Rest is an important theme throughout scriptures. Especially finding rest in God. One of the most beloved scriptures is Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” But this isn’t the only time in scripture that the command is given to “be still.”
So how many times does the Bible say “Be Still?” In most translations, the word appears about seven times. However, the translations don’t necessarily agree on which phrases should be translated “Be Still.” Since this phrase is an English colloquialism, support in the original languages is sparse. Check out the tables below for a complete analysis of the English phrase “Be Still” across a variety of translations.
“Be Still” in the Bible
|Scripture Reference||English Translation||Hebrew Word||Greek Word (LXX / NA28)|
|Exodus 14:14||NIV, NET, RSV||charesh||sigao|
|2 Kings 2:3||NASB||chasha||siopao|
|Nehemiah 8:11||NIV, CSB, NASB||has||siopao|
|Psalm 4:4||CSB, NASB||damam||katanugete|
|Psalm 37:7||ESV, NRSV, NIV, RSV, CEB, NLT||damam||hupotasso|
|Psalm 46:10||ESV, NRSV, NIV, RSV, NJB, NLT||rapha||scholasazo|
|Psalm 83:1||ESV, NRSV, NASB, RSV||shaqat||kataprauno|
|Psalm 107:29||ESV, NRSV, NASB, RSV||damam||—|
|Isaiah 23:2||ESV, NRSV, RSV, CEB||damam||ginomai|
|Isaiah 57:20||CSB, NJB||shaqat||anapauo|
|Jeremiah 47:6||ESV, NRSV, NIV, CSB, RSV, CEB, NLT||damam||epairo|
|Mark 4:39||ESV, NRSV, NIV, CSB, NASB, RSV, CEB, NLT||—||pephimoso|
Translations Found in the Table
|Version||“Be Still” # of Occurrences||Scripture References|
|RSV||8||Ex. 14:14; Psa. 37:7; 46:10; 83:1; 107:29; Is. 23:2; Jer. 47:6; Mark 4:39|
|ESV||7||Psa. 37:7; 46:10; 83:1; 107:29; Is. 23:2; Jer. 47:6; Mark 4:39|
|NRSV||7||Psa. 37:7; 46:10; 83:1; 107:29; Is. 23:2; Jer. 47:6; Mark 4:39|
|NIV||7||Ex. 14:14; Neh. 8:11; Psa. 37:7; 46:10; Jer. 47:6; Zech. 2:13; Mark 4:39|
|NASB||7||2 Kings 2:3, 5; Neh. 8:11; Psa. 4:4; 83:1; 107:29; Mark 4:39|
|KJV||7||1 Kings 22:3; Psa. 4:4; 46:10; 84:4; Is. 23:2; Jer. 47:6; Mark 4:39|
|CSB||5||Neh. 8:11; Psa. 4:4; Is. 57:20; Jer. 47:6; Mark 4:39|
|CEB||4||Psa. 37:7; Is. 23:2; Jer. 47:6; Mark 4:39|
|NJB||2||Psa. 46:10; Is. 57:20|
Hebrew Words Translated as “Be Still”
|Hebrew Word||English Gloss||# of Times Translated “Be Still”||# of Occurrences in the Hebrew Bible|
|damam||To be silent; unable to speak||5||19|
|shaqat||To be quiet; rest||3||42|
|charesh||To be silent; unable to speak||1||47|
|chasha||To be silent; to be still||1||16|
|rapha||To leave alone, to fail||1||46|
Conclusions We Can Draw
The tables above reveal an important feature of the phrase “Be Still.” We can see that it’s a very English phrase, since the underlying Greek and Hebrew words do not remain consistent across the verses. Yet for the most part, the majority of English versions agree on the “Be still” translation for a variety of Hebrew words.
There are a couple of things that fascinate me about this chart. First is the use of “Be still” in Psalm 46:10, arguably the most famous use of the phrase. Yet this is the only time that the Hebrew word rapha is translated as “Be still.” My second fascination is in Jesus’ use of the phrase “Be still” in the Gospel of Mark. I’ll take a look at both of these instances below.
Is “Be Still” the Proper Translation for Psalm 46:10?
There are a couple of red flags for me when it comes to translating the Hebrew verb rapha as “be still.” In this section, we’re going to talk about why I don’t think it should be translated this way and we’ll take a look at some of the alternative translations.
The first red flag is that, as we’ve mentioned already, Psalm 46:10 is the only time the Hebrew verb rapha is translated “Be still.” In fact, this is the only time rapha is translated into English with a positive connotation. Let’s take a look at some of the other instances of the word. Note: while there are 46 instances of the word rapha in the Hebrew Bible (46? Coincidence? Hmm…), we’ll only be looking at the 9 times the verb is used as an imperative, or as a command (Deut. 9:13-15; Judg. 11:36-38; 1 Sam. 11:2-4; 15:15-17; 2 Sam. 24:15-17; 2 Kings 4:26-28; Psa. 37:7-9; 46:10-12; 1 Chr. 21:14-16).
