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Psalms 91 Commentary - Part 2


Psalm 91 - The Assurance of those Who Trust in God

This Psalm has no title and therefore the author remains unknown. Because it shares some of the themes of Psalm 90, some think Moses was the author. Because it shares some of the themes and phrases of Psalms 27 and 31, some think the author was David. "Some of its language, of strongholds and shields, reminds us of David, to whom the Septuagint ascribes it; other phrases echo the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, as did Psalm 90; but it is in fact anonymous and timeless, perhaps all the more accessible for that." (Derek Kidner)

Many have noted the wonderful character of this Psalm: "This psalm is one of the greatest possessions of the saints." (G. Campbell Morgan) "In the whole collection there is not a more cheering Psalm, its tone is elevated and sustained throughout, faith is at its best, and speaks nobly." (Charles Spurgeon) "It is one of the most excellent works of this kind which has ever appeared. It is impossible to imagine anything more solid, more beautiful, more profound, or more ornamented." (de Muis, cited in Spurgeon)

A. The assurance of God's protection.

1. (Ps. 91:1-2) The protection, comfort, and care of Yahweh.

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."

a. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High: God has a secret place for His own (Psalm 27:5, 31:20), and it is a place to live in. Those who dwell there abide under the shadow of the Almighty, knowing His protection, comfort, and care.

i. In Psalm 90:1 Moses spoke of God as the dwelling place of His people. The opening lines of Psalm 91 seem to take that idea further. "Moses spoke of God as the dwelling-place, the habitation, the home of man. This singer seems to accept that great idea, and then to speak of the most central chamber of the dwelling-place, referring to it as the Secret Place, and describing its complete security." (Morgan)

ii. There are many followers of Jesus Christ who seem to know very little of the secret place of the Most High or what it is to abide under His shadow. Many seem to regard this as only a thing for mystics or the super-spiritual. Yet the David who knew this was a warrior and man well acquainted with the realities of life. It is true that the life of the spirit seems to come more easily for some or others, but there is an aspect of the secret place of the Most High that is for every one who puts their trust in Him.

iii. "Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence." (Spurgeon)

iv. The shadow of the Almighty: "This is an expression which implies great nearness. We must walk very close to a companion, if we would have his shadow fall on us." (Duncan, cited in Spurgeon)
v. Spurgeon (borrowing from another) suggested four ways the Scripture speaks of the shadow of the Almighty.

• The shadow of the rock (Isaiah 32:2)
• The shadow of the tree (Song of Solomon 2:3)
• The shadow of His wings (Psalm 63:7)
• The shadow of His hand (Isaiah 49:2)

vi. These first two verses of Psalm 91 use four wonderful titles or names for God:

Most High: Elyon
Almighty: Shadday
The Lord: Yahweh
My God: Elohay

b. He is my refuge and my fortress: The one who lives intimately in God knows the greatness of His protection. God Himself becomes like a mighty refuge and fortress for the believer.

i. My refuge: "Have you ever said definitely, 'O Lord, thou art my refuge'? Fleeing from all other, have you sheltered in Him from the windy storm and tempest, from the harrow by day, and pestilence by night, from man and devil? You must avow it. Do not only think it, but say it. " (Meyer)

c. My God, in Him I will trust: This close relationship with God and all the benefits that come from it are for those who know Yahweh as God, and who truly trust in Him. At the same time, having received His protection, comfort, and care, the believer trusts God all the more, and increasingly knows Him as God.

i. "Men are apt enough to proclaim their doubts, and even to boast of them, indeed there is a party nowadays of the most audacious pretenders to culture and thought, who glory in casting suspicion upon everything; hence it becomes the duty of all true believers to speak out and testify with calm courage to their own well-grounded reliance upon their God." (Spurgeon)

ii. Spurgeon suggested many different Biblical characters who had their own expression of the phrase My God.

My God is the young convert's confession (Ruth)
My God is the individual Christian's belief (Thomas)
My God is the declaration of the believer when opposed (Micaiah)
My God is the secret vow of the believer in consecration (Jacob)
My God is the deepest comfort to God's children in great woe (Jesus)
My God is the celebration for the victorious believer (Miriam)

2. (Ps. 91:3-4) How God brings His protection, comfort, and care.

