The Shelter of God’s Protection

| Psalm 91:1-16

The Point:  God is my ultimate protection.

God: My Refuge and My Fortress:  Psalm 91:1-16.

[1]  He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. [2]  I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." [3]  For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. [4]  He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. [5]  You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, [6]  nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. [7]  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. [8]  You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. [9]  Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place– the Most High, who is my refuge– [10]  no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. [11]  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. [12]  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. [13]  You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. [14]  "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. [15]  When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. [16]  With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."

“All the psalms are from God and are wonderful. But some have commended themselves to God’s people as being especially rich and comforting and to which they have repeatedly turned in times of sickness, loneliness, and trouble. Psalm 91 is one of these special psalms. It has been committed to heart by thousands of people, and millions have turned to it with thankfulness in the midst of life’s calamities. Psalm 91 may be compared with Psalm 46, which calls God our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble [46:1]. Psalm 91 may also be compared with Psalm 90. Both call God the dwelling place of His people, which is probably why they have been placed together in the Psalter. One striking feature of Psalm 91 is that it consists of three clear movements marked by a change in pronouns. The first movement is marked by the pronoun I [1-2]. It expresses the psalmist’s personal faith in God. The second movement is marked by the pronoun you [3-13]. It is a word from the psalmist to the reader or listener, his word to us. The final stage is marked by the divine pronoun I [14-16]. Here God speaks to the reader to declare what He will be and do for the one who loves Him and calls upon Him.

The Psalmist’s Personal Faith in God. The first verse of the psalm is a thematic statement, expressing what the remainder of the psalm will be about: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. However, as soon as the psalmist makes that statement he immediately breaks in to confess his own faith before commending it to us: I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” [2]. So here is a first point of application: Is Jesus Christ your Lord and God? Is the God of the Bible your refuge in times of trouble? The psalm’s promises are for you only if He is. What promises they are! And with what force they are commended to us! There are four metaphors for the security we can have in God. God will be our shelter and shadow [1] and our refuge and fortress [2]. There are also four names for God, which give substance and strength to the metaphors. His is the Most High, the Almighty [1], the Lord and my God [2]. When the psalmist identifies God as his God in the last expression, it is a way of saying that the shelter, shadow, refuge, and fortress are for those who really do dwell in God and trust Him. Spurgeon wrote, “The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence” (Treasury of David, page 88). So here is a second application: Do you live in close fellowship with God? Do you rest in the shadow of the Almighty? Is He your place of habitual dwelling? The psalm is written to urge you to trust and cling to God in all circumstances.

Trust in God Commended. Having stated his own personal faith in God, the psalmist now commends that faith to us, taking six verses to explain what God will do for the one who trusts Him. The most striking feature of this section is the use of the singular you throughout, which is a way of saying that these truths are for each person individually. They are for you if you will truly trust or abide in God. Verse 3 sets the tone for this section by saying that God will save the trusting soul from two kinds of dangers: first, the subtle snare of enemies, described as the trap a fowler used to catch birds, and second, death by disease or pestilence. This does not mean that those who trust God never die from infectious diseases or suffer from an enemy’s plot, of course. It means that those who trust God are habitually delivered from such dangers. What Christian cannot testify to many such deliverances? Indeed, our entire lives are filled with deliverances from many and manifold dangers, until God finally takes us to be with Himself. The words deadly pestilence [3] and later the pestilence that stalks in darkness and the destruction that wastes at noonday [6] help us recall many instances of such protection. Verse 4 contains two appealing images of God’s protection: first, that of a mother bird, sheltering and protecting her young (He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge) and second, that of a warrior’s armor (his faithfulness is a shield and buckler). The exact meaning of the word buckler is uncertain. The Hebrew word signifies something that is wrapped around a person for his or her protection; such as armor or rampart. Jesus appropriated the first of these two images for Himself, saying as He looked out over the city of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! [Matt. 23:37]. Jesus would have saved and sheltered Jerusalem and its inhabitants, but the people were not willing. They would not come to Him. They would not dwell in the shelter of the Most High. They cried out for His crucifixion instead. As for the second image, we may recall God’s words to Abraham when he was returning from his attack on the kings who had raided Sodom and Gomorrah and carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot. Abraham had won the battle, recovering Lot, the women, and their possessions. But Abraham was in danger of retaliation by these kings. It was then that God spoke to him in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield, your reward shall be very great [Gen. 15:1]. That is what God will be to us, if we will trust Him. Here is an important question: What exactly is it that is said to be the believer’s shield and buckler [4]. God, of course! But in what respect? The ESV says, his faithfulness. The Hebrew word used here is a rich word that has to do with God’s entire character, not just one aspect of His character. What is involved here is God’s faithfulness to His promises or to His word. In other words, it is when we believe God’s Word and act upon it that we find Him to be faithful to what He has promised and learn that He is in truth our shield from dangers and our rampart against enemies. Verses 7-8 describe thousands falling on either side of those who trust God, noting, You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. This interprets the death of the thousands as God’s punishment for sin and places the deliverance of God’s people in that context. In other words, it is not a promise that those who trust God will never die of disease or even in some military conflict, but that they will not suffer those or any other calamities as God’s judgment against them for their sin. Their sin has been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Protection from Dangers: The Condition. Much of what is found in the third stanza of this psalm [9-11] is like what we have seen already. It tells us that no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent [10]. But there are a few new elements. One of them, probably the chief idea because it comes first, is that there is a condition to the kind of protection the psalm has been promising – that the individual make the Lord your dwelling place [9]. This is more than merely believing in God or coming to God occasionally when danger threatens. It means resting in God continually and trusting Him at all times. It means living all of life in God. The second new element reinforces the first and, by means of its use in the New Testament, is an illustration of it. It is the reference to angels, the psalmist saying, For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone [11-12]. This is the verse the devil quoted as part of his temptation of Jesus Christ, recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. It is the only verse of Scripture actually quoted by the devil, at least that we have a record of. But he misquoted it! He left out in all your ways – that is, in the ways marked out for us by God and not our own willful ways. For that was the very essence of the temptation; he wanted Jesus to go His own way rather than trusting God and being contented with God’s way, even if it meant going to the cross. The devil wanted Jesus to test God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple, trusting His Father to send angels to bear Him up so He would not be dashed to pieces when He fell and thus impress the people. Jesus replied rightly, saying, Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test [Matt. 4:7, quoting Deut. 6:16]. Testing God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple would not be going in the way God had given Him to go. It would be the very opposite of trusting God; it would be ‘baiting’ Him or ‘putting Him to the test’. The Lord’s trust in His Father also resulted in Satan’s defeat, another part of the psalm the devil omitted. The psalm tells us that if we go in God’s way, trusting Him to uphold us, then we will tread on the lion and the adder; we will trample underfoot the young lion and the serpent. The Bible elsewhere describes Satan as a roaring lion [1 Peter 5:8] and that ancient serpent [Rev. 12:9; 20:2]. Jesus triumphed over him by trusting God. Likewise, in Christ the righteous will be victorious over Satan too.

