Does “Be Still & Know That I Am God” Mean To Meditate?

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By Marcia Montenegro| Many people quote the first part of Ps. 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” to endorse a form of meditation that involves techniques on “quieting” the mind or going beyond the mind. Is this what this verse is talking about?

Context is everything

As always, one must look at the whole passage and see the context of the statement, especially since the Bible was not written in verses; chapters and verses were added centuries later. In one translation, the phrase is not “Be still” but “Cease striving.” The New American Standard has, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Young’s Literal renders it, “Desist, and know that I [am] God, I am exalted among nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

The context is a reprimand about submitting to God in the midst of nations warring against God. The 1599 Geneva Study Bible’s comments on verse 10 say that God is warning those “who persecute the Church to cease their cruelty: for also they will feel that God is too strong for them against whom they fight.” This is because the preceding two verses say:

“Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.” This is clearly talking about the power and might of God to the nations who have disregarded Him.

Another commentary renders the literal meaning of verse 10 as: “Leave off to oppose Me and vex My people. I am over all for their safety.” This is a warning from God to His enemies (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871).

Matthew Henry’s words on verse 10 are that it means “Let his enemies be still, and threaten no more, but know it, to their terror, that he is God, one infinitely above them, and that will certainly be too hard for them; let them rage no more, for it is all in vain.”

Charles H. Spurgeon’s remarks on verse 10 are “Hold off your hands, ye enemies! Sit down and wait in patience, ye believers! Acknowledge that Jehovah is God, ye who feel the terrors of his wrath! Adore him, and him only, ye who partake in the protection of his grace” (from The Treasury of David).

The earlier verses in chapter 46 tell those who trust in the Lord not to fear: “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change; And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar {and} foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.”

Why not fear? Because God is there and He is mighty. Therefore, the passage goes on to say, those who fight against God should cease and realize His might, and that He will be exalted over all. Verse 10 is a warning to those warring on God; it is a rebuke.

From the context of the passage, without even consulting commentaries, one can clearly see that verse 10 has nothing to do with meditation, but is rather a reprimand to those who are “striving” against God. They are to stop striving and realize His sovereign power, and that their efforts against God are futile.

This verse is not about becoming absolutely still to “listen” to God. There is no Biblical support in this verse or any other for practicing certain breathing techniques, for repeating a phrase over and over, for letting the mind go blank, or for going beyond thinking in order to experience a “merging” with God, as taught in spiritual techniques adapted from Buddhism for Christians, or as taught in mystical teachings usually labeled as contemplative or centered prayer.

In contrast, God’s word teaches us to think and use our mind. Rational thinking and reason flow from the nature of God. We can be still or quiet, of course, in order to contemplate God and His perfect love, justice, and mercy. We can be still and appreciate His might. But we do not need to numb our brains or create a mystical experience to do so; in fact, these techniques will hinder us from practicing true contemplation.

Much confusion today comes from various meanings of the word “meditation.” When we are exhorted to meditate on God’s word, it means to ponder, to deeply reflect, and to contemplate the meaning of a passage. The word translated as “meditation” in several verses in the Psalms means to meditate in the sense of reflecting upon.

In fact, the New Living Translation uses the word “thought” for “meditation” in several of these passages, such as in Ps. 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you.” We are to seek to understand God’s word with our minds, not to empty the mind, or to bypass the mind for a merging with God.

Ps. 46:10, far from endorsing a mystical meditative state, is stating to the hearers that they should be in awe of God as the Sovereign Ruler. How ironic that God’s words in this verse are misused to support mystical meditation techniques when the verse itself is a rebuke to pay attention to God’s might.

Additional commentary

“The term raphah means “to release” or “let go” (37:8; Job 27:6). God commands the forces of chaos (Ps 46:2–3) and the nations (v. 6) to stop their raging and recognize Him as God (2:10–12).” (1)

“God’s goal for his choosing of Zion is that out of it the word might go forth to the peoples of the whole world, bringing them all to live in godly peace with one another (Isa. 2:1–5). This will be the means by which he makes wars cease (Ps. 46:9). Since the address in v. 10, be still, and know, is plural, readers should imagine God speaking these words to the nations, among whom he will eventually be exalted. This is the meaning of the LORD of hosts being with his people (v. 11; cf. Matt. 28:20): he will indeed see to it that the mission of Gen. 12:1–3 is accomplished.” (2)

“God’s refuge in the context of both natural and national powers (46:9–12). The poetic invitation to come and see introduces the final section of the psalm, in which the two themes of the preceding sections are woven together in a passage forming a suitable climax. The worshipers can “see” what God has done in the earth (v 9), indicative of his control of the world of nature; and they can “see” what he has done to human powers, making peace and breaking the instruments of war (v 10), indicating thereby his control of the world of history.

