Psalm 91 teaches us about God’s protection in the midst of danger. He is a shelter, a refuge when we are afraid.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is natural for a lot of people to be afraid of what could happen. No one wants to get the virus. Everyone wants their families and friends to be safe. The whole world is challenged to face potential dangers lurking around. Many are looking for refuge and seeking a fortress where they can be safe, mostly physical and sadly, rarely spiritual.
Psalm 91 is one of the most famous Psalms that eloquently expresses the all-encompassing protection that only the Lord can give. It has been a source of comfort and encouragement to many believers who experience peril and injustice in this fallen world.
Let us study together what Psalm 91 is about so we can learn to pray it and share it with others as well.
What is the Meaning of Psalm 91?
Psalm 91 teaches us of the confidence that God gives His believers no matter what challenges or dangers lie ahead. It helps us remember that He is our refuge and He is our fortress unlike anyone or anything in this world. The Psalm has 5 main divisions, which we will study in this section.
The State of the Godly (Verse 1-2)
Covered by the blood of Christ, the redeemed ones take refuge in God alone. There is no defense more secure than being in Christ. Whatever suffering we may face here on earth, we’re reminded that Jesus has overcome this world and that He promises us eternity where suffering is no more. The Holy Spirit reminds us of this truth and gives us the comfort that we need.
The Safety of the Godly (Verse 3-8)
In verses 3 to 8 of Psalm 91, we can find some of the benefits of trusting God. There is a metaphor there that implies how there is no enemy that will win against us. God can protect us from any deadly disease. Even if we are under attack, He is still with us.
The Habitation of the Godly (Verse 9-10)
If God has chosen you, then you will live in Him. He will be the dwelling place you’ve longed for. What can be safer than where God is? Remember when there were plagues in Egypt and how God faithfully kept His people safe. When judgment time comes, you will be spared in the same way as well if you are faithful. It is Jesus who grants us that faith.
The Servants of the Godly (Verse 11-13)
Being the Lord of Heaven’s armies, God will command the angels to guard you against the enemies who are in this world. Jesus had enemies so it implies that His followers will have enemies as well. Of all enemies, sin and death are the worst. Through Christ, both are defeated. Since He has guarded us against the worst enemies, then there is no reason to worry about the lesser ones.
The Friend of the Godly (Verse 14-16)
Before having Christ, we are all enemies of God. When we are saved by the free grace of Jesus, we are now friends with God. Having God as our true friend, we now have someone who protects us from troubles. He rescues us from evil. Now we can truly honor Him, the only one who can satisfy our hearts. Now we can enjoy Him for eternity.
Who Wrote Psalm 91
It is not clear who wrote Psalm 91. However, there are mentions of plagues like the ones that happened in the times of Moses. Some people say Moses wrote this Psalm when he was still in the desert. David probably compiled what Moses wrote. What is more important than finding out who the author of Psalm 91 is us knowing who is the better David and the better Moses who authored our lives. He is none other than Christ, our refuge and our fortress.
The Promises of Psalm 91
This promise of God’s presence in Psalm 91 usually takes a back seat when reading and praying this psalm, as the highlight is usually on the protection that God gives. While His protection is a beautiful promise, His presence is a vital gift we should also center on. Verse 1 says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
The word “dwell” means “to live in” or “to settle in” with the idea of permanency. God bids us to dwell, to habitually and permanently reside in His shelter, in His care, in His word, in His presence. In the Old Testament, before Jesus came, it was impossible to dwell in God’s presence in the tabernacle or the “holy of holies” because man is utterly sinful while God is utterly holy. The two cannot exist together. Anyone who attempted to enter the tabernacle died, like Aaron’s sons (Leviticus 10:1-3).
We are only able to stand before God now and enjoy His presence (even be invited by God Himself) because of what Jesus did on the cross. God, Himself, provided a way for us to be able to dwell in His presence. What a comforting truth this is, that we can dwell at all times under the shadow of His wings! We face times of trouble and danger with God.
