You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.
Psalm 91 seems to be a companion to Psalm 90.
In both, the Almighty/the Most High/the LORD is refuge/fortress/shelter/dwelling place/home.
In both psalms, this Almighty/Most High/LORD is MY God. This is personal.
While Psalm 90 comes to this conclusion after some bold challenges demanding that God keep faith as promised, Psalm 91 begins with unquestioning trust in God’s unfailing faithfulness.
I have struggled with the bold confidence of this song and I’m not the only one. Some people have misread it so completely that they consider this psalm as a kind of magic assurance that they will be protected from any sort of harm.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…
These words are not guarantees however; they are confessions of the deep faith of someone who has been to hell and back. This is a song that remembers the very real disorientation of crisis and yet has moved on to a new orientation that is confident and calm. This psalmist is anything but naive; rather he lives life in the Big Picture, trusting in the ultimate faithfulness of the Author of The Story.
In the temptation stories in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus listened to the devil offer one of these promises with just such magical thinking:
God will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
So therefore, “IF you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of this Temple…” (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus’ answer shows that twisting Scripture is nothing new and that responsible biblical interpretation is crucial to faithful living.
“It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
The life and witness of our Lord himself teaches us that sometimes bad things DO happen to good people. That God does not wave a magic wand and make dangers go away. That our job is to encounter every challenge with bold courage.
When we read Psalm 91 through the lens of the deep confidence of Jesus, we too can trust in faith’s Nevertheless.
No matter what happens to me or mine – God is our shelter/fortress/refuge/home. No matter what happens to me or mine – God will never leave us or forsake us.
When we read Psalm 91 through the lens of the confidence of Paul, we too can say:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8
In a bit of an unusual shift, Psalm 91 finishes with a Divine Response. The psalmist hears the Word of the Lord answering the questions of Psalm 90 with a prophetic reassurance for Israel in Exile. Many individuals will not return to their homeland, but God’s beloved Son – Israel – can count on God’s ultimate deliverance.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
God’s people in all times, in all places can live with this same kind of confidence. No matter what. Nevertheless. Whatever.
In God’s ultimate Shalom, the LORD is our salvation.