Psalm 91 – The Assurance Given to those Who Trust in God
This psalm has no title, and therefore the author remains unknown. Because it shares some of the themes of Psalm 90, some think Moses was the author. Because it shares some of the themes and phrases of Psalms 27 and 31, some think the author was David. “Some of its language, of strongholds and shields, reminds us of David, to whom the Septuagint ascribes it; other phrases echo the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, as did Psalm 90; but it is in fact anonymous and timeless, perhaps all the more accessible for that.” (Derek Kidner)
Many have noted the wonderful character of this psalm: “This psalm is one of the greatest possessions of the saints.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
“In the whole collection there is not a more cheering Psalm, its tone is elevated and sustained throughout, faith is at its best, and speaks nobly.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“It is one of the most excellent works of this kind which has ever appeared. It is impossible to imagine anything more solid, more beautiful, more profound, or more ornamented.” (de Muis, cited in Spurgeon)
A. The assurance of God’s protection.
1. (1-2) The protection, comfort, and care of Yahweh.
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
a. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High: God has a secret place for His own (Psalm 27:5, 31:20), and it is a place to live in. Those who dwell there abide under the shadow of the Almighty, knowing His protection, comfort, and care.
i. In Psalm 90:1, Moses spoke of God as the dwelling place of His people. The opening lines of Psalm 91 seem to take that idea further. “Moses spoke of God as the dwelling-place, the habitation, the home of man. This singer seems to accept that great idea, and then to speak of the most central chamber of the dwelling-place, referring to it as the Secret Place, and describing its complete security.” (Morgan)
ii. There are many followers of Jesus Christ who seem to know very little of the secret place of the Most High or what it is to abide under His shadow. Many seem to regard this as only a thing for mystics or the super-spiritual. Yet David, if he wrote this, was a warrior and man well acquainted with the realities of life. It is true that the life of the spirit seems to come more easily for some than for others, but there is an aspect of the secret place of the Most High that is for everyone who puts his trust in Him.
iii. “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.” (Spurgeon)
iv. The shadow of the Almighty: “This is an expression which implies great nearness. We must walk very close to a companion, if we would have his shadow fall on us.” (Duncan, cited in Spurgeon)
v. Spurgeon (borrowing from Frances Ridley Havergal) suggested four ways the Scripture speaks of the shadow of the Almighty.
· The shadow of the rock (Isaiah 32:2).
· The shadow of the tree (Song of Solomon 2:3).
· The shadow of His wings (Psalm 63:7).
· The shadow of His hand (Isaiah 49:2).
vi. These first two verses of Psalm 91 use four wonderful titles or names for God:
· Most High: Elyon.
· Almighty: Shadday.
· The LORD: Yahweh.
· My God: Elohay.
b. He is my refuge and my fortress: The one who lives intimately with God knows the greatness of His protection. God Himself becomes like a mighty refuge and fortress for the believer.
i. My refuge: “Have you ever said definitely, ‘O Lord, thou art my refuge’? Fleeing from all other, have you sheltered in Him from the windy storm and tempest, from the harrow by day, and pestilence by night, from man and devil? You must avow it. Do not only think it, but say it.” (Meyer)
c. My God, in Him I will trust: This close relationship with God and all the benefits that come from it are for those who know Yahweh as God, and who truly trust in Him. As a believer receives His protection, comfort, and care, he trusts God all the more, and increasingly knows Him as God.
i. “Men are apt enough to proclaim their doubts, and even to boast of them, indeed there is a party nowadays of the most audacious pretenders to culture and thought, who glory in casting suspicion upon everything; hence it becomes the duty of all true believers to speak out and testify with calm courage to their own well-grounded reliance upon their God.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Spurgeon suggested many different Biblical examples of people who had their own expression of the phrase My God.
· My God is the young convert’s confession (Ruth, as in Ruth 1:16).
· My God is the individual Christian’s belief (Thomas, as in John 20:28).
· My God is the declaration of the believer when opposed (Micaiah, as in 1 Kings 22:14).
