Psalm 46

Meditations on the Psalms: Kevin Youngblood

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.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

These closing lines of Psalm 46 are somewhat surprising. On the one hand, they invite us to behold YHWH’s “works.” We expect to see the unveiling of some great masterpiece, some breathtakingly beautiful work of art, but what we see instead are the desolations that he has brought on the earth. Can this be right? In what sense can it be said that desolations are the work of God? Surely this cannot be the goal or objective of God’s work. Indeed it isn’t.

This leads to the next surprise in the closing of Psalm 46. These desolations are further defined as the cessation of wars. The ground is littered with broken bows, shattered spears, the charred remains of chariots. The desolations of verse 8 are in reality an expose of the emptiness and ugliness of the world we have built on the foundation of violence, division, warfare and bloodshed. The desolation is the divine disarmament of the unsustainable world at war with itself. God has entered the fray as the divine warrior to forever disarm the opposing sides of every conflict. The weapons of our warfare cannot simply be put away, they must be disabled – made incapable of ever shedding blood and taking life again. Thus the desolation. But even this is not God’s ultimate goal. This is still just ground clearing.

The ultimate surprise comes in verse 10. Surely this is one of the most quoted line from the psalms. It is, however, always quoted in isolation from its context and as a result is often mistakenly taken to be a comforting word of salvation for God’s own people – a calming mantra in the midst of life’s turmoil. While I by no means object to using these words in this way, I think a danger exists of forgetting what the words were originally conveying. These  words are first and foremost words of disciplinary judgment to the warmongering world. God commands our strivings to cease at his appearing and he forcibly disarms us. All creation suddenly stands in dumbfounded attention to a presence so august and penetratingly glorious that we forget even our deepest hatreds and antagonisms, even our most deep-seated resentments. Be still and know that he is God!

Our Father,

Please enter our war torn world and interrupt our conflicts. Disarm us and break our bows, shatter our spears, burn our chariots, and silence the verbal arrows with which we rupture the souls of our fellow human beings. Freeze us in stunned awe at your glory. In the blinding luminance of your brilliance may we forget ourselves, our slights, our petty grievances, our vendettas. May we be truly still until we know that you are God and that you are exalted not by our aggression and violence but by our stillness and silence, our gentleness and peace. Lord Jesus, as you were exalted on a cross, may we seek to exalt you in our own acts of self-sacrifice and forgiveness. Holy Spirit bear your gentle and nourishing fruit in us by beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Reverse the legacy of Cain who turned from farming to fractricide. Turn us, Holy Spirit, from fratricide back to farming your blessed fruit for the healing of the world.