Misunderstanding the Bible: Psalm 46:10

by | Mar 27, 2019 | Post | 0 comments

Very little shocks me anymore, but I must admit that I was taken off guard when my beloved, Bible-believing, local church of six years suddenly took a nosedive into its own brand of mysticism—some kind of Frankenstein monstrosity of Christianity, Gnosticism, New Age teaching, and Eastern meditation. In fairness, the nosedive began as little more than some light turbulence, characterized by a subtle shift from what had formerly been regular expositional Bible teaching to more topical preaching. But then quotes from new and “exciting” authors—people like Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Ignatius of Loyola—began making an appearance in the sermons. And it wasn’t long before the formerly rigorous hermeneutic which had always underpinned the teaching gave way to a rather more novel approach to Bible teaching. No longer was the Bible the infallible Word of God, which we must rightly divide but something akin to an ice cream shop from which any of a thousand flavors of worldly philosophy—each in its own separate bin—might be scooped and heaped into cones to fit one’s personal tastes. One of the first Bible passages to fall victim to this decontextualized approach to Bible teaching was Psalm 46:10.

Most Christians who have been around the church for a while have heard someone casually reference this verse in conversation. It is translated something like this:

“Be still, and know that I am God…”

Typically in Christian circles this verse has become a useful, if not an otherwise off-the-beaten-path, passage that is used to boost one’s faith and dispel anxiety. Although in the past I casually eye-rolled when someone used this passage in that way, I would without exception nod politely and ignore it. Why? Because the truth is that the Bible teaches that we ought to be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6-7); that we should not fear(Isa 43:1); that God is working for our good (Rom. 8:28); that God’s word is true (John 17:17).

It would be silly to say that Psalm 46 should not or could not provide comfort to those going through trials, hard times, and chaos; however, the truth is that Psalm 46:10 has little to do with day-to-day turmoil or what some erroneously call desolation. Although some scholars rightly point out that the likely historical context for Psalm 46 is the Assyrian assault on Israel, the evidence suggests that Psalm 46 is almost purely eschatological. Although it is beyond the scope of this post to fully unpack Psalm 46, we can simply pull one of multiple sections to prove the point. Consider the words which preface verse 10, beginning in verse 8:

“Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.”

A natural question might be: when has the Lord—between the time of Noah and today—made wars to cease to the end of the earth? The answer is, never. But the Bible promises that this will happen. Jesus Christ, the Word who is God, will sit down in the temple in Jerusalem and rule the nations with a rod of iron for a thousand years. Peace will reign in that day. Far from pedestrian (albeit earnest) daily tribulations, Psalm 46 implores the nation of Israel to fear not and hold fast to the promises of God as His Word on the breath of His lips literally melts the earth in a fervent and dreadful heat.

However, it wasn’t until I listened to a wayward sermon one Sunday that I realized that the manner that our now former pastor was teaching Psalm 46:10 had metastasized, and I had been a fool not to hold the line when it came to rightly dividing the word of truth. And what was the flavor of the day? Psalm 46:10, and actually just the first sentence of the verse, had been casually scooped from the Bible and plopped ceremoniously into a mystical waffle cone. Our pastor had converted Psalm 46:10 into a breath prayer, a mantra for eastern style meditation, which he rehearsed like a New Age guru in front of his entire congregation. He said,

Be still and know I am God…

Be still and know…

Be still…



A chapter about the judgement of God on a wicked world at the end of days, which most use as a passage to repel anxiety and boost faith, had now become an escape hatch to altered states of consciousness, interior silence, and had simultaneously become a proposed biblical defense of mystical prayer practices. It wasn’t until some time later that I realized that our teaching pastor had lifted this mystical interpretation of Psalm 46:10 from any one of dozens of other Spiritual Formation teachers (here, here, here, and here) who were abusing the passage as part of a Lectio Divina spiritual exercise.

The tragedy is that the whole of Psalm 46 is powerful. I read it again and again in preparation for this post, and I wept—not because of a mystical experience or because some people misunderstand this passage nor because for its own sake some abuse it but because those who do so miss an opportunity to witness the true and unfathomable love of God, the one who pours that love out in holy and righteous judgement. It is a love incomprehensible to the natural mind, for it is a love of unimpeachable respect for the free will of those who reject His love, and it is the self-same judgement which justifies His children, who are the reward of His suffering. The tragedy is that stripping Psalm 46:10 of its context strips us of a fuller revelation of the one whom we ostensibly love and leaves us with an emaciated figment of our God. It is the one and only reason that we would bother laboring to properly interpret the Scriptures: that we might know—truly know—the love of our lives.


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