by Frank Luke
God provides shelter and protection for those who fight on His side.
Most Christians are familiar with Paul’s instructions to put on the whole armor of God. Paul instructs the believer in the pieces of armor that a Roman soldier would wear for battle or regular duty. The Old Testament likewise teaches us about being a warrior for God.
Warriors for God are not just born. They are made. Forged in fire to become the weapon that God intends them to be. Warriors learn to lean into the Most High and become what God wants them to be. The relationship a warrior has with God is returned. He who loves God will be cared for by God. Turn to Psalm 91 for the passage this morning.
The psalm is anonymous. We don’t know who wrote it. It may be from David or it may not. There is no header on this psalm, unlike 116 of the 150 psalms. Not even “A Psalm” graces the first verse. What we know is this psalm was written by someone of deep faith who had fought in battle. He knows what it means to rest in the Almighty. The psalm speaks of how God responds to the one who places trust in Him during the most trying times.
Psalm 91:1 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 it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. 5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side And ten thousand at your right hand, But it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes And see the recompense of the wicked. 9 For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. 11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down. 14 “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. 15 “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 “With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation.”
What the Faithful Say to God (91:1-2)
91 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!”
The psalm starts out with a grand promise! He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. We see two names for God here, the Most High and the Almighty. Both speak of his unending power and his overwhelming majesty. “Most High” as God’s name appears almost only in poetry.
The Most High offers protection and shelter here and in Psalm 9. Even though he is Judge of all the World, He still has a special concern for Zion. Psalm 73:11 tells us how futile it is to hide from the Most High who sees all.
He is the Almighty. The one who introduced himself to Abraham and offered him the covenant. I have often wondered what God saw in Abraham’s life to give that covenant. Scripture tells us that Abraham had been an idolater at some point before the call. We know that our faith is known by our works. What did Abraham do in his life before that meeting that showed he would be faithful to the covenant?
Hebrew poems only rhyme by accident. The language uses too many suffixes to consider reuse of them an art form. Hebrew poets will repeat themselves in other words, first, and then get more creative. See how the poet works in the first verse: “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The second half uses the same concepts as the first. Most High and Almighty. Dwell and abide. Shelter and shadow.
We read on that the poet calls God his refuge and fortress. He expresses trust in Him. From the beginning, we see how trust in God leads to. Trust leads to tangible blessings in the form of deliverance and honor. It provides protection in the worst circumstances.
Think about those who don’t trust. In Numbers, the Israelites tried to invade Canaan after God said no. The sent the spies, ten of the spies gave a bad report, only Joshua and Caleb said, “God can defeat our enemies.” The people listened to the ten. God said, “Then you will wander in the desert until this generation is dead.” Some tried anyway and were soundly defeated.
But the thing we have to learn about trust is that our father’s faith is never enough. We have to have our own faith in God. Men of the very generation that entered Canaan and saw God defeat mighty armies told Joshua they feared the Canaanites with iron chariots in Joshua 17:16. Joshua told them keep trusting; God will overcome those armies. When the people pursued the tribe with iron chariots, they feared and God would not turn away the chariots.
This is the same kind of situation as when Jesus was not able to do many miracles because of their unbelief. He returned to His hometown, and their lack of faith prevented “many” miracles. On the other hand, the father in Mark 9 who brought his demon-possessed son for healing told Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
That father’s faith has always impressed me. “I believe; help where I don’t.”
We need to be honest with God. He knows anyway. We look at this incident and think, “Well, why wouldn’t the man say it? Jesus is the Son of God and knew.”
This man didn’t know that. He called Jesus “Teacher,” not “Lord.” He understood afterwards how great Jesus was, but at the time of the request, he knew Jesus was a teacher sent from God who could do great things.
When you trust God, you see Him as a refuge, fortress, shelter, and a place to rest.
God’s Actions for the Faithful (91:3-13)
3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. 5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side And ten thousand at your right hand, But it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes And see the recompense of the wicked. 9 For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. 11For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.
We come now to the heart of the psalm, and we see how God acts for the faithful. In these 11 verses, God delivers and covers the faithful. What does He deliver you from? From the snare of the trapper and the deadly pestilence. He delivers both from those who lie in wait against the faithful and the calamities that come upon them. Jeremiah repeatedly says that pestilence often comes with sword and famine. It can be any kind of disaster here; sickness, pests, even an invasion of larger beasts. In all but a handful of instances in the Old Testament, these disasters are recognized as sent by God or are threats of punishment from God. According to both Solomon and Jehoshaphat, one reason people pray is to hold back pestilence.
One of my favorite things about Hebrew poets is how they will put smaller poems within the whole poem. In these verses, we have three mini poems in verses 4, 13, and 14. See how the psalmist here repeats himself but backwards. “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings, you may seek refuge.” Instead of repeating in the same order, he reverses himself. Cover to pinions, then wings before refuge. Further, the cover is like a shield and the bulwark is like refuge.