3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

a. Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler: Following the general statement of the first two verses, now the Psalmist describes the specific ways God protects and cares for His people - beginning with rescue from those who would trap God's people as the fowler snares birds.

i. "Metaphors for the plots which would entangle our affairs (Psalm 140:1-5) or compromise our loyalty (Psalm 119:110)." (Kidner)

ii. "We are foolish and weak as poor little birds, and are very apt to be lured to our destruction by cunning foes, but if we dwell near to God, he will see to it that the most skilful deceiver shall not entrap us." (Spurgeon)

iii. The devil and his agents often work as the fowler works.

• The fowler works in secret
• The fowler changes his trap and methods
• The fowler often entices with pleasure or profit
• The fowler often uses a bad example, a decoy

iv. "The most striking feature of this section (and the one following) is the use of the singular you throughout, which is a way of saying that these truths are for each person individually. They are for you if you will truly trust or abide in God." (Boice)

b. And from the perilous pestilence: God also protects His people in times of plague and disease. The Psalmist (nor the Holy Spirit who inspired Him) did not intend this as absolute promise, that every believer would be delivered from every snare or every pestilence. Instead, the idea is that the Psalmist could point to many times when God did just that for His trusting people.

i. "This does not mean that those who trust God never die from infectious diseases or suffer from an enemy's plot, of course. It means that those who trust God are habitually delivered from such dangers. What Christian cannot testify to many such deliverances?" (Boice)

ii. "Lord Craven, a Christian, was a nobleman who was living in London when plague ravaged the city in the fifteenth century. In order to escape the spreading pestilence Craven determined to leave the city for his country home, as many of his social standing did. He ordered his coach and baggage made ready. But as he was walking down one of the halls of his home about to enter his carriage, he overheard one of his servants say to another, 'I suppose by my Lord's quitting London to avoid the plague that his God lives in the country and not in town.' It was a straightforward and apparently innocent remark. But it struck Lord Craven so deeply that he canceled his journey, saying, 'My God lives everywhere and can preserve me in town as well as in the country. I will stay where I am.' So he stayed in London. He helped the plague victims, and he did not catch the disease himself." (Boice)

iii. There is also a spiritual understanding and application of this. "The soul hath likewise her enemies, ready to attack and surprise her at all hours. Avarice and ambition are abroad watching for her in the day; while concupiscence, like a pestilence, 'walketh in darkness.' In adversity she is disturbed by terrors; in prosperity, still more endangered by pleasures." (Horne)

iv. "Children of God are not always immune from physical plague and pestilence; but they are ever guarded from destructive spiritual forces as they dwell in the secret place of the Most High." (Morgan)

c. He shall cover you with His feathers: In a metaphor, God is represented as a bird, sheltering young chicks under His wings - as David previously described in Psalm 61:4.

i. "The mother eagle, spreading her dread wing over her eaglets, is a wonderful symbol of the union of power and gentleness. It would be a bold hand which would drag the fledglings from that warm hiding place and dare the terrors of that beak and claws." (Maclaren)

ii. "Saith Luther; it is faith which maketh thee the little chicken, and Christ the hen; that thou mayest hide, and hope, and hover, and cover under his wings; for there is health in his wings." (Trapp)

iii. Boice connected Matthew 23:37 to Psalm 91:4: "Jesus would have saved and sheltered Jerusalem and its inhabitants, but the people were not willing. They would not come to him. They would not 'dwell' in the shelter of the Most High. They cried out for his crucifixion instead." (Boice)

d. His truth shall be your shield and buckler: The pictures of God's protection continue with His truth represented as the smaller, often round shield and the larger, often rectangular shield, the buckler.

i. "As for God's care, it combines the warm protectiveness of a parent bird with the hard, unyielding strength of armour." (Kidner)

ii. "Double armour has he who relies upon the Lord. He bears a shield and wears an all-surrounding coat of mail-such is the force of the word 'buckler.'" (Spurgeon)

iii. Boice on buckler: "The Hebrew word signifies something that is wrapped around a person for his or her protection; hence, it can mean 'buckler,' 'armor,' or, as in the niv, a 'rampart' or fortress."

3. (Ps. 91:5-6) The result of God's protection and care.

