One of the big movies a few years ago was 2012, an action thriller set in the year--you guessed it--2012. Apparently the ancient Mayan calendar doesn’t go past that year. As a result, we were supposed to take warning that cataclysmic events will occur before the end of that year, and all life on earth would be threatened.
I thought of that movie while reading this psalm, because the author(s) described those types of events here. Maybe they didn’t literally see mountains fall into the sea, but it might have seemed that way at times. The nation of Israel was constantly in danger by virtue of being surrounded by hostile powers which were much larger than they were--sort of like today! But the Sons of Korah started out with a declaration: Even if the earth shifts and the mountains take a dive, God Almighty is still in control, and he’s our “refuge and strength.” He’s the source of our security, and we’ll run to him and trust in him when everything is in an uproar.
One of the common tactics of invading armies back then was the siege. They'd surround a city and block off all support. Eventually the inhabitants would run out of food and water, and the city would be easy pickings. But not Jerusalem, the city of our God: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” The Lord’s people would be protected and provided for, no matter what their enemies did.
By the way, this is a good point to talk a little bit about the word Selah. We don’t have an exact translation for it, and we can’t be 100% certain what it means. However, the standard understanding is that it was meant to be a pause. Remember, the Psalms were designed to be sung before they were read. So I'd suggest, to get the best meaning out of them, that you pause for a few seconds whenever you see the word. I believe that the author (and the Spirit behind them) put those in for a reason, probably to emphasize the last phrase or verse and have us focus on it.
But the work of God on behalf of his kingdom and people is not merely defensive. At the right time and in the right way, he will act openly to remove the threat. All the armies of the world, all their plans and schemes, all their military might and superiority will come to nothing as he makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
This phrase “Be still and know that I am God” has been used pretty extensively as a call to quiet meditation. We’re supposed to put everything aside for a few moments and spend some time just listening to his voice. I’m all in favor of that, and I wouldn’t say that this interpretation is completely wrong, but I don’t think that that’s the main point of the verse. In the middle of pure chaos, like in an earthquake or flood, what’s the first instinct for most people? Panic!!! Look for safety anywhere you can get it! But no, instead of screaming your head off, be still. Calm down. Trust in him. In the immediate context, I think a great paraphrase would be "Calm down and know that I'm in charge of all this, even when it looks like chaos and evil reign."
And what’s the end of all this drama? The Lord God will be exalted among the nations. I’ve always imagined the emphasis being on the “will.” “No matter what happens or how hopeless the situation seems, I will be exalted in the end—by everyone.” By both the salvation of his people and by his judgment upon his enemies, he will be exalted.
And why can we be still and not panic? Because “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” And after saying that, we need to pause for a moment and really let that soak in. Why don’t you?
While you let it soak in, for a springboard I'd suggest Shane and Shane's version of the Psalm 46. I've listened multiple times, and I can't think of anything that captures the spirit of the psalm better. Listen, and bask.