Psalm 91 – Week Three of Psalms
Do you ever stop to think of the many items we use on a daily basis as means of protection?
Seatbelts, sunscreen, bandaids, deodorant, umbrellas, shoes, gloves, coats, hats, sunglasses, toothpaste, vitamins, deadbolt locks, headlights, face masks, oven mitts, bath mats, blankets, computer virus detectors, caller ID, peepholes or cameras at our doors, hand sanitizer, cell phones, moisturizers, dental floss, even Ziploc freezer bags.
We routinely reach for these items and so many more to protect us from extremes in weather, illnesses, diseases, intruders, unwanted guests, damages, injuries to our body, even freezer burn. All throughout our day, we are using the resources we have available to us to protect us in various ways. But here’s the problem. These things have the potential to fail us or let us down. How many of you have gone out in the rain with your umbrella covering your head, but the bottom half of you still got soaking wet? Does anyone use a moisturizer daily but somehow still manage to get wrinkles, laugh lines, and crows’ feet? Face masks and hand sanitizer have become part of our daily ritual and yet, how many of us have come down with COVID? Sometimes these items of protection can only do such much and we end up with the very thing we were trying to avoid in the first place.
Here’s another problem. When I was about 16 or 17 years old, I went on a youth trip to Florida with my church youth choir. We were doing a little bit of a choir tour and several outdoor concerts were planned. We also had a full day scheduled to spend on the beach in the middle of the tour just so that we could have some fun in the midst of our week. In case you don’t know or haven’t noticed, I’m pretty fair-skinned. My skin burns very easily. My mom, in reviewing the itinerary and seeing that we had the day on the beach plus several outdoor concerts, made sure I had a big bottle of sunscreen with an SPF of like a million. She kept reminding me that I needed to be diligent about applying it every day, all day.
Well…..see here’s the thing. When you’re 16 or 17 years old, it’s not necessarily “cool” to lather up in sunscreen continuously. I wanted physical evidence that I had been in the sun. But while the others in my group were pushing aside their sundress straps to show their tan lines, I was growing a mass population of blisters alongside my straps. The day on the beach was my undoing. Our bus had taken us to the beach, dropped us off so that we could enjoy a full day in the sun. There was literally no shelter. No umbrellas to rent, no huts to stand under. My only place of refuge was in the shadow cast by the one port-a-potty that was a good distance from where we were all hanging out. If you are thinking I thought I was too cool to sit beside the port-a-potty to escape the direct rays of the sun, you are correct.
While the others were lathering up with coconut oil and enhancing their tans, I was more of a human experiment in an outdoor air fryer. When the bus came, at last, to pick us up, I could barely walk. My skin was so burned I couldn’t sit on the bus so I stood in between the seats. Several days later as we made the trip back to Georgia, I wasn’t able to ride the bus. Instead, they placed me in the back of the van that was carrying the handbells, the tables, and the foam rubber padding that is used on handbell tables to absorb the sound. And just so you can get the full picture, I was laid out on top of the foam rubber padding. All by my lonesome. Staring up at the roof of the van. It was the best way the chaperones could think of to make me comfortable. In case you are wondering, I did not feel so “cool” at the time.
When I got home and my mom came to pick me up, she was too angry to even speak. She drove me to the doctor who diagnosed me as having sun poisoning. I was prescribed some medication, told to take lukewarm baths with tea bags and to drink tons of water. I didn’t feel up to unpacking my bags, so my mom did it. As she came across that ginormous bottle of sunscreen that she had made sure I had, she just looked at me and shook her head. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel worse. I was miserable. I not only hurt physically, but I was severely nauseated. Every inch of me was in pain. But that look that my mom gave me was the worst of it all. I knew I had disappointed her. I knew what I had done was just plain stupid. I knew that I had messed up. It took several weeks for my body to heal, but I ended up with a massive number of freckles on my back and shoulders. As the healing progressed and I saw the ugly freckles pop up, my mom told me to see them for what they were: scars that were caused by me not using what I had been given to protect me.
Psalm 91: 1 GNT “Whoever goes to the Lord for safety,
whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty,
2 can say to him,
“You are my defender and protector.
You are my God; in you I trust.”
3 He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers
and from all deadly diseases.
4 He will cover you with his wings;
you will be safe in his care;
his faithfulness will protect and defend you.
5 You need not fear any dangers at night
or sudden attacks during the day
6 or the plagues that strike in the dark
or the evils that kill in daylight.
7 A thousand may fall dead beside you,
ten thousand all around you,
but you will not be harmed.
8 You will look and see
how the wicked are punished.”
There are multiple references to protection and safety as well as things for which we need to be protected and from which we need to be kept safe.
