Be still and know that I am God.
It’s a verse from Psalm 46 that’s on a thousand plaques. But we get its meaning totally wrong. Discovering the right meaning, though, leads us to great encouragement.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
The Psalm is about war. The natural phenomena of the opening verses - the earth giving way, the mountains trembling and the waters roaring - are all ways of depicting the dire military threat the nation is faced with. It’s thought that the occasion was the Assyrian invasion described in Isaiah chapter 8. The Psalm’s reference to the waters roaring refer to Isaiah’s portrayal of the invasion as the Euphrates overflowing and inundating Jerusalem.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The solution the Psalmist offers to this crisis sounds at first a little odd: there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. This is what he meant. Isaiah accused the Israelites of rejecting the gently flowing streams of Shiloah, and as punishment he would cause the waters of the Euphrates to cover the land instead. Jerusalem has an underground spring, the waters of which were drawn off into the pool of Shiloah as a reservoir to be used in times of siege. Hezekiah built a tunnel to improve this, which caused a sensation when it was discovered, and the Bible’s account proven absolutely accurate. Isaiah was rebuking the Israelites for refusing to trust in his provision of defence for Jerusalem, and instead making an idolatrous bargain with the king of Assyria. That agreement backfired, and Assyria invaded anyway.
But when Hezekiah became king, he sought to obey the Lord. God’s promise to him was this: “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.” And God was faithful to his word. The angel of the Lord struck down thousands of Assyrian soldiers camped outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the siege was over (2 Kings 19).
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The Psalmist now invites his readers to look into the future, to the day when he will cause all wars to cease. That will happen on the day the armies of the enemy are encamped against a different Jerusalem, spiritual in nature, scattered across the face of the world, the battle described vividly in Revelation 20.
And then comes the command: “Be still!” The Hebrew word means to cease and desist what you are doing, literally, “Drop your hands!” It is addressed not to faithful believers, but to the armies attacking God’s people. And then the next command comes: “And know that I am God!” That means cease your rebellion, repent and acknowledge that I am the true and living God.
And when God’s enemies bow to his word, the result is stated thus: “I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The way the phrase is expressed in Hebrew is emphatic: “I will be exalted in the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!”
And it’s all about the river flowing underneath Jerusalem. That was the solution the Psalmist offered. It reappears in Ezekiel 47, flowing from underneath the end-times temple to bring life and healing to the nations. It reappears in Zechariah 14, flowing from underneath Jerusalem to the east and western sea. And it reappears in Revelation 22, flowing through the streets of the new Jerusalem.
The river signifies the presence of God. Ezekiel called his city, “The Lord is there.” John put the same thing this way: I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”
For those of us who have read the plaques, to be quiet and realize he is truly God is a wonderful thought. But to know he commands his enemies to abandon their rebellion and fall on their knees before him is even better.
And on that day, the river we now wade in ankle deep will take us up into its eternal healing flow.
And the Lord will be there.
Come Lord Jesus!