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.

a. You shall not be afraid: Having God as shelter and refuge gives strength and courage to the people of God. When God's people are stuck deep in fear it is an indication that they fall short of proper trust in God as protector and comforter.

i. "Not to be afraid is in itself an unspeakable blessing, since for every suffering which we endure from real injury we are tormented by a thousand griefs which arise from fear only." (Spurgeon)

ii. "In life the Lord may permit many terrible things to happen to his children (cf. Job), as he did to his own Son, our Lord. But his children know that no power is out of God's control." (VanGemeren)

b. Of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day: The Psalmist represented all kinds of destruction that could come in all kinds of circumstances. It could come by night or by day; in darkness or at noonday. It could come as terror or by arrow; as a pestilence or as destruction. Whenever or however it comes, God is able to defend His people.

i. "The assaults of enemies and the devastations of pestilence are taken in Psalms 91:5-6 as types of all perils." (Maclaren)

4. (7-8) Assurance for the believer.

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.

a. A thousand may fall at your side: The Psalmist described how God's protection could conquer any odds or probabilities. God's protection and care can be so specifically focused it could preserve one in ten thousand.

i. "It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward. Ill to him is no ill, but only good in a mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good." (Spurgeon)

b. See the reward of the wicked: In contrast to the protection of His chosen, God has also appointed a reward for the wicked. God's people are encouraged to look at this truth and carefully consider it.

B. The assurance repeated twice over.

1. (Ps. 91:9-13) Repeating the promise of deliverance and assurance of victory.

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

a. Because you have made the Lord...your dwelling place: The following principles and promises are suited for those who trust in the Lord, making Him their dwelling place - their source of life and satisfaction.

b. No evil shall befall you: The previous promises (Psalm 91:5-8) of security and safety even in a time of plague are repeated. Again, this is not regarded as an absolute promise for every believer in every circumstance, because beloved people of God have fallen to evil or died in plague. It is the happy observation of the Psalmist and a general expression of God's protection, comfort, and care for His people.

i. "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." (Boice)

ii. "This and such-like promises are not to be understood absolutely and universally, as if no truly good man could be cut off by the plague or other common calamities, which is confitted both by other plain texts of Scripture, and by unquestionable experience." (Poole)

iii. "For it may befall a saint to share in a common calamity; as the good corn and weeds are cut down together, but for a different end and purpose." (Trapp)

iv. "God doth not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil." (Watson, cited in Spurgeon)

c. Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling: Charles Spurgeon gave remarkable testimony to a specific fulfillment of this promise:

i. "In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker's window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words: - 'Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.' The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvellous power I adore the Lord my God." (Spurgeon)

d. For He shall give His angels charge over you: This describes another way God may send His protection and care unto His people - through His angels. God may care for His people through His servants we know as angels, commanding them to keep and bear...up His people.

i. "The angels of God shall have an especial charge to accompany, defend, and preserve thee; and against their power, the influence of evil spirits cannot prevail. These will, when necessary, turn thy steps out of the way of danger; ward it off when it comes in thy ordinary path." (Clarke)

ii. "Charge; charge is a strict command, more than a bare command; as when you would have a servant do a business certainly and fully, you lay a charge upon him, I charge you that you do not neglect that business; you do not barely tell what he should do, prescribe him his work, but you charge him to do it. So says the Lord unto the angels." (Bridge, cited in Spurgeon)

iii. "Not one guardian angel, as some fondly dream, but all the angels are here alluded to. They are the bodyguard of the princes of the blood imperial of heaven, and they have received commission from their Lord and ours to watch carefully over all the interests of the faithful." (Spurgeon)

iv. "How angels thus keep us we cannot tell. Whether they repel demons, counteract spiritual plots, or even ward off the subtler physical forces of disease, we do not know. Perhaps we shall one day stand amazed at the multiplied services which the unseen bands have rendered to us." (Spurgeon)

v. "Let us remember that it is God, whose these angels are; He gives them charge-from Him they receive their commission, - to Him they are responsible for their charge. From God thou art to expect them; and for their help he alone is to receive the praise. It is expressly said, He shall give his angels charge; to show that they are not to be prayed to nor praised; but Godalone, whose servants they are." (Clarke)

e. For He shall give His angels charge over you: The promise of Psalm 91:11-12 was quoted and twisted by Satan in His temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-7, Luke 4:9-12). Satan tempted Jesus to create an artificial crisis by throwing Himself from a high point on the temple mount, and Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 as a promise of protection if Jesus were to do this.

i. As Matthew 4 records, Satan's quotation of Psalm 91:11-12 is a pattern of how he twists the Word of God.

