Will we ever have peace on earth? If you set out to write a book on the history of the world, by the time you are finished you might rather call it a history of conflict. Likewise a history of conflict is practically a history of the world. In the 1980’s I was fascinated by an encyclopaedia that chronicled all the world’s conflicts since WW2. Unfortunately, there were enough to devote a separate volume for every year. More recent volumes may be thicker.
We may also think that personal peace is an impossibility. Perhaps the enemy is at the gates, whether the enemy be in the form of threats to physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, or well being in general. Will we ever have peace?
Peace may have seemed like an impossibility to the people in the Psalmist’s day, but the writer of Psalm 46 expresses great hope. Consider the great hope and comfort expressed in how the Psalm begins and ends:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalms 46:11
What trouble might God’s people in the Psalmist’s day expect? Why might they feel the need for refuge? We can easily forget that Israel in the Old Testament was quite a small nation stuck between some very large and powerful empires. And just as there is a constant moving of, or a desire to move, territorial boundaries today, so in those days the empires would swell and abate with much conflict. Many Biblical scholars think that the sparring of the nations is the upheaval symbolized in the early part of the Psalm:
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.. Psalms 46:2-3
Earth shattering events were always too close for comfort. Who wouldn’t feel stressed stuck as the little guy between several big bullies? Knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, was on your side was a very encouraging thing.
We may be tempted to think here that this Psalm is therefore only for the nation of Israel, and only for those days. However we can note how the hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 46 is reflected by the hope found in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example . . .
- In verse 4 we have a river.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. Psalms 46:4
This is actually quite a strange thing as there was no real natural river in Jerusalem. So we are meant to think of God’s supernatural provision of blessing whereas other nations could only boast of their natural provision. There is also a river in Revelation:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1
- In verse 5 we have the presence of God.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalms 46:5
In Revelation there are many references to the presence of God. Here are two:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22
But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:3,4
- In verse 6 we have the nations at war.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. Psalms 46:6
And in Revelation we have good news about the nations:
On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. Revelation 22:1-3
- In verse 8 we have the notion of God as a destroyer.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalms 46:8
This might seem out of character for God for those who believe that He is so loving He could not hurt a fly. But being a destroyer is completely consistent with a loving and just character. As verse 9 makes clear, he is the destroyer of war itself.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. Psalms 46:9
That God is a great destroyer is a theme of Revelation also. He is the destroyer of death itself.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; Revelation 20:14
Also, there is the destruction of empire, from Revelation 19:11 and following, all the way to the destruction of the most evil empire builder of all.
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10
Psalm 46 points well beyond its own time, in fact it points even beyond our own time as we find its hopeful themes reflected in the Book of Revelation.
Is world peace possible? In Revelation 7:9-10 we see a vision of something that has never been done before:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”Revelation 7:9-10
Here we have all different kinds of people standing together. It is a vision of world peace. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised. And as for personal peace, every enemy that threatens us now will be destroyed along with all God’s enemies. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised.
This leads us to verse 10:
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10
This is to be taken in two ways, and which way you understand it depends on your relationship with God. The word for “be still” is really the word for “cease” or “stop.” If you have picked up your cross to follow Jesus, then be still, cease from your stress and anxiety over everything that threatens you. God’s got your back. The peace that may seem impossible to you right now is not only possible, but promised. But should you be against God, then cease from your striving and conflict, knowing that the Lord is God and not you. In which of these two ways do you take verse 10? Is peace possible for you?
(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)