I love Psalm 91. I memorised it when I was a youth and quoted it often as a prayer then.
In this psalm, the psalmist declares God to be his refuge and fortress, and he looks to God as:
- the one who will save him from the traps of his enemies and from the deadly pestilence (Psalm 91:3).
- the one who will protect him from terror, arrow, pestilence and plague twenty-four hours a day (Psalm 91:5-6).
- the one who will make him stand before the wicked (Psalm 91:7-8).
- the one who will prevent any harm or disaster to befall him and his family (Psalm 91:10).
- the one who will send his angels to guard his ways (Psalm 91:11-12).
- the one who will enable him to overcome fearsome foes (Psalm 91:13).
All in all, Psalm 91 seems to infer that God has bestowed believers with invincibility and immunity from danger and harm. It is often quoted during times of adversity.
In this season of COVID-19, many have also invoked Psalm 91 for personal protection against viruses and diseases.
I first learnt of this psalm while reading Shadow of the Almighty, the memoirs of American martyr Jim Elliot.
The title was a reference to Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The irony is that the life of Jim Elliot does not seem to convey the truth of Psalm 91.
Alas, when Jim Elliot and four other missionaries travelled into the Ecuador jungle in an attempt to reach the Indians for Christ, harm and disaster befell them, arrows and spears passed through them, and they perished on that fateful beach.
Why did Psalm 91 have no effect on them? Why did the God of Psalm 91 not protect them? Did God fail? Is Psalm 91 dependable?
Bible scholars have long considered Psalm 91 to be a prophetic psalm referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Even the devil knows this as he quoted from the psalm to challenge Christ to throw Himself down from the highest point of the temple (Matthew 4:5-7).
Psalm 91 is thus first and foremost a psalm where God the Father expressed His steadfast devotion to protect and rescue His Son from harm and danger, in response to the Son’s steadfast love towards Him (Psalm 91:14).
Psalm 91 is considered a prophetic psalm referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
At the Cross, Christ cried out: “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me?”
How then, has God the Father – the God of Psalm 91 – been true to Christ the Son?
Perhaps we can learn from apostle John’s insight on the life of Christ. In John 7:30, he wrote: “So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”
John perceived that, as far as Christ is concerned, nobody could harm Jesus on earth until the appointed hour of His sacrificial death has arrived.
I remember a pastor who confidently proclaimed that he is invincible until his work on earth is done.
I believe what he meant is that a believer can trust God to preserve his life on earth until his work on earth is done. One can add that God will not let any harm or danger befall a believer unless it has been appointed by Him.
John Piper puts it this way: “I think Jesus is teaching us that promises like Psalm 91 mean this: ‘No ill befalls the saints but who God’s love permits, and even this ‘ill’ will not conquer them.'”
Therefore, God the Father did not fail His Son. He protected Him from the schemes of evil men and kept Him throughout His earthly journey until the appointed time of His death came.
Even then, God the Father used the “ill” of the Cross for His great redemptive purpose to bring salvation to the world.
I used to struggle with the death of Jim Elliot. I could not comprehend why God allowed him to die in such a tragic way.
But my perspective began to change when I realised how his death and memoirs had inspired countless to become missionaries, bringing the gospel into the remote regions of the world.
The God of Psalm 91 had not failed Jim Elliot and the four missionaries. He preserved them for the day of their martyrdom and appointed their deaths for His glorious purposes.
The devil quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to challenge Christ to perform a magic trick. He was exemplifying how one can use Psalm 91 thoughtlessly and carelessly.
Christ rebuked the devil and showed us the right way of claiming the promises of God. He appeals to the whole counsel of God and insists Psalm 91 should not be used in a silo.
One cannot invoke a promise of God like a magic spell without appreciating the context of that promise or abiding in the way God has revealed Himself in other parts of the Bible.
The good news is that while Psalm 91 is messianic, believers can surely claim this psalm for themselves.
One cannot invoke a promise of God like a magic spell without appreciating the context of that promise.
Paul Carter explains: “According to the New Testament everything God ever promised to his people has been fully realised in the person of Jesus Christ. Everything God promised is YES and AMEN in Christ. These promised blessings are now available to any person – Jew or Gentile – who puts their faith in Jesus…”
So pray Psalm 91 as often as you will, for yourself and your family. But do not quote it like the devil did.
Ultimately, Psalm 91 is a proclamation that God is more than able to protect and deliver His people from harm and danger. It is a declaration of faith in His power and might.
So much so that when we do encounter harm or danger, we are certain that it is not because He is unable to keep us. Rather, we know that He must have willed it for His greater purposes.
So we can trust Him even when evil comes our way.
This article was first published on Pastor Rick’s Facebook page and has been republished with permission.
- Do you see God as your protector and deliverer? How so?
- What are some other verses that people quote out of context or invoke? What is the biblical way to understand those promises?
- What is one promise of God that you can rightly stand upon this week?