Psalm 46 has a fun little conspiracy that connects it to William Shakespeare. Shakespeare turned 46 in 1610, as the finishing touches were being made on the King James Version of the Bible, which was first published in 1611. According to the legend, Shakespeare wanted to leave a personal imprint on the KJV, so he talked to the translator of the 46th psalm and made sure to have his name included. Where is it? The forty-sixth word from the beginning is “shake” (Psalm 46:3) and the forty-sixth word from the end (excluding “selah”; Psalm 46:9) is “spear.” Thus, in the 46th year of his life, shake-spear was included in the 46th psalm of the King James Bible.
The psalm itself is one of praise to God for his strength and protection on behalf of Israel. It contains three stanzas, each closed by selah,” the last two of which end with “The God of Jacob is our protector!” (Psalm 46:7, 11).
Stanza one (Psalm 46:1-3) focuses on the lack of fear God’s people should have based in the knowledge that not even the scariest things in all creation can hurt us when God is protecting us. Stanza two (Psalm 46:4-7) focuses on God’s rule over creation. No matter what is happening among the nations, just one word from God would dissolve the entire earth. He far transcends the things we struggle with. Stanza three (Psalm 46:8-11) focuses on the peace that God’s rule will one day bring. As nations fight for their own power and recognition, God demands that be given to him, because he is the only one who deserves it.
Psalm 46:10 is often misused for personal reflection, because of its translation in the KJV: “Be still and know that I am God.” While quiet reflection and meditation on God are certainly beneficial for believers, the translations of “Stop your striving” (NET) and “Cease striving” (NASB) better reflect God’s command to the warring nations, not believers’ chaotic hearts. This is a simple example of why it is important to interpret Scripture in its context rather than in “coffee mug” sound bites.