Psalm 91 - In the Secret Place of the Most High
I am putting this psalm to music during what I hope to be the peak of the coronavirus early April, 2020. Many Christians have been praying this psalm during this crisis.
I first tried to use the tune to "In the Secret of His Presence" by Ellen Lakshmi Goreh, which is a beautiful hymn based on Psalm 91, but I found the tune too difficult.
There are wonderful promises in this psalm and also conditions for those promises. The conditions are:
1. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High v1,9 This is the precondition for everything in this psalm.
2. Confide in the Lord as my refuge and fortress v2,9
3. Rely on God's truth as my shield v4
4. Set my love upon God v14
5. Know the Lord's name v14
6. Call upon the Lord v15
During this crisis with the virus, I like to pray this psalm for Christians, especially that we experience more of the 6 conditions above.
"A German physician was wont to speak of this psalm as the best preservative in times of cholera, and in truth, it is a heavenly medicine against plague and pest. He who can live in its spirit will be fearless, even if once again London should become a lazar-house [quarantine house], and the grave be gorged with carcases." - Spurgeon
Psalm heading - from LXX. DSS says "of David". MT has no heading.
v1 - To dwell in the secret place of the Most High includes not living before men to have them think highly of you.
"The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to abide in Christ and Christ in them, become possessors of rare and special benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Into the secret place those only come who know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and those only dwell there to whom to live is Christ." - Spurgeon
"In 1956 five U.S. missionaries in their 20's landed on a shore in Ecuador near the homes of a native American people, hoping to share the good news of Christ with them. These local people killed the 5. They clearly did not find that the LORD was their refuge and stronghold. Yet the widow of one, Elisabeth Elliot, subsequently wrote a memoir about her husband and titled it Shadow of the Almighty. If ever there was a man whose life and death disproved the claims of Psalm 91, it was Jim Elliot. Yet there is something profoundly authentic about the audacity with which his wife applies its words to him. No doubt as a Christian she reckoned that the mere fact that he has died did not mean he left God's shadow. But even before Christ's death and resurrection, when that perspective does not apply, there is something profoundly authentic about maintaining such a conviction, even though experience can clash with it. Indeed there may be something more profoundly authentic about it, as there is about the commitment of Daniel's 3 friends (Dan 3:17); certainly there is something more audaciously authentic. Israelite history (like Christian history) provides much evidence that the promises in Ps 91 do not work out. But Israel knew that the LORD's relationship with Israel, begun at the exodus and the Red Sea, meant that such evidence could not invalidate the truths that the psalm declares." - John Goldingay
v2 - David is talking to the LORD, yet speaks of Him in the 3rd person. By speaking of God in the 3rd person, David is speaking to us, his hearers, but his speaking to us, he is saying to the LORD. Our preaching should be like this.
"To take up a general truth and make it our own by personal faith is the highest wisdom. It is but poor comfort to say `the Lord is a refuge, 'but to say he is my refuge, is the essence of consolation. Those who believe should also speak--"I will say", for such bold avowals honour God and lead others to seek the same confidence. ...
But what we say we must prove by our actions, we must fly to the Lord for shelter, and not to an arm of flesh. The bird flies away to the thicket, and the fox hastens to its hole, every creature uses its refuge in the hour of danger, and even so in all peril or fear of peril let us flee unto Jehovah, the Eternal Protector of his own." - Spurgeon
v3 - This is conditional on the previous verses.
v4 - "stay" is literally "buckler", or small shield.
Covering us with His feathers is soft and gentle. Being under His wings is warm, safe and beloved. (Ps 17:8)
DSS has Selah and the end of this verse. Not in MT or LXX.
v5 - conditional on vv1-2.
v6 - Some things attack you secretly, some publicly.
v7 - "way" is literally "right hand".
"It shall be so near as to be at thy side, and yet not nigh enough to touch thee; like a fire it shall burn all around, yet shall not the smell of it pass upon thee." - Spurgeon
As can be seen from Spurgeon's experience on v9, having thousands die near you is not a pleasant thing. These are many of your friends and people you love.
v8 - When a disaster strikes, both righteous and wicked suffer. David knew that (2Sam 24:17). I think what David means is the way in which the wicked die that manifests God's judgment in some cases.