-dangers at night
-sudden attacks during the day
I’d love to share the story and inspiration behind this Psalm, but I can’t. The reason that I can’t is that we don’t know for sure who wrote this. When we think of the writings in Psalms we automatically consider King David as the author. That is understandable since he is credited with most of the writings. It’s not that these words could have been penned by David.
Do you remember what the young David said to Goliath the giant as he stood before him? 1 Samuel 17:45 CEV “You’ve come out to fight me with a sword and a spear and a dagger. But I’ve come out to fight you in the name of the LORD All-Powerful. ”
David is boldly approaching Goliath because he feels protected and safe with the Lord on his side. Later, after his victorious win over Goliath, David found himself to be the object of Saul’s jealousy. Saul made it his mission to be rid of David once and for all. But David went to the Lord for safety. 1 Samuel 23:14 NASB “David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds, and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul searched for him every day, but God did not hand him over to him.”
David could have easily written the words describing God’s protection in Psalms 91, but then again, so could Daniel. Daniel 6:22 NRSV “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me” Daniel relied on God’s protection in the lions’ den. He had a close relationship with God and therefore had faith that God would keep him safe.
This psalm could have been the words of Ruth. Consider the wording of verse 4 of Psalm 91. “He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care;” Psalm 91:4 GNT Now consider the words that Boaz spoke to Ruth in the second chapter. “Boaz answered her, “I’ve heard all about you—heard about the way you treated your mother-in-law after the death of her husband, and how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers. God reward you well for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from God, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.” Ruth 2:11-12 MSG
It’s widely believed that neither Ruth, Daniel nor King David wrote the 91st Psalm. But they could have. They all had experiences that would have given life to those words. Bible scholars and others who know the Bible well share the opinion that this psalm was written by Moses, but no one knows for sure. I kind of like the idea that we don’t know who wrote it and what the circumstances were behind it. Not knowing that information gives us the liberty to make it personal.
The first two verses of Psalm 91 qualify those that God defends and protects. It is those who go to the Lord and remain there. See God is a source of protection for us when we go to Him and remain with Him. Most translations use the phrases “lives” or “dwells” here. Would you agree that most of us just visit? We don’t dwell with Him as it was intended.
Think of it like this. I had that big ole bottle of sunscreen with me. I just didn’t use it. Not once. And even if I had used it one time, I still would have ended up with sun poisoning because the idea with sunscreen is that you need to reapply it as you go throughout the day. God, like sunscreen, needs to be applied to our lives on a frequent and regular basis so that we benefit from the protection He offers. God thinks of us constantly. Psalm 139:17 NET “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” But how often could God say that about your thoughts? Are we thinking of Him all throughout the day or just when trouble comes along? When a need pops up?
Psalm 91 is so chock full of promises to those who abide in the presence of God. My hope for this lesson is for each of us to make this personal. Not to imagine King David, Moses, or anyone else writing of their experience but rather to take these words inspired by God and make them yours.
Psalm 91:1 HCSB “The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.”
The idea of shadows can sometimes invoke fear. There’s something a bit mysterious about shadows. Have you ever seen a movie scene in which a person is suddenly covered by a shadow indicating that some monster or enemy has crept upon them? “The image of a shadow can carry powerful meanings in literature and art. It can foreshadow sinister events or alert the reader or viewer to hidden dangers or forces.” [i] I spent some time this week playing with my great-nieces. They are 2 and 4 years old. Maddie, the youngest, had gotten a flashlight and turned it on. She then told me we needed to go to her room where it was dark. Of course, I followed her, and Bailey, the oldest joined us. We got back to the room and the blinds were opened just a bit so Maddie quickly closed those while Bailey shut the door making the room pretty dark. They took turns with the flashlight, and we all took turns making shadow puppets. We giggled and laughed and had so much fun trying to guess what animal puppet we were making. Bailey, ever-creative Bailey, was making up imaginary animals that I couldn’t even begin to guess. Her favorite was a “poodle-ma-doodle” and so, of course, Maddie had to do her own version of a “poodle-ma-doodle”. As we were laughing at the shadows and having fun, a thought occurred to me. There was a lot of joy in the time we spent in the shadows. God wants us to experience His joy at all times – especially when we are covered by His shadow.
Anyone ever go through what they describe as a dark time in their life? I have; in fact, I’ve used that phrase many times. But what if the darkness was really caused by us being protected in the shadow of the Almighty? Wouldn’t there still be joy in His shadow? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that shadows can only exist where there is light. So think back on what you’ve perceived as a dark time in your life. Now envision God hovering over you, protecting you, shielding you during that time. It can make a world of difference when we view the darkness as being cradled in God’s shadow. And remember that we can only be covered by His shadow if we are close to Him.
