Psalm 91 — Under God’s Wings
In our passage today, there are two voices. Scholars believe the first voice is a priest speaking to an army. A priest because the passage is filled with covenantal language—which we’ll get into in a moment. An army because of vv.7-8. The other voice is God’s voice. He responds in vv.14-16. Both voices say the same thing to the army and to you and to me: “Find your home in God.”
This idea is said in multiple ways so that we will hear it. But it remains the same: “Find your home in God.” There are many places that we will travel. There are many temptations to find our satisfaction in other situations and circumstances. My aim this morning is to stir your hearts to find your only true home; your only true place of rest…is in the embrace of God.
Like a good pastor, this priest inspires confidence and trust because of where he has been. He isn’t in the business of telling people to trust God because it’s his job.
There is a progression here. Let me see if I can get at it with a literal translation: “The one who sits under the Highest One, will also spend the night in the Mighty One’s shadow.” This priest speaks from experience. Like you and me, he probably found himself dabbling in the things of God. I’m gonna try this out a bit. You may not understand all the undergirding reasons, but you know that it is good to be near to God. And what happens over time is that you find that there is nowhere else you can go! This concept of shadow is not simply that you find protection from the blazing hot sun, but when you are near to God—pursuing the things of God, understanding his heart and intentions for you as his child—you find that your true security is found in him—v.2 refuge and fortress.
If we ended with v.2, then this would be a statement not grounded in where you and I live. It would be like saying, “God is good.” But because the speaker has experienced the goodness of God, he looks at us and says, “I know that God is a refuge because of what he has done in my life. And I know that he can do the same for whatever you’re going through.”
It’s too easy to forget that the people that wrote these words knew grief and pain and suffering and doubts and fears. We sell the authors of Scripture too short, when we quickly say, “You don’t know what I’m going through!” Really? // Look at the heroes in the Bible. The people betrayed Moses. David’s son tried to kill him. People wouldn’t listen to the prophets sent by God. You don’t think they would understand your problems!?!? And this is all the while trying to find water to drink and bread to eat.
In his kindness, though, God tells us what he can protect you from. And it bears noting that the “you” in all these verses are in the singular. He’s looking you in the eye. He’s not just speaking to some kind of mass of people. He’s speaking to you as an individual. Imagine he’s sitting at your kitchen table and saying vv.3-13 to you.
V.3. He protects you from the dangers you don’t even see. Birds don’t see the net set for them. You and I don’t see the multiple schemes of Satan that God has steered us clear from. But there are some nets we keep getting tangled up in, aren’t there? Notice the words: “he will deliver”. The image is that you have already been captured, but he will snatch you out of that net. // Then again, look at the second half of the verse: “deadly pestilence”. I remember when I first found out about bacteria in school. I was utterly freaked out. “You mean to tell me there are thousands and millions of little things crawling on everything???” Even though you don’t see the danger, God is able to snatch you out of those unseen dangers.
V.4 His protection is also tender. While this is war imagery, there is a softness and graciousness with the Almighty and High and Lifted Up One. Imagine a mother eagle who rips apart its enemies, but to her baby birds she is gentle and loving. So also the Lord, in all your disobedience, he is patient and gentle and gracious. He does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psa 103.10). Like a mother bird, he gathers us near to him. He doesn’t turn up his nose or shove you out of the nest.
Vv.5-6. His tender, patient care is comprehensive. From night throughout the day. Both the things you’re scared of that no one knows or may never know about. The things that keep you up at night. And the very real threat of people seeking you harm.
Vv.7-8. His care is visible and real. I look at my life and the people I grew up with and I can visibly see how I was saved from actual and real trouble.
// And then we hear the subtle invitation from the speaker again. V.9. YOUR dwelling place. MY refuge. Dwelling under the wings of God is not a mere matter of your protection. There are other people there. It’s not crowded. You have seen that God is powerful and strong and sufficient because someone invited you in. This is the business of heaven. To tell others to find their rest in God. //
This verse really serves as the hinge for vv.7-8 and then v.10. It not only repeats and modifies the first verse, it serves as the ground for all that has come before. The Lord protects because you have found your dwelling place and refuge in him.
