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What about the Psalm 91 promises?

Psalm 91

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD,

“He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,“ says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will 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 will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” —NIV

On an otherwise beautiful Saturday morning , many Americans were suddenly shocked by live television images of the space shuttle, Columbia, disintegrating before our eyes during its final approach to a landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Not long after that event, I received an e-mail from a pastor in Colorado. He was searching for insight into the meaning of the promises in Psalm 91—urgent in light of the death of Columbia's Mission Commander, Rick Husband, who openly professed faith in Christ. But the issue went beyond that to the suffering and death of countless other Godly believers throughout history.

Rick Husband, Columbia’s Mission Commander and follower of Jesus Christ

How do the Psalm 91 promises apply to them? What do these words mean anyway? Hasn't God somehow broken these pledges? Was He ever able to keep them in the first place?

What follows here are a number of slightly edited excerpts drawn from my response to that pastor:

  • Millennial Future?—Some Bible students have suggested that Psalm 91 is actually a reference to the future, i.e., the Millennial Kingdom. Verses 13 and 15 make it sound that way, don’t they? Especially when correlated with Isaiah 65:24-25 and Isaiah 11:5-8.

  • Past Time?—Some commentators claim that this Psalm is actually a testimony of Moses (note the many plague-like references) and, as such, should be considered more of a record about what God did for Israel in the past than a promise about what He will do for us today.

Perhaps the best answer lies somewhere in the middle.

We know that God can always protect everyone. We know that He has sometimes protected many. We know that He will often protect some.

We also know that God is sovereign and wise, not always choosing to do all of that which He is able to do.

This Psalm may be offering the believer a metaphor of spiritual protection, not merely physical protection.

Psalm 91 should never be construed as a pledge of unqualified physical protection to all believers for all time in all circumstances.

Psalm 91 is really a testimony of what God has chosen to do on occasion in the past, an assurance of what He is altogether able to do today, and a beautiful literary portrait of His awesome omnipotent capability for the future.

In order to rightly claim the promises of Psalm 91 for myself today, I would preface them with a little qualifying phrase that is, I believe, clearly implied by the rest of Scripture and a common sense knowledge of life. The phrase is: “Except that God in His love and wisdom allow it for the ultimate good…” Like this…

  • Except that God in His love and wisdom allow something to the contrary to occur for the ultimate good… He will deliver me from the snare of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence.

  • Except that God in His love and wisdom allow it for the ultimate good… a thousand may fall at my side, and ten thousand at my right hand; but it shall not approach me.

  • Except that God in His love and wisdom allow it for the ultimate good… no evil will befall me, nor will any plague come near my tent.

This little phrase is not intended to qualify (or add to) the promises of Psalm 91. It is meant to explain them in the context of the whole counsel of God's Word—which includes the account of Jesus' death, the story of Paul's thorn in the flesh, and the description of Stephen's martyrdom.

Whatever the depths of its meaning, among the first to some day testify to the blessed truth of Psalm 91 will no doubt be men like Columbia's Commander Rick Husband.

Answers to more questions

  • Does God feel our pain? Answer

  • Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

  • What about the issue of suffering? Doesn't this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

  • When we say that the Bible is the Word of God, does that imply that it is completely accurate, or does it contain insignificant inaccuracies in details of history and science? Answer

  • How can the Bible be infallible if it is written by fallible humans? Answer

Author: Daryl E. Witmer of AIIA Institute .

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