Illuminations is a feature which attempts to put images with scripture. Images which help to explain the scriptures, and help those of us who are visual learners more easily write— or draw— the word of God on our hearts. These aren’t great works of art, and they aren’t really meant to be. They’re meant to be handles. A handle helps us pick up and carry something; these drawings help me to pick up and carry God’s word within my heart and mind. Maybe they’ll help you, too. Join me in doing all we can to get God’s word into our hearts, minds, understandings, and then out into the world. If you make your own drawings, we’d love to see them! Use #cfycilluminations
These are turbulent times, aren’t they? So much so that “turbulent” initially seems like an understatement. What nation or time period takes the trophy for “Most Turbulent” is up for debate, but Who reigns through it all, and Whose people come out on top when all is said and done, isn’t. Psalm 46 is often quoted (portions of it, anyway) because it is one that makes clear the truth of God’s supremacy, and His protection of His people. “Be still and know that I am God,” we are told in Psalm 46:10. For those who follow Him, this is a comfort, and all the more so when we contemplate the truth in its context. Let’s examine this a bit more deeply, and seek to engrave it on our hearts so that we can find the peace God wants for us, even when the world seems to be crumbling around us.
When studying the Psalms exegetically, we keep in mind their nature (poetry), but the context of the whole book is less of a factor because it is not one letter or work; it is a collection of many, much like a song book. Each “chapter” is really an individual piece, an individual work. Many Bibles have headings which title or attempt to summarize a psalm, but these are not God’s words; they are man’s addition and can be helpful, but should not be taken as gospel, so to speak. There are other headings, though, which predate the time of Christ and are considered scripture by many. Not all Psalms have one, but Psalm 46 does. “For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth. A Song.” Some of this doesn’t mean much to us today. We don’t know who the choir director was, and we don’t know “Alamoth,” presumably a tune. The sons of Korah are known to us, but barely. In 2 Chronicles 20:19 we find the Korahites praising the Lord with a very loud voice upon news of the nation’s coming delivery. The following day, without any Israelite raising a weapon, the enemies of God’s people are destroyed.
Perhaps this is what the song writers reference in Psalm 46:6, 7. “The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.” “Lord of hosts” is a name for God which some say alludes to His conquering might. “Hosts” refers to the angels and other heavenly beings. In 1 Samuel 17:45, the boy David tells Goliath that he has come in the name of the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 13:4 speaks of the Lord of hosts mustering an army. Again and again, Jeremiah tells of the mighty deeds the Lord of hosts will perform. “Lord of hosts” is used often in the prophets— especially Isaiah and Jeremiah— but not so often in the Psalms. Here in Psalm 46, we have two of only seven occurrences of the phrase in all of the Psalms.
The psalm starts off with beautiful praise of God as our refuge, or shelter, and strength. It says He is a “very present help.” The NASB and the NKJV include a footnote that this is “abundantly available (for) help.” The ESV’s footnote offers an alternate translation of “well proved” help.” The help and assistance God offers is not sparing or hesitant or tentative. It is overflowing and proven, able to be relied upon. In whatever trouble or distress comes our way, God’s help is ever flowing, meeting and exceeding our needs. This being the case, the psalmists continue, “Therefore, we will not fear.”
Not only will we not fear these troubles that we see, but we will not fear even the most terrifying possibilities we can conjure to mind. If the very earth itself should change, the mountains disappear, or the seas rage against us, and the mountains shake, still we who trust in the Lord of hosts will not fear.
The psalmists remind us of the city of God. In Old Testament times, this referred to Jerusalem. Psalm 46:4-5 paints a glad picture, the prime feature of which is God, there in the midst of the city. We don’t look to the same Jerusalem, but the new Jerusalem where God will dwell among men (Revelation 21:2-3). I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, “When times get tough, just remember: someday you’ll die.” Of course, it’s meant to be funny, and just a bit dark, but for the one who trusts in the Lord, looking forward to the end of life, and rest in the city of God is a true comfort.