· My God is the secret vow of the believer in consecration (Jacob, as in Genesis 32:28-30).
· My God is the deepest comfort to God’s children in great woe (Jesus, as in Matthew 27:46).
· My God is the celebration for the victorious believer (Miriam, as in Exodus 15:21).
2. (3-4) How God brings His protection, comfort, and care.
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
a. Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler: Following the general statement of the first two verses, now the psalmist describes the specific ways God protects and cares for His people – beginning with rescue from those who would trap God’s people as the fowler snares birds.
i. These are “…metaphors for the plots which would entangle our affairs (Psalm 140:1-5) or compromise our loyalty (Psalm 119:110).” (Kidner)
ii. “We are foolish and weak as poor little birds, and are very apt to be lured to our destruction by cunning foes, but if we dwell near to God, he will see to it that the most skilful deceiver shall not entrap us.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The devil and his agents often work as the fowler works.
· The fowler works in secret.
· The fowler changes his trap and methods.
· The fowler often entices with pleasure or profit.
· The fowler often uses a bad example, a decoy.
iv. “The most striking feature of this section (and the one following) 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.” (Boice)
b. And from the perilous pestilence: God also protects His people in times of plague and disease. The psalmist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, did not intend this as an absolute promise, that every believer would be delivered from every snare or every pestilence. Instead, the idea is that the psalmist could point to many times when God did just that for His trusting people.
i. “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?” (Boice)
ii. “Lord Craven, a Christian, was a nobleman who was living in London when plague ravaged the city in the fifteenth century. In order to escape the spreading pestilence Craven determined to leave the city for his country home, as many of his social standing did. He ordered his coach and baggage made ready. But as he was walking down one of the halls of his home about to enter his carriage, he overheard one of his servants say to another, ‘I suppose by my lord’s quitting London to avoid the plague that his God lives in the country and not in town.’ It was a straightforward and apparently innocent remark. But it struck Lord Craven so deeply that he canceled his journey, saying, ‘My God lives everywhere and can preserve me in town as well as in the country. I will stay where I am.’ So he stayed in London. He helped the plague victims, and he did not catch the disease himself.” (Boice)
iii. There is also a spiritual understanding and application of this. “The soul hath likewise her enemies, ready to attack and surprise her at all hours.” (Horne)
iv. “Children of God are not always immune from physical plague and pestilence; but they are ever guarded from destructive spiritual forces as they dwell in the secret place of the Most High.” (Morgan)
c. He shall cover you with His feathers: In a metaphor, God is represented as a bird, sheltering young chicks under His wings – as David previously described in Psalm 61:4.
i. “The mother eagle, spreading her…wing over her eaglets, is a wonderful symbol of the union of power and gentleness.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Saith Luther; it is faith which maketh thee the little chicken, and Christ the hen; that thou mayest hide, and hope, and hover, and cover under his wings; for there is health in his wings.” (Trapp)
iii. Boice connected Matthew 23:37 to verse 4: “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.” (Boice)
d. His truth shall be your shield and buckler: The pictures of God’s protection continue with His truth represented as the smaller, often round shield and the larger, often rectangular shield, the buckler.
i. “As for God’s care, it combines the warm protectiveness of a parent bird with the hard, unyielding strength of armour.” (Kidner)
ii. Shield and buckler: “Double armour has he who relies upon the Lord. He bears a shield and wears an all-surrounding coat of mail.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Boice on buckler: “The Hebrew word signifies something that is wrapped around a person for his or her protection; hence, it can mean ‘buckler,’ ‘armor,’ or, as in the New International Version, a ‘rampart’ or fortress.”
