Psalm 91 is a Psalm of Thanksgiving. I have heard many times from overseas workers (and others) who have mentioned how God used this psalm to encourage them in their lives at a particularly difficult time. One example was my sister-in-law, Grace, who worked as a medical missionary in Africa for many years. The particular country she served in has often been politically unstable and this occasionally has resulted in civil war. And in the midst of one of these wars, when there was a very real risk of injury or death to both nationals and expatriates, some expatriates remained. Grace was one of those who stayed and I remember her relating later how Psalm 91 had been such a comfort to her during those uncertain and dangerous days. Not surprisingly when we spend time considering its content.
If you have time – stop – and read through this Psalm, which has been described as “the most impressive testimony in the Psalter to the strength that springs from trust in God.” (# 27) It begins:
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
And finishes with these remarkable words of God:
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
So, this psalm raises some questions. And one is – have you ever felt vulnerable? I certainly have. In fact, that’s ok and life actually begins that way. The day we leave the relative safety of our mother’s uterus we are incredibly vulnerable to so many possible “enemies”, whether physical (disease, injury, abuse) or spiritual (“spiritual forces of evil.” Eph. 6:13). The psalmists understood this vulnerability very well.
Living in the relative safety and peace of Australia (even in the midst of a worldwide viral pandemic) it is not always easy to appreciate this aspect of the psalms. But leave Australia for a while and one begins to realize the reality for most people on earth. Having lived in Pakistan for a decade gave me a new understanding of what it means to feel vulnerable.
Matthew Jacoby, in his book on the Psalms, also speaks of this “vulnerability” that people experienced in the days when the Psalms were written. He says, for example, “they lived in constant vulnerability to military invasion and banditry”. He suggests that “there is a lot that can go wrong in life … The fear associated with vulnerability is the fear of being overpowered, of losing control. This for any person is the root of all fear.”
But then we come to the Psalms, and Psalm 91 is a perfect example where we find something quite incredible. In fact, it is “one of the most remarkable experiences portrayed in the psalms [and that] is the experience of invulnerability.” In the psalms this is expressed in the use of a number of words and phrases used of God. For example, God is called, “my refuge”, “my fortress”, “my strong tower”, “my hiding place”, “my rock”, just to name a few. The word “refuge” is used 98 times in the Bible and 45 of these are in the psalms.
But as Jacoby suggests, “The psalmists did not feel invulnerable because they believed nothing bad would ever happen to them. Their lack of fear was the result of an act of renunciation.” He continues, “Trusting God is much more than trusting God for something. It is the will to be overpowered by God, to entrust one’s life to God and thereby renounce the right to set the agendas for one’s own life.
By allowing themselves to be overpowered by God, the psalmists put themselves into a bigger picture. They stepped into the purpose of God, which cannot be thwarted. So, whatever happened, even if they suffered loss for a time, they did not feel vulnerable or afraid because they recognized that they were in God’s purpose and God was sovereign over their circumstances. The safest place in the world is in the will of God.”
He continues that the psalmists, as they walked in the “paths of righteousness”, even if it was through “the valley of the shadow of death” recognized that “they were not in charge, and therefore they weren’t vulnerable. They were encased in God’s purpose, and they knew that was a sure thing.” (# 8)
“You will not fear…” says this poet of old. Take all your fears to Him today and allow Him to encourage you that He is Sovereign over all the circumstances of your life, no matter how difficult.
(adapted from my previous posts on Psalms of Thanksgiving)