The all-encompassing protection of God never fails and never runs out. This is the meat of Psalm 91. God, out of His goodness and mercy, has promised this to us even though we do not deserve it because of our depravity.
But what does God protect us from?
- Protection from hidden dangers. Verse 3 tells us that God will protect us from the snare of the fowler. A snare is essentially a trap created to catch animals. A fowler is a hunter of game birds, like duck or goose. These snares are skillfully designed and carefully positioned and hidden by the fowlers to make sure that their prey will have no inkling about it. The Lord protects us from snares or traps that the enemy cleverly sets to make us fall. And most of the time these traps come disguised as opportunities or favors or other harmless things, but God being omniscient (all-knowing) spares us from those.
- Protection from open dangers. Verses 5-6 speak about God’s protection over us from arrows that fly by day and destruction that wastes at noonday. These are the more apparent dangers that are shamelessly done by wicked people. It could be through war, nuclear weapons, terrorism, drugs, and trafficking among others.
Even though danger is ever-present in this world, we can still have peace. God has a personal pledge towards those who know His name and hold fast to Him. He promises to deliver, protect, answer, and rescue (Psalm 91:14-15). These are great promises, all of which we want to claim and hold on to.
But sometimes we focus on these more than the next verse. “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”(Psalm 91:16) To those who know Him and hold fast to Him, God promises a long, satisfying life. Yes, this means our earthly life, but even more so this refers to our eternal life with Christ.
In the same verse, God promises that He will show His salvation. The redeeming power of Christ which was shown in His death on the cross and in His resurrection will be revealed in full in our life beyond this world. In eternity, a life forever in God’s presence will indeed be a life of joy, content, and satisfaction.
God Doesn’t Promise a Danger-Free World
There is no place in the Bible where we are told that our earthly life will be storm-free. The false belief no more dangers are lurking around believers is foolish and utterly dangerous. It leads to an unwise and reckless life.
There are many reasons why we still face dangers and experience suffering.
- It is a fallen world. The ruler of this fallen world is the evil one (Ephesians 2:2). We know he only comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), not only the physical things in this world but more so the spiritual treasures, especially that of believers. The enemy puts danger out there to dishearten us so we lose our hope in God.
- We are heirs in Christ. The Bible says that as children of God, we share in the suffering of Christ. But we share not only His suffering but also His coming glory (Romans 8:17).
- It is for our sanctification. If there were no dangers and suffering in this world, can we honestly say that we will still seek the Lord? It is an unfortunate truth that we tend to wander away from the Lord when we are comfortable. We are not made for this world, we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). God desires for us to be sanctified, to be rid of our attachments to this world which is not our eternal home.
Lessons from Psalm 91
Everything in the Bible points to God. As it should, Psalm 91 opens our eyes to who the God that we worship is. Here are important lessons to take away from reading this psalm.
Throughout the entire Psalm, God is called upon in His various names which all refer to His character.
- YHWH – This is pronounced as “Yahweh”, and means “I AM”. He is the eternal God who has no beginning and no end. His existence is not determined or limited by anything. Because of this, He is constant and never changing.
- Elohim – This is more of a category title than a name. It is what Bible authors use to refer to their own God – Yahweh. There is no other god or any spiritual being that compares to Him who is the Creator of everything.
- Elyon – This means “God Most High”. He is the only authority who reigns supreme overall.
- Shadday – This means “God Almighty”. Nothing and no is mightier or more powerful than our God.
Knowing that God is the Almighty, the Highest, the all-knowing, all-powerful God will give us peace and comfort that He will protect and guard us against the snares of the enemy.
God Is Our Refuge
In our fallen, sinful nature we easily resort to trusting in the flesh, in what we can see rather than in our eternal God. As His children, now under His eternal covenant God, it should be natural for us to turn to God as our refuge. All forms of created beings turn to a shelter or a place of refuge during storms or calamities – dogs hide under tables when thunder and lightning comes, foxes to their holes, and birds to dense thickets. As for us, in times of peril, we ought to turn to God, run to Him even.
