I have a Masters of Divinity in Biblical Studies, with a concentration in exegesis and original languages. Exegesis is the study of the text in its original context (language, cultural, authorship, the passage as a whole, etc.) in order to draw out the meaning. I have felt more and more compelled to write about Scripture over the past few months, so I’m launching this series on Thursdays. It may spill over into other days, but right now, Thursdays will focus on Scripture and theology!
Exegesis is the study of Scripture with the aim to pull out what the author actually intended it to mean. When you approach a verse exegetically, you do not read it with any of your own experiences, emotions, ideas, etc., cluttering up your mind. You look at the context, the original meaning, the language, etc. The goal is to get as much “original” information about the text as possible.
We don’t often have to do this with other books. Kindergarten students who read “See Jane run” don’t spend hours analyzing and debating what the author could have possibly meant. They know the sentence means there is a girl (Jane) who is completing an action (run). Scholars don’t spend thousands of dollars to fly all over the world to conferences to debate who Jane is, what “run” really means and if “see” should continue today or if it was specific to a time, place, culture, etc.
Unfortunately, that happens in the world of the Bible.
Now, I happen to fall way on the conservative side of Scripture interpretation. I belong to what is called the Restoration Movement of churches, and I attend an Independent Christian Church. We are non-denominational, which means we do not have a overarching governing body, although church does have a board of elders. The Restoration Movement holds to what is known as “Sola Scriptura,” which means “Scripture only.” We hold that the ultimate authority is the Word of God, not anyone or anything else. If the Bible says it, it means it, and if the Bible says it, we believe it and strive to follow it. Obviously there is a whole lot more that goes into that (Jesus fulfilling Old Testament Law, for example), but that is a brief explanation.
Having said all of that…
I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to interpreting Scripture. I don’t often pull one verse out of the Bible for any reason. I try to read the section surrounding a verse, often the entire chapter and sometimes the entire book, to find out what is happening. Otherwise, I could certainly find a verse to support just about anything I wanted (good or bad). And I am especially careful about this when I teach others.
So imagine my shock and horror last week when I realized, while researching mysticism and contemplative spirituality, and their destructive inroads into the lives of conservative evangelical women, that I had been doing just that exact thing all these years with Psalm 46:10.
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.” (New International Version)
I bet you have heard that verse a thousand times, most likely quoted by some well meaning teacher (perhaps even me, unfortunately), suggesting that you need to set aside a devoted time every day to sit in silence before God and wait to hear from Him.
This verse has absolutely nothing to do with devotion to God, quiet times, waiting to hear from God, expecting God to speak to you or reveal things to you, or any number of things that women have made it out to mean over the past decade.
Read all of Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved.
God will help when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
– Psalm 46, New American Standard Version, 1998
(verse 10 in bold)
This entire psalm is not about quiet time with Jesus. It is not about hearing the still, small voice of God (which I will address in another post). It is not some comforting, sweet picture of crawling up into your daddy’s lap while he strokes your hair and tells you everything will be okay.
This is about how God is a refuge for his people during war. This is about how God destroys nations and armies, and how He can melt the very earth with the sound of His voice. This is about how we don’t need to fight – God will fight for us. This is about how we don’t need to help ourselves in times of trouble – God will be our help.
This is about how God will ultimately be exalted above all else. Right now, in today’s culture, God is definitely not in first place. Does this drive anyone else nuts? But according to this verse, and what it really means, I don’t need to worry about that. God Himself will ensure that He is exalted above all else.
Is it a great verse? Absolutely! I want to know that the Holy Creator of the Universe has armies at His disposal that He will dispatch. I want to know that He can handle my little issues; I mean, if He can destroy the Egyptian and Philistine armies (about which David would have known), He can surely handle the person causing issues in my life!!
My point is, we cannot take this one verse and assume that if we sit quietly before God, He will literally speak to us. Unfortunately, though, that’s exactly what this verse has become: the “go-to” verse for having a daily quiet time and “experiencing” God speaking personally to you. I can’t imagine the pressure it has put on people. And if that’s you today, let me be the first to apologize and say that the verse was taken out of context, as you can see.
Please don’t ever EVER just read one verse and think that it means what you think it means. If you don’t know the context of a verse, you cannot actually know the meaning. And if I taught you that Psalm 46:10 meant that you would sit and hear God’s voice, then I am deeply sorry. I should have read it more closely and carefully the first 950 times.