Psalm 91 – A Prayer for Times of Fear and Exposure
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
1. Read Psalm 91 again. Focus on verses 3-13 this time. Listen carefully to all the arguments the Psalmist is throwing at you. This is what life is like with God as your Refuge and Fortress. What stands out to you today?
It’s helpful to begin your Scripture reading with what we call a prayer of illumination. We ask God’s help to understand His words and to see the truth. This one comes from Psalm 119:17-18:
Our Father in Heaven,
Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Use this time to deepen my trust in You, my God, my Refuge and my Fortress in whom I trust.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
2. You should be afraid. It is human.
I said that to get your attention of course. But we are going to work to connect our very real fears to our very real Refuge, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Begin by looking all the frightening things listed in this Psalm. First up, we fear the snare of the fowler. We can walk into traps. Or fly into them. The image is of a bird happily soaring through the air, only to find themselves suddenly ensnared by trouble. That was the story of Namaan’s young slave girl (2 Kings 5:1-14). We all feel that way right now with the many changes caused by COVID-19.
We are afraid of the deadly pestilence which stalks in the darkness. Disease, like a lion stalking its prey, hunts at night. We can’t see it coming.
We are afraid of the terrors of the night. Are you afraid of the dark? Listen to this old Scottish or Welsh prayer that describes terrors in the night, “From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!” The terror of the night taps into every human fear: the things we can’t control.
Pestilence and terrors of the night were real events in the history of God’s people. Pestilence fell on the livestock and God’s angel of death came on that first Passover night, taking the firstborn of Egypt. The Hebrew people, those loved and rescued from slavery in Egypt, are being reminded that they are safe from God’s judgement through their faith.
We are afraid of violence. The arrows that fly by day. Thousands falling. These are vivid images of someone who has been in or around a battle. Lions & serpents. This can be literal and metaphorical. We were created to have dominion over the beasts (Genesis 1:26-28). Yet, now people act like beasts in frightening ways. Hurtful words and harmful actions.
We are afraid of evil. Adam and Eve, our first parents, ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We all now have firsthand, intimate knowledge of evil. Even in Genesis 3, knowing evil was more than our selfish deeds. Evil includes bodily harm, misery, and suffering. See evil, as the Bible describes it, is complex and a tragic part of our ordinary existence. “Lord deliver us from evil.” Jesus’ prayer goes right after your fears. For we are scarred by the thorns and thistles of the curse of Genesis 3. These thorns infest our daily paths.
Psalm 91 shows us this one big truth: We feel and fear the sting of death. This Psalm would have no power or comfort if we did not.
3. Let’s move from Fear to Faith together. Hear God’s gracious command to move from trembling to trust (Psalm 91:2).
I did a search for the Hebrew word for plagues and pestilence used in Psalm 91. It took me to Hosea 13:14. It’s also helpful to read that whole chapter if you have time. Let’s read vs. 14:
I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?
Some translations turn God’s statement’s here into a question. “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?” It could go either way. See God is speaking to His people, Israel, who have abandoned the Lord. Their love for God is like the morning mist, like the dew that goes away early. And as a result, Israel is under God’s judgment. Their loving Lord is jealous and will become like a lion towards them. They will become like their love for God…like the morning mist. The question is not if God is able, but if He is willing.
Here’s the point of vs. 14, whether you take this as God declaring what He will do or as a question: God has the power to ransom and redeem His people from death itself. That good news is littered throughout the Old Testament:
Isaiah 25:8 - “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”
Job 19:25 – “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (We shall see God after death will our own eyes)
Psalm 23:6 –“ Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (God’s goodness and mercy pursues us even after death. We shall dwell with the Lord forever)
So, if God were to ransom us from death itself and take away the judgment we deserve, we could taunt pestilence and plagues! The thorns of death would hurt but not destroy. Death, what will your plagues do to me? O grave, where is your sting? That is the hope and longing of the Old Testament. Yet, Malachi ends without an answer to Hosea's question.
But now, Christian friend, we can taunt this disease because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul calls Christians to stand firm, to be steadfast and immovable because Jesus will return and swallow up death forever (1 Corinthians 15:50-58) Disease itself will die. The sure and certain hope of resurrection from the dead for us has been accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s ours by faith. Any fear of judgment we have needs to look at Christ on the cross. If we get sick, it’s not God’s judgment. It can’t be. Jesus paid that price. That fear is gone. With God is forgiveness so that He may be feared and known and loved (Psalm 130).
Our fears are forcing us to ask that hard question: Do I really believe this? Do you? Do I believe that God will give back everything I’ve lost and more in the new heavens and new earth? Because of the sure and certain resurrection of Jesus Christ we see that He is willing and able to ransom us from death and pestilence.
4. How does God then take care of us between now and our death, now called sleep in Christ? Reread Psalm 91:4.
“God’s care provides the warm protectiveness of a mother bird and the hard-unyielding strength of armor.”
Those who take refuge in the shadow of the Almighty God, who live their lives by faith in Jesus Christ, have God’s tender and warm protection close by as He is with us in our trouble (91:15). We are also followed everywhere we go with a moving fortress and a mobile shield. You can hear where Martin Luther got his hymn lyrics, when we sing, “We have a bulwark, never failing.”
This is the reality you live in when you turn in faith to Jesus Christ, crucified for your sins, and resurrected on the third day.
I’ll leave you with these words of hope from a great hymn, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks We Stand.”
No chilling winds nor poisonous breath can reach that healthful shore; Sickness, sorrow, pain and death, are felt and feared no more.
I am bound for the Promised Land.
When shall I reach that happy place and be forever blessed? When shall I see my Father’s face and in His bosom rest?
You can give it a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J2hXjflmuw
Take time now to tell God you are anxious as you look at His warm protective care for you and His hard unyielding strength in Jesus’s love, mercy, death and resurrection. His faithfulness will protect you forever.
 A helpful reminder: The Psalms are prayers and songs. They are the place we learn to say and sing our faith back to God in the midst of our joys and sorrows. This God-breathed poetry speaks peace to our anxious hearts and calls us to trust the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 364.
 Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is our God.