The next stanza opens with an invitation to behold the works of the Lord, specifically the desolations he has wrought. “Desolation” refers back to the kingdoms which tottered and the earth which, figuratively, melted. Knowing of God’s power over even the strongest of nations is meant to inspire awe: awful terror for His enemies, and awe-filled praise for His followers. He is so powerful that He puts an end to the fighting and warring; none who see the desolations wrought on His enemies dare war against Him. The bow, spear, chariots— all the mightiest implements of war— are nothing to Him. Because of this, those on His side are invited, even commanded to “Cease striving.”
The word translated “Cease striving” (NASB) occurs 46 times in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 31:6,8 Moses speaks to all Israel, and then to Joshua, telling them not to be afraid or tremble because it is the Lord who goes with them. He assures them that God will not fail them or forsake them. The word for “fail” is the same as in Psalm 46:10, except in the negative. Moses is saying that God will never stop working. He will never tire or give up; He will always make every effort for their best interests. In other passages, without the negative, the word is translated as “relax” (2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15), “abandon” (Joshua 10:6), “lost courage” (2 Chronicles 15:7). Job, under pressure from his friends to renounce his righteousness, says that he holds it fast, and “will not let it go” (emphasis added). The idea is of a clenched fist, nails digging into the palm, and then— no longer: fingers stretched out, muscles relaxed. It is gears grinding away, grinding away and then stopped. It is of hard and continuous labor, halted instantly. It is of steady, arduous work, ongoing until a ringing bell signals the end of the shift, and— done. The striving ceases.
The next word in the passage, “know,” is a common word. It is used in passages such as Genesis 4:1, translated by the KJV as “Adam knew his wife…” (emphasis added). The Angel of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand in Genesis 22:12, saying, “… now I know that you fear God…” (emphasis added). It is a word that conveys strong and certain, often experiential knowledge. God tells us in Psalm 46:10 to cease striving, and know that He is God. The reason we can relax and let go, even in the midst of desolation, is because He, the One we follow, is God Himself.
God continues His brief speech saying, “I will be exalted amongst the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This calls to mind His works in bringing His people out of Egypt. Repeatedly, both during and after the ten great plagues, God tells Moses and the people that by these mighty works, the Egyptians and they, themselves, will know that He is the LORD (Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17, etc.). By seeing God’s signs, and witnessing the powerful nation of Egypt brought to its knees, not only did Egypt learn that the God of Israel was the one Almighty God, but so did the other nations around. When the spies reach Jericho in Joshua 2, Rahab tells them that terror has fallen on the city because all had heard of God’s works when they came out of Egypt (Joshua 2:9, 10). Indeed, God was known among the nations. When God acts on behalf of His children, no question is left as to Who is supreme. It was so then, and will be so again.
Next we have a repetition of verse seven. The repetition serves to highlight this truth: God is with us. In Matthew 1, we find an account of Jesus’ birth. The Bible writer sums up the account with a quote from Isaiah, “… and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God was with Israel, and defended His faithful people against the mightiest of nations. Today, through our Savior, He defends us against the mightiest enemy of all. No matter what rages around us, God is with us. The Lord of hosts, commander of all heaven and its beings, the God who faithfully met His promises to Jacob— He is with us. Now more so than ever before.
Our nation is seeing change after change, and the pace of change seems only to quicken. Change is often cause for fear, but for those who take refuge in the Lord, the only conclusion is reliance on Him, and a resulting sense of peace. The only faithful response is to cease striving, to be still, and to KNOW— deep down, and ever deepening with reflection on His long history of steadfast faithfulness, promise-keeping, prayer-answering, never wavering support— that He is God, and that He will see His people through. My dear sisters, know that you can cease striving. Continue to carry the load that is yours to bear: your homes, your families, and most of all, your faith. As for the rest… be still, and know that He is God.