Psalm 91

May 15, 2019

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Point:

With a loving God as your refuge and strong fortress, you have no reason to fear the most dreadful evil possible.

How do we feel in the recitation of this psalm? 

We feel completely secure in the arms of God. Though surrounded by thousands of enemies, we feel as though we have an impervious shield around us. We are invulnerable. But all of this is because we trust in God and love Him above all else. Everything hinges on this love for God as we implicitly trust in His protection.

What does this psalm teach us?

Verses 1–4. This psalm is a three-way conversation that takes place in the congregation of the saints. When you first read it, the psalm may be a little hard to follow. But if you read the psalm as you would a dramatic dialogue in a play script, this will enhance the message communicated. Throughout the psalm, you will find a mix of faith testimonials, exhortations, and comforting promises.

In verse 1, the speaker begins addressing another person (or persons or perhaps an entire congregation of saints). He testifies and exhorts at the same time.

He is probably a pastor or elder in the church whose job is to lead the people to believe in the Lord. If the leader has no faith, how can he exhort others to faith? Hence, the speaker begins with this powerful, personal testimony, “I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

He speaks to those who are abiding in the secret place of the most High. This is a special place where God loves His people, and His people love each other. The Bible never separates the love of God from the love of brothers (John 15:10; 1 John 3:14). Is there any other place where Christ meets with His people as He does in the church—where two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ?

But this faith is far more than a corporate faith. It is also an individual faith, for the speaker announces to all that he is trusting in God for his salvation. Then he describes the blessings that come to those who always look to God for salvation.

At the foundation of why we need the salvation and protection of God is the fact that we have an enemy. The devil is real, and the world opposes us at every turn. Certainly, most of us are aware of the physical dangers that confront us every day, whether they are potential car accidents, poisoning, fatal viruses, etc. But our existence is made up of more than the physical world. The spiritual world is equally—if not more—dangerous, and our enemies are invisible and often hard to ascertain. We live a very dangerous life. We are constantly threatened with deceitful temptations and evil calamities. The former draw us into sin, and the latter produce much suffering in our lives. So we are realistic about our situation, but we are not fearful or cast down. That is because we are absolutely confident that God will deliver us wherever we happen to be along this “dangerous journey.”

In verse 4 the preacher compares the Lord God to a mother hen that protects her chicks under her wings. This tender picture is repeated throughout the psalms (Psalm 36:7, 61:4, etc.), and Christ our Savior uses similar language in Matthew 23:37. There is a natural instinct within the hearts of parents that rises up to protect their children when danger threatens. Since the Author of this instinct must be God Himself, we know that He will be the best Protector for His people, and He will protect His own children from deadly harm.

“His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” Surely, there is nothing that protects us more from the evil that threatens our hearts and lives than the Word of God itself. That is why those who forget to read God’s Word over a period of weeks and months open themselves up to the worst attacks of the devil. The greatest protective force for the people of God comes from the faithful, truth-filled preaching of the Word in the congregation because God’s Law-Word identifies sin. God’s truth identifies error. It is corrective and carefully cuts the fleshly and worldly influences away from our hearts and lives. It rips the pretty face off of the hypocrisies that corrupt the people of God, and it identifies the deceptive temptations of the evil one.

Verses 5–8. Now comes a litany of more blessings that visits those who dwell under the shadow of the Almighty. First, that enslaving, torturous fear that would turn us into miserable cowards disappears even in the most harrowing circumstances. It is frightening enough to walk through a field in the daytime where the arrows are flying. At night, it is even more dangerous. Yet the psalmist wouldn’t think twice about crawling through a minefield in the dark if he had to. The Christian general Stonewall Jackson, who was known for his steadfast trust in the sovereign hand of God, once remarked to an attendant, “I feel as safe in battle as in bed.” We are in sovereign hands, yes. But we are also in loving hands. Thus, we have a double reason to feel impervious to the slings and arrows set against us.

When a deadly epidemic attacks a city, sometimes thousands and even tens of thousands of people succumb to the malevolent virus. Mass graves fill up with piles of dead bodies. But the man of faith walks through the city without an iota of fear (verses 6, 10). History gives us many stories of Christian missionaries and pastors who attended the sick during terrible pandemics, and God gave them strength and health to carry on. Of course, this does not mean that believers will never die or that they will never contract a deadly disease. The psalmist speaks of something far more spectacular than an occasional resuscitation or an immunity to some disease. He is alluding to Paul’s bold statement in 1 Corinthians 15:55–56:

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.”

