The song is written to be sung publically, by the choir. It is set to the tune “Alamoth”, and its musical style is categorized a “psalm.” It was written by the “Sons of Korah,” who were a Levite family mentioned as far back as Exodus 6. Along with the Kohathites they were the main group responsible for Temple music in Israel. Their name is attached to 11 of the psalms in the book of Psalms, all of them in books 2 and 3. It is a short song with a big topic. This song, sung to the tune “Alamoth,” celebrates the safety we enjoy because Yahweh is our God, and no one is as strong as Him.
I’ve always wondered what their music sounded like. We know that many voices and many instruments were sometimes employed. The name of the tune “Alamoth” means “maidens”. If that is any hint, one would suspect that the tune is melodic, even lilting. This is a bit of a surprise, because the subject matter is the awesome, earth-shaking power of God. It is the precursor of Luther’s Ein Feste Berge (“A Mighty Fortress”). Think of the muscular tune of that song, and then try to imagine those lyrics sung to the tune of “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.”
Although we can only speculate about the tune of this song, the lyrics are right there, in Psalm 46 for us to read, and the opening lines are among the most memorable in the hymnbook: “Our God is a refuge and strength/A very present help in trouble (v.1). A line-and-a-half from the second stanza is nearly as well-known: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God/The holy dwelling place of the Most High/God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved (vv.4-5a). The language describing the majestic power of God is unparalleled. “He raises His voice and the earth melts” (v.6b).
As if we needed more convincing, the Psalmists demand that we see with our own eyes: “Come behold the works of Yahweh” (v.8a). What we are told to behold is not the grandeur of creation – we are not directed to vista from Bierstadt. We are shown “desolation” (v.8b). Then something amazing happens. While we are looking at the destructive aftermath of the wars God has ended, He Himself interrupts.
Be still and know that I am God/I will be exalted among the nations/I will be exalted in the earth (v.10).
The song has been loud, filled with the sounds of war, roaring waters, earthquakes, and the raised voice of God. It has been about God. He is spoken of in the third person. Then the “He,” become an “I.” God interrupts the song and speaks to us all. And what he says (literally) is “Stop!”
We have, to this point in the song, been on the winning side of a struggle. God says there is no struggle. He will be exalted. It is an irresistible fact. God doesn’t need us to help Him make it so. What God commands us, as He interrupts this song, is that we stop, and know. We are to cease struggling and striving for a moment. We are to refuse to accept stress and tension – there is no need. Yahweh is God. It is enough to truly be aware of this.
The struggle can easily distract us from the fact that the battle is already won. The stress of battle can hide the face of God. There is a time to “fight the good fight” (II Timothy 4.7). But we must always return to the place of silence and calm. God commands it. This place of silence and calm is where we know, without distraction, that Yahweh is God.