Psalm 91 has been a passage that many of us have turned to for comfort during the uncertainty and fear of the current pandemic.
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.4 He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.7 Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. Just open your eyes, and see how the wicked are punished. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. (Psalm 91 NLT)
While we find these words comforting, we must be careful to not make it say something for our situation that it doesn’t. While the promise of this Psalm seems pretty clear as it states that that God will keep us safe; He will cover us with his wings (protect us) and no plague will come near our home. However, when interpreting scripture, we must be careful to not pull a single scripture out of its context, but to interpret it in light of other passages in the Bible. This was a promise to King David.
In fact, taking a passage out of context and claiming it as a promise is exactly what Satan tempted Jesus with while in the wilderness. One of the temptations involved this very passage when Satan quoted Psalm 91.
“Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off!For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ” (Luke 4:9-12 NLT)
When we claim Psalm 91 as promising to protect us from all suffering, we take it out of context and set ourselves up for disillusionment with God. When we inevitably face suffering, which Jesus said we would, we will claim that we can’t believe or trust the Bible. Psalm 91 was God’s promise to David to keep him from harm; it is not a blanket promise to us. We need to look at Psalm 91 in light of the wider teaching of scripture. For example, Jesus clearly taught that we would face trials and suffering in this life.
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”.” (John 16:33 NLT)
Remember that God promises to work in all things for the good, not that all things will be good.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
God clearly uses suffering and hardship for our good. Towards the end of the story of Joseph in Psalm 51, he looks back on the suffering that he experienced at the hands of his brothers who had sold him into slavery twenty years earlier and says, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Joseph acknowledges the suffering but recognized that God had a good purpose for him through the suffering. In a sense, God was keeping him safe (spiritually speaking) by causing him to have to trust him through suffering. God was maturing him and worked through his circumstances and ultimately kept his family safe through the famine.
In Luke 21, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the difficulties that they would face. He promises that, “not a hair of your head will perish,” despite the fact that some of them will be betrayed and put to death.
You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish.” (Luke 21:16-18 NIV)
The principle, and promise, of Psalm 91 is not that we can claim it to avoid suffering, but that we can take shelter under the wings of God. We can indeed find our refuge in him, but it is a refuge “in trouble” not from it. As we find our ultimate hope and security in Christ, we can live in uncertain days without fear. He is with us and is working for the good in our lives.
Yours In Christ,
Lead Pastor, Frisco First Baptist Church