Do you feel as if there’s a dark cloud surrounding you and you feel swallowed up in darkness? Maybe it’s not you but someone that you know or someone whose situation you’ve heard about. Either way, let’s pray and ask God to change our perception of the situation.
Psalm 91:3 ESV “God will save you from hidden dangers and from deadly diseases. (Other translations reference the hunter’s net and the destructive plague, snare of the fowler and moral pestilence, every trap and deadly disease.) 4 You can go to him for protection. He will cover you like a bird spreading its wings over its babies. You can trust him to surround and protect you like a shield.”
It comes as no surprise that if we are a child of God’s then we are an enemy of Satan’s and Satan will do his very best to trap us, snare us, and infect us with a sinful plague. We need to be protected by every threat the enemy hurls at us. We often don’t see the traps that have been specifically set for us so we need to be covered and surrounded by God at all times in order to be kept safe. Does that mean that we don’t encounter difficult and trying times? No. We know that God uses trials in our lives to mature us, grow us and refine us. But Satan often piggybacks on those trials and tempts us in ways to separate us from God. Have you noticed that we are most often tempted when going through trials? So much so that it’s hard to tell the difference. “Temptation will usually attack a weak spot; trials test our strength as well as exposing a weakness we may have been unaware of .”[ii] Staying close to God enables us to know the difference and to be protected from giving in to temptations while growing from the trials. Isaiah 38:17 CEV “It was for my own good that I had such hard times. But your love protected me from doom in the deep pit, and you turned your eyes away from my sins.”
If you find yourself in the midst of a trial or you know someone else who is struggling, let’s pray and ask God for the protection that He offers.
Psalm 91: 5 ERV “You will have nothing to fear at night and no need to be afraid of enemy arrows during the day. 6 You will have no fear of diseases that come in the dark or terrible suffering that comes at noon. 7 A thousand people may fall dead at your side or ten thousand right beside you, but nothing bad will happen to you! 8 All you will have to do is watch, and you will see that the wicked are punished.”
Nighttime can be a scary time. If you watch horror movies or read mysteries, you know that nighttime is when the creepy are most active. But this tells us that as long as we dwell with God, there’s nothing to fear – not even at night. We’re also given protection during the daytime as well. If this was written by Moses, the reference to the thousands of people falling dead could be a reference to the plagues that were inflicted upon the Egyptians or those who were killed in the Red Sea, both events in which the Israelites were spared. The comfort that we’re given is that we don’t need to be afraid. This scripture assures us that nothing bad will happen to us and as much as we’d like to pull that one phrase out and hang it on the wall, we have to consider the context and its meaning. Remember, these promises are for those who choose to dwell with God and to be covered by His shield. When we are in that place, although bad things happen, God has a way of transforming the bad things into good things for us. If we are in His presence, then we are able to see the good resurrected from the bad.
Maybe there’s something bad that you’ve experienced and you’ve just not been able to see God’s goodness in it. Perhaps you know someone who needs to have their eyes opened to see God’s loving hand. Let’s pray about it.
Psalm 91:11 ESV “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.“
These verses are somewhat familiar to us. Satan uses scripture to tempt Jesus. In Matthew 4:5 NIV “5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
What is really significant about this is that it shows us how scripture can be manipulated to cause us to stumble. Satan uses the words of God to tempt the Son of God! If you have any doubts about the boldness of Satan, that alone should make it clear. On our own, we are defenseless. So much so that God not only protects us Himself, but He commands His angels to guard us. We have more than adequate protection if we’ll only use it. We must remain under the umbrella of safety that God provides so that when, not if, but when Satan attempts to manipulate us, we are equipped with the unfailing resources of God.
Do you recall at the Last Supper when Jesus tells Peter that before the rooster crows, he would deny Jesus three times? Right before Jesus delivers this heartbreaking prophecy, He tells him of Satan’s plan. Luke 22:31 ISV “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has asked permission to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail..”
Not a single one of us can stand up to Satan on our own. None of us are clever enough to see every trap he lays. None of us are wise enough to predict his movements. None of us are cunning enough to think like he does. But God is able to do not only all of these things, but He is able to shield us from succumbing and giving us victory over the enemy!
If you or someone you care about is being attacked by the enemy, let’s pray specifically.
The end of the chapter concludes with words from God Himself. Psalm 91: 14 CEV “The Lord says, “If you love me and truly know who I am, I will rescue you and keep you safe.15 When you are in trouble, call out to me. I will answer and be there to protect and honor you. 16 You will live a long life and see my saving power.”
That promise is made to those who love Him and truly know Him. The best way to love and know someone is to spend time with them. Find comfort in His shadow. Find protection behind His shield. Find rest beneath His wings.