Psalm 91 — Of Safety and Protection

A couple weeks ago I was feeling a little down in the mouth, so I turned to the Bible and came upon Psalm 91.  Each time I read it my spirits were lifted. I’d like to share it with you and hope that if you are feeling depressed or harried, that reading it will be a lift to your spirits, too. This is a most wonderful psalm of protection – in fact, of the commentators I read concerning it,  I think all said it was the most beautiful in the whole book.

It is divided into five parts:

The safety of the Godly man and his confidence in God: vss.1 and 2;
How the believer is defended and protected: vss.3-10;
The angels as God’s servants: vss.11,12;
How he shall tread on his adversaries: vs.13;
What God says of and promises to the Godly man: vss.14-16.[i]

A Few Oddities About This Psalm

It would be easy to read this poem and think it is a psalm of David just because most seem to be ascribed to him, but in fact, no author is given.  Generally, this information is written right at the top and this psalm is silent on the subject.

Most scholars agree that because Psalm 90 is a Psalm of Moses and because the first verse of this psalm matches with the last verse of that one, this too was written by Moses. Another example in favor of the argument is that in Psalm 90 the revelation of God’s salvation is prayed for and in this psalm God promises the Godly man will see His salvation.  Other reasons such as structure and wording support this, just as the omission of some characteristics indicates that David did not write it.[ii]

The Psalm itself has caught many scholars off-guard because it changes point-of-view without warning. At one time, there seemed to be quite a discussion about it, from what I can gather, but finally, someone came up with the idea that there are actually three speakers involved in this psalm who carry on a dialog, of sorts.[iii]    This raises the possibility that perhaps there were even antiphonal exchanges with the congregation, the priest and a choir.

The Psalm

The words of this first verse are of the first speaker.  He makes a statement about those who have chosen to live with God. The believer that dwells with God dwells in the secret place of God, hidden and safe, lives in the shadow of the ever-present God. Living in the shadow is a way of saying “to place oneself under the protection” of God.[iv]

1. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

2. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

In verse 2, the second speaker enters the conversation, giving voice to his trust in God. He has a personal commitment to the Lord by putting his trust in Him and placing himself under the protection of the Almighty.[v]

It’s All About Safety and Protection

3. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.

Beginning with verse three and continuing through verse thirteen, the second person speaks of the benefits of abiding with God and is directly addressing the first speaker.  The word images in verse three are deadly in meaning: both refer to hunting and death.  The fowler sets traps for game birds (Psalm 124:7,  Proverbs 6:5) and so it speaks to the traps and dangers that could claim one’s life. The “noisome pestilence” is referred to in verse six as disease that stalks its victim.

4. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

Deuteronomy 32:11 says God protects his own as an eagle with its own strong wing. God’s protection is like an eagle that covers us and protects us from danger with its wing. The shield is probably a larger style that more-or-less surrounds the body on all sides – in this verse this protection is God’s faithfulness and fidelity. It also fits with the image of God’s protection as an eagle’s wing that surrounds and covers.  A buckler is also spoken of which is a small shield that is used with light weapons in hand-to-hand combat.

5. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

Here we see that all types of dangers are covered – from the civilian criminal as signified by “terrors by night” to the dangers one faces in times of war – arrows that fly by day.

6. Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

The disease, perhaps plague was prevalent at the time, is again mentioned and personified. Deathly disease surely is destruction, bringing  a slow and wasting death to those who contract it.

 7. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.

8. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.

Verses seven and eight build on the ideas of the previous three verses – placing trust in the Lord affords protection and covering, with an added benefit of witnessing the reward of the wicked, that is, the failure of the plots and plans of the wicked.

9. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
10.  There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. 

He is saying that God is his refuge and that because God his refuge and habitation, no evil will come upon him and no plague will come near to his dwelling.   Not only is he protected, but so are any that dwell with him. This assures him that his family may suffer no hurt. [vii]

This is a comfort, knowing that those who dwell in the believer’s house will not come to harm by any evil or plague.  We all have family members – children who live in our houses –  that will have nothing to do Jesus or God.  Just living with a believer is to come under God’s protection.

11.  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
12.  They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
13.  Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

The faithful are under the constant care of angels (Hebrews 1:14), who guide them and direct them perpetually. As it says in Hebrews that everyone has angels about him or her. Angels are the believer’s caretakers – our God is not a subscriber to situational ethics (he needs an angel, but she doesn’t) – and they are with us at all times. He has placed angels in our midst for assistance and protection.  Satan made crafty use of this promise when he tempted our Lord (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10, 11). [viii]  This not only applies to physical danger, but to spiritual and moral as well. Luke 10:19:

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

Natural elements such as serpents and scorpions are covered as well as powers of the spiritual world. Notice the types of powers that are given in verse 13: The larger animals have the power of destruction – a very violent type of power.  The scorpions and adders are poisonous and crafty – a covert type of power.[ix]

The believer is able to trample them under foot – which is a term used that means to conquer them.  In ancient times, the conquered enemy literally lay down before the victor as a sign of submission and the conqueror then placed his foot upon the prostrate enemy and a sign of victory.

God’s Promises

14. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
15.  He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
16.  With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

Now the third person enters the dialog and this is God revealing the characteristics of the believers and His promises.

Summary

Look at the picture this psalm places before us:  First, an individual voices his belief; then a second believer comes alongside giving encouragement through his witness, experience, and knowledge.  Finally, the Lord, Himself joins them, covering both, affirming the choice of the first and the witness of the second with his own confirmations and promises.  It can be used as a kind of model for interaction with other Christians.

In these verses we also see what God values:  love; knowing God to the extent that we know His name; calling on God (prayer). So what is God going to do?  He promises to deliver him; set him on high (protect, as one runs to a rock or high tower); answer prayers; be present in tough times; honor him; give long life; show him salvation.

I do hope this lifts you up if you are feeling depressed or picked on or if you just need to read some promises.  It should do the trick.

Thank you for reading and God Bless You.

 


 

iClarke, Adam (n.d.). Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible [electronic database]. Retrieved January 2013, from E-Sword Bible Study Software.
iiKeil, Carl F. & Delitzsche, Franz (n.d.). Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament [electronic database]. Retrieved January 2013, from E-Sword Bible Study Software.
iiiibid.
ivThe Pulpit Commentary [electronic database] (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2013 from http://pulpit.biblecommenter.com/psalms/91.htm
vibid.
viClarke
viiPulpit
viiiPulpit
ixKiel, Pulpit

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