Throughout this psalm, God wants us to understand how He protects us. From the first verse to the last, it is all about God’s protection for the faithful.
The faithful need not be afraid of anything. “The terror by night, the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence (same as before) that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that lays waste at noon.” Like all Hebrew poetry, this is the same concept repeated. We need not fear! When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 in the Upper Room, they spoke without fear. They knew what they risked, and did it anyway. They went out and turned the Roman Empire upside down with the words of Christ. Now, we hold back for fear of having our Twitter account suspended.
Here’s the most amazing thing I learned while preparing for this sermon. I have heard verse 7 preached many times or used as an illustration of God’s faithful warrior slaying all his enemies. “A thousand fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand.”
That’s not the case. Those who fall are the allies of the faithful warrior. Look how the verse ends. “It shall not approach you.” The “it” has slain the allies, but not the faithful. What is “it”? Look to verse 5 and 6, “The destruction, the pestilence, the arrow, and the terror.” Those all describe the “it,” the enemy of God’s people.
We read on that the faithful warrior will see the wicked gets what they deserve. Who are the wicked? The wicked are hostile to God and His people (Psalm 17:13 and many other places); the Koharites who rebelled against Moses in Num 16. Even those who know how to serve and refuse are called wicked (Mal 3:18). In Proverbs 21:29, the wicked show their arrogance, but the upright can rely on God to make their way sure.
Wickedness cannot be allowed to stand. For wickedness burns like a fire and consumes all (Isaiah 9:18). Where the righteous show their trust in God and are preserved from pestilence, the wicked will receive His wrath (Jeremiah 30:23). The righteous must stand against the wicked. Another psalm tells us that the righteous hate what God hates (Psalm 26:5; 31:6) and that God hates evil doers (Psalm 5:5 and 6).
The poet then draws us back out for a moment and reminds us that the faithful have made God their dwelling place. Again, no evil shall befall you nor plague come near your tent.
This comes about because God will give His angels charge over the faithful and they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone. Satan used this verse when tempting Jesus in the wilderness. We all know that the Devil can quote Scripture to his purpose. We must know Scripture ourselves so that we are ready to stand against his misuse.
The final thing in this middle part of the poem is the second of the minipoems. “You will tread up on the lion and the cobra; the young lion and the serpent you will trample upon.” Again, the psalmist walks us in and walks us out. Tread and trample stand together while lion/cobra and young lion/serpent work together. The faithful has no fear from those who work against God.
God’s Rewards to the Faithful (91:14-16)
14 “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. 15 He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation.”
In these last three verses, God Himself speaks to the faithful warrior. The faithful find that God, who first loved them, will reward their faith. I love how the poet arranges the words of God here. God says that because the warrior has loved God, God will deliver him.
Verse 14 is the third of our minipoems. “Because he has loved me, I will deliver him. I will set him on high because he has known my name.”
Deliver is a word that is also used for how Christ saves us. Indeed, the final word of the poem is “salvation,” part of Jesus’ Hebrew name.
As part of the deliverance, God will set him securely on high. On high means a place of refuge. It’s where the invader can’t reach. Moses reminds the people in Deuteronomy 2:36 that when they fought in the valley, no city was “too high” for them; the Lord delivered all. This verse is very much like Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it, and they are safe.” One could say that the psalm expounds on the proverb or that the proverb summarizes the psalm.
Back then, as well as today, the one fleeing finds rest and peace in a place inaccessible to their enemies. The concept comes up again in Psalm 46, 2 Samuel 22, and Isaiah 33. The refuge is a high place.
God also says that one who loves Him will know His name. The name of God is a very special thing, revealed to them as “The One Who Is.” For Hebrew, a name is rarely just sounds and syllables that identify a person distinct from another. More often than not, the name tells the character of the person. God revealed His name to those who entered the covenant with Him, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites knew it when Moses arrived. They knew God, and God delivered them.
Those who know God can call upon Him, and He tells us what He will do. When we call, He will answer. Just as we were told earlier, He delivers the faithful from trouble that comes upon them. He rescues the warrior and places the weight of glory upon him. Someone who is honored like this is impressive to look at and worthy of respect.
The one who calls upon God’s name will be blessed with a long life and allowed to see God’s salvation. This verse reminds me of Simeon in the Gospel of Luke. God promised the man that he would see the Messiah before dying. Simeon saw Christ at his dedication. What kind of man had Simeon been? All we know is that he lived a life glorifying God.
God’s protection on the faithful will stand on them. We can rest assured in God’s promises. Those who trust Him find rest and shelter. He protects His own.
Where are you in your trust of God? Has your trust slipped over the years? That’s an easy thing to have happen. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it until it’s gone.
Maybe you’re strong in your trust. Maybe you think you are strong in your trust, but you’ve realized you aren’t. Maybe you’ve never been as trusting in God as you would like to be.
Begin there. Find a place to talk to God and admit that, like the father in Mark 9, you do have some unbelief. You do have faith, but it lacks in places.
Take this time to put your faith where it belongs.
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