Psalm 46. I’m a bit anxious about today’s blog, to tell you the truth. Why? Because I don’t know your taste in music. Or what sort of Bible reader you are—devout, questioning, open-minded, a ready-to-boogie extrovert?
You see, I suspect that the music to this song was one of the all-trumpets and cymbals full-on ones—as in “praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn… clash of cymbals, loud clanging cymbals” (Psalm 150:3, 5). Maybe you prefer gentle acoustic guitar, not stadium rock with the amps turned up—my ears were still ringing three days after U2 at Green Point stadium.
But there’s no getting away from it. With Psalm 46 you’ve landed slap-bang in the middle of celebrating Yahweh as “Lord of Heaven’s Armies’”(v7, 11 Yhwh ṣebāʾōt ). And guess what— the Lord himself is making the most noise of all, with shock effects—”God’s voice thunders, and the Earth melts!” (v6b).
Maybe you’d prefer to turn down the volume from 46 to 23? That favourite is a lot quieter!
But look at verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God!“. That’s quiet alright.
Hmm…? You see this is why I’m nervous. You may have that chorus with its gentle melody running through your head. If not, there are numerous YouTube versions as refreshers.
—So I’m going to have to disillusion you. But I really don’t want to upset you.
That song is based on a complete misunderstanding of Psalm 46. The idea of quietening down before the Lord is admirable. We need that. But we don’t need misinterpretations that pluck a line from Psalm 46 and hijack its context.
So what are you saying? What does verse 10 mean, then?
It means, to put it bluntly: “Shut up [“Be quiet! Stop it!”] and acknowledge me as God (Almighty)!” It’s addressed to the warring nations in battle tumult by the Supreme Commander of the Universe who is determined to be honoured ‘throughout the world’ ‘by every nation’ (v10b).
Oh! Really? Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve always wondered about some of the verses in this psalm. Take verse 9, for instance. I mean, wars haven’t ceased, have they? Not on the continent of Africa. Not in my grandparents’, parents’ and my lifetimes. And God hasn’t brought ‘destruction upon the world’ either, and it says ‘See how he brings destruction upon the world!’ in verse 8b.
Indeed. On the face of it, this melting Earth and a world peace just doesn’t match up with reality. The reality is that the forceful disarmament of snapping bows and spears and burning shields (v.9b) didn’t happen, even regionally, let alone world-wide. There’s been no demilitarisation and disarmament, back then or now. Indeed, weapons have only increased exponentially and so has their destructive power.
So what are you saying? We should tear out this page from our Bible?
No. I’m saying you should read it along with the book of Revelation in the New Testament. They both use apocalyptic-style language. Psalm 46:2–3 does it with mountains and oceans, the New Testament does it cosmically with the sun darkened, the moon turned to blood and the stars falling from the sky.
You see the story has moved on from Jerusalem and Israel to Jesus and His return. That’s what we’re waiting for. The “city of our God’” in Psalm 46:4 was Jerusalem, and the poet calls it “the sacred home of God” because the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant were there behind the curtain in the Holy of holies. But Jesus told His friends that Herod’s magnificent building would be flattened. The Romans did that, the Ark is no more, and we don’t do animal sacrifice.
The poet of Psalm 46 was convinced that his God would win. So am I. But the wrap-up of human politics and history-as-usual, well, that still lies ahead, so we pray together: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth…”
So God is still “our refuge and strength’”(46:1), but his final demonstration of power and victory lies ahead. Jesus changes everything. We celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday, remember? Our security and hope is safe in Jesus, risen and ascended.
Clap along, if you like. Or get up and dance. Jesus wins. That’s the update.