Psalm 91 has been a favorite psalm of the Saints through the ages and rightfully so. This Psalm boasts of the protecting hand of God for His people. The Psalm opens with this great principle, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (v. 1). For those who make the one true God their God and dwell in Him (v. 9), He promises to be right behind them helping them and allowing His shadow to cover them.
To “dwell” is the key to this promise that God makes. Verse 2 of the Psalm describes clearly what it means to dwell. God’s people have pledged the following statement, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” To dwell means that God’s people have determined that God will be the source of their help. They understand that putting their trust in anything other than God, including themselves, is foolish and will result in disaster (Jer 17:5-8). God alone will be their refuge and their fortress. And as a result, the Almighty God promises to shadow over them, providing rest, comfort, and peace for His people.
The rest of the Psalm describes the gamete of protection that God promises to provide for those who put their trust in Him. He promises to be a shield to protect them from the smallest things like stubbing toes (v. 12), to big things like protecting them when a “thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand” (v. 7). God promises to protect them in the night and the day (v. 5). He promises to protect them from deadly pestilence & plagues (v. 3, 6, 10) and from wild animals (v. 13). And God promises to command His angels to “guard [them] in all [their] ways” (v. 11). For those who “love” and “know” God, He promises to deliver, protect, answer prayers, rescue, give a long life, and show them salvation (v. 14-16). What glorious promises God has made to His people.
When you look through the history of the Bible, God kept these promises. God spared His people Israel from the plagues and pestilence that He brought upon Egypt (Ex 7-12). God delivered the Israelites from the wicked hand of Pharaoh as they walked on dry ground through the Red Sea (Ex 14). God delivered the three Hebrew boys from King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace and Daniel from the lion’s den (Dan 3, 6). God sent an angel and had 185,000 Assyrian soldiers killed in one night to protect His holy city and King Hezekiah (2 Kings 19). The faithfulness of God to His people creates a long list of promises kept. And these promises are not ancient myths, but are examples of God’s faithfulness that believers should expect even today.
Jesus & Psalm 91
But how are we to understand these truths in our everyday lives? While the truths of this Psalm are so important and should comfort every believer to know that God can protect us, we must also ask hard questions about this Psalm. Does this Psalm promise that God will protect every believer from everything that could harm us at all times? If something bad happens to one of our fellow Christians, should we simply assume that they did not “dwell in the shelter of the Most High?” Do Christians who have bad things happen to them simply lack faith or trust in God? How do we reconcile that at times Christians get sick, die tragic deaths, and are swindled by the “snare of the fowler” (v. 3)?
The best way to answer these questions is to look to Jesus. Being God’s Son, and being God Himself, Jesus was the most perfect and righteous man who ever lived on the earth. He was also the most trusting of His heavenly Father. As we look at His ministry, the protecting hand of God is clear. When the crowds of Nazareth wanted to throw Him over a cliff because He claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2, the Father protected Him and allowed Him to “pass through their midst” (Luke 4:28-30). When the religious leaders tried to trap and kill him, God protected Him and allowed Him to slip away into safety (Jn 8:59). It is very clear that God the Father was enacting the promises of Psalm 91 to His own Son.
But there was a time when all of that changed and it certainly wasn’t due to a “lack of faith” on Jesus’ part. Jesus told His disciples that His “hour [had] come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). He was definitively speaking about His impending death on the cross that was established in eternity past. When that time in His life came, the Father removed all protection from Him and in those moments the promises of Psalm 91 fell short. Jesus was caught in the snare of the religious leaders contrary to Psalm 91:3. The crowds came at night and arrested Him, contrary to verse 5. The crowds demanded that He be crucified, contrary to verse 7. Evil fell upon Jesus as He was crucified, contrary to verse 10. No angel came to rescue Jesus from the cross, contrary to verse 11.
Looking at Jesus, we can clearly make a deduction that while the promises of Psalm 91 are true for those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High,” they are only true within the framework of God’s ultimate plan. God protected Jesus until His work was complete. When the ministry of Jesus was complete, God removed his hand of protection. This is also true for every believer. God protects every believer until their work on earth is complete. Warren Wiersbe said it wonderfully, “When the child of God is in His will, then he is immortal until his work is done.” Believers are immortal on this earth and nothing can harm us until our work is done within God’s plan. We can live fearlessly and courageously knowing the Lord will protect us as we are in His will.
Live Fearlessly but NOT Recklessly
But we must also be careful to NOT to live haphazardly and put God to the test. This is exactly what Satan tempted Jesus to do in the wilderness (Matt 4:5-7) at the beginning of His ministry. Satan took Jesus to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and quoted from Psalm 91:11-12, “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’” (Matt 4:7). Satan tempted Jesus with the promises of Psalm 91 and took these verses as absolute promises of God’s protection. But Jesus did not take the bait and responded with another text in Scripture from Deuteronomy 6:16 and said, “Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus teaches us in His response that we are not to take just one verse from Scripture and press it to its extreme, but rather we are to allow the entire Bible to guide us and instruct us. Jesus put His whole trust in His heavenly Father, but also trusted that God the Father can do as He pleases and we have no right to “put Him to the test.”