God’s Promises for Those Who Trust Him. The last three verses of this psalm contain a confirming oracle of God in which the controlling pronoun switches from you, which dominated in verses 3-13, back to I, as in verse 2. Only here the I is God Himself. In these verses God adds His seal to what the psalmist has been saying. God promises three things to those who trust Him. (1) Protection for the one who is in danger [14]. The psalm speaks throughout of the many dangers that threaten God’s people, but its central message is that God will rescue and protect from all such dangers those who trust Him. Those who have trusted God know this and praise God constantly for His help and protection. (2) An answer for the one who is in trouble and prays to God about it [15]. One of the great blessings of following hard after God is knowing that when we call upon Him He will hear and answer us. These verses say that God will deliver and honor such a person. They also say that God will be with the believer in trouble, which is a way of acknowledging that God does not always lift a Christian out of troubles. Sometimes it is His will that we endure them and profit from them. We are told in Romans that we acquire hope, develop character, and learn perseverance from what we suffer [Rom. 5:3-4]. When we go through such circumstances, God goes through them with us. He sustains us in our sufferings. (3) Long life and salvation for the one who seeks God’s satisfaction [16]. Long life is a blessing frequently promised to the righteous in the Old Testament [Ex. 20:12; Deut. 30:20; Ps. 21:4; 23:6; Prov. 3:2,16], but the promise is not necessarily for a prolongation of days but rather for a complete or full life. Here there is the added promise of a salvation in heaven, yet to come. These verses also make a point that has been developed several times already – the promises are for those who trust in or love God. Therefore, they are blessings that some believers miss out on, simply because they are always fretting and do not trust God as they should. Here the psalmist quotes God as saying that the blessings are for those who love God and acknowledge His name [14], call upon Him [15], and seek satisfaction in what He alone can provide. Do you do that? Or are you still trying to find satisfaction in the world? Do you love the world more than you love Jesus?”  [Boice, pp. 746-752].

Conclusion. We have security in God. When we are sure in His arms, we dare to attempt big things for God. We dare to be holy. We dare to be obedient. We dare, because we know the eternal arms of God will hold us if we fall. This is the bold confidence inspired by the sovereign security which God provides for all believers. Knowing of this divine protection, especially in the face of mounting dangers, God’s people have courage to move forward with great faith. This psalm points the believer to the source of true security – God Himself. The person who trusts completely in God, not in self or in this world, will experience God’s divine protection in all of life. Life Application. In the many circumstances of life, we must learn to put our trust in God. The Lord is our security, our only sure shield and shelter from all harm. We may always have confidence that His protection is greater than any danger that threatens us. No matter how great the adversity we may face, God is bigger than the adversity and remains in full control. He is always over all. Thus, we must trust him completely. (1) Trust God’s Protection. Nothing can come into our lives unless it comes through God’s hands first. He can keep out any danger He chooses. Whatever He allows into our lives is there by divine appointment to work for our good. (2) Trust God’s Power. As we abide under God’s protection, we are enabled by divine grace to bear up under the greatest trial. In our weakness God’s strength is made perfect. He gives a greater grace that enables us to press on in the midst of the storm. (3) Trust God’s peace. Peace is more than the absence of trouble. It is the presence of a supernatural calm in the midst of our trouble in which God steadies and satisfies our hearts with Himself. When all others are distant, we have a divine peace that surpasses all comprehension.”  [Lawson, p. 92].

Questions for Discussion:

1          In verses 1-2, what are the four metaphors for the security we have in God? What are the four names for God? Do you trust in this God for the security expressed by the metaphors?

2.         Look at what God says to those who trust Him in verses 14-16. What three conditions are there in these verses (because … because … when)? Look at the six “I will’s”. What eight things does God say He will do for those who meet the three conditions?

3.         What are you particularly anxious about these days, for which God is waiting on you to call His name and acknowledge your need? How can you make God your dwelling place, your refuge, your shield in times of trouble?

References:

Psalms, volume 2, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, volume 3, John Goldingay, Baker.

Psalms 76-150, Steven Lawson, Holman Reference.