In Psalm 46:10, King David quotes from the words of God spoken to Moses, who had relayed them to the people of Israel: “Be still and know that I am God”. The quote in Psalms is an allusion to Exodus 14:13; and the words speak to an exciting and powerful deliverance, brought about by the hand of God himself. But were they only intended for the people of Israel, who died millenia ago, or do the words still have power today? Have you ever thought that they not only can be applied to your own life, but must be? Whenever you are buffeted by any spiritual trial or difficulty, I believe this one simple sentence provides the essential formula for overcoming the adversity. To elaborate upon this idea, let’s first expand the meaning of each of the Hebrew words involved.
The transliterated sentence is Râphâh yâda’ ‘elôhîym.
Râphâh means ‘to abate’, with the following connotations: to cease, draw toward evening, be faint, wax feeble, forsake, idle, stay, be still, be slothful. It is related to the word râphâ’, which means ‘in order to be healed’:
- of physical ills (literally)
- of personal distress (figuratively)
- of national hurts (figuratively)
It also carries the connotation of being restored to favor (figuratively).
- 1. to know (in the sense of)
- a. to learn to know
- b. to perceive
- c. to find out and discern
- d. to discriminate, distinguish
- e. to know by experience
- f. to recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess
- g. to consider
- 2. (indirectly) to be made known, be or become known, be revealed (through others or things)
- 3. to be instructed
- 4. to cause to know
- 5. (directly) to make oneself known, reveal oneself
‘Elôhîym means ‘God, the (true) God.
So while “Be still and know that I am God” is a good translation, a fuller understanding of what the words intend to convey would yield the following:
“Humble yourself, make your self weak — cease from your own activities, and forsake pursuing your own path — in order to be healed from any and all of your woes. Pursue God, and seek understanding from Him. When you do this, God will reveal himself directly to you, and in the process you will:
- learn to know Him
- perceive His hand in your life — that He has guided and directed you
- find out and discern His will regarding the present concern
- gain experience and learn how to distinguish His will for future concerns.
Once you have recognized these things, and have overcome the trial through applying the knowledge you have gained, you will then be able to admit, acknowledge, and confess what He has done for you, and accomplished in you. Your confession will then prompt others to consider His works — and since you have been instructed by Him, you will be more adequately equipped to instruct others through their trials.”
Through His work in your life, God will be made known to others! Is that not incredible? Trials are the Christian’s opportunity to render service to God! When we remain willing to persevere as we suffer loss or hardship, and continue to seek God rather than seeking our own solutions, we show our love to God, and our commitment to His way. This is why the apostle Paul was inspired to write,
“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship (your reasonable service). Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (which is: seeking to go your own way, pursuing your own objectives and agendas, to obtain your desires by the strength of your own efforts), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (which occurs when we apply ourselves to seeking God’s will). Then (i.e., only after this) you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:1-2)
It would not be surprising to discover that Paul had Psalm 46:10 in mind when he penned these words, since they contain so many of the same elements. Another parallel to the expanded meaning of “Be still and know that I am God” can be found in Hebrews 12:1-13:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. … Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. … No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet’, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”
Has the common theme in all of these Scriptures emerged? The struggle against sin is the battle that is waged within each of us: the ongoing choice we face between doing whatever our human nature would like to do as opposed to submitting ourselves to allow God to direct our lives. The only way we will emerge victorious from any test of faith, and thereby prove faithful in service to God, is to “Be still.” Is that not completely contrary to our natural inclination? When trials come, we feel a need to be doing something, as if we could wash the hardship away in a tidal wave of our own activity. We even have the proverb, “God helps those who help themselves.” While there is some truth in that adage, it is not a name by which God identifies himself — rather, he is known as “The Helper of the helpless” — He helps those who can’t help themselves. “God helps those who help themselves” speaks to God’s general providence. Such instances of His care rarely bring glory to God beyond the individual who is helped by them, since others commonly perceive the outcome to be the natural result of human effort, rather than an example of God’s intervention. But the Divine Hand is evinced by all when the work accomplished could not have achieved by human strength or might, or any other means. In reality, deliverance arrives, and the waters part before our very eyes, only when God is the one actively doing. As it is written, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.” (Zec. 4:6)
But being still does not mean we do nothing. As the Scripture states, “When you are in distress, if you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 4:29-30) We must render to the trial the attention it deserves and requires, by seeking God. Every trial in the Christian life has a purpose and reason behind it. Sometimes we bring them on ourselves, sometimes they come to prune our spiritual branches in order to make us more fruitful in the future, and sometimes we are called to suffer them to serve as examples to others. Whatever the reason may be, earnest prayer and diligent Bible study are to be our activities, if we wish to understand God’s purpose. The only way we can expect to receive an answer from Him is to apply and commit ourselves to the search, and to be willing to patiently endure, trusting that God will provide deliverance when the appropriate time has arrived.
If our belief is that our difficulties will be solved as long as we remain busy and physically productive, our faith is in ourselves, not in God, and we will become spiritually unproductive. An opportunity to grow spiritually and bring glory to the Father will have been lost. This is why Hebrews 11:6 instructs, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” No one who believes that a particular activity will be unfruitful would rationally invest time, energy and resources toward it. The time we spend in seeking God could easily be used in numerous other ways; therefore, it is essential that we have faith that the resources we expend in our pursuit of God will yield a worthwhile outcome.
Trials are inevitable. When they arrive, it is important to understand that the end result is determined by the approach. If we desire to learn how to know God more intimately, and perceive His hand in our lives, we must view the tests we face in the proper context. Remember the guiding principle, “Be still and know that I am God.” Seek Him, and look forward to seeing His wonderful works displayed through you, and, in due time, God will grant that you emerge from the adversity as a conqueror.