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What About the Psalm 91 Promises?
by Daryl E. Witmer
PSALM 91 – He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thous-and at your right hand; but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes, and see the recompense of the wicked. For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down. ‘Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold My salvation.’
On an otherwise beautiful Saturday morning just a year ago this month, many Americans were suddenly shocked by live television images of the space shuttle, Columbia, dis-integrating before our eyes during its final approach to a landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Not long after that event I received an e-mail from a pastor in Colorado. He was searching for insight into the meaning of the promises in Psalm 91 – a search made more urgent in light of the death of Columbia’s Mission Commander, Rick Husband, who openly professed faith in Christ. But the issue went beyond that to the suffering and death of count-less other Godly believers throughout history. How do the Psalm 91 promises apply to them? What do these words mean anyway? Hasn’t God somehow broken these pledges? Was He ever able to keep them in the first place?
What follows here are a number of slightly edited excerpts drawn from my response to that pastor:
— Some Bible students have suggested that Psalm 91 is actually a reference to the future, i.e. the Millennial Kingdom. Verses 13 and 15 make it sound that way, don’t they? Especially when correlated with Isaiah 65:24-25 and Isaiah 11:5-8.
— Some commentators claim that this Psalm is actually a testimony of Moses (note the many plague-like references) and, as such, should be considered more of a record about what God did for Israel in the past than a promise about what He will do for us today.
Perhaps the best answer lies some-where in the middle.
— We know that God can always protect everyone. We know that He has sometimes protected many. We know that He will often protect some.
— We also know that God is sovereign and wise, not always choosing to do all of that which He is able to do.
— This Psalm may be offering the be-liever a metaphor of spiritual protect-ion, not merely physical protection.
— Psalm 91 should never be con-strued as a pledge of unqualified physical protection to all believers for all time in all circumstances.
— Psalm 91 is really a testimony of what God has chosen to do on occasion in the past, an assurance of what He is altogether able to do today, and a beautiful literary portrait of His awesome omni-potent capability for the future.
In order to rightly claim the promises of Psalm 91 for myself today, I would preface them with a little qualifying phrase that is, I believe, clearly implied by the rest of Scripture and a common sense knowledge of life. The phrase is: “Except that God in His love and wisdom allow it for the ultimate good….” Like this…
— Except that God in His love and wisdom allow something to the contrary to occur for the ultimate good…He will deliver me from the snare of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence.
— Except that God in His love and wisdom allow it for the ultimate good…a thousand may fall at my side, and ten thousand at my right hand; But it shall not approach me.
— Except that God in His love and wisdom allow it for the ultimate good…no evil will befall me, nor will any plague come near my tent.
This little phrase is not intended to qualify (or add to) the promises of Psalm 91. It is meant to explain them in the context of the whole counsel of God’s Word – which includes the account of Jesus’ death, the story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the description of Stephen’s martyrdom.
Whatever the depths of its meaning, among the first to some day testify to the blessed truth of Psalm 91 will no doubt be men like Columbia’s Commander Rick Husband.