Commonly Misunderstood Verses: Be Still, and Know that I am God

Misunderstanding the bible is nothing new. This confusion is only magnified in today’s world of memes and one-liners on social media. Single verses are often elevated to popularity because they fit some preconceived agenda we want to advance. So a verse grows in popularity with no thought given to the actual context of the passage. For those who hold a high view of scripture, this trend is alarming. It shows an utter disrespect for God’s Word fueled by laziness. We need to approach the Bible on its terms. If the Bible is God’s Word (it is), then it should be handled better by those who want to live by it. What God actually meant by his words are far more important than how what we want them to mean.

Over the coming weeks, I will be writing on several popular passages which mean something far different then how they are commonly understood. Let’s start with the first part of Psalm 46.10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This passage has become a Christian cliché as it appears on everything from bumper stickers to social media feeds.

The Common Misunderstanding

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When you read Psalm 46.10 you probably think of being physically quiet before God, of slowing down your frantic pace, and finding time to read your Bible. This passage commonly brings to mind serene landscapes and the idea of finding rest and peace before God. What do you Christian need to do? Be still and know. They need to rest in who God is. Basically, we need to let go and let God handle our problems. There is a lot of truth to us needing to quiet ourselves before God and to prioritize spending time in prayer and the reading of his Word. Nonetheless, this is not what the passage means. Not even close.

What Psalm 46.10 Actually Means

Psalm 46 is actually about war. It starts with the great promise that God is the refuge of his people, where they can find protection from the raging of the world (46.1-3). It then shows us the nations raging against God and his people (46.6) before moving to God’s response of bringing destruction on the earth and the nations (46.8-9).

The context of verse 10 is war. The setting is a battlefield. In this war, God protects his people and brings the nations into submission. Psalm 46.10 is God entering the battlefield of the raging nations and defeating them by his voice. When God says “Be still, and know that I am God,” this is not directed at God’s people, but at the nations. It is directed at the enemies of God. It is a royal command of the King of Kings and by that command, he brings desolations upon his opponents. Be still and know is the battle-cry of the LORD directed at his enemies, not an encouragement for believers to find rest in God. It is God entering the war and claiming victory by the power of his voice. The HCSB translation helps us to see this, “Stop your fighting—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” So Psalm 46.10 is about God defeating the nations and about him being exalted by all of creation.

Why It Matters

We have a tendency to sand off the sharp edges of God to make him more palatable. Psalm 46.10 reminds us God rules and he conquers. There is coming a day when he will enter the battlefield and he will conquer simply by speaking. The nations will be stilled, and left speechless. They will know that the LORD is God. In fact, this is fulfilled in Revelation 19.15-21 where Jesus descends and slays the nations of the world by a sword that comes out of his mouth. He defeats the nations by speaking, just as we are told will happen in Psalm 46.10. Christians need to remember the Lord rules and he is a conquering king. His is so great that the strongest nations will be defeated by his mere speech. On that day every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is what Psalm 46.10 is about.