3. (5-6) The result of God’s protection and care.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
a. You shall not be afraid: Having God as a shelter and refuge gives strength and courage to the people of God. When God’s people are stuck deep in fear, it is an indication that they fall short of proper trust in God as protector and comforter.
i. “Not to be afraid is in itself an unspeakable blessing, since for every suffering which we endure from real injury we are tormented by a thousand griefs which arise from fear only.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “In life the Lord may permit many terrible things to happen to his children (cf. Job), as he did to his own Son, our Lord. But his children know that no power is out of God’s control.” (VanGemeren)
b. Of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day: The psalmist represented all kinds of destruction that could come in all kinds of circumstances. It could come by night or by day, in darkness or at noonday. It could come as terror or by arrow, as a pestilence or as destruction. Whenever or however it comes, God is able to defend His people.
i. “The assaults of enemies and the devastations of pestilence are taken in Psalm 91:5-6 as types of all perils.” (Maclaren)
4. (7-8) Assurance for the believer.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
a. A thousand may fall at your side: The psalmist described how God’s protection could conquer any odds or probabilities. God’s protection and care could be so specifically focused that it can preserve one in ten thousand.
i. “It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward. Ill to him is no ill, but only good in a mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.” (Spurgeon)
b. See the reward of the wicked: In contrast to the protection of His chosen, God has also appointed a reward for the wicked. God’s people are encouraged to look at this truth and carefully consider it.
B. The assurance repeated twice over.
1. (9-13) Repeating the promise of deliverance and assurance of victory.
Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
a. Because you have made the LORD…your dwelling place: The principles and promises in verses 10 through 16 are directed toward those who trust in the LORD, making Him their dwelling place – their source of life and satisfaction.
b. No evil shall befall you: The previous promises (verses 5-8) of security and safety even in a time of plague are repeated. Again, this is not regarded as an absolute promise for every believer in every circumstance, because beloved people of God have fallen to evil or died in plague. It is the happy expectation of the psalmist and a general expression of God’s protection, comfort, and care for His people.
i. “Martin Luther wrote that this refers to ‘one who really dwells and does not merely appear to dwell and does not just imagine that he dwells’ in God.” (Boice)
ii. “This and such-like promises are not to be understood absolutely and universally, as if no truly good man could be cut off by the plague or other common calamities, which is confimed both by other plain texts of Scripture, and by unquestionable experience.” (Poole)
iii. “For it may befall a saint to share in a common calamity; as the good corn and weeds are cut down together, but for a different end and purpose.” (Trapp)
iv. “God doth not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.” (Watson, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling: Charles Spurgeon gave remarkable testimony to a specific fulfillment of this promise:
i. “In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words:‘Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.’ The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvellous power I adore the Lord my God.” (Spurgeon)
d. For He shall give His angels charge over you: This describes another way God may send His protection and care unto His people – through His angels, commanding them to keep and bear…up His people.
i. “The angels of God shall have an especial charge to accompany, defend, and preserve thee; and against their power, the influence of evil spirits cannot prevail. These will, when necessary, turn thy steps out of the way of danger; ward it off when it comes in thy ordinary path.” (Clarke)
ii. “Charge; charge is a strict command, more than a bare command; as when you would have a servant do a business certainly and fully, you lay a charge upon him, I charge you that you do not neglect that business; you do not barely tell what he should do, prescribe him his work, but you charge him to do it. So says the Lord unto the angels.” (Bridge, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. “Not one guardian angel, as some fondly dream, but all the angels are here alluded to…. They have received commission from their Lord and ours to watch carefully over all the interests of the faithful.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “How angels thus keep us we cannot tell. Whether they repel demons, counteract spiritual plots, or even ward off the subtler physical forces of disease, we do not know. Perhaps we shall one day stand amazed at the multiplied services which the unseen bands have rendered to us.” (Spurgeon)
v. “Let us remember that it is GOD, whose these angels are; HE gives them charge – from HIM they receive their commission – to HIM they are responsible for their charge. From God thou art to expect them; and for their help he alone is to receive the praise. It is expressly said, He shall give his angels charge; to show that they are not to be prayed to nor praised; but GOD alone, whose servants they are.” (Clarke)
e. For He shall give His angels charge over you: The promise in verses 11 and 12 was quoted and twisted by Satan in His temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-7, Luke 4:9-12). Satan tempted Jesus to create an artificial crisis by throwing Himself from a high point on the temple mount, and Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 as a promise of protection if Jesus were to do this.
i. As Matthew 4 records, Satan’s quotation of Psalm verses 11 and 12 is a pattern of how he twists the word of God.
· Verses 11 and 12 were falsely quoted, because the devil left out the words to keep you in all your ways. To test God in this way was not Jesus’ way; it was not the way of the Savior. “God had never promised, nor ever given, any protection of angels in sinful and forbidden ways.” (Poole on Matthew 4)
· This text is wrongly applied, because it was not used to teach or encourage, but intended instead to deceive: “…making this word a promise to be fulfilled upon Christ’s neglect of his duty; extending the promise of special providence as to dangers into which men voluntarily throw themselves.” (Poole on Matthew 4)
ii. In a strange way we are grateful for Satan’s attempt in Matthew 4, because it helps us better understand Psalm 91. We see that it does not give absolute promises for every believer in every circumstance, but beautiful promises of God’s protection, comfort, and care that are specifically received and applied in the believer by the Holy Spirit.
iii. The angels were there to help Jesus in His temptation, just not in the way the devil suggested (Matthew 4:11).
f. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra: The protection of God to His people extends beyond the general deliverance from harm; it also speaks of a general granting of victory to His people, even over opponents as strong as the young lion and the cobra.
i. These words are “…depicting God’s servants not merely as survivors but as victors, who trample deadly enemies under foot.” (Kidner)
ii. There is another interesting connection with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. “The Lord’s trust in his Father also resulted in Satan’s defeat, another part of the psalm the devil omitted.” (Boice)
2. (14-16) God’s promise to and blessing over the one who loves Him.
“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”
a. Because he has set his love upon Me: These last three verses are set in the first person as God speaks promise and blessing over His people. He speaks specifically over those who set their love upon Him. It has been wonderfully noted that the last words of this psalm are not spoken by God’s people, but to God’s people.
i. He has set his love upon Me: This “…is used elsewhere in contexts of setting one’s heart on somebody or on some enterprise. As man’s commitment to God it comes only here.” (Kidner)
ii. To set one’s love upon God means to do it by choice. He does not wait for the feeling of love to come, but simply chooses to think and act toward God in ways that express and build love. This would include:
· Spending time with God.
· Listening to God.
· Reading what God has written to us.
· Speaking to God.
· Thinking of God in unoccupied moments.
· Adoring God.
· Speaking of God to others.
· Giving to God and making glad sacrifices to Him and for Him.
iii. Our present culture often thinks of love as something that happens to people, not something chosen. The phrase because he has set his love on Me reminds us that a significant aspect of love is indeed a choice, and this describes in part the love we should give unto God.
b. Therefore I will deliver Him: The promises and principles stated previously in this psalm are repeated again, but this time from the perspective of God Himself. God will protect His beloved and set him on high – and do it because he has known My name, having a real relationship with God.
i. I will set him on high: “I will place him out of the reach of all his enemies. I will honour and ennoble him, because he hath known my name – because he has loved, honoured, and served me, and rendered me that worship which is my due. He has known me to be the God of infinite mercy and love.” (Clarke)
ii. “There 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 (verse 14), call upon him (verse 15), and seek satisfaction in what he alone can provide.” (Boice)
c. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: God promises to answer the prayer of the one who loves Him, and the one who genuinely knows Him.
d. I will be with him: In the last lines of the psalm, God spoke personal and wonderful blessings over the one who loves and knows Him:
· The blessing of His presence: I will be with him in trouble.
· The blessing of His protection: I will deliver him.
· The blessing of His promotion: I will…honor him.
· The blessing of His prosperity: With long life I will satisfy him.
· The blessing of His preservation: And show him My salvation.
i. I will be with him: “So, no man need add solitude to sadness, but may have God sitting with him, like Job’s friends, waiting to comfort him with true comfort.” (Maclaren)
ii. I will be with him in trouble: “Again God speaks and acts like a tender-hearted mother towards a sickly child. When the child is in perfect health she can leave it in the hands of the nurse; but when it is sick she will attend it herself; she will say to the nurse, ‘You may attend a while to some other business, I will watch over the child myself.’” (Dawson, cited in Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org