· Psalm 91:11-12 was falsely quoted, because the devil left out the words, to keep you in all your ways. To test God in this way was not of Jesus' way; it was not of the way of the Savior or Messiah. "God had never promised, nor ever given, any protection of angels in sinful and forbidden ways." (Poole on Matthew 4)

· This text is wrongly applied, because it was not used to teach or encourage, but intended instead to deceive. "Making this word a promise to be fulfilled upon Christ's neglect of his duty; extending the promise of special providence as to dangers into which men voluntarily throw themselves." (Poole on Matthew 4)

ii. In a strange way we are grateful for Satan's attempt in Matthew 4, because it helps us to better understand Psalm 91. We see that it does not give absolute promises for every believer in every circumstance, but beautiful promises of God's protection, comfort, and care that are specifically received and applied in the believer by the Holy Spirit.

iii. The angels were there to help Jesus in His temptation, just not in the way the devil suggested (Matthew 4:11).

f. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra: The protection of God to His people extends beyond the general deliverance from harm; it also speaks of a general granting of victory to His people, even over opponents as strong as the young lion and the cobra.

i. "Depicting God's servants not merely as survivors but as victors, who trample deadly enemies under foot." (Kidner)

ii. There is another interesting connection with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. "The Lord's trust in his Father also resulted in Satan's defeat, another part of the psalm the devil omitted." (Boice)

iii. "This text was shamefully abused by Pope Alexander, A.D. 1159, when at Venice he trod upon the neck of the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, and said, as here, super leonem et aspidem ambulabis, &c." (Trapp)

2. (Ps. 91:14-16) God's promise to and blessing over the one who loves Him.

14 "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."

a. Because he has set his love upon Me: These last three verses are set in the first person as God speaks promise and blessing over His people. He speaks specifically over those who set their love upon Him. It has been wonderfully noted that the last word of this Psalm is not spoken by God's people, but to God's people.

i. He has set his love upon Me: "The word for he cleaves to me in love is used elsewhere in contexts of setting one's heart on somebody or on some enterprise. As man's commitment to God it comes only here." (Kidner)

ii. To set one's loveupon God means to do it by choice. It does not wait for the feeing of love to come or not, but simply chooses to think and act towards God in ways that express and build love. This would include:

• Spending time with God
• Listening to God
• Reading what God has written to the loved one
• Speaking to God
• Thinking of God in unoccupied moments
• Adoring God
• Speaking of God to others
• Giving to God and making glad sacrifices to Him

iii. Our present culture often thinks of love as something that happens to people, not something chosen. The phrase because he has set his love on Me reminds us that a significant aspect of love is indeed a choice, and this describes in part the love we should give unto God.

b. Therefore I will deliver Him: The promises and principles stated previously in this Psalm are repeated again, but this time as being in the mouth of God Himself. God will protect His beloved and set him on high - and do it because he has known My name, having real relationship with God.

i. I will set him on high: "I will place him out of the reach of all his enemies. I will honour and ennoble him, because he hath known my name-because he has loved, honoured, and served me, and rendered me that worship which is my due. He has known me to be the God of infinite mercy and love."

ii. "They are blessings that some believers miss out on, simply because they are always fretting and do not trust God as they should. Here the psalmist quotes God as saying that the blessings are for those who love God and acknowledge his name (v. 14), call upon him (v. 15), and seek satisfaction in what he alone can provide." (Boice)

c. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: God promises to answer the prayer of the one who loves Him, and the one who genuinely knows Him.

d. I will be with him: In the last lines of the Psalm God spoke personal and wonderful blessing over the one who loves and knows Him:
• The blessing of His presence: I will be with him in trouble
• The blessing of His protection: I will deliver him
• The blessing of His promotion: I will...honor him
• The blessing of His prosperity: With long life I will satisfy him
• The blessing of His preservation: And show him My salvation

i. I will be with him: "So, no man need add solitude to sadness, but may have God sitting with him, like Job's friends, waiting to comfort him with true comfort." (Maclaren)

ii. I will be with him in trouble: "Again God speaks and acts like a tender-hearted mother towards a sickly child. When the child is in perfect health she can leave it in the hands of the nurse; but when it is sick she will attend it herself; she will say to the nurse, 'You may attend a while to some other business, I will watch over the child myself.'" (Dawson, cited in Spurgeon) - R. Deffenbaugh

The words of Psalm 91 are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. Look at them for just a moment:

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!" 3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, And from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; {But} it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes, And see the recompense of the wicked. 9 For you have made the Lord, my refuge, {Even} the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. 11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, Lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down. 14 "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him {securely} on high, because he has known My name. 15 "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him. 16 "With a long life I will satisfy him, And let him behold My salvation."

