THE SECURITY OF HIM WHO TRUSTS IN GOD
"Jewish tradition assigns this psalm to Moses, an assignment which Dr. Kay and others accept as borne out by the facts."F1 We fail to be impressed with the current fashion of late-dating many psalms upon considerations which, at best, are very precarious and questionable.
One rather perplexing characteristic of this psalm was mentioned by Maclaren, "There are sudden and bewildering changes of persons, from first person to second person, etc., in which `He,' `I' and `thou' alternate."F2 The context usually affords the clue to what is meant and who is the speaker, or the one spoken to.
The paragraphing that we follow here is that of Briggs.F3
Security of the True Worshipper of God
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in whom I trust.
For he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover thee with his pinions,
And under his wings shalt thou take refuge;
His truth is a shield and a buckler."
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust. For he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, And from the deadly pestilence. He will cover thee with his pinions, And under his wings shalt thou take refuge: His truth is a shield and a buckler.
(Psalms 91:1). `The secret place' is here generally understood to mean `the temple' or `tabernacle,' but `one's dwelling there' is not a reference to persons actually living in the temple. It seems rather to mean those who consistently worship the God who is enshrined there, or to, Those who make the temple of God their habitual resort.F4
He will deliver thee
(Psalms 91:3). Two perils are mentioned here, (1) the snare of the fowler, and (2) the deadly pestilence. Both of these indicate the type of peril that is unseen, striking the strong and the weak alike. The snare of the fowler is a metaphor for evil plots,F5 that might inflict loss or even death. The other danger here is the deadly pestilence. The human race is never exempt from the ravages of mortal illnesses that come about from the spread of infectious diseases. The `Black Death' (the bubonic plague) of the 14th Century wiped out the majority of the population of Europe; and Durant declared that, One-fourth of the population of the civilized world perished, the deaths in Europe alone reaching 25,000,000.F6
The great pestilence of 1918 was the swine flu which wiped out more people in the United States than our nation lost in World War I.
The threat of such things, held partially in check by the diligence of the medical profession, is nevertheless perpetual. All kinds of fatal diseases lie submerged within the microscopic life surrounding all men, and any of these may break forth at any time. A recent example is AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
He will cover thee
(Psalms 91:4). God's protection of his own is assured in words such as these. From the New Testament, we learn that God's children are by no means to be protected from death from every threat and at all times. What is meant is that God will protect them even through death. Our Lord spoke of Christians who would even be put to death, saying, But not a hair of your head shall perish (Luke 21:18).
This does not deny that the Providence of God does indeed provide protection from the most terrible dangers for those who truly love him, doing so now in this present earthly life.
EXHORTATION NOT TO FEAR THE PESTILENCE
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night,
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
For the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side,
And ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold,
And see the reward of the wicked."
We do not believe all of this paragraph is a reference to the pestilence, `the arrow that flieth by day' being no doubt a reference to warfare.
If Moses was the author of this, as the Rabbinic tradition assures us, then Moses had actually seen instances of such marvelous help of God's people in the midst of abounding misfortunes for the wicked.
For example, the plague of boils was a horrible pestilence upon the Egyptians, as was the plague of the murrain of cattle (Gen. 9); but, "Nothing that belonged to the children of Israel died" (Genesis 9:4). Furthermore, God's victory over Amalek (Exo. 17) and over the Amorites and the Moabites (Num. 21), provided instances in which God's followers suffered very few casualties and the enemies Were destroyed. Also in Joshua's conquest of Canaan, there were numerous examples of that same providence.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, Nor for the arrow that flieth by day; For the pestilence that walketh in darkness, Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, And ten thousand at thy right hand; [But] it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, And see the reward of the wicked.
(Psalms 91:6). Yates pointed out that the Jewish Talmud identified these lines with the night-time demon (Lilith), and the day-time demon (Namtar), Suggesting that the psalm be used in the case of demonic attacks.F7 Regardless of such opinions, we find no reference whatever here to superstitions like that. Christ indeed cast out demons; and there are many New Testament references to demonic possession, but in all instances where Christ is known and loved, demon-possession seems now to be an utter impossibility. There is much that men do not know about this; and there are instances of human depravity which indeed seem to be demonically induced. Nevertheless, the pestilence and destruction mentioned here are not connected in any way with demons.
A MESSIANIC NOTE
For thou, O Jehovah, art my refuge!
Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation.
There shall no evil befall thee,
Neither shall any plague come nigh thy tent.
For he will give his angels charge over thee,
To keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands,
Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder:
The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot."
