What is Psalm 91?

Psalm 91, a song of encouragement, is found in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Bible. It offers hope and consolation by assuring that God will protect and rescue those who love and trust Him. Throughout history, believers have turned to it to pray prayers of divine protection. Some have even written excerpts on amulets and prayer cards. In times of uncertainty and peril, its comforting themes make it a popular Scripture reading. Christians often sing it as part of the standard liturgy at Compline, the last prayer service of the day.

The Book of Psalms is an ancient collection of Hebrew poetry intended for musical accompaniment during communal worship. It continues to play a significant role in the worship practices of Jews and Christians.

The Context of Psalm 91 in the Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections or books. Book four, which consists of Psalms 90 through 106, includes Psalm 91 near the beginning. Book Three of Psalms comprises numerous questions and complaints regarding the goodness and fairness of God. However, Book Four begins by addressing these concerns. Prior to Psalm 91, Psalm 90 serves as a reminder to God’s people of His faithfulness throughout generations. Psalm 91 follows with messages of hope and promises. It emphasizes that God’s faithfulness endures to those who find refuge in Him. The assertion of God’s reign is also a recurring theme throughout Book Four, combating the doubts raised in Book Three.

Themes and Symbolism in Psalm 91

The poem heavily reflects the belief that the Hebrew king was in covenant with God. In the ancient world, alliances between rulers carried the obligation to uphold loyalties and oppose the enemies of allies. Regional leaders in the ancient Near East often defended their legitimacy and territory from rival kings and rebellious factions of their own people.

Covenantal Relationship: David’s Role in Psalm 91

King David is credited with writing Psalm 91 in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. It shares several similarities with other Psalms attributed to him. David understood that God chose him as a covenantal son. The last three verses of Psalm 91 describe the covenant or sacred alliance. It is God’s promise to uphold those who love Him. This covenant meant that David was to represent God’s character and justice to his people. Additionally, he brought the needs of his people to God through intercession. He and his people perceived him as an ambassador or a human intermediary between heaven and earth.

David’s unwavering loyalty to God resulted in a strong alliance between him, his people, and God. This acted as a safeguard against any rivals, both military and spiritual. The nature of this relationship is similar to that between a dominant king and a subordinate king. The dominant king provides defense in exchange for loyalty and tribute from the subordinate king. In this way, David saw himself as mediating his people’s relationship with God. Many psalms remind the people of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with them through their king and assure them of the protection this alliance provides.

Ancient Imagery and Symbolism in Psalm 91

The book of Psalms often utilizes conventional images associated with protection and great security in the ancient world. One great example among many is Psalm 57:1, which states, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”

Psalm 91 is no exception, as it employs these images to create an atmosphere of peace and safety within the protection of God. For example, the passage begins with a reference to the shelter of the Most High. Verses 1-2 and 9 talk about shelters, refuges, and fortresses, which are structures that provide refuge and protection from natural disasters, wild animals, and human or spiritual enemies. In verse 4, the author uses the analogy of a mother bird who protects her young by covering them with her wings, to describe God’s nurturing and protective nature.

This psalm conveys imagery of a harsh environment where exposure to the sun and wind in the open wilderness could be dangerous. It’s easy to imagine how difficult it must have been for people to live in such conditions. The psalm uses protective images like shadow, shade, rocks, or cliffs that provide shelter from the elements (vs. 1, 4). They offer comfort to those facing such challenges.

Moreover, these protective images are directly linked to God as the source of protection, giving hope and assurance to those feeling vulnerable. On the other hand, snares, traps, and ambushes under the cover of darkness (vs. 3, 5) are associated with enemies or evil individuals causing suffering. It’s understandable how such situations can cause fear and anxiety, and the psalm acknowledges this.

Assurance and Protection: Psalm 91’s Message of Hope

Because sicknesses and plagues were often thought of as a spiritual attack or a form of divine punishment, people depended on their gods to protect their health (vs. 3, 6, 10). Psalm 91 assures that God will safeguard the faithful from evils such as “deadly pestilence” or the “Fowler’s snare.”

In ancient times, people thought of deities as powerful kings who would defend their loyal subjects against their enemies. They used military imagery to describe this idea, such as shields, ramparts, arrows, soldiers falling in battle, and ambushes at night. According to their belief, God commanded an army of angels who provided military support to God’s children (vs. 4-5, 7-13).

The Bible often uses imagery such as walking on smooth, unobstructed paths without stumbling or falling as a symbol of God’s companionship and protection in life. The act of crushing or trampling one’s enemies, putting them under one’s feet, is a powerful metaphor for overcoming challenges and achieving victory. The great lion and serpents were animals conventionally associated with threatening destructive forces, danger, and enemies (v. 13).

By delving into the ancient context, readers today can unlock the powerful message of hope that this psalm intends to convey.

The Context of Psalm 91 in the Bible

Though Psalm 91 teems with imagery of safety and assurance for those who find their refuge in the Lord, readers must also keep in mind how the psalm is intended. Taking any scripture out of context can be dangerous but Matthew 4:5-7 illustrates how dangerous it can be to abuse scriptures such as psalm 91. When Jesus is in the wilderness, the Bible records that Satan comes to tempt Jesus. In the second temptation from Satan, he uses verses from Psalm 91 to convince Jesus to throw himself down from the temple. Satan quotes “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone,’” (Matthew 4:6). Satan quotes directly from Psalm 91:11 and 12.

This passage displays how the enemy can twist scripture for malevolent means. But with that, it also gives Jesus’ response to Satan. He comes back with another scripture to better understand what Psalm 91 is not saying. Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,’” (Matthew 4:7). Keeping this in mind, one realizes Psalm 91 does not mean that God will always protect believers from the consequences of their unwise actions. It also does not mean that nothing bad can ever happen to God’s children. This is seen all over the Bible, even in other psalms such as Psalm 22.

Psalm 91 is popular because it is a prayer that believers can say at any time to call on the name of the Lord. It is a reminder that the Omnipotent God of this world loves His children. And it is a reminder that the promises of God have real power.

Spiritual Promises of Psalm 91

Psalm 91 provides comfort and peace to those who seek refuge in God’s care should “affliction befall”. The Psalm reminds believers that God is always present to listen and provide comfort. It promises that God will deliver the faithful from afflictions and give them a safe place to rest. This shows God’s unwavering love and commitment to the protection of His people.

Commonly regarded as a psalm of assurance and safeguarding, Psalm 91 unfolds spiritual assurances interlaced with divine benevolence and unwavering companionship. Each verse resonates with profound spiritual veracity, extending solace and fortitude to seekers of sanctuary in the Divine presence.

The Psalm opens with a call to seek refuge in the hidden dwelling place of the Most High, which symbolizes the deep relationship with God. This ‘secret place of the Most High’ is not a physical location, but rather a state of being where one’s trust and dependence on God replace fear and anxiety. Within this sacred refuge, God’s assurances manifest as a shield against darkness and malevolence. The Psalmist vividly illustrates God’s protection, affirming that neither perilous affliction nor imminent danger shall befall the faithful.

God’s presence emerges as an anchor amidst life’s tempests, offering respite from worldly concerns—a safe place where the children of God rest. This Divine protection transcends temporal constraints, guiding and shielding the paths of the devout.

Central to the Psalm’s discourse is the omnipotence of God. He makes promises that He will save those who call on him. The Lord states “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation,” (v. 16). These promises are a guarantee from the God of the universe to anyone who believes in it.

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