But there’s a thorny problem. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, v.8. Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, V.10. But in the midst of battle, we know that there were some that fell by the sword. We know that there there was evil that befell and disease that killed folks in their tents. // So the question remains: Is This True? Is it true that if you find your rest in God, will you not experience pain and death ever? There are some today that preach a version of this. That if you have enough faith, then you won’t get sick. If you have enough faith, you will always experience victory. Folks who do this, take a principle and make it a totality. Much like the Proverbs that give the general trend of how following God will result in goodness and mercy.
But I think there’s something more here than simply saying, “Oh, it’s mostly true. There are exception to this. But it’s true most of the time.” The one who was inviting these soldiers to find their dwelling place and security in God knew that some who heard him would lose their lives the next day. Was he giving a false security? To drum them up to take the battlefield?
This kind of misuse of Scripture is always a danger for us. And if we’re not careful we can fall into it very easily. This is the very thorny problem that Satan tempted Jesus with. In Jesus’ temptation, we read in Matthew 4.5: The devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, Vv.11-12. // If you are the Son of God, surely you believe this passage! // Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6.16: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. Scripture doesn’t set itself up against Scripture. We must be careful not to make the error of so many who think such. That’s the easy way. “Well, the psalmist was wrong. Or the psalmist contradicted Deuteronomy 6.” Remember what I’ve said, do the hard work. Start with the fact that Scripture won’t contradict itself and then do the hard work of understanding.
I mean. Really. The psalmist knew Deuteronomy 6. If he was a priest as it is believed, he’s reading Deuteronomy 6 all the time! Let’s give him more credit. Let’s not stand over him in judgment. Rather, let’s listen.
The psalmist is telling us that that the Lord’s protection and care for us is deeper and eternal. Have you ever had a nightmare? I had a nightmare this past week. It was bad. It seemed so real. My heart was racing. I was scared. This doesn’t usually happen, but this nightmare woke me up. This terror of the night.
They are not real. They were made up in my mind. The nightmare. The anxiety. They were both drummed up in my mind. But they seemed so real! Much main is contrived. But does not have staying power.
// But I’m not so naive to think that in this room all the pain points are passing in the mind. There is cancer. Aching bodies. Death. These are definitely real. But what we need to do is look deeper and further. These real and contrived difficulties are meant to push us. To force our eyes open. To unclog our ears. To get us to take off the armor we often wear so that we can feel. To stand naked before the Lord and say, “This is difficult!”
We too often forget that the One we worship cried out the same thing: “This is too hard! Deliver me from this!” But why did Jesus not run or cower in a corner? Because he knew that within this text itself are clues to how we are to think about pain and suffering. V.8: The recompense of the wicked; V.10: No plague shall come near your tent. These are terms referencing the Exodus from Egypt. And again, For the one holding fast to me in love (v.14) V.16: With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. Jesus came to do business to make this happen!
You see, there was a verse that Satan didn’t quote in his temptation of Jesus. This Tempter in the Wilderness was the same one who tempted our first parents in the Garden as a serpent. He’s the crafty one who slithers around us everyday and seeks to open his jaws and devour us. V.13. The beautiful truth about dwelling in Christ is that has crushed the head of the serpent. He has trampled our great Adversary under his feet. The fact that you can say No to that temptation to sin. The truth that in the face of fear you can stand in him. That you won’t cower in a corner or back down. These are proof that the one who lives in you is greater than the one in the world. He has given us his very Spirit to fight and to conquer.
By clinging to Jesus, by seeing his salvation God himself promises to do eight things for us. Vv.14-16.
Too often we have believed the nightmare real. We have believed the promises of this world to get more stuff. To put me first. To get mine at your expense. But that is not how we have learned Christ. The Apostle Paul has offered us great encouragement in Romans 8.10-11: 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. // You and I will die. // V.18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. // You and I will suffer. // The affliction seems like too much to bear sometimes, but he writes: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This Good News is worthy of all that we have. Paul was so convinced that he underwent torture and imprisonment for the sake of the one who threw him off his horse. Death was always at his doorstep. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Rom. 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friend, find your dwelling place. Your only sure refuge in God.