The divine words (v 11), which are probably not in the form of an oracle (see Form/Structure/Setting, above), indicate the transformation of all chaotic forces into instruments of divine praise. Both the “nations” and the “earth” (v 11), which earlier were depicted as posing a threat to orderly existence, are now harnessed in service to the exaltation of God. Hence the people may “relax” in appropriate confidence (v 11a); to know that God is God is to know his Lordship of nature and history, and therefore to be aware of his total capacity as Protector.” (3)

“The Psalmist seems now to turn his discourse to the enemies of the people of God, who indulge their lust of mischief and revenge upon them: for in doing injury to the saints they do not consider that they are making war against God. Imagining that they have only to do with men, they presumptuously assail them, and therefore the prophet here represses their insolence; and that his address may have the more weight, he introduces God himself as speaking to them. In the first place, he bids them be still, that they may know that he is God; for we see that when men are carried away without consideration, they go beyond all bounds and measure.

Accordingly, the prophet justly requires the enemies of the Church to be still and hold their peace, so that when their anger is appeased they may perceive that they are fighting against God. We have in the fourth Psalm, at the fourth verse, a sentiment somewhat similar, “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” In short, the Psalmist exhorts the world to subdue and restrain their turbulent affections, and to yield to the God of Israel the glory which he deserves; and he warns them, that if they proceed to act like madmen, his power is not enclosed within the narrow limits of Judea, and that it will be no difficult matter for him to stretch forth his arm afar to the Gentiles and heathen nations, that he may glorify himself in every land. In conclusion, he repeats what he had already said, that God has more than enough, both of weapons and of strength, to preserve and defend his Church which he has adopted.” (4)

“Therefore, in this setting, “be still, and know that I am God” is not advice to us to lead a contemplative life, however important that may be. Elisabeth Elliot was not wrong to say that this should be our goal in times of emotional turmoil. It means rather, “Lay down your arms. Surrender, and acknowledge that I am the one and only victorious God.” Of course, the time to do this is now, while a desirable peace can be yours through the work of Jesus on the cross. If you will not surrender now, you will do so one day in spite of yourself, though it will be for judgment rather than blessing. This is because God is God, and in the end it will be his power and holiness that are exalted. No one can hope to resist him.” (5)

“The invitation is best understood as addressed to the nations themselves; note the similar exhortation to the nations in Psalms 2:10–12 and 66:5. In a daring interpretation of world history, the psalm points to the desolation brought about by war and calls on the nations to recognize in it the work of the LORD. War is self-defeating; it brings about the destruction of those who practice it. In its terrible futility it is a revelation of the power of the LORD who seeks order and opposes chaos. In a prophetic word from God, the psalm concludes by turning the vision into exhortation to the nations: “Cease your warring! Stop your attacks! Leave off your vain attempts to subject history to your power. There is but one power exalted over the earth and nations. Only one is God—the one whose work is the destruction of weapons and whose help is the refuge of those who recognize that he is God.” (6)

As we can see, He is telling the nations to release their attacks against His people. To let go, to be peaceful, to relent. The raging nations (v. 6) who are coming against His people are reminded that God is the one who breaks the bows, burns the chariots, and makes peace on the earth (v. 9).

God them speaks to them saying: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (v. 10) He is giving instruction to His enemies telling them to stop warring against Him, because He is mighty, sovereign, and will prevail against their futile efforts.

God is rebuking His enemies telling them to stop fighting against Him, as opposed to telling people at large to practice mysticism (which the Bible prohibits).

References

1. Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 46:10). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 994). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

3. Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 345). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.

4. Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 2, pp. 204–205). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

5. Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 392). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

6. Mays, J. L. (1994). Psalms (p. 184). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.

This article was originally featured on Christians Answers for the New Age, and was republished with permission with “Additional Commentary” being added by Steven Bancarz on to the original article.
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Marcia practiced as a professional astrologer for eight years. She took astrological classes for over two years. Before becoming an astrologer, Marcia was involved with various New Age, occult, and Eastern beliefs and practices, including Inner Light Consciousness, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hindu teachings and meditation, and psychic development classes. During these years, she also participated in past life regression, numerology, Tarot cards, spirit contact, seances, astral travel, and received a spirit guide through a guided visualization. Since becoming a Christian, Marcia has been on several radio shows, including "Unshackled!," Bill Bright's "WorldChangers," "Janet Parshall's America," and the "Dawson McAllister Live" show for teenagers. She has also been on Christian television, including having her testimony dramatized on Dr. D. James Kennedy's show. She has led workshops and spoken at conferences, churches and retreats, and written for Christian publications. Marcia is the author of 'SpellBound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today's Kids' (Cook, 2006). Marcia's ministry is CANA/Christian Answers for the New Age, and she is a missionary with Fellowship International Mission, an independent mission board based in Allentown, PA. CANA is an informational and outreach ministry. Marcia graduated with High Honors from Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), St. Petersburg, FL, with a degree in literature. Marcia has a Masters in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC.