jacob is our refuge (vv. 7, 11). Jehovah of hosts “is with us” (v. 11). It is He who made us to be His, and He established and He maintains a relationship that makes Himself to be ours. This makes glad His city (v. 4).
Therefore, “Be still.” To be still is the humble realization that I am naturally foolish. Our human nature wants us to think that we are wise, capable of knowing what is best. But this Word reminds us that man is of very limited understanding, and that our understanding is always corrupted and twisted. To be still is to acknowledge that we can only understand a little, and then only from the viewpoint of this earth. We are creatures in the hands of the Creator/Potter who is fashioning us with perfect wisdom to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Because God is God, and because He is our refuge and strength, we can understand that He is a very present help in trouble. Because God is Jehovah of hosts, we are to keep still before Him. Bow before His majesty. Listen to His Word describing Him and declaring His wonderful works. And then praise Him who only blesses us with every spiritual blessing.