Psalm 91: A Magic Bullet for Christians?

Nathanael Winkler

Psalm 91 speaks of divine protection from plague and deadly danger. What the promises mean to us today.

Christians like to quote Psalm 91 in times of hardship and distress, and for good reason. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, some have been reading the psalm and preaching about it. Some believe that this word from God gives them carte blanche for their lives, so that nothing can befall them as Christians any longer. Interestingly, Satan also quoted this psalm (vv. 11-12) to tempt Jesus (Matt 4:6). “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler” (Ps 91:3-4). Because of this promise, some are now preaching that nothing will happen to us believers. Is that really true?

In fact, Psalm 91 shows our dependence on God. He is our refuge. We find our security in Him. And He is faithful in every life circumstance. The psalm can be divided into three parts: 1. God is the believer’s fortress (vv. 1-2); 2. God is the defender from all danger (vv. 3-13); and 3. God gives His assurances (vv. 14-16). But, before we apply the psalm to ourselves, we have to ask some important questions. Who wrote this text, and under what circumstances and when? The promises that God gave to Israel can’t simply be to the church today on a one-to-one basis. God promised blessings to His people in the Promised Land if they obeyed Him, but curses if they disobeyed (Deut 28). We need to keep this in mind when we consider Psalm 91.

It is generally believed that Moses was the psalm’s author. His words might have been a heavenly answer to the situation in Egypt, or in the Israelite camp in the desert. It’s also possible that the psalm was addressed to Joshua as the conqueror of Canaan. His entire generation had died in the desert, so only Caleb and he were permitted to move to the Promised Land with a new generation of Israelites. Joshua and the people would win their wars in Canaan if Israel was faithful. We also see a messianic dimension to Psalm 91 that will be fully accomplished in the Millennium.

It should be noted, however, that some of the Old Covenant saints experienced the preservation of Psalm 91, but hardly all. Hebrews 11 demonstrates this: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (vv. 32-40).

In the New Testament, we see that the Apostle Paul had to go through many illnesses and temptations. And Christ Himself tells us: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:34-39).

In light of this, how should we understand and apply Psalm 91 to ourselves? On the one hand, God’s greatness and our security in Him remain unchanged. On the other hand, we interpret this psalm’s promises in light of the New Covenant, in which our promises aren’t earthly, but “heavenly.” Paul makes the meaning of this clear in Romans 8:28-39:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God will surely bring us to the heavenly goal, and we will see His salvation (Ps 91:16). But the way there can be through “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword.”

Midnight Call - 09/2020

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety