And I haven’t been training a dog or talking to my children.
So, speaking this morning on Psalm 46, which contains the well known verse ‘be still and know that I am God’. I decided to major on what that verse means, and was struck by how God uses the words ‘be still’ to get our attention- like a primary school teacher that speaks quietly, or my wife when she says ‘um’ in front of 300 young people, or even like
Max in the legendary book ‘where the wild things are’ when he says ‘Now Stop!’ to the wild things… those are all precursors to something important… anyway, enough, roll the tape already, here’s my notes from this morning:
As with many Psalms, this one starts off with a statement of great faith. Then for many of the verses that follow it describes a situation that is far from positive. Within those verses problems are identified- in this case seemingly the end of the world and a terrible conflict, with reference to how much greater God is than the problems the writer faces. And then, at its conclusion, out of this description of chaos, comes the word of God… and the cause for the writer’s original statement of faith becomes clear. Its because of this that the writer is able to see that the God of Jacob is our fortress, that the Lord God Almighty is with us, that God is our refuge and strength, and an ever-present help in trouble.
I know that I look at people who have great faith, and 2 things go through my mind: after a flash of jealousy ‘its all right for them, lucky so and sos’, I come to wonder how they have such faith, and whether I could too. So lets look at these words that were the cause of such faith for the Psalmist, that were the root of this Psalm, this word of God:
‘Be Still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’
Be Still (Hebrew means ‘let go’ or ‘release’). For many people, especially at this time of year, its almost impossible to be still. And yet frequently this is something that we see those closest to God making a high priority- whether that’s Jesus going off to pray, the prophets going into the wilderness to meet with God, Christians throughout history who have gone on retreats, pilgrimages, quiet days. But this is the start point, the first thing that God says here. Its not unique to this verse, but its something we see when God wants to get our attention, it’s the precursor to something important. So the message for us is simple: If we want to hear from God, we need to be still, to let go of things.
Know. What does it mean, to know? Is it factual knowledge, like an address or a maths formula, or intuitive knowledge, or knowledge based on experience? Do we know things in our head or our heart? In the Bible there’s a distinction made between knowledge and wisdom- wisdom being the good application of knowledge, based on experience. Our past experiences of God help us to trust him today and for tomorrow, despite what we see around us.
I am God. I am God is short hand for all the things that we, and the original writers of this Psalm understood God to mean- its not ‘I am a God’, or even ‘I am God’ but ‘I am the one who caused the universe to exist, who drew life into being, who sustains all things that are, who loves justice and mercy, who cannot be less than holy and yet will not reject those who have become tainted, the one who spoke with Moses and brought the people of Israel to the promised land, who sent the prophets and will send the messiah to bring salvation to all my people, and you can call me God’ not a bad resume, but a bit longwinded for a name… so we shorten it to ‘God’…
I will be exalted- looking to the future. In the light of the present… this is something of the prophetic, that we’ll be thinking about more over the next few weeks in advent, but the essence of it is that Christians live today trusting in something that has yet to happen: we trust in the promises of God- God will be exalted is one of them, our sins are forgiven so we live today trusting that the promise of eternal life is already true in our lives. For the Psalmist in their situation, for the people of Israel as they faced many struggles, and for us as we live our lives, those promises for the future help us to live each day.
So this verse can help us to understand the whole psalm, but it can also challenge us to do the same- and it’s a message of great importance at this time and in people’s lives- take time to be still and reflect on the truths of who God is and what he promises us.