“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). God’s people are commanded to “be still” in this verse. The imperative gives a solemn duty to those in a covenant relationship with God—Israel in the Old Testament, but today, it is given to Christians (cf.Galatians 3:26-29).
What does it mean when God’s own are commanded to “be still”? The injunction is not given to restrict the mobility of God’s people. The duty represents a spiritual disposition that ought to characterize those to whom God’s unfailing promises have been given.
The word translated “be still” comes from the Hebrew term raphah. This word is found in various forms in the Old Testament, with different shades of meaning. It refers to that which is slack, or to let drop, or in some instances, to be disheartened or weak. When used of a person (as opposed to some inanimate object) it often has a negative connotation.
Interestingly, “be weak” is here commanded. In other contexts, those who let their hands “drop” from work are condemned. Those who are disheartened are commanded to take courage. In contexts where “being still” is condemned, we find that certain obligations were being neglected, and God’s people were admonished to take initiative to fulfill their duties.
Sadly, there are those who are far from “still”; they “do all the work” and give God none of the credit. They believe that by “lifting up their hands” and by “taking courage,” they can survive and thrive by the sweat of their own brow. They can do it all on their own, without any divine dependence.
Here is the irony in this term “be still.” While we must take the initiative to fulfill our responsibilities and live our lives, the uncertainties of living in a world of sin and woe will continually challenge us. Personal initiative is no substitute for reliance upon God (cf. James 4:13-17).
This command—“be still”—forces us to think on two things: that we are finite, and that God is infinite. That being the case, we need to drop our hands, go limp, relax, and “chill out.” Christian people ought to “come, behold the works of Jehovah,” (v. 8) that we may enjoy a calm confidence in him who gave us his Son.
“Shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” Paul reasoned (Romans 8:32). Psalm 46:10 encourages us to reflect on what God can do in the face of what we are unable to do.
Spiritual serenity, the psalmist admits, ought to be cultivated in spite of the shaking mountains and agitated waters (vv. 2-3; i.e., figures for the difficulties we face in life). This spiritual calm, that God commands, does not come from a lack of troubles; it derives from a steady, deep reflection on the ways God has intervened in history on behalf of his people (cf. Romans 15:4).
So as your world crumbles around you, the call from Scripture is: don’t flinch in faith in God. Stand still—not because of a self-made confidence, not because you are the most composed person in the face of disaster, not because “you’ve seen it all.” Be still because of what you know about God.
It is “God’s past” that provides calm for “our future.” Know that he is God! Know it, not merely intellectually, but practically, spiritually, and emotionally. He is your God. He is the ruler of kingdoms of this earth and the all-powerful Creator of the Universe.
If you are the last man or woman standing, be still. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth do change” (Psalm 46:1-2a). Hallelujah!