Psalm 46 contains one of my favourite verses for meditation: “Be still and know that I am God.” (verse 10) It also contains a verse that, as a lover of nature, troubles me. “Come behold the works of the Lord, how he has wrought the desolations in the earth.” (verse 8 NIV)
I’ve seen what happens when a mountain crumbles. I’ve driven past Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass many times. The remaining mountain, standing there by the highway like a badly chipped giant tooth, has been carefully observed for movement since The Slide that destroyed the town of Frank in 1903. I don’t want to be on that road if another chunk comes down.
Translators have had a problem with this verse. The Hebrew word causing the problem is transliterated ‘shammah.’ Comparing translations, it can read: Come and see the desolations, or devastation, awesome works, amazing things, ruins, marvels of God, horrific events, wasteland, places he destroyed, breath-taking wonders… and that’s only in English. Jeremiah used shammah a lot to describe what he foresaw coming to Israel and Judah if they didn’t listen and make a course correction. It wasn’t good for them. “Shock and awe” might be an apt modern paraphrase. And yet, God sent many of his own to plead with the people to change because they were on a dangerous path of self-destruction.
I had a dream. I was in a huge banqueting hall where people had filled their plates with the kind of delicacies we see in advertisements for the finest in cruise cuisine. There was so much fine food that people were skipping nutritious food, taking one bite of each rich pastry and throwing the rest in the garbage. While in the hall, I received a phone call from someone who I knew heard God’s voice more clearly than I did. To make this short, I was arguing with him over the placement of a book in the Bible. Suddenly I heard a very loud gunshot over the phone. It stunned me into silence. I dropped everything and ran to this man’s house expecting to find him dead. He wasn’t. He was sitting in the kitchen. A shotgun leaned against a cupboard.
“You did that!” I exclaimed. “You shot off a gun in my ear. I was in shock! My ears are still ringing! Why would you do something like that?”
“Got your attention, didn’t it? Now are you ready to stop arguing and listen?” he said.
God got my attention too. (The rest of the dream can be found in “Esther in Ephesians” here.)
When I think about it, I remember walking my young son to school. His younger siblings and a couple of other children I was caring for came along, of course. Suddenly our younger son stepped off the sidewalk in pursuit of some distraction. Usually there was no traffic on that road, and he was careful to stay beside me with a hand on the baby carriage, but this time he stepped out on the road just as a vehicle came up behind us. I yanked his arm hard to get him out of danger. I hurt him. He cried, but he was on a dangerous path that could have killed him. A good parent takes that risk when they need a child to pay attention immediately. That was the moment when I realized recurring ear infections left him unable to hear properly and he needed an ear specialist in a bigger city. I went home and made appointments. He now listens for a living.
Recognizing this psalm is about acts of God in the context of national and international conflicts and terrifying battles, changes the way I see it. That it was written by the clan of Korah (identified with one of the most terrifying responses to rebellion in the history of the Children of Israel) means “Be still and know that I am God” (verse10) is not merely a nice platitude. It comes in the middle of a poetic song that remembers that if he needs to, God will open the earth, crumble mountains, make a whip and toss tables, or yank your arm so hard he could dislocate your shoulder to save you from a destructive path if he has to.
But there is another way. I see the assurances when we respond too. He is our help and refuge in trouble. There is no reason to fear (and doesn’t fear provoke us to make some crazy decisions?). There is a river of gladness where God dwells. His voice is greater than the gathered nations’ might. He is the one who stops wars –however he chooses to do it.
In this current time of upheaval, the message of Psalm 46 is vital. It says essentially, let God be God. It may not look like he is coming to straighten things out, but he is –in his time. If you try to usurp his place and take on the role of God yourself, doing things your own way in your own limited wisdom, you are only going to mess up on some essential foundational truths.
Be still. Listen. Stop striving and you will know deeply and intimately who God is.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
A song needs a singer. I love Marty Goetz’ version of Psalm 46.
4 thoughts on “The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Be Still and Know”
Oh, this speaks to me! Not only did I spend some time yesterday reading some “I am” verses, but I also sense God leading me to share it with a young friend. I pray that it helps him to know that God speaks to and through all kinds of people, not just scholars. I thank God that you allow Him to use you, Charis, as His instrument!
You are always so encouraging, Lois. I thank God for you as well.
I’m a newcomer to your blog, but I was immediately impressed by your wonderful photography! Several months ago, I stumbled upon a photograph of a wilted flower you photographed (I believe your post was titled “We Could Ask The Flowers”) and was inspired to paint it, as I am an emerging art student.
As an art student, I was recently requested to submit a portfolio of some of my works, and I was contemplating including said painting. However, I understand that intellectual property and copyright laws are in place surrounding original work, and though my painting differs from your photograph, I wish to respect the source in which I referenced from. Is there a way that I could contact you to discuss the rights/permissions surrounding your photograph?
Hello S.N. Thank you for your kind words. I love students! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org