“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”– Psalm 46:10
“Pray without ceasing.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17
In the year 1722, a young man sat down and wrote these words as part of a large document.
RESOLVED, That I will do whatever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration.
RESOLVED, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general.
RESOLVED, to do this whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
Jonathan Edwards was only 19 years old when he, like many other serious young men of his day, “drew up a list of resolutions, committing himself to a God-centered life lived in harmony with others”. The idea of making resolutions is familiar to us. A local radio talk show host in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania once invited listeners to call in with their New Year’s resolution. Most who called had superficial responses. It was all a big joke.
But there is something to be said about making serious resolutions like Jonathan Edwards. There is an element of maturity when people become spiritually minded enough to resolve that, by the grace of God, they will live the Christian life. We want to exhort you today to consider at least one New Year’s Resolution, and if possible two.
“RESOLVED, to be still and know God.”
While these words are found in the bible as a command from the Sovereign of the Universe, the human response must be a holy resolution to say, “Yes Lord, I will be still. I do want to know you.”
Like all resolutions, this one will not be easy to honor, for modern man is driven. The pressure is felt to take time to exercise properly, to diet regularly, to be a super mom, to start collections of plates, stamps, music, to keep busy with entertainment, to stay organized. These are just a few of the good behaviors that our society applauds–good behaviors that turn bad when we allow them to control us. And there is no doubt, we are being controlled. The pressures of life are great to educate our children at least 33 hours a week, watch an average of 4 hours of TV per day, clean and cook, travel and work, so that when all is said and done, out of 168 hours per week, we struggle to find even one hour for worship. The Lord has simple words to say to such busy people as we are. They are kind words. They are pleading words. They are words filled with a promise.
“Be still and know I am God.”
These words were first spoken to the nation of Israel almost 3000 years ago as part of the 46th psalm. According to the introduction, Psalm 46 is addressed to the chief musician for the sons of Korah. Historically, Korah was the Levite who led an insurrection against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. The story is told in Numbers 16:1-49. Korah was jealous of the power and prestige of these men. As a result, he accused Moses and Aaron of being prideful and having too much leadership in the congregation. He wanted more control for himself and was determined to have it. So he led an insurrection.
There are different ways to lead a revolt against divinely ordained leadership. One way is to be quite and subtle. There is maneuvering behind the scenes. People who are dissatisfied are found, and are attracted to each other, like strands of iron to a magnet.
The Bible says that Korah found 250 leaders of the tribe of Israel who were dissatisfied with the way Moses and Aaron were doing things. That figure sounds a little ominous until it is realized that Israel numbered over 2 million people at this time. Yet, the power of the few is tremendous. It is well within the power of the few to spread fear and intimidation among the many in order to change direction and goals.
Any revolt against leadership eventually needs a spokesperson, and Korah became the messenger. The moment came when he confronted Moses and Aaron. But he did not do it privately. He did not speak to Moses and Aaron personally. He had the presence of other people behind his presentation, which gave him a measure of boldness, courage, and the appearance of wisdom. He alone would be the voice of logic. The Voice of Reason spoke and made (Num. 16:3) an accusation, in the context of a theological statement, ending with a rhetorical question.
The accusation was that Moses and Aaron had taken too much of the responsibility of leadership upon themselves. According to Korah, theologically, they should not have done this because all of the people of Israel were “holy, every one of them,” and “the Lord was with them.” Why then, had Moses and Aaron exalted themselves above the congregation of the Lord?
With these statements, the greatest danger to the church by the Korah’s of this world is manifested. The power they possess is with the subtle use of words. Many of the people of Israel who were listening thought that Korah was making excellent points. Some began to think within themselves: Here is an insightful man who has seen the errors of Moses and Aaron.
Here is a brilliant man who can appeal to a theological basis for his concerns. Here is a brave man who can ask rhetorical questions which puts the son of a Pharaoh and the High Priest of Israel on the defense in total silence. Many people in the congregation of Israel were impressed with Korah. They were intimidated by the subtly and the power of simple words. No wonder the Bible says that when Moses heard the words of Korah he fell upon his face. Moses fell upon his face, not in fear, but in horror! Moses understood perfectly the implications of the little speech of Korah.
If Korah was allowed to go unchallenged, he would in effect be the next leader of Israel. The promise of a more democratic government under his new leadership would then replace the theocratic kingdom that Moses and Aaron were responsible for.
If Korah was not responded to in some manner, then his new code of ethics would prevail, which would mean that other disgruntled people would gather in some groups and speak against authority rather than speak to leadership with their areas of concern. It would not be long until Israel would disintegrate internally for the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. It defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature.