Another word that illustrates this for us is “fortress”. A fortress is not only a peaceful, hiding place. It is more of a fortified, military stronghold ready to face and fight back any form of attack. How true is this with our Almighty God, right? He is our all-powerful God and we can put our whole confidence in relying on Him.
God is Our Comfort and Peace
Earlier, I mentioned God giving us peace and comfort in times of trouble. But it is important to understand that more than being the source of these much-desired things, He is our peace and our comfort.
Think of it this way – when someone gives you your dream phone or dream watch or dream shoes, your heart is set on that thing given to you. Whether you admit it or not, you’ll have laser focus on it and eventually, the giver will be in the peripheries of your sight and attention. That giver is an imperfect source, also limited in their being and abilities, will not be able to sustain giving you your next dream phone or next dream watch or next dream shoes.
But our God is perfect, limitless, and self-sustaining. He is the great I AM. He is the beginning and the end. He is our salvation, our redemption. He is the One who defeated sin and death, by living the perfect life we should have lived, dying the death we should have died, and rose again so we can have eternal life. He is our greatest treasure, our comfort, and our peace. May we desire Him at all times more than just the things He can give.
How to Pray Psalm 91
Psalm 91 is a powerful prayer of protection over our families and loved ones. But it can be easily misunderstood or misused. First of all, it is crucial to understand that this prayer is powerful not because of the words that we declare nor by the faith that we “come up with” or “gather up” (even our faith is a gift from Christ!), but because of the One to whom our prayer is directed. He is a powerful, miracle-working God. He is the reason why Psalm 91 is powerful.
Second, it is not a prayer to twist God’s hand. If He wills for someone to be healed or spared, it will happen. But If not, He is still God and He is still good. All things always work together for our good (whatever is good according to God’s eyes) and God’s glory (Romans 8:28). Our prayers will not and cannot manipulate God to align His plans to our desires. It is the other way around. When we pray this prayer, we declare the goodness and might of God, trusting and believing in Him. As we pray and seek Him, He changes our hearts and desires to be aligned to His will.
Third, praying this prayer does not mean there will be no more sickness and death for us. Because we live in this fallen, decaying world, these will still be present. Because of sin, we will still experience hurt, pain, trouble, suffering, or face danger. Because of sin, we will still all die according to God’s timeline. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” To us believers, to die is gain.
Of course, this does not mean we cannot believe in healing anymore. As we wait on Jesus to return and make us all new and regenerate our physical bodies, we can and should continue to know His name and hold fast to His word. We can proclaim His promises over our lives and our family’s lives.
With all this in mind, then we can pray Psalm 91 in the way it should be prayed. It helps to memorize the psalm, to meditate on it day and night, and even to make it visible in our homes at all times. But let us always aim to pray the same way Jesus did, “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
How to Apply Psalm 91 Today
Psalm 91 has become more relevant these past 2 years, because of this unprecedented COVID pandemic. We are faced with this “deadly pestilence that stalks in darkness” and a “destruction that wastes as the noonday”. This invisible enemy seems like “an arrow that flies by day” and a “terror of the night”. It has taken lives, incapacitated survivors, devastated, and brought down economies all over the world. It has been an unpredictable adversary. It seems like it’s been a very long night for many of us, if not all.
Amidst this season, we can hold on to God’s word in Psalm 91. As we dwell in the shelter of the Most High, as we abide in the shadow of His wings, as we put our complete trust in Him as our refuge and fortress, we can trust no matter what happens, God is still sovereign. We can hold on to Him, we can call on Him, we can seek Him and He will answer.
Psalm 91 shows how God invites us to dwell in Him, to live in His word, and to abide in Him as we walk daily. It is only in the Lord where we can find security. It is only under His wings that we can find true rest, true peace, and true joy even amidst troubles. We can trust in His never-changing character. In His loving-kindness, He will sanctify us completely even using suffering, only to become more and more like Jesus.