These are wonderful words of comfort. They speak of God as the Protector of those who trust in Him. They promise that while many will suffer destruction, the one who has trusted in God, who has fled to Him for safety, will be delivered. And yet these words which gave Ann such comfort might seem to have not come true. If God has promised protection from evil and the satisfaction of a long life, why did Ann suffer so long, and then die? Are these words really true? Can we find comfort in them this afternoon? We certain can! Let me show you why they are true, and why they can bring us great comfort as we grieve over the death of one whom we knew and loved.

We have a divinely inspired commentary on these verses in the New Testament, which shed much light on the meaning and application of this psalm to us. In the temptation of our Lord, Psalm 91:11-12 are quoted by Satan to our Lord, at the time of His temptation in wilderness (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10-11). Satan challenged Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple, and to be divinely delivered from death, to show that He was the Messiah. He tried to convince Jesus that since Psalm 91 promised deliverance from suffering and death, God would deliver Him.

Jesus responded by referring to the Scripture which forbade putting God to the test. There is much more that Jesus could have said, and did not. What Satan would only later learn is that the promise of Psalm 91 was to be fulfilled through the suffering and death of Jesus, on the cross of Calvary. God could promise deliverance to those who trusted in Him because Jesus would suffer in their behalf, and would rise from the dead, the Victor over sin, and death, and Satan. Psalm 91 was not Jesus' excuse for avoiding the cross, but His reason for going to the cross.

Just as Psalm 91 was no guarantee that Jesus need not suffer. Indeed, the suffering of Jesus was the reason why the saints are protected and removed from suffering. The important question is this: "From what sufferings are the saints delivered? From what dangers and destruction are we delivered?" Psalm 91 does it promise us that the saints will be delivered from all suffering. Many Scriptures, the experience of many saints (biblical and otherwise) and our own experience, make it clear that Christians do suffer. Let us look more carefully at this psalm to determine what suffering we are promised to be delivered from.

The Psalm begins with the strong statement that God is our refuge, our fortress, our place of safety (verses 1-4). There are two kind of people mentioned in this psalm, and they have two very different destinies. The one group is delivered from destruction, and the other group is destroyed. The all-important need here is to determine what it is that some are delivered from, which is also the means by which others are destroyed. Our text cannot mean that those who trust in God are all delivered from suffering and death, and that those who do not trust in God suffer and die prematurely. The psalm which comes immediately before our text speaks of that suffering and short life which the godly experience, as a result of living in a fallen, sin-tainted world:

1 Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. 3 Thou dost turn man back into dust, And dost say, "Return, O children of men." 4 For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or {as} a watch in the night. 5 Thou hast swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes, and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades, and withers away. 7 For we have been consumed by Thine anger, And by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. 8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret {sins} in the light of Thy presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is {but} labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. 13 Do return, O Lord; how long {will it be}? And be sorry for Thy servants. 14 O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, {And} the years we have seen evil. 16 Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, And Thy majesty to their children. 17 And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands (Psalm 90:1-17). - J. B. Coffman


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."[2] The context usually affords the clue to what is meant and who is the speaker, or the one spoken to.

Psalms 91:1-4 - Security of the True Worshipper of God

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.

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High" (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."[4]

"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,"[5] 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."[6]

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.


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.

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 (Genesis 9); but, "Nothing that belonged to the children of Israel died" (Genesis 9:4). Furthermore, God's victory over Amalek (Exodus 17) and over the Amorites and the Moabites (Numbers 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.

"The pestilence that walketh in darkness ... the destruction that wasteth at noonday" (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."[7] 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.

Verses 9-13 - A MESSIANIC NOTE

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.

Briggs stated that there is a Messianic significance in this passage;[8] and certainly Satan himself thought it applied to Christ, for he quoted Psalms 91:11-12 to Jesus Christ in the temptation recorded in Matthew 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.

"There shall no evil befall thee" (Psalms 91:10). Promises just as glorious as these are provided for the Christians in the New Testament, as for example, in Romans 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."[9] 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 Hebrews 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 1:1:6). (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 (Revelation 10).

"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder" (Psalms 91:13). Briggs translated this line, "Upon reptile and cobra thou wilt tread"[10] 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).


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.

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."[11]

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.[12]

"With long life will I satisfy him" (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.