Some commentaries differ on whether to interpret verse 10 as God speaking directly to the enemies of the people of God, God speaking to his people, or God speaking to both his enemies and the people of God in different ways. Let’s take a look at a few.
The ESV Study Bible comments:
“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.”
There is certainly a shift from third-person to first-person, and the ESV points out the grammar of the phrase “be still, and know.” They interpret the phrase as being spoken to the nations.
Zondervan’s Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains verse 10,
“The psalmist goes on to encourage the godly to ‘know’ that the Lord is God. Though it was tempting to ally themselves with foreign powers, to rely on military strength, or to give themselves over to idolatry and pagan ways, the godly must learn to persevere to the end. The exhortation ‘be still’ calls on them to stop doing one thing in favor of something else. What their temptation was may be implied from v. 2: ‘Therefore we will not fear.’ Throughout the history of Israel and Judah, severe national distress brought the temptation to abandon true religion for the ephemeral security of political alliances, military strength, and worldly paganism. Instead of choosing a negative option, the people of God distinguish themselves by the pursuit of godliness: ‘Know that I am God.’ The knowledge of God includes factual knowledge about him, his past acts, and his promises. But in this context, the psalmist calls on them to commit themselves to the Lord and to seek his ‘refuge,’ ‘strength,’ and ‘fortress’ (vv. 1, 7, 11). The life of faith is lived continually in commitment to God’s sovereignty, rule, and ultimate exaltation over all the nations (cf. Hab 2:13–14).” (Bold emphasis added).
Knowing God in this context means acknowledging and committing to the fact that God is the only refuge worth running toward—the only refuge that will stand strong through every circumstance.
Commentators from the Past:
In The Treasury of David commentary, Charles Spurgeon noted verse 10 as:
“Be still, and know that I am God. 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. Since none can worthily proclaim his nature, let ‘expressive silence muse his praise.’ The boasts of the ungodly and the timorous forebodings of the saints should certainly be hushed by a sight of what the Lord has done in past ages. I will be exalted among the heathen. They forget God, they worship idols, but Jehovah will yet be honoured by them.” (Bold emphasis added)
The enemies of the people of God and the people of God will see God exalted in all the earth. The people of God should not fear because their God is with them and he will triumph over the world.
That is the most remarkable takeaway from Psalm 46 in my opinion—that God is the defender of his own name, his people, and his Word. He alone is our protector, the sovereign ruler, and the everlasting refuge. His actions are not hindered by our fear and worrying or our distracted minds. God is God alone and he will protect those who believe in his name and trust in him.
J. Ligon Duncan, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Mississippi, wisely summarizes:
“And this is a picture of the aftermath of God’s judgment against His enemies, His war against His enemies. ‘He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth,’ not through negotiation, not through the Department of State, but through obliterating everyone who stands in His ways. God speaks to the opposition. Look at verse 10: ‘Cease striving and know that I am God.’ This is not like God’s word for Moses to the children of Israel at the Red Sea, ‘You stand still and watch what God is going to do to you.’ This is God speaking to His enemies, ‘Silence! I will reign.’ This is God’s announcement of His rule and judgment against them. ‘Knock it off!’ He says. ‘I will reign on earth.’
And the city of God doesn’t make this happen. The people of God don’t make this happen. We’re simply called to trust and to be faithful. God does this. This informs our whole approach to the Christian life. You see, the world thinks that God’s word is so weak. How can God’s word overthrow the world? You just watch it. ‘Be silenced! I will reign.’ God, by His word, accomplishes His victory. All we’re called to do is trust in that word and be faithful in walking in its way. And we stand still, and we, as His people, behold Him bring about the salvation that He has promised. May God enable us in the midst of our own troubles to trust in Him, even as the Psalmist did.”
How amazing is this reminder! That God’s voice has power over all. God used his voice to create the universe, the earth, and everything in it including us. He uses his voice to accomplish his glory and protect his people victoriously. He will put an end to all wars at the end of the age by using his voice. This is something to be still and stand in awe of.
How often do we think about judgment as good news? Judgment means there will be an end to all the wars and fighting; one day God will end this cursed world with the sound of his voice and the new heaven and earth will begin.
Pastor Steve Moulson, of Church Hill Presbyterian, relays:
“The New American Standard translates ‘Be still’ as ‘cease striving.’ I think the focus of the message in this case is the people of God, since the Psalm begins ‘God is our refuge and strength…’ The goal is to point the Israelites to a knowledge that even though the nations may be powerful, that God is more so. Even the rage of nations only causes kingdoms to totter, but when God speaks the whole earth just melts! The Israelites are not ultimately responsible for their own protection, God is.”