Most of the time in these verses, the verb is translated “Leave [me, him, her, it] alone!” The tone in these instances is often one of annoyance or frustration. Take the words of God on Mount Sinai, when Moses tried to talk him down from destroying Israel: “Leave me alone (rapha) so that I can destroy them and blot out their name from under the heavens!”
And remember that time King Saul brought some animals to sacrifice instead of devoting everything to destruction as he was instructed? The first words out Samuel’s mouth was “Stop (rapha)! Let me tell you what the Lord has spoken to me tonight.”
The word is not always used in a negative context, but more than half of its nine imperative uses are in the context of strong negative emotions. This command seems to be stronger than the English phrase “Be still.”
When we expand our search to look at the verb and its 46 uses throughout the Hebrew Bible, there are a few other meanings that arise. One meaning in particular strikes me: to drop.
Isaiah 5:24 describes a bale of hay being consumed by fire. The grass drops or sinks rapha into the flame. In Judges 19:9, the word rapha is used to describe the descent of the sun during nightfall. Hands often rapha, mostly out of anguish, despair, and helplessness (Neh. 6:9, Isa. 13:7, Jer 6:24, Ez 7:17). In Proverbs 4:13, we’re encouraged to not “let go” of instruction (rapha).
So, taking all of this into account, how can we translate the imperative form of the verb rapha in Psalm 46:10? Like the other imperatives, our translation should be strong, carrying a bit of weight. In my own opinion, the translation “Be still” falls short. It’s too light. It doesn’t come with the loaded connotation of the other uses of the imperative rapha.
It should also take into account the 46 instances of rapha in the Hebrew Bible, not just in the nine instances where it’s imperative. The translation “Be still” is not corroborated with any other use of the word rapha.
Finally, it should be cognizant of the context of Psalm 46 as a whole, a psalm about the sovereignty of God over the earth and its people. “Be still” adequately fits the context, but it’s weak. I don’t think this is a weak psalm. It also feels good. It makes for pretty songs. But I don’t think Psalm 46 is supposed to make us feel good.
Here’s my proposal. I think we could translate the word “Drop it!” Or potentially “Cease fire!” I prefer the former, as the latter is more interpretational. Let me explain.
Taking all the usage of the verb rapha into account, what can we make of the strong imperative instances of the verb? I think the force of the verb is not so much “Leave me alone,” but it’s more “Stop what you’re doing.” Like a bird dropping its wings, like a bale of hay falling into a flame, like hands that fall from their work. Drop whatever it is you’re doing right now.
This translation makes sense of every imperative instance of the verb rapha, including Psalm 46:10. But what exactly does God say to drop? Let’s back up a few verses.
“Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalms 46:8–11 ESV)
What is the context of God’s command to rapha? He is in the process of bringing desolation on the earth. He’s bringing raging wars to a crashing halt. He’s destroying all the weapons of mankind. He’s burning their vehicles of war. This is a violent scene. And what do you think he’s saying while he’s bringing destruction upon the warfare of humankind?
“Be still, my children. Be at peace. Know that I am God.”
No, I don’t buy it. I imagine he’s tearing up their battlefields, shouting at them to stop fighting. Stop killing each other mercilessly. He’s essentially calling for a cease fire. In my mind, “be still” doesn’t cut it.
“Drop it, now! Know that I am God! I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!” This is a reprimand. It’s not pretty.
“Be Still” in the Gospel of Mark
The second instance of the phrase “Be still” that stuck out to me was Mark 4:39. In a grandiose display of his authority and power over nature, Jesus commands the storm to “be still.”
Before we get to this, let’s take a look at Psalm 107, which is actually one of my favorite Psalms. There’s so much to discuss here, but I’ll try to be concise. Long story short, this is a poem about the Israel’s return from exile.
In one section of the poem, the exile and return is described as a storm. People went out to sea and God caused a big storm to come rock their boat. They’re all terrified, sure of their own death. At the last moment, they finally cry out to the Lord for help, who at last delivers them from the storm. “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” (Psalm 107:29 ESV)
You see where I’m going with this?
Here’s where it gets crazy! In Hebrew, the verb translated “be still” is damam. If you saw the table at the top of this post, you’ll know that damam is by far the most common Hebrew phrase translated as “be still” in English.
What surprises me is that only four translations (at least the translations included in the table) translate damam as “be still” in Psalm 107:29. However, a whopping eight translations translate the Greek phrase phimao as “be still.” And the crazy thing is, that’s the only time that Greek word is translated “be still.” At its most basic meaning, the word simply means “to silence.” It’s the word used for muzzling an ox. So why would translators opt for “be still” in Mark but forgo the “be still” connection in Psalm 107? It just seems like a missed opportunity to me. Or lack of communication between translation committee department heads.
In any case, the exact word used there doesn’t matter as much as the thematic relationship between the water, the waves, the stormy seas, and the power of Christ to command nature and to restore God’s people.
It’s late. I got way too worked up about the phrase “Be Still.” It’s almost one o’clock in the morning, and it’s a Monday. I’m gonna go to sleep. If this post struck a chord with you, if you disagree with me on my translation choices, or if I have any glaring mistakes in my analysis, please leave a comment below to help out your neighbor.