Psalm 91

Michael Browne, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Part 5 of 6 of the series Selections from the Messianic Psalms

It will help us to grasp the main theme of this Psalm if we see it in contrast with the preceding Psalm - and what a Christ-exalting contrast it is. Psalm 90 is the confession of human imperfection, iniquity and brevity of life. Man returns to the dust, he is cut down and withers, consumed by God's anger and troubled by His wrath. But Psalm 91 introduces us to quite another Man. He knows no sin, dwelling in the intimacy, safety and serenity of the "secret place". His life is in the world exposed to all its temptations and blasts, but the well-springs of His inner being dwell secure under the shadow of the Almighty. He is not troubled by God's anger, rather merits His approbation. It is the Majestic Messiah, perfect, sinless, triumphant and eternal; His only Refuge, the most High; His lifelong love, Jehovah. Psalm 90 is a gloomy disclosure of the defeat of the first man, Adam: Psalm 91 a glowing portrayal of the victory of the Second Man, Christ.

David - Author of all Unfitted Psalms? Our Psalm bears no titular inscription but David is very probably the author. Acts 4. 25, where Psalm 2, also untitled, is ascribed to David, may well be grounds for deducing all untitled Psalms as his. Certainly the first few verses are most applicable to the king who wore the priestly ephod and danced before the Lord, 2 Sam. 6. 14, sat in the presence of Jehovah, 2 Sam. 7. 18, denied himself necessary rest to search out a resting place for the ark, Psa. 132 3-5, and was a man of war bedevilled by intrigue, 1 Chron. 28. 3.

Psalm Proved Messianic by Arch Foe. The glorious prophetic Subject of Psalm 91 finds fulfilment, according to Matthew 4. 6, in Jesus the Son of God. During His spiritual confrontation with the Devil in the wilderness, when set by him upon a pinnacle of the temple, the Tempter applied verses 11-12 of this Psalm to Christ in demanding that He prove His Messiahship (and so receive due recognition and adulation from the admiring temple crowds) by casting Himself down. For, whispered the blasphemous enemy, "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up . . .". But Satan maliciously omitted the phrase "to keep thee in all thy ways". That is, the promise applied only in the "ways" of Messiah's complete obedience and unswerving duty in the service of God, and it was not part of God's way for Him recklessly to jump from the temple pinnacle. But Christ exposed the subterfuge of the deceiver and trampled him, defeated, under foot in His reply, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God". It is proof indeed of the Messianic nature of our Psalm when the Arch Foe himself is caused to declare it.

Analysis. The idea of a three-way conversation within the Godhead will be of help in interpreting and understanding this Psalm. The Spirit of prophecy speaks, v. 1. The Son -Messiah - replies, v. 2. The Spirit speaks again, vv. 3-13. The Father confirms the Spirit's testimony and honours the Son, vv. 14-16. This sacred conversation concerns Messiah in His immaculate manhood:

His Dwelling, 1,    as a man in the flesh.

His Dependence, 2,    as a man of faith.

His Deliverance,  3-12, by the power of Jehovah.

His Desire,    13,   seen upon His deadly foes.

His Devotion, 14a, to the Lord His God.

His Dignification, I4b-i6,    set on high by Jehovah.

Jehovah's Secret Dwelling, 1-2. With quiet reverence and holy dignity the Spirit draws aside the vail and ushers us immediately into the "secret place". It is the serene sanctuary where the glory of the Most High shines forth between the cherubim. It is here in the inner shrine that the man, Christ Jesus, when passing through this world as a Pilgrim and Stranger, had His dwelling. He is represented as "abiding'" there, like the ark in the holy of holies under the outspread wings of the golden cherubim, in the "shadow" and protection of the Almighty.

What a delightful commentary upon the secret spiritual life of Jesus of Nazareth. What tranquility of soul; what amazing peace and intimacy with God He must have known. His heart was indeed a perfect Sanctuary where God presided in love and glory, John 2. 19-21. So we listen to His voice as in complete dependence He says of Jehovah, "He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust". These verses provide a beautiful picture of God's Perfect Man, and an encouragement for us now through Him to make our "dwell­ing" where He made His, and find our "lodging" under the protective shadow of the Almighty.

Jehovah's Sheltering Wing, 3-13. And now God's Man enters the noise of battle. There is terror here and evil snares. Arrows fly; the enemy stalks in the darkness and destroys in furious attack at noonday. Thousands have fallen already as God's Champion enters the fray. Unlike all others His heart is pure; sin's venom never touched Him, v.7; He has made Jehovah His trust and fulfilled to the uttermost the good pleasure of His will. Thus He is promised protection; the adversary's arrow will be broken and his spear shattered, and He preserved in safety beneath Jehovah's softly covering wings, v. 4. He can make God His city of refuge, v. 9, and command legions of angels, v. 11; cf. Matt. 26. 53. These are His entitlements as the Perfect Man, and they are here declared to Him. Will He avail Himself of His rights and so escape the terrible conflict? Praise God, no! He lays them aside (as He had before His divine glory), refuses all refuge or angelic aid, and fights the battle alone. Upon the cross, with all protection veiled, every foe arrayed against Him, He braved "the destruction that wasteth at noonday" and bore "the pestilence that walketh in darkness" as He, the sinless Son, was made sin for us. Oh the wonder of it - at the very moment when the snare of the trapper was about Him, and the destroying pestilence engulfed Him, out of the dark maw of death He snatched eternal victory! Hallelujah! With a shout of triumph He prevailed, and trampled under foot the lion and the adder - symbolizing the power and cunning of "that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan", and gloriously delivered sin's slaves from their fear of death for ever, Heb. 2.14-15.

Notes: V. 3, "the snare", cf. Matt. 22. 15-22, etc. V. 4, Christ used "his truth" as a shield and buckler during the temptation in the wilderness. V. 5, has a hint of Gethsemane in it; cf. John 18. 3-9. V, 6, "noonday", the time of His crucifixion when, after the "destruction" wrought by sinful men and the infernal powers upon the holy Victim, deep dark­ness enshrouds the dreadful spot as sin's "pestilence" is laid upon Him by the sin-judging God, Mark 15. 25-34. V. 10, "dwelling" means "tent", cf. John 1. 14; have we here a suggestion that during His "tenting" in the flesh, His holy body was free from all "plague" of illness and disease? As there was no indwelling sin to vitiate His human nature, it would seem so.

Jehovah's Saving Name, 14-16. "Because he hath set his love upon me". This was the indomitable motive that urged Christ on to the death of the cross, (John 14. 31; the only time Christ is ever recorded as declaring His love for the Father), and the reason for God's supreme delight in Him. Love was the force that came from eternity and entered time as the highest expression of obedience in man and service for God. Now God delivers Him, and sets Him on high in resurrection, 1 Pet. i. 21. Love for the Father is equivalent to knowing His Name, Psa. 91. 14. Christ knew that Name was Love and declared it to men in every word and ace of His lovely life, John 17. 6; 13. 34-35; 3. 16.

His present resurrection life and glorification at God's right hand is proof that God has heard His cry, delivered Him, honoured Him, satisfied Him with length of days, and in His salvation made Him the Firstborn among many brethren, Rom. 8. 29. Thus shall it be still for all who "set" their love upon the Father through the Blessed Son.

In our journey through the three main sections of this Psalm we have traced the steps of Messiah from the sanctuary, through the conflict, up to the Throne. And, praise God, that is the journey in which He leads us as we follow His steps today.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael is in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, where he serves as an elder. He worked as a missionary in Hong Kong for thirteen years and since 1972 has had an itinerant Bible teaching and gospel ministry labouring in many parts of the world.