Reflections on Psalm 46
Stand emptyApril 13, 2020 - J. Scott Duvall
Editorial Note: It’s the middle of March 2020, and the coronavirus is beginning to hit the U.S. in a big way. We’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime. As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that our hope doesn’t depend on this world, especially when trials ambush us. But we need to be reminded and comforted. We need to hear from the Lord. In such times we often turn to the book of Psalms. Our pastor preached on Psalm 46 when this crisis was beginning and encouraged us to memorize it. I learn best by reading and writing. I hope my reflections will encourage you and those you love. Grace and peace.
Psalm 46:10-11 (Reflection 6)
“’10 Stop your fighting, and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.’ 11 The LORD of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” (CSB)
To finish the Psalm, God himself speaks. Is he speaking to the nations or to his people? It’s hard to tell exactly, but it seems to apply to both. In fact, God might just be speaking to all of creation, reminding us and them and the whole world that he alone is God! This reminds me of Jesus yelling at the wind and the waves in Mark 4:39 – “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus could have been rebuking the demonic powers that stirred up the sea as well as the disciples’ hearts and minds, telling them all, “I’m God! I have the power over all!”
What God says in Psalm 46:10 has sometimes been misread, I think. A common translation is “Be still, and know that I am God.” This is not a bad translation, but we tend to hear God telling us to get quiet and still so we can hear his voice or asking us to turn off our minds so he can reveal himself to us, or something similar. But there is a lot more going on here than just settling in for a good quiet time or taking up meditation.
There are two commands for us here and they are tied together. The first tells us what not to do and the second what to do. The first has often been translated “Be still.” Other translations include “stop fighting” (CSB), “stop your striving” (NET) or “cease striving” (NASB). My favorite dictionary of the Greek language says it means “to be unoccupied” or “to stand empty” (BDAG). God seems to be telling us to stop freaking out or to stop trying to fix everything since we can’t control it anyway.
I picture myself standing before God with my head bowed and my arms and hands hanging limp, my shoulders hunched forward, whispering to God, “I got nothing,” and the Lord replying, “It’s about time.” The Lord is telling us to give it up! So many of our worries and anxieties come from the deep root of thinking that we are supposed to fix everything, that it’s our duty to tame any chaos in our lives. Not true. Not real. God is here rebuking our restlessness, our fretfulness, our self-centered hyperactivity. Some things (many things actually), like global pandemics, we simply cannot control. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we know something deeper and more rock solid. We know God!
It reminds me of the time in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” where Aslan explains to the children how his death was not the end, and how he could now stand before them very much alive:
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. And now -”
We stand empty, un-reliant on our own resourcefulness or intellect or personal charisma or money, or our own anything. Now we’re ready for the second command in verse 10: “know that I am God.” There is something deeper than the chaos and fear running rampant in our world. And we know Him! James Sire puts it this way, “Stop flailing around, worrying about the outcome. I am in charge!” Eugene Peterson says, “Step out of the traffic! Take a long look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything” (MSG). To “know” God means that we must acknowledge, recognize and admit that God really is God over all! We’re not God. Our religious and political leaders are not God. Nature is not God. The virus is not God. Only God is God, and we know him personally!
Our God who is exalted and worshiped among the nations is also the “Lord of Armies” and the “God of Jacob.” There has never been a time when God was not. There will never be a time when God is not. He is Lord even over time. And he is powerful, commanding angel armies. Best of all, our powerful and in-charge God is “with us.” He is for us. He is “our stronghold.”
When I fear something, it helps me to think of the very worst of the worst thing that that thing could do – in this case death. And then to realize that God has a plan even for that – resurrection from the dead, with Jesus as our pioneer and example. Then the fear begins to lose its power over me. Again, not that I want to die. But if I do, God is still in control. He is the God of life and if we know him, we will live even if we die (John 11:25)!
Prayer: Father, forgive us for trying to control every aspect of our lives. Forgive us for failing to trust you, for playing God ourselves. Give us the grace and strength to “stand empty” before you, relying on you, casting our worries and fears on you, trusting you. Father, you truly are our loving, caring Father. You know us and love us more than we could possibly know and love ourselves. You love and care for the people we love. Take our fears and worries and replace them with faith and trust. You are with us! You are our refuge and strength, our stronghold! No matter what, you will never leave us! Our Father, we put our lives in your hands and we praise you! Amen.
By Dr. J. Scott Duvall, J.C. and Mae Fuller Professor of Biblical Studies. Read more from Dr. Duvall's Psalm 46 series.
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