Promises, promises (Psalm 91 part 2)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known 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 honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

This is a second post on Psalm 91, and you can read the first part here – Read the Bible… literally?

Last time, we started to think about whether the Bible should be read literally or not. And the answer was “It depends…”

Some passages are clearly poetic or allegorical and should not be taken literally. Likewise, other passages of Scripture are definite instructions that should be followed as such.

Psalm 91 has some amazing promises, and at this time in the world, there are many Christians quoting these promises of protection against the Corona virus. Is that appropriate however?

Can we interpret these verses as meaning God will protect us from harm, violence, pestilence and the like? Or is there more going on here?

We really want to be able to believe these promises and interpret them literally. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have total protection against these things at all times? But us wanting it to be true is not the same as it being true.

I recently heard someone preaching on these verses and essentially saying that if you have sufficient faith, then you can accept these verses at face value and it only fails to work for those who fail to trust God sufficiently.

That’s the risk. We read these verses and if they seem untrue in our lives, then we conclude we don’t have enough faith. When we water down God’s Word to the point where we say, “If we do this, then that will happen…” We make the Bible a scientific formula in a way it was never intended to be. 

Look at the evidence of your life. If you are reading this, then chances are you are probably a believing Christian. Can you say you are without trouble, violence or illness at all times? If not, then is that because you have failed to trust God? Again, I doubt it.

When Jesus was being tempted by the devil, the enemy quoted these exact verses to the Lord.

Then the devil took him into the holy city. He 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,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and,
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you don’t dash your foot against a stone.’”Psalm 91:11-12

7 Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord, your God.’”Deuteronomy 6:16

Matthew 4:5-7 (WEB)

It seems to me that the devil was trying to tempt Jesus into believing that these verses were literally true. He was enticing Him to test God by forcing Him to uphold the promise. If Jesus leapt from the roof, then angels would have to be issued to stop Him dashing His foot or on a stone.

Jesus responds perfectly and says you should not put God to the test.

If the devil is trying to get Jesus to test this promise, and He refuses, why do we think we can get away with it?

Similarly, if it was a matter of how much we trust God, then Jesus has us beaten. None of us can claim to trust the Father to the same degree that Jesus did. Jesus trusted His Father perfectly. If that’s the case, and if these promises are literal, then Jesus should have been able to draw upon them.

The psalm itself gives us a hint that there is more to these words than just their face value. Verse 15 says, “He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” Be with us “in trouble”? But don’t the earlier promises suggest we won’t have any trouble?

So, where does this leave us? 

We must understand this passage in the light of other passages. Indeed, all Scripture must be understood in its proper place among the context of the Bible. 

Take Job. He lost everything; his health, his wealth and his family. As he sat down with his three friends, they essentially told him that all this happened because he did not trust in God. That is exactly what we are tempted to think when trouble comes to us. Yet, at the end, God appeared and pronounced that the friends had not represented Him well at all. 

Likewise, Jesus Himself said:

I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (WEB)

Jesus says it plainly. While we live in this world, we will have trouble. He was neither ignorant of Psalm 91 nor contradictory of it. 

It is my belief therefore that this Psalm is about God’s faithfulness to His people. He does offer protection, refuge and defence, but often in the midst of the trouble befalling us. Our faith is not a weapon allowing us to remove every difficult and unpleasant thing in our path. Rather it connects us to the One who has overcome all of that, and walks through the trouble with us. 

I wish I could promise you that the Corona virus, or indeed any illness, will never affect you. Some teach that. Healing is very real, and I’ve have both heard and seen amazing miracles banishing sickness from someone. I do not believe God wants us to be sick, but neither do I think God’s primary concern is our comfort. 

God is more concerned about our eternal destiny, than our present and temporary trials. 

In our limited human minds, it is very difficult to try to grasp God’s wider purposes, especially when it comes to times of trouble. That’s where the trust comes in. God doesn’t reward our trust by removing all problems. Our trust in Him reminds us that He is in control, even when things go wrong. 

God is our refuge. He is most certainly our fortress. Life may get difficult, and it may even come to an end. God takes the long view however. This life is not all that there is, and eternity is a very long time in comparison. 

let this psalm inspire you. Let these wonderful words bring you into a place of praise and trust of our Heavenly Father. Ask Him to protect you from harm of course, but trust him if it does not happen as you had hoped. Don’t test God by putting yourself in harm’s way and demanding God rescue you. Instead, use your God-given brain and the leading of the Holy Spirit to avoid trouble where possible. If it comes, continue to rejoice in Him and your witness will speak volumes to a frightened world. 

Read the Bible… literally? (Psalm 91 part 1)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known 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 honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

A cursory read of this Psalm and you might think all of your problems are over. The psalmist sings of God’s refuge, deliverance from deadly pestilence and being shielded in times of terror and violence. 

In the recent days where world governments have taken drastic measures to ward off the Corona-virus, I’ve seen many Christians quoting and meditating on the verses of this Psalm. But does this passage really suggest God will protect us from all illness, violence and trouble? If so, then why do we all face such troubled times in our lives? Let’s explore that in part two (to follow in the coming days).

For now, let’s think about taking the Bible literally. I recently heard a non-Christian source describing the “Pentacostals.” They were fairly general in their terms and what they said might have applied to any number of Christian denominations, whether they would consider themselves Pentacostal or not. One thin they said was that Pentacostals take the Bible literally – word-for-word. My ears pricked up at this. 

Is the Bible meant to be taken literally? It is not a Yes or No question i’m afraid. 

I hold Scripture in very high esteem. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and every Word can be trusted and relied upon. I base my entire life and eternity on the hope of the Bible. I know God and His Son Jesus Christ as revealed in the pages of Scripture. It is exactly as God intended it, and it without fault or mistake. 

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (WEB)

Does that mean I take the Bible literally? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. 

The Bible is not a simple book. It is made up of all kinds of different writing styles. Some of the Bible is poetic, some of it is historic, some is prophetic, and some of it is made up of letters written from Christians to churches or other ministers. 

Where the Bible is giving instruction, it is certainly meant to be taken literally. 

Passages containing poetry or allegory are more than likely not meant to be taken literally. 

Psalm 91 is one of those poetic passages, and we know that some parts at least, are not intended to be read literally. How can I say this for sure? Just read verse 4 with me:

He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:4 (WEB)

Does God have wings? How about feathers? I’ve studied the Bible for years, and read many books about it, and i’ve yet to hear anyone claim that God is a winged or feathered Being. This is a picture. It suggests a mother hen covering her vulnerable chicks under the protection of her wings. That’s the message the Psalmist is trying to create here. He is not trying to communicate that God literally has wings. 

It is therefore important when reading the Bible to try to discern whether a passage is meant to be read literally. Sometimes it is clear and sometimes not. Genesis 1 is a classic example of this. There are those who say it is a literal account of the creation, while others that it is just a poetic picture of how God did it. Whether you agree Genesis 1 is a scientific text or not, you catch my meaning (I hope!)

So, can we take the promises of Psalm 91 at face value? I hope that I have shown above that some parts of this psalm at least, are not intended to be taken literally. But can we claim the promises for our own? I will discuss this next time. Look out for part two!

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