"The Puritan preachers during the plague of London must have been much impressed with this verse as they came out of their hiding places to proclaim mercy and judgment to the dissolute age which was so sorely visited with the pestilence. The sight of God's judgments softens the heart, excites a solemn awe, creates gratitude, and so stirs up the deepest kind of adoration. It is such a sight as none of us would wish to see, and yet if we did see it, we might thus be lifted up to the very noblest style of manhood. Let us but watch providence, and we shall find ourselves living in a school where examples of the ultimate reward of sin are very plentiful. One case may not be judged alone lest we misjudge, but instances of divine visitation will be plentiful in the memory of any attentive observer of men and things; from all these put together we may fairly draw conclusions, and unless we shut our eyes to that which is self evident, we shall soon perceive that there is after all a moral ruler over the sons of men, who sooner or later rewards the ungodly with due punishment." - Spurgeon
v9 - "place" is literally "tent".
Here, as in v2, David is speaking to the LORD, and in his speaking to the LORD, he speaks to us, his hearers.
"In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighborhood in which I labored was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardor to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker's window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words:
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power I adore the Lord my God. The psalmist in these verses assures the man who dwells in God that he shall be secure. Though faith claims no merit of its own, yet the Lord rewards it wherever he sees it. He who makes God his refuge shall find him a refuge; he who dwells in God shall find his dwelling protected. We must make the Lord our habitation by choosing him for our trust and rest, and then we shall receive immunity from harm; no evil shall touch us personally, and no stroke of judgment shall assail our household." - Spurgeon
v10 - as with most promises in the Bible, this promise is conditional, based on the previous verse.
"It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward. Ill to him is no ill, but only good in a mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good. Happy is he who is in such a case. He is secure where others are in peril, he lives where others die." - Spurgeon
v11 - lit. charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways.
Satan tried quoting this verse and v12 out of context to the Lord to tempt Him to jump off the top of the temple (Matt 4:5-7). This psalm does not tell anyone to jump off a building. It says the Lord will protect us if we make the Lord our refuge and abide in Him.
"When men have a charge they become doubly careful, and therefore the angels are represented as bidden by God himself to see to it that the elect are secured. It is down in the marching orders of the hosts of heaven that they take special note of the people who dwell in God.
... How angels thus keep us we cannot tell. Whether they repel demons, counteract spiritual plots, or even ward off the more subtle physical forces of disease, we do not know. Perhaps we shall one day stand amazed at the multiplied services which the unseen bands have rendered to us." - Spurgeon
v12 - The angels will bear you up upon the hollow of their hands, or palms. This shows tender loving care as in v4.
"as nurses carry little children, with careful love, so shall those glorious spirits bear up each individual believer. Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone; even minor ills they ward off. ... Since the greatest ills may arise out of little accidents, it shows the wisdom of the Lord that from the smaller evils we are protected." - Spurgeon
v13 - This is the final verse of David's speaking. Here we advance from the Lord's protection to defeating the spiritual enemies of God's kingdom. After this the Lord takes over and speaks.
v14 - From v14 to the end, the speaker changes from David to the LORD. David's speaking brought in the Lord's direct speaking to complete this psalm.
"Not because he deserves to be thus kept, but because with all his imperfections he does love his God; therefore not the angels of God only, but the God of angels himself will come to his rescue in all perilous times, and will effectually deliver him. When the heart is enamored of the Lord, all taken up with him, and intensely attached to him, the Lord will recognize the sacred flame, and preserve the man who bears it in his bosom. It is love, --love set upon God, which is the distinguishing mark of those whom the Lord secures from ill. ...
How elevated is the standing which the Lord gives to the believer. We ought to covet it right earnestly. If we climb on high it may be dangerous, but if God sets us there it is glorious." - Spurgeon
v15 - The Lord will be with us in trouble. It is not there there will be no trouble, but the Lord will be there with us.
"Not without prayer will the blessing come to the most favored, but by means of prayer they shall receive all good things. ...
Heirs of heaven are conscious of a special divine presence in times of severe trial. God is always near in sympathy and in power to help his tried ones.
Believers are not delivered or preserved in a way which lowers them, and makes them feel themselves degraded; far from it, the Lord's salvation bestows honour upon those it delivers. God first gives us conquering grace, and then rewards us for it." - Spurgeon
16 - lit. With length of days I'll satisfy him
"The man described in this Psalm fills out the measure of his days, and whether he dies young or old he is quite satisfied with life, and is content to leave it. He shall rise from life's banquet as a man who has had enough, and would not have more even if he could." - Spurgeon
-copyright Steve Miller 3/28/2020