Psalm 91


This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on June 30, 2013.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Ps 91.

My parents read Psalm 91 to me when, as a child, I was afraid.  There is something very appropriate about this Psalm for children, who don’t need to carry the burden of the sorrows and complexities and uncertainties of life, but should start out with a complete and fearless trust in God – the way they trust their parents.   God is a shelter.  God is a refuge – God is the one who delivers us from danger and fear.

But as we reach adulthood we come to a very different understanding of the complexity and fallenness of life and we may begin to question this Psalm.   We who trust in God have, nevertheless, experienced evil, illness and fear.  In fact, we know that, even from the beginning, evil befell human beings (Gen.3), so that we live in a fallen world, subject to the curse of death.   So then, when we read Psalm 91, we have to ask ourselves, how can the Psalmist make such promises?  How can he have this kind of an experience of life – where trust in God has protected him from all evil and suffering?  This seems like too easy a view of God’s sovereign care

This morning we want

  1.  To question an easy view of sovereignty and God’s protection.
  2.  To determine a more completely Biblical view of God’s sovereign care, and
  3.  To hear the call of what it means to trust God and acknowledge his name.

Questioning An Easy View of Sovereignty.

Many Christians maintain a vague sense of sovereignty (God’s rule over our lives and his care for us), believing that only good things can and should happen to them because they are trusting in God.  In fact, for many believers, to acknowledge that evil has befallen them is tantamount to an admission that they have, somehow, ceased to trust in God.

Frankly, Psalm 91 seems to support this view.  Psalm 91 seems to say that we will never need to be afraid of things like being harmed or taken advantage of (the snare of the trapper), or sickness (the deadly pestilence), or darkness (You will not be afraid of the terror by night), or violence (the arrow that flies by day), or the kind of sorrow or ruin that befalls others (A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, But it shall not approach you).  In fact, the Psalm goes so far as to say that, No evil will befall you….

Psalm 91 in the Context of the New Testament:  We need to balance Psalm 91 with the rest of Scripture.   Ecclesiastes 8:14 tells us that sometimes, righteous men … get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men… get what the righteous deserve.   This is a broken and evil situation, but nevertheless one which experience shows to be true.

In fact, the NT writers suffered and told the churches to expect suffering and evil (1 Cor.4:9-16, 2 TIm.1:11-12, Rev.2:8-11 and 12:17).  Furthermore, Jesus expected to suffer (Matt.20:17-18), and expected his followers to suffer (Matt.5:11 and 24:9) – so that despite what the Psalm seems to say about those trusting in God escaping evil and fear, we see Jesus, who was the righteous man who trusted in God, facing his fear at Gethsemane, and taking on himself the evil and judgment that we, the wicked, deserved.  So, then what can we say about Psalm 91?  How can we move towards a better view of sovereignty that includes both Ps.91 and the New Testament?

God Cares About Our Fears and Suffering.

Sometimes God Does Shield Us from Suffering and Evil:  He will cover you with His pinions, [outer part of bird wing and feathers] and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. [defense]

First, let us affirm what is true in Ps.91.  God is a deliverer!  Sometimes God exercises his sovereign care for us by delivering us from situations.  Many, many Christian people can give testimony to the fact that God delivered both them and/or their families from dangerous situations, from evil circumstances, from illness.  What the Psalmist says here is absolutely true.  Modern medicine is a blessing, but even doctors talk about miraculous cures.  God brings us “through many dangers, toils and snares”.  God cares about us – he is a Father to us, who does heal our diseases, and who rescues us from danger.

But while such deliverance can and does happen – these deliverances are notable because they are the exception.  The Psalmist’s language hints at this … He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.  You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.  The Psalmist obviously does not expect the every day experience of his readers to be one in which they tread upon the lion and cobra.  Rather, he is talking about a particular protection (a Daniel and the Lion’s Den) type of deliverance, which is beyond our common experience.

The nature of this very, the lion will lay down with the lamb language should grab our attention.  Such notable deliverances are, for us, a look ahead.  Great deliverances anticipate our final deliverance from this war torn, mortal, fallen world.

And, Other Times, God Walks Through Our Suffering With Us:   But we need to see that at the center of Scripture, Jesus – the pattern of his life – has become our guide to interpret and update all we see in both the Old and New Testaments.

When we look at Jesus, we see a more complete understanding of God’s sovereign care.  There are times when God delivers us – but other times when, through Jesus, God has chosen to understand and to become acquainted and familiar with fear, suffering, the presence and power of evil, illness, mistreatment and sorrow (see Is.53).  Jesus has become, for us, the one who goes into the doctor’s office to hear, with us, the fearful diagnosis…  the one to face, with us, our mortality, illness and pain – who himself has passed through it before us… the one to confront, alongside of us, those who threaten our reputation, our families, our livelihood…  the one who comforts us in our fears and protects us in danger… the one who helps us to bear pain and sorrow and loss.  This is also God’s very intimate sovereign care.

But At All Times God is Lovingly Redeeming Our Lives:  This, then, is what we can say in regard to God’s sovereignty:  not that God prevents us from suffering – but that whether God delivers us, or walks through suffering with us – God is at work in our lives to do us good – to make us more complete people – to make us more like Jesus, and to bring us to glory.   This is what we are called to trust and believe.

God Calls Us to Take Up Trust and Acknowledge His Care.

Therefore We Will Say… My God in Whom I Trust:  I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!”

Consequently, rather than the assumption that, if we are trusting God, then nothing bad can happen to us – we need, with the Psalmist, to actively take trust in hand.   The Psalmist speaks with resolution  that may suggest his view of God’s sovereign care is not so easy after all, by saying “I Will…”.  That is a very important point: Trust in the care of God is a matter of active faith – not passive assumption.   The Psalmist is taking himself in hand and making a determination – I will do this!

Furthermore, this willingness to trust in God – to acknowledge that he cares for us – to make him our refuge by believing that he is in control of situations – is an ongoing choice that we make.  Active trust is not a decision that we make at one point in time – but at many points – repeatedly choosing to turn to God in our prayer/ conversation with him, and ask for help and to verbally renew and restate (with increasing clarity) what we mean and what we are declaring about how we are trusting God.

And We Will Trust in Jesus Christ:  Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;  I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.’He will call upon Me,  and I will answer him;  I will be with him in trouble;  I will rescue him and honor him. “With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.”

The Psalm ends on this note of confidence. These promises are for the one who has known and loved God.  And yet here we find ourselves in difficulty again, because we know that we haven’t been good enough or valuable enough people in the Kingdom – that we have not deserved these promises.  We read a Psalm like this and wonder whether these promises can be for us.

Again, we must update this Psalm through our NT understanding of the work of Jesus.  We have not been good enough to receive the promises – which is why he has done it for us – and given us the gift of all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” through Jesus (2 Cor.1:20-21).  God’s promise, through Jesus, is that he will, finally, rescue and honor us – and give us eternal life.

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