Briggs stated that there is a Messianic significance in this passage;F8 and certainly Satan himself thought it applied to Christ, for he quoted Ps. 91:11-12 to Jesus Christ in the temptation recorded in Matt. 4:4 and Luke 4:10-11.
Christ, of course refused the Devil's suggestion that he cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple, noting that such an action would tempt God. For our full comments on that episode, see in my New Testament series of commentaries under those references.
For thou, O Jehovah, art my refuge! Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, Neither shall any plague come nigh thy tent. For he will give his angels charge over thee, To keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot.
(Psalms 91:10). Promises just as glorious as these are provided for the Christians in the New Testament, as for example, in Rom. 8:35-39; but as Kidner cautioned, The assurance here is that nothing can touch God's servant except by God's permission, and that no rebel (Psalms 91:8) can escape God's punishment.F9 Kidner also quoted Luke 21:19 in this connection, indicating that there actually is no exemption whatever to Christians regarding the common dangers and disasters of all men, the great difference for the child of God being that, The Lord will preserve him through every experience, even death itself.
He will give his angels charge over thee
(Psalms 91:11). This promise has its New Testament echo in Heb. 1:13-14, where it is stated that all, the entire host of the heavenly angels, are charged with the duty of ministering unto them that shall be the heirs of salvation.
The following things which angels do for the redeemed are mentioned in the Bible: (1) They bear away the souls of the righteous in death (Luke 16:22). (2) They oppose purposes and designs of Satan, not in their own names, but in the name of the Lord (Jude 1:6). (3) They execute God's judgments upon the incorrigibly wicked (2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23). (4) They exert influence upon rulers and governments (Daniel 10:20. (5) They aid providentially in bringing the unsaved to hear the saving gospel of Christ (Acts 10:3). (6) They exercise watchful care over little children (Matthew 18:10). (7) They maintain perpetually the availability of the Word of God for the human race. The Rainbow Angel stands upon the land and the sea, having in his hand "a little book, OPEN." That little BOOK is the New Testament (Rev. 10).
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder
(Psalms 91:13). Briggs translated this line, Upon reptile and cobra thou wilt treadF10 but the new versions do not honor that rendition. A similar blessing is seen in the life of Paul who shook the poisonous viper off into the fire (Acts 28:3-6).
DELIVERANCE AND LONGEVITY PROMISED
Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:
I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble:
I will deliver him, and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him,
And show him my salvation."
God Himself is the speaker in these verses; and they convey very rich and precious promises for the faithful servant of God.
This passage states that because one loves God and knows his name, that the Lord: (1) will deliver him from trouble; (2) exalt him and honor him; (3) give him the privilege of prayer; (4) satisfy him with long life; and (5) show him God's salvation! What a mountain of motivation there is here for humble and faithful service of God!
There are a number of implications in these verses, as noted by Barnes: (1) It is natural to desire longevity; (2) long life is to be regarded as a blessing; and (3) the tendency of godly living is to lengthen life."F11
The apostle Paul connected the obedience of parents with long life (Ephesians 6:1-3); and there can be no doubt that, in a general sense at least, Christian living enhances the chances that one may live a long time upon the earth.
Again, from Barnes, "It is a fact that virtue, temperance, industry, calmness of mind, moderation in all things, freedom from excessive eating or drinking -- all of which things are required and encouraged by the Scriptures -- that such things undoubtedly contribute to the maintenance of health and the attainment of long life.F12
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. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, And show him my salvation.
(Psalms 91:16). We shall address the implication here that one may be satisfied with living and ready to pass onward in death. Even for one who enjoys the richest blessings of heaven and who has been rewarded with life's most desirable emoluments, and who has been granted to live past the normal span of human life, there shall inevitably come the time, when he shall be satisfied with living and ready to go on to be with God. When the infirmities of age have become more and more intolerable, when strength has been diminished, when the dearest loved ones are sleeping in the dust, when the utter loneliness of being the last leaf on the tree has surrounded him with sorrow and grief, and in the contemplation of the truth once mentioned by Paul, That it is better to depart and be with Christ, and as the hope of heaven itself grows brighter and brighter, there will come the time when the saint of God may feel that he has had enough of life on earth and that he is ready for the Lord's summons that shall conclude his earthly pilgrimage.
Footnotes for Psalms 91
1: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 261. <2> Alexander Maclaren, Vol. III, p. 15.
3: International Critical Commentary, Vol. II, p. 278.
5: Derek Kidner, Vol. II, p. 332.
6: Will and Ariel Durant, "The Reformation," p. 64.
7: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Old Testament, p. 529.
8: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 281.
9: Derek Kidner, op., cit., p. 332.
10: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 281.
11: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Vol. II, p. 16.