Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
Taken by itself, this verse is appropriate for this Season as we honor our God, who lowered Himself to become a human baby, born in a humble stable in a small village, southwest of Jerusalem. It doesn't really matter what time of year God was born; only that we acknowledge He lived, and would be revered among the nations and in the whole earth.
But this verse is just part of the entire Psalm 46, and consequently, it has so much more to say when we look at the overall context. Psalm 46, itself, speaks to the power and security of God in a chaotic, war-ravaged world. Scholars think that probably it was written upon the occasion of King David’s victories over the neighboring nations, and expresses the emotions of the Israelites in the midst and aftermath of the chaos of war. And I can't help but think about the city of Aleppo as I read the Psalm and concentrate on verse 10. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is in the grip of the country’s civil war. Syrian and Russian forces are engaged in an all-out blitz to retake the eastern rebel-held districts of Aleppo because its recapture is vital to President Bashar al-Assad's aim of re-establishing full control over the country.
Meanwhile, the citizens of this ancient city are caught in the cross-fire, and the violence of war has left Aleppo looking like an apocalyptic wasteland. The Christians of Aleppo are living Psalm 46 in real time: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble ... 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.
The Psalm offers encouragement to hope and trust in the Lord; to take comfort in God when things look very bleak and threatening. As the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo increases at the hands of Syrian government militia, I can only hope that the words of verse 10 would be burned on the hearts of those Christians who have suffered from this devastating civil war.
Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help; for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.
Know that I am God. "Know" in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “to acknowledge, be aware.” The act of acknowledging God influences our "stillness" by making us aware that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
Can you not see the same scenario playing out with Syria and Russia? Aligning with foreign powers to promote or advance (exalt) your authority, is never a way to safeguard that power. Ultimately, it will be God who will be exalted; He will determine the winners and losers in war. He is GOD, the One who is infinitely above all. Let them wage war no more, for it is all in vain. He that sits in Heaven, on His throne, will have His way and will do His own will. He will glorify His own Name, and when the powers of this world deal proudly in war, He will still be above them, and make no mistake about it! It will be His interests in the world and His Kingdom here on earth that reigns.
Ultimately, the Psalm, and verse 10 specifically, wants us to understand that when we are still and surrendered to God, we will find peace, even when our world is in chaos and war. The mountains may melt away and kingdoms may fall, but God will still be there... exalted above everything in Heaven and Earth. He is our refuge and our fortress. We will be sheltered and at peace within, even when there is war and fighting all around us. He will quiet our minds and hearts, and eliminate our fears. He is the Lord of hosts, the God of Jacob; and He has been, is, and will be with us—we can take comfort in that, and boldly ask, If God be for us, who can be against us?
May the people of Aleppo take heart! May they be still, and know God! And even if they don't survive the decimation, may they know that YHWH will be exalted among all the nations and in the earth!