Introduction to Psalm 91
With the Coronavirus sweeping across almost all borders, fear and anxiety have gripped hearts around the world. No one seems safe anymore and everyone is searching for methods of protection. In times of crisis, however, the children of God, as it has happened right through history, can find encouragement and comfort through the promises of God. One such passage people often turn to for comfort is Psalm 91.
As I look at social media today, I find many people sharing either the entire passage of Psalm 91 or at least parts of it, to strengthen others. Through this article, I would like to share my thoughts as well regarding this beautiful Psalm. Do keep your Bible open to Psalm 91 as you read.
Background to Psalm 91:
Most of the 150 Psalms recorded in the Bible have a clearly defined author. Some of the authors are David, Solomon, Moses, Asaph, Korah, Heman, and Ethan. However, some of the Psalms don’t have such a clearly defined author and interestingly, one such Psalm is Psalm 91! The NIV Study Bible in its notes says, “It was probably written by one of the temple personnel (a priest or Levite) as a word of assurance to godly worshippers”. Isn’t it amazing that the author of such a beautiful portion of scripture is unknown?
As the author wrote the words of the Psalm under the anointing and guidance of the Holy Spirit, he probably never dreamt of what would happen. That it would bring great comfort to literally thousands and millions of people through the passage of history, and to thousands more, facing a deadly virus in 2020! This should encourage us to know that anything we do for the Lord, no matter how insignificant it may seem at present, can touch many, many lives, not just for the present, but for future generations as well. So, during this difficult time, let’s do all we can to bless others, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. Who knows how much impact it will have!
Notes on Psalm 91:
This Psalm of 16 verses can be broken down into two sections, the first being verses 1-8, and the second being verses 9-16. The first two verses of both segments (verses 1-2 and 9-10), carry very similar thoughts, reminding us, and reiterating, that God’s protection rests on His children. Let’s look at the first section.
Section 1: (Psalm 91:1-8)
Verses 1-4 of the Psalm illustrate at least 7 powerful symbols of God’s protection. They are;
A) His Shelter – We hear of many shelters today including nuclear shelters, bomb shelters, and doomsday shelters. We may soon even hear of virus shelters. Can we reflect on God’s shelter as well? I (Not sure why, but as I type this, the words of a song written and recorded by the ‘Gentle Giant’ of country music, Don Williams, come to mind. It was a favorite of mine in my younger days and was titled “In the shelter of your eyes”).
B) His Shadow – Similar to a shade that protects from the blazing sun or torrential rain.
C) A Refuge – The Longman Dictionary describes ‘Refuge’ as “A place that provides protection or shelter from danger”.
D) A Fortress – Providing protection to a city
E) His Wings – Resembling the tenderness with which a mother bird protects her offspring
G) A Shield – Used in times of war and which can be used now when the enemy fires his darts at us. We are right now in the middle of a very different but dangerous war.
H) Rampart – I am reminded of the walls of the historic fort built in the city of Galle, in my country Sri Lanka, hundreds of years ago. They still stand firm today and the fort is a much-visited heritage site.
As we consider the 7 symbols of protection shown above, let’s be truly encouraged by the defense mechanisms the Lord has given us. Why then, should we allow fear and anxiety to overwhelm us?
Verses 3 and 5-6, show us the stark reality of two threats we face in life; the threat from enemies (fowler’s snare and arrows) and the terror of disease epidemics (pestilence and plagues). However, we are assured once again of God’s protection at all times of the day (refer to words like night, day, darkness, and midday). This protection is further emphasized in verse 7 of Psalm 91.
As I was reflecting on Psalm 91:7 and the reference to ‘thousand and ten thousand falling’, it seemed so very similar to what we are experiencing around the world today. However, at this crucial time, I would like to suggest that we look at things from a different perspective.
Joshua 23;10 says, ” One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as He promised”. Jesus also said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). While the passage this verse is found in may relate primarily to sorting out sin and relationship problems in the church, it also tells us that we can find God’s help and guidance, whenever we join together in agreement in prayer.
May I therefore humbly suggest that you find a friend with that you can pray with every day during this crisis. Besides that, maybe you could also find a vulnerable, high-risk person who you could encourage in prayer every day.
Let’s pray together for an end to the spread of Covid-19 and for a medical solution to be found speedily. Let’s pray for the thousands of families that have lost loved ones. Also, let’s pray for the thousands affected at present and for the thousands on the front lines, battling the virus. Our prayers can reach out to thousands because the living God still answers prayer!! Let’s also pray that after decades of abuse by man, the beautiful earth the Lord has given us will be rejuvenated and healed as it goes through a period of rest! (Many more current prayer needs can be found on different church websites).
Section 2: (Psalm 91:9-16)
As mentioned earlier in this article, verses 9-10 of Psalm 91, correspond with verses 1-2. They bring reassurance of God’s protection. That protection is further emphasized in Psalm 91:11-12 through the ministry of His holy angels. The New International Bible Commentary says, “God’s tender care is such that He even supplies a celestial bodyguard around the believer, who carry him along the rock-strewn road” (Pages 619-620).
Some believe that Psalm 91 is also a Messianic Psalm, partly because satan quoted verses 11-12 to Jesus during His temptations (Luke 4:10-11). (How right Shakespeare was when he wrote, “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose” in ‘The Merchant of Venice’).
Jesus however, refused to be drawn into temptation and rebuked Satan with scripture. Jesus would most probably have ended up as a celebrity if He had followed satan’s advice and thrown Himself down from the highest point of the temple. He refused however because He only wanted to fulfill God’s will.
In these difficult times, let’s be grounded in the promises of God’s Holy Word, and let’s share His powerful Word wherever we can. Let’s also humble ourselves in His presence and desire to honor Him in every way.
Psalm91:13 brings up the challenge of wild beasts as reflected in the imagery of the ferocity of a lion and the poison of a cobra. This is illustrated again in verse 13 through the references to a ‘great lion’ and ‘the serpent’. It’s good to remind ourselves that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). In Genesis 3, Satan also came in the guise of a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve. However, we are once again assured of victory (tread/trample) as we resist him (Refer also Genesis 3:15 and 1 Peter 5:9).
In the final 3 verses of Psalm 91, God’s blessings are proclaimed on the people. Eight such blessings are assured for those who love the Lord (verse 14), acknowledge His name (verse 14), and call upon Him (verse 15). They are:
A) “I will rescue him” (14)
B) “I will protect him” (14)
C) “I Will answer him” (15)
D) “I will be with him in trouble” (15)
E) “I Will deliver him” (15)
F) (I will) honor him” (15)
G) “With long life will I satisfy him” (16)
H) “(I will) show him my salvation” (16)
In closing, I pray that the thoughts in this article will encourage you and give you new hope today. That they will help you face life wherever you are, in the midst of the difficult challenges around. However, please also take all necessary precautions as advised by the authorities regarding Covid-19, including social distancing.
One thing is also certain and it is that death will come to all of us one day, with or without a virus! Isn’t it a great blessing to know that we have a Savior who has opened the portal to heaven and to His eternal life? Therefore, let no fear cloud your heart for nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). And if maybe you have no assurance of eternal life right now, let me encourage you to open your heart to Jesus and invite Him as your Lord and Savior. He is reaching out to you now with His love.
And by the way, in eternity we will meet the person who wrote this beautiful Psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit! We can maybe tell him then how much it comforted us in the midst of Covid-19 in 2020!! God bless you.
#Faith over Fear
How has Psalm 91 been a blessing to you personally? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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For further reading on God’s protection and to help you trust Him in difficult situations, please check my devotional Surrounded by God’s Protection.