Twice, now, I have recently seen the verse. Once, I read it in a mass-email. The Christian blogger was discussing her favorite verse for that month, Psalm 46:5:
“God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.”
In her explanation for choosing this verse, the blogger explained that she loved how Psalm 46:5 was addressing a woman. She gushed about how relatable and great she felt this verse was since we, her readers, were all women, too. I read the email and immediately thought, “Who is this mysterious lady of Psalm 46:5?”
The second time I saw Psalm 46:5 used in this manner was just the other day, on a t-shirt. The website sells shirts geared toward Christian women, and the reason they have chosen this verse for a t-shirt design is obvious: they, too, are interpreting Psalm 46:5 as if it is written about a woman. Apparently this verse has been utilized this way more often than I am aware. A friend of mine informed me that she has even seen Psalm 46:5 painted on nursery walls for little baby girls.
Perhaps you have seen this verse recently, too, referencing some mysterious lady and being applied to all women in general. It’s a beautiful verse, no doubt, and to think about God’s special purposes for me as a woman certainly makes me excited. But today, please humor me, as I need to state the obvious:
My friends, this verse is not about a woman.
In fact, this verse isn’t about a man, either. Psalm 46:5 finds its resting place nestled between verses 4 and 6, which all reside in the greater context of chapter 46. Originally, this psalm was a song written for the ethnic nation of Israel — both genders included. The subject of Psalm 46 is Yahweh, the Eternal and Most High God. The initial purpose of this psalm was to herald the victorious power of God as He stands for and defends His people. Beginning with a declaration of Who God is, the psalmist comforts God’s people:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”
In its historical context, Psalm 46 spoke to a nation that faced many great enemy nations. These enemies threatened Israel’s physical safety and national sovereignty. But Psalm 46 reminded the people that their God is greater than any enemy (46:8-9). In fact, God is greater than even the natural forces and disasters of this world (46:2-3). The “she” in verse 5 is actually talking about Zion, the city of God. That's right! Just as America or Rome or any other nation in history has been described with the feminine pronoun, so is the case in this situation. Verse 4 states, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High,” before continuing on to verse 5. It is here, His holy dwelling, that God is in the midst. It is this, His holy city, that will not be shaken. It is us, His holy people, whom He will help when morning comes.
Psalm 46:5 is not at all about a woman. Really, Psalm 46:5 is all about God and the benefits and mercies He offers to His people.
Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, “What is the big deal?” After all, can’t a woman know that God is in the midst of her and that He will help her? Can’t a Christ-following female rejoice in the reality that she will not be moved, as she is a servant of the Most High God? Well, she certainly can, and there are plenty of verses in the Bible to support these promises, though they are not all packaged in one succinct verse and they are not addressed solely to women.
The misuse of Psalm 46:5 is only one example of abusing scripture from the countless examples that are out there. But here is the deal: we cannot pick and choose verses from scripture and push upon them meaning that they are not intending to give. We cannot extract individual verses from their context and true meaning in order to make them say what we want or need them to say. This is called proof-texting, and it is a dangerous and slippery practice.
A simple scroll down your Facebook or Instagram feed shows that everyone has something to say. But just because a thing is said by this blogger or that speaker does not make it truth. Just because a verse — taken out of context — sounds really pretty and exciting to us, this does not mean that proof-texting is okay, ever. While the misuse of Psalm 46:5 may not seem “too bad” to some, taking liberties like this with scripture will eventually lead us to draw theological conclusions that are untrue and sometimes even heretical. This is why it is such a dangerous practice.
But the greatest tragedy of misusing scripture like this is that we miss out on the depth and the power of what those verses actually provide. We trade the rich promises of God for blithe, often self-focused mantras that sound more like jargon from a self-help book than from the life-giving Word of God. Popular but misled sayings, such as “God works everything for my good” and “God will never give you more than you can bear,” come from rich verses being used out of context. But oh, the power of God when their intended meaning is understood and embraced by the follower of Christ!
Psalm 46 is no exception. In a spiritual context, this psalm’s promises transcend time and ethnic boundaries as it speaks to all who have been adopted into God’s family by surrendering to Christ’s lordship. While God chose the nation of Israel through which to do His redeeming work in this world, He has always been about reaching the nations and welcoming all who will come to Him in surrender — ethnically Jewish or not (see Is. 56:3-7). God is the Defender and Refuge of all who call upon Him in genuine submission, and Psalm 46 reminds the Christian of this fact.
In a moving and powerful conclusion, the psalmist speaks to a nation threatened by many enemies: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Sovereign God is the focus, the true subject, of this psalm. He is the One we exalt, and He is the One we worship. We forgot not His benefits, and they spur us on to in hope and courage as we live in a fallen world.
Be still, chosen people of God, for though the earth gives way, though the mountains be thrown into the heart of the sea, God will be your refuge and strength. Be still, Church, for He is in the midst of you, and you will not be shaken. Be still, genuine follower of Christ. Behold His works, and remember! Though the night may tarry, morning will come, and God will be exalted. Be still!
“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (46:11).
There is and always has been a plethora of “bad theology” in our midst. The tragedy of the digital age is that this bad theology can be circulated at a much greater speed and reach than ever before. For us, as genuine followers of Christ, the challenge is to sort through every bit of information that we encounter and to measure it against the truth of God’s Word. I do not say this arrogantly, for I recognize even my own fallibility as I approach the infallible Word of God. I hope that you might always test my own words against scripture, for I am not above error. Every matter must be taken up with scripture and read in context.
Weak theology might sound good and makes us feel happy, but it often misses out on the depth and power of God’s eternal Word. Let us be still today, and may we seek God in the richness and fullness of His revelation to us!