Moses was horrified at the thought of Korah moving the people of God in a direction of disunity, distrust, based upon distortion of the concern of a few. No wonder Moses fell prostrate to the ground. Moses also fell to the ground in humility. He who had done so much good for the people was not just being asked to share responsibilities and duties. The ultimate goal of Korah was to replace Moses, not merely to discredit him.
At this point, Moses and Aaron would have agreed with the psalmist who wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Moses and Aaron were very lonely individuals that day so long ago. They looked to other leadership for support, and found 250 princes of Israel questioning them. They looked to the people, and found many believing that Korah had some good points to make.
In the face of such potentially powerful forces of opposition, where could Moses go but to the Lord. And God became his “refuge and strength in a time of trouble. Though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” Moses fell on his face in complete submission to the will of the Lord, for Moses had learned long ago that, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the Tabernacles of the Most High.”
The heart of every Christian, sooner or later, understands the beautiful words of this Psalm. There is a river. It is a river of grace and it offers the Water of Life. “It is no boisterous ocean, but a placid stream, it is not stayed in its course by earthquakes or crumbling mountains, it follows its serene course without disturbances” (C.H. Spurgeon).
The streams of this River of Grace, with Water of Life, makes glad the City of God, by assuring the citizens of Zion that the Lord will supply all of their needs. In the ancient world, the great fear of an Eastern city in time of war was that the water supply would be cut off during a siege. If there was plenty of water, the people could survive.
The church is the City of God. It is surrounded with mighty walls of truth and justice, garrisoned by omnipotence, and adorned with infinite wisdom. The citizens of the city enjoy the presence of the Most High, so that they can say, “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psa. 46:7). Therefore, “Be still, and know God.”
In the physical stillness for the purpose of knowing God comes wisdom. When Moses arose from his face, he knew what had to be done. Actually, Moses was to do little, for the Lord intervened in such a way as to restore order to the situation and to show mercy, not to Korah, but to his sons, so that generations later, the songs of Zion could be sung by them. Had Korah himself been still before the Lord, he would have known the mind of God. He would have known God.
By way of application, the sin of Korah in not seeking God can be our sin if we are not careful to guard our hearts. The church is in danger of not knowing God. Why? Because we are not still long enough in any given day to know Him. And one hour a week, in the attempt, is often more frustrating than fruitful.
What is the result of this inattention to the Lord? One result is a pre-occupation with activity that may be wholesome, but still obscures the glory of the Lord and His work, while pressuring others. It is possible to become more interested in what we are doing for God, than being interested in the Lord for Himself.
I was reminded of this by a phone call I once received from an organization that wanted money to fight abortion. When I shared with the person calling my own commitment to looking after the needs of our church and school families, there was some insistence, and more pressure to support this worthy cause. Dor Nori writes on this point in a more humorous way after going through his mail one day.
“I innocently began opening my mail. The next 30 minutes was a mastication experience that still gives me an occasional nightmare. In just a half hour, I discovered that God only meets in homes; He primarily moves only in the Arts and Pageantry; my financial future was hinging on my willingness to buy into a program that was the cutting edge of God’s plan for my financial freedom; the future of the Church is in celebrating the Jewish Feasts; I had to go to a Midwest city to get a cutting edge word from the Lord; I had to throw my Christmas tree away or God would never bless me again; and if my congregation was not rolling on the floor with laughter and uncontrolled hilarity, I had a demon of depression.
After much prayer, I realized that my only hope of being in God’s perfect will was to go to Missouri, form a Messianic congregation that met in homes, refuse to celebrate Christmas, put all our money in mutual funds, worship in angel costumes while blocking abortion clinics, and tell lots of “dumb blonde jokes” during my sermons”.
The point is that while we are busy telling others how to live the good life, we may not be still enough to get to know God Himself. There are other concerns.
Dr. J. I. Packer observed that: ignorance of God—ignorance both of His ways and of the practice of communion with Him—lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today. Two unhappy trends seem to have produced this state of affairs.
The first trend is that Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.
The second trend is that Christian minds have been confused by the modern skepticism. For more than three centuries the naturalistic leaven in the Renaissance outlook has been working like a cancer in Western thought…. The foundations-facts of faith are called into question. It is time to be still and to know God personally once more.
On 7 January 1855, the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, opened his morning sermon as follows.
“It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.”
C.H. Spurgeon was right. We must give ourselves to knowing God. Here then is a New Year’ Resolution. This year, I want to know God. This year, I will spend time getting to know God. I will do this in these ways: daily reading of the Bible with time for meditation, faithfulness to worship services, learning how to pray so that I can pray without ceasing. If, at the end of this year, this resolution will have been honored, then the great end of our creation will be realized, for the chief duty of man is to know God and to enjoy Him forever.
“Be still and know God.”