Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 14 2019 - Psalm 91 – God our dwelling

You may remember that a number of weeks ago we looked at Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way… (Psalm 46:1-2)

The theme of Psalm 91 is similar as the psalmist declares, "I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Psalm 91:2). The psalm is full of wonderful pictures of God's care for his people. Those who trust in him need fear for nothing since they have the protection of almighty God surrounding them; "no harm will overtake you" (v. 10).

But how does such protection work in practice? All around the world there are Christians who suffer for their faith; some have had to abandon their homes and flee for safety to other countries, others have lost their lives. And we know that we and our own Christian friends are not immune from the troubles that are common to humanity: sickness and disease; the loss of love ones; financial difficulties and broken relationships. This psalm may seem very comforting, but is it realistic?

Satan used the words of this psalm to tempt Jesus. He took Jesus to a tower of the temple and told him to throw himself down from there, confident that God would protect him. "For it is written", said Satan, "He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone" (Matthew 4:6 quoting Psalm 91:11-12). Jesus responded, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matt 4:7). But if God has promised these things in his word, how is it putting God to the test to depend on what he has said?

These are not easy questions. However, in the case of Jesus being tempted by Satan, he was clearly reacting to the suggestion that he deliberately put himself in danger to test God's care.

I believe that the promises of this psalm should not be read as a promise of protection from all danger, but a promise of God's presence with us and care for us in all danger. The psalm concludes, "With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation" (v.16). But we all know of Christians, or of children of Christian families, who have died young, and sometimes in pain. For them and for us we can take to heart the words of the apostle Paul who, out of his own experience of persecution, imprisonment and the threat of death wrote:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Christ suffered the traumas of agony and death for us, even feeling himself separated from his loving Father, that we might never be separated from God in life or in death. This is our confidence; God has shown us his salvation and will satisfy us with life in his presence for all eternity.

Father God, we thank you for your great and precious promises and we trust in your protection. Lord Jesus, you have given yourself for us and have gone to glory to prepare a place for us. Spirit of God, thank you that the work you have begun in us – filling our hearts with a sense of God's love for us – you will complete when you bring us safe to glory. Triune God, help us always to trust in your protection and care.

Peter Misselbrook