Death has no sting and holds no fear for the believer. What little harm is caused by viruses, arrows, and fire is short-lived and is very soon dispelled by God’s eternal salvation. The believer is absolutely safe on the battlefield because he has confidence that he is going to heaven. But this is not the case for the wicked—those billions of people who refuse to put their trust in God for their salvation—who will be destroyed in the flames of hell.

Verses 9–13. The last half of the psalm presents two characteristics of those persons who abide under the shadow of the Almighty and enjoy the privilege of His protection and salvation. In verse 9, the man is described as the one who has made Yahweh God his habitation. As did Enoch of old, this man walks with God. First, he considers himself a child of God, and then he acts like a child of God. He doesn’t need to hide from God as Adam and Eve did in the garden. He talks to God in prayer, he listens to God in His Word, and he promptly confesses his sins to God when he needs to restore the relationship.

Following this description, the psalmist lists more blessings that attend the man who walks with God. But is he overstating the case when he asserts that no evil will befall this man of God? I don’t think so. There are two ways to view the adversities that come upon us. On the one hand, if an unbeliever stubs his toe, he might curse his “luck” and call it a “negative” happenstance in a random, chance universe. But a believer who stubs his toe while he walks with God can still feel his Father’s hand on his shoulder. At the same time he is confident that all events are under the sovereign hand of his Father. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, he cannot consider this “adversity” as purely negative. It is intended for his correction and benefit. He knows it because he feels his Father’s hand upon his shoulder. As Paul puts it in the New Testament, “All things [even adversities] work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

God is particularly careful to watch over His children. He will even assign angels to attend to them, to guide and protect them. Moreover, He empowers his children to trample a lion and a dragon with their feet as effortlessly as smashing a bug on the driveway. The lion and dragon should be taken as a reference to Satan, who is the major enemy of the human soul and is compared in Scripture to a lion, a snake, and a dragon. We trample Satan and His demon minions because the Seed of the woman, Christ Himself, crushed the head of that snake at the cross (Gen. 3:15; Col. 2:15).

Verses 14–16. As the three-way conversation progresses at the end of the psalm, God Himself speaks to the preacher and to the rest of the congregation. He mentions the second characteristic that marks the man who enjoys the privileges of God’s salvation in verse 14. This is a man who not only walks with God in faith but also loves God. He has a personal relationship with God, such that he can claim to know Him. The man who loves God is safe, very safe. How could a man who loves God with His heart, soul, mind, and strength ever fear the judgment of God or expect anything less than His salvation?

How do we apply this psalm?

1. You can be sure that there is not a person God has saved who does not now love Him. We must acknowledge God’s sovereign grace in this relationship. It is God who gives us a heart of flesh and enables us to love. Therefore, His love must come first, which is the order laid out in John’s epistle. “We love Him because He first loved us.” Our loving begins with His loving, when we by faith know and trust that He loves us. It is for us, then, to love. This is the business of the Christian. We have nothing to fear as long as we are loving God.

2. We have no business fearing even the worst imaginable calamities. If we wrestle with a fear of man or a fear of circumstances, then we have moved out from under the refuge of the Almighty. Daily, heart-deep reliance upon God, as will be demonstrated in our prayer life, is essential if we are going to live this psalm.

How does this psalm teach us to worship God? 

Worship builds up our faith. Confidence in the sovereign hand of God should yield a strong faith, producing testimonies and exhortations like those found in this psalm. A pastor in communist Vietnam would often exhort his congregation to faith in God while keeping a suitcase leaning against the pulpit. He had been arrested so many times that he wanted to have a change of clothing available in case the authorities threw him in jail! Do you think his congregation caught the message he preached? The man must have seemed impervious to the threats of the evil one as he cried out to his congregation, “A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but these communists will not halt the preaching of the Gospel of Christ in this nation!” Do you think such a message from such a man would encourage his parishioners to faith? In like manner, our faith should be bolstered each Lord’s Day as we hear the preaching of the Word of God from the lips of a man who lives the life of faith.

Questions:

1. Who are the speakers in the psalm, and to whom are they speaking?

2. What are some of the metaphors and similes used to express God’s protection in this psalm?

3. Who crushed the head of the serpent (or the devil)?

4. What does the psalmist mean when he says that no harm will befall the man who trusts in God?

5. What are the two things that mark the believer, according to this psalm?

6. Give several examples of Faith Psalms.

Family Discussion Questions:

1. Do we consider God to be our refuge, our strong tower, and our place of habitation? Are we always there, or do we wander away from this place of refuge?

2. How much do we fear circumstances or the things that men could do to us?