He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will comer you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.
Perhaps something of this psalm sounds familiar to you. The devil quoted it to Jesus during the temptation. Satan took Jesus up to the height of the temple and suggested he cast himself off, since the psalm said, “For he will command his angels concerning you…on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Surely God’s angels would rescue Jesus from the 300 foot plunge. But Jesus saw this for what it was—tempting God.
