Theme: “Above All Earthly Pow’rs”
In this week’s lessons on Psalm 46, on which Luther’s great hymn is based, we are reminded that our complete confidence and trust rests in the Lord, who promises to be with his people forever.
Scripture: Psalm 46:1-11
We come now to verses 8-10. We need to see that, although the language grows out of the earlier material, the stanza is not really looking to the past but ahead to the future when God shall defeat all armies and establish his eternal reign. In Psalm 2 God in the same way mocks those who take arms against himself and his Anointed. He tells the Son, “I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (vv. 8,9).
When verse 9 says, “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth,” it is not presenting God as a peace negotiator but as a conqueror. In other words, this peace is not to be compared to “the SALT treaty,” which is a negotiated disarmament pact between mutually powerful nations. It is more like the Allies’ bombardment of Iraq, which established “peace” by imposing it on the conquered party.
There is an interesting illustration of this contrast from the days of the Roman empire. A Roman medal was ordered by Vespasian after completing his wars in Italy and other places, showing the goddess of peace holding an olive branch in one hand and a torch setting fire to heaps of armor in the other. The olive branch represents a negotiated peace. The torch and destroyed armor represents an imposed peace. Both are peace, but it is the second that is being presented in Psalm 46:8-10.
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. 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.
What is the difference between a negotiated peace and an imposed peace? Which one do we see in verse 9, and why?
In the context of this psalm, what does the first part of verse 10 mean (“Be still, and know that I am God”)?
What does the New Testament teach about God’s peace?