Psalm 91

This Psalm is about God’s favour and protection toward a particular individual. The Psalm is addressed to a solitary male person. This favour and protection comes to that person in a confessedly dangerous world. All sorts of things threaten this individual’s life – disease, secret enemies, open war.

The Most High, the God of heaven and earth, pledges his safety, and the human being described here trusts God in the midst of great danger and risk. This person will pass through it all safely.

This is not a Psalm by a crazy person who has no grip on reality. This Psalm tells it like it is. It is our job to think carefully about the promises made here and to understand them in the light of all that the Bible tells us.

The key to this Psalm is the first verse. The Psalmist says this:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will abide in under the shadow of the Almighty.

The word ‘secret place’ or ‘shelter’ suggests a hiding place, and safe haven, one that is not known or understood by the enemy.  Again, the word ‘shadow’ implies protection. If the Almighty is covering you, you are safe.

Looking at the situation in another way, one may say that the safety experienced by this person is a cause of wonder and confusion to his enemies.

  • How can this person be calm in such situations?
  • How can this person remain alive in such situations?

Let me say up front that the only way a person can be safe like this is if that person is in a good relationship with God. To be in a good relationship with God, one must be completely free of sin.

Our God, we are told, loves the righteous but hates the wicked (Ps 11:5 and 7).

That would seem to place people like us in a very uncomfortable place. We are not good people. We have broken God’s law. We have sinned.

So, is God making fun of us in this Psalm?

No. The one that this Psalm refers to, that particular individual, is our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the good man who is under the special protection of the Almighty, and He is the hope of sinners. This Psalm is pointing us to Christ. And because it points us to Christ, it makes clear that this Psalm is not promising a trouble-free life here and now.

Some well-meaning but mistaken Christians will tell you that for the Christian, faith will remove all our problems in this present world. No money problems, no health issues, no family break down, no worries. They might also tell you that, if you suffer any of these things, there is something wrong with your faith.

But, if I am correct in saying that Jesus is the person referred to in this Psalm, then this idea — that the truly faithful person is trouble-free in this life — must be regarded as non-sense.

Verse 2 says (and it is ultimately our Lord Jesus speaking)

I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust!’

Jesus Christ perfectly trusted his father. He perfectly obeyed as man. This was one of the reasons why Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. So he could live a truly good life to replace our bad lives. But he came to do more.

Jesus, the perfectly good and faithful Son of God, suffered in this life more than any other human being. He was betrayed; he was beaten, he was deprived of justice, he was nailed to a Roman cross and he died. All this happened to the good and faithful Jesus.

If anyone were to receive the absolute protection promised in this Psalm, it would have been Jesus.

The point of the Psalm is that Jesus really did receive that absolute protection.  But is was hidden from the sight of his enemies. They thought that God had abandoned Jesus. They thought that all the things that Jesus suffered proved that God did not love him.

But they were wrong. Let’s look at v. 3-4

For He (the LORD) delivers you from the trap of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence (disease). He will cover you with His feathers, and you will trust under His wings. His truth is a shield and buckler.

Jesus was betrayed, he suffered and died, but God raised Jesus from the dead because Jesus really was good. Ultimately, none of the things that Jesus suffered changed his relationship with his father. Through all that suffering Jesus knew that God was with him.

How did Jesus know this? Because none of the things he suffered was a surprise to him (Isaiah 53 and Ps 16). Jesus came to suffer and die and rise again for the salvation of his people according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15).

Now Jesus is alive and free of suffering forever.

But what about the feathers? Remember the secret place. There was in the old testament system, a very secret place in the temple. In this secret place was a gold covered box, and at each end of that box were statues of two angels. The wings of these angels overshadowed a plate on the top of the box, and the plate was called the mercy-seat.

On a special day, once a year, the high priest would take the blood of a bull that had been killed and sprinkle that blood over the mercy-seat under the wings. This was to symbolise the fact that God forgives sins by means of the death of a substitute. The bull was regarded as dying in the place of people who deserved to die.

This was done in secret. None but the high priest could go into the secret place, and he could only go there once a year and he had to go with the blood of the substitute or he would die.

The people of God knew about this symbolic act only because of the description of it in the writings of Moses. It was the word of God that told them of their defence – the sacrifice for sin that set them free from the death that they deserved.

The temple act foretold of the work of Jesus Christ.

The innocent bull that was killed pointed to the innocent Jesus who would die for his people. The mercy-seat indicated the propitiation of the sins of God’s people — that the death of Jesus did all that was necessary to deal with sin and its just punishment. It indicated that peace with God is restored, and righteousness imputed to the sinner.

The mercy-seat, under the wings of the angels, was that safe, secret place. Just as the work of Jesus assures those who trust him, that their sins are forgiven and they are regarded by God to be good people.

Those who trust Jesus are under his absolute protection. Nothing that happens to a Christian in this life, whether it is sickness, poverty, war, famine, the attack of secret enemies, can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8).

Christians suffer all the common ills that come from living in a world blighted by sin. But we have a sure and perfect protection in Christ. He will keep his children until they meet him in heaven. When Christians die, they die in the knowledge that Jesus will raise them to life on the day of Judgment and declare them not guilty.

This hidden, unseen protection is for those who trust Jesus, vs. 5-8:

You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that walks in the darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right-hand; but it will not approach you. You will look on with your eyes, and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because Christ has saved forever those who come to him by faith, Christians can meet and endure the troubles of this life with confidence. We might lose everything here and now and know that we are kept by Jesus for a good eternity. Paul says that the sufferings of this present age cannot compare to the good that God has in store for his people (Rom. 8:18).

But this safety only comes to a person on God’s terms.

Christ will protect his people, but He will also see the recompense – the judgment  — of his enemies. Those who do not trust Christ will fall on the day of Judgment. To face God without the righteousness of Christ is to be condemned for sin and to receive recompense, that is, the punishment that sinners deserve for their sin – eternal separation from God’s favourable presence.

But, if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ there is certain hope, v.10:

For you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, you dwelling place, no evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent.

Because of Christ, those who trust him may regard these promises as coming to themselves.

This is perfectly reasonable because Jesus is both God and man. As God he is the LORD, and as man he became the propitiation for our sins. As God and man he is the saviour of his people.

As we trust Jesus we enter the secret place of the most High, and come under the shadow of the Almighty.

If anyone trusts Jesus Christ, that person is regarded by God as a righteous person simply because of Christ. Christ has established for them a new relationship with God.

Jesus Christ is the secret place of safety for Christians.

Just so that we will remember it, the Psalmist repeats the reason for the Christian’s hope in versus 11-13:

For He (the LORD) will give his angels charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike you foot against a stone.You will tread upon the lion and snake, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

These verses do not mean that the Christian becomes a super hero. They refer to the work of Christ for the Christian.

You might recall that the Devil, in his tempting of the Lord Jesus, quoted part of this Psalm. He tried to make Jesus to do something foolish. That attempt failed, but what Jesus came to do did not fail. He came to deal with a snake and a lion.

In Genesis 3:15, after Adam had disobeyed and brought sin and death upon himself and the world, God promised a saviour who would crush the head of the Devil (who had taken the form of a snake) yet he would wound his own heel in the possess.

The idea is that when Jesus came to live and die and rise for the salvation of his people, at the same time he destroyed the work of the evil one. When Jesus died on the cross, and rose again, he crushed the head of Satan. He defeated both Satan and death.

Peter refers to the Devil as a Lion, prowling and seeking whom he might eat. For the Christian, the Devil is a beaten enemy. Satan cannot break the relationship that Jesus has established between himself and the Christian. Because Jesus died and rose, every Christian is eternally safe.

This is confirmed in the last few verses:

Because he (Jesus) has loved me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold my salvation.

Only Jesus has lived the perfectly good life, and he alone faithfully and fully relied upon his Heavenly Father. He deserved to be honoured by the Father, and, after he suffered for the sins of his people, he deserved to be raised from the dead. He has, as man, un-losable eternal life.

The Lord Jesus did all that he did, and suffered all that he suffered, to bring sinners like us back to  God. As a person trusts Jesus Christ, the secret safety — the presently unseen safety — belongs to that person.

To be in Christ is to be in the secret place of the Most High, and to be under the protection of the Almighty.

Are you afraid of life? Are you afraid of death?

Coming to Jesus won’t make your life trouble-free here and now.

As a Christian you might suffer more than the common troubles of life, but Christ has promised that there is plenty of space in his father’s house. He has prepared a place for any who will come to him. If it were not so, he would have told us.

If you trust yourself to Christ you might suffer the loss of all sorts of things, but you will never be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. With him is eternal life.

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