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Psalm 91 is one of the most recited Psalms. It covers themes of strength, comfort, and protection in God’s presence. It’s particularly sought out by those wanting comfort and assurance during difficult times. The Psalm talks about God as a protector offering solace to the troubled.

Background

Psalm 91 is often attributed to King David (see 1 Samuel 16), but its author and date are unknown. The likelihood of that assumption comes from battle language, which frequently appears in Psalms written by David.1 The Psalm follows a pattern of repeatedly talking about ‘I’, ‘He’ and ‘You’. The focus is on the writer and their understanding of who God is, followed by a declaration about God and, finally, words directed to God.

This is also the Psalm quoted by Satan to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4. And so, there is a sense in which these verses connect us to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and, therefore, Jesus Himself.2

Several ancient commentators note that if you want to know the perfect peace of God, make a habit of reciting Psalm 91. We can find power and comfort in reciting these words, particularly through a difficult night.3 Whether you face a difficult choice, some hard news or bouts of anxiety —reciting Psalm 91 is not a remedy but a refocus onto God as you walk through troubles.

Writing in the 4th century, Saint Jerome noted how Psalm 91 brings a sense of vigour and vitality even to the aged. He reflected on this Psalm as being one of rest and Sabbath; in that rest, even old age would seem like a distorted idea of the kind of peace described here by the writer.4

 

What Are The Themes Of Psalm 91?

The overarching theme of Psalm 91 is divine protection from God. The words encourage us to trust God for refuge, safety and assurance against life’s dangers. It feels particularly intimate as the believer is reminded of God’s sanctuary from harm while trusting in his comfort and deliverance from trouble.

If you are feeling tired, weary, or hurt in any way, this is the Psalm for you! Let’s look at the psalm verse by verse and offer some reflections.

Reflections on Psalm 91

91:1   He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

He‘ does not need to be taken as an exclusive term. This is a typical way for ancient sayings to begin, like a general point of wisdom. Although the Psalm is a song, it follows a wisdom writing introduction. The references for God here are ‘Most High‘ and ‘Almighty‘. God is not just on high; he is the most high ⎯, meaning that no other authority is more outstanding. We can begin with confidence in God’s mightyness beyond anything else in this world.

The parallel between the four descriptions and four threats to mortality foreshadow God’s ability to guard you in all things ahead of time. This is not to be interpreted as not needing caution to avoid harm, but a reassurance that should you be under threat or in trouble, God is with you.

 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

The focus shifts to the writer’s confidence in this almighty God. There is an active decision to put trust in him and recognise his ability to keep those who trust him safe.

  For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.

Pestilence is usually deadly. So are the trappings of a hunter such as a Fowler. To be delivered from such things means an avoidance or a rescue. The first part is for those who feel hunted and chased or trapped. The second is from the imminent demise of disease. Does this mean that we won’t experience these things? Perhaps not, as experience shows us we will, but the assurance is in God’s concern is to protect us from such things.

  He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

Verse 4 has this beautiful imagery of a bird covering their young for protection. A ‘pinion’ is an outer feather used to shield the bird from winds and to usher them safely to and from places. The writer notes how faithful God is in seeking to protect those who trust in Him.

  You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,

Verse 5 is particularly meaningful for those who stress and worry through the night. When feeling under attack, sleep is the first thing to leave us. Nighttime, in this state of mind, can feel the most lonely and the assurance from the writer is that God is with us in the middle of darkness. The Hebrew for ‘you will not‘ is ‘lô’ (לֹא), the same word used in the Ten Commandments. One could almost read this as a command.

  nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

It’s worth noting that in verses 5-6, there are 4 mortal perils mentioned; ‘terror of the night‘, ‘arrow…by day‘, ‘pestilence‘ and ‘destruction‘. It’s no coincidence that in verses 1-2, there are 4 descriptions of God’s nature: ‘ Most High‘, ‘Almighty‘, ‘Refuge‘ and ‘Fortress‘.

  A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.

S. Augustine and Cassiodorus interpret this as God’s judgement on those who are unrepentant.5 They will fall, but you will be untouched for those who have faith in Jesus (their projection into the text). There is a sense in which our faith carries us from this life to the next, and whether we perish in the present age, our eternity is secure.

  You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.

It’s clear that the precious verse can be attributed to God’s judgement. You will see with your own eyes how the wicked are repaid. One cannot help but think of John 3:18. The pestilence and destruction may be the thing you avoid by clinging close to the Lord.

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

Ah, yes, we are correct. We won’t see that kind of judgement because we have made the Lord our dwelling place. We are saved from the fall by clinging close and holding on to the Lord.

10   no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Again, we know that this has to have eternal meaning, or at the very least some sense of spiritual resolve, because good God-fearing people still get sick, and they still get evil done to them. Our thoughts, then, go to the way in which we are heirs of the Kingdom of God, where one day no evil shall be entertained.

11   For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.

This is the verse Satan quotes to Jesus in Matthew 4:6-10. Jesus’ reply is that God should not be tested. While we have confidence in God’s protection, we must not seek our reasons to use it.

12   On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.

The image is one where we are supported by angels. The messengers of God hold us up as we walk forward. Notice how they don’t stop us from striking our feet; they hold us up when it happens. There is pain in this verse, worse than that of stubbing your toe. Imagine hitting your foot in open-toe sandals. Still, you have to keep moving, but his angels uphold you as you do.

13   You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Of course, the serpent makes us think of Satan in the Garden of Eden back in Genesis 3. These two animals pose another mortality threat but are perhaps more symbolic of an enemy. The encouragement is that with God, victory is possible in adversity.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.

These verses see us switch to hearing from God. This now becomes a promise from the Lord. The personal nature of knowing God by name speaks of closeness and a bond. You protect those you love. Even before Jesus, the close personal love of God emerges in this beautiful verse. Knowing one’s name was significant for Jesus and our relationship with the Father. First-name terms are not to be taken lightly.

15   When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.

This verse is the culmination of 8 pledges from God towards those who trust in him. That’s 4 to demonstrate the reliability of his name, and 4 to cover the mortal perils in verses 5 & 6. It’s as though the end of the Psalm enforces God’s commitment to being faithful.

16   With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

We finish as we started, with an ‘I’ phrase.  ‘I will trust…’ in verse 1 leads to ‘I will satisfy him [with long life]’ at the end of the Psalm.

As you recite this Psalm and reflect upon its words, may you know the Lord’s faithfulness and comfort through the trials of life.

What reflection have you made through Psalm 91? Drop a comment below and maybe share this article to encourage someone.


1 Augustine of Hippo (1847–1857) Expositions on the Book of Psalms: Psalms 1–150. Oxford; London: F. and J. Rivington; John Henry Parker (A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church), p. 282.
2 Kidner, D. (1975) Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), p. 363.
3 Neale, J.M. and Littledale, R.F. (1871) A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers: Psalm 81 to Psalm 118. London; New York: Joseph Masters; Pott and Amery, p. 161.
4 Jerome (1964) The Homilies of Saint Jerome (1–59 on the Psalms). Edited by H. Dressler. Translated by M.L. Ewald. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church), p. 167.
5 Neale,  A Commentary on the Psalms, p. 170.
KEY VERSES: Psalm 91
Bible references are taken from the ESV
Feature Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

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