A Bible Lesson on Psalm 91

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a Bible lesson on a passage outside the current ISSL schedule, Psalm 91.  Kidner says this is “a Psalm for danger.”  This is a Psalm for times of being under attack or for openly opposing the forces of evil.  It divides into 3 sections according to changes of “person.”  Verses 1-2 might be titled/called “My refuge” and the psalmist speaks of himself.  Verses 3-13 might be called “Your refuge,” as the psalmist speaks to others.  Verses 14-16 might be called “God’s pledge,” as He speaks.

Psalm 91:1  He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Given the facts about God’s protection of His own, the psalmist states his personal intention to trust God.  In these two lovely verses, look at the ways that the psalmist describes God’s gracious protection.  He’s shelter, offering protection.  He’s shade from a withering desert sun, offering refreshment.  He’s “my” refuge/a place the psalmist retreats to.  He’s a fortress, and in fact, the psalmist’s fortress.  Look too at the names of God used in these two short verses.  He’s the Most High/the all-ruling God.  If this is true, then what real threat can stand against Him?  He’s the Almighty/the God who intervenes in saving power when man’s strength is quite gone.  He is the LORD, the I AM, the self-existing, self-revealing, and self-defining One.  He is “my” God.  He is specially related to the psalmist.  Again, if this is true, what real threat can the person who knows Him face?  In a time of danger He is all of these things to His people, and all of these things ARE true about His person.  His people “abide” in Him.  They find dwelling/hospitality in Him.

The psalmist now speaks to others.  The discussion is not about “I” but about “you.”  He will protect you.  These truths really are for each individual person who will trust/abide in God.

3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.

The snare of the fowler is a word picture of a trap that comes unaware equally on the strong and the weak.  Deadly pestilence is deadly sickness that you can’t even see.  God protects His own from the subtle plans of enemies and from silent deadly infections, things of which they may not even be aware enough to acknowledge His deliverance.  If one is saved from these things, one may not even know it!

4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

There is the picture here of the care of a mother bird for her young.  And His faithfulness is likened to pieces of armor, first a large shield that covers the majority of the body.  The second is variously rendered a “buckler” or “rampart.”  If it is the first, it’s a small shield 6-18 inches in diameter gripped in the center.  If it is the second, it’s part of a fortress.  In either case, God’s care has both personal warmth pictured in the first part of the verse and the hard, unyielding nature of armor.  We need both.  Warmth without real strength is ultimately of no help in danger.  His “faithfulness,” that is this substantial real toughness that gives His care for us substance, has to do with His whole character and with His fidelity to His word, to His promises.  It is His nature, and the fact that He can be trusted to be and do what He has said, that is ultimately the believer’s tough, tempered protection in all of existence.

5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

God’s gracious protection of His people is a 24/7 completely comprehensive matter.  He never sleeps nor goes on break.  He’s there in the night and He’s there at high noon.  He saves His people from stuff visible and invisible, natural and supernatural, human, bacterial, and demonic.  So, of course “you will not fear!”  Mathew Henry said, “God by His grace will keep thee from disquieting fear (that fear which hath torment) in the midst of the greatest dangers.  Wisdom shall keep thee from being causelessly afraid, and faith shall keep thee from being inordinately afraid. … A believer needs not fear, and therefore should not fear any arrow, because the point is off, the poison is out.  Whatever is done, our heavenly Father’s will is done; and we have no reason to fear that.”

7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.

The “you” in verse 7 is emphatic.  To you it will not come near.  The picture here is one of complete devastation, and the child of God standing in the midst of it, unscathed, viewing God’s judgment on sin.  What is it that saves redeemed people from God’s judgment, that protects them from the “recompense of the wicked” that lays waste thousands and ten thousands all around them?  It is His faithfulness (to His word and to His people).

This is no promise that the righteous will never die in a calamity or military conflict.  It is a promise that they will not do so as God’s judgment on their sin (that has been dealt with on the cross of Christ).  And this is a promise that God’s providence is at work on a very minute level, both protecting every one of His own, and not failing to bring judgment on every one of those who are in rebellion against Him.

The rest of this part of the psalm (v9-13) is a series of wonderful promises of God’s care.  But they are not unconditional.  The condition is in verse 9.

9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place– the Most High, who is my refuge—

The condition on the protection the psalm promises is that the individual make the Most High his “dwelling place.”  Boice said, “This is more than merely believing in God or coming to God occasionally when danger threatens.  It means resting in God continually and trusting Him at all times.  It means living all of life ‘in God.’  Martin Luther wrote that this refers to ‘one who really dwells and does not merely appear to dwell and does not just imagine that he dwells’ in God.”  It’s in this context, that one has made the LORD his or her dwelling place, that the psalmist says

10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

This is, of course, a passage partially quoted by Satan at the temptation of Christ.  If you compare Matthew 4, you’ll find that Satan quotes verses 11 and 12, but purposely leaves out the phrase “in all your ways.”  That is because it is understood that “all your ways” for a person whose dwelling place is the LORD, are ways ordered and directed by the LORD.  They are not ways chosen at random by a person to suit his or her whim.  The temptation for Christ to toss Himself off the temple and to test God’s care was a temptation to step outside a life “in God.”  In some sense, it is perfectly obvious that if God is who He says He is, and one’s life is hid in Him–is truly lived in complete reliance upon Him–one is effectively “invincible” in a proper understanding of the word.  Whatever comes, pleasant or unpleasant, is meant for and will produce good, both for the individual and for the kingdom of God, bringing glory to God.

We have a hard time keeping this all straight and in focus.  We know that God miraculously and graciously spares His children many hard things, and in fact all things that would crush us.  We know that in all things He graciously gives us strength.  We sometimes have sense enough to recognize His care for us and give thanks for His mercies, and our hearts soar as we read the great Biblical promises of a psalm like this.  But we then lose focus and jump to the incorrect conclusion that universal freedom from difficulty is promised.  What is promised is that fundamentally all is well, that in our lives “in God” there is truly nothing to fear, that God’s purposes for us and for His creation will not be thwarted.  Truly, in His purposes and His contexts, His people will tread on the lion and adder, the young lion and serpent, the most subtle and strongest opposition.  The angels of God will aid and protect His own.  The very gates of hell will not prevail against His church, for His purposes and in His time.

Kidner said, “It was characteristic of the devil to read this promise (11f) as an invitation to arrogance.  It was characteristic of God, Father and Son, that angelic help was sent when it was most needed, accepted as strength for service, and refused for self-advantage.”

In the last 3 verses of the psalm, God speaks to the one who dwells in Him.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.

The Scriptures consistently tell us that God’s commitment to us came before ours to Him, but here is human responsibility.  He holds fast/he sets his heart on/cleaves affectionately to Me.  He knows my name/he understands what has been revealed about Me.  He’s not worshiping a figment of his imagination, but rather the real God of all that is.  Because of real whole-hearted and rightly-informed reliance upon God, God will deliver and God will protect.  It is the testimony of the Scriptures and of the believing church in every age that God protects and preserves His people.

15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.

On man’s side, we’ll flee to Him in prayer.  Those who have made the LORD their dwelling place will call to Him, and He will answer.  He will be with His people in trouble.  The helpless will call to their only Helper, and in grace He will rescue, and He will honor those who are His.

16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

With long life He will satisfy those who dwell in Him and show them His salvation.  Old Testament saints could only see dimly what you and I know is the full gospel truth here.  Because His people cleave to Him, know Him in truth, and flee to Him in prayer, the God of the Bible delivers, protects, answers, joins them in trouble, rescues, honors, and ultimately saves them eternally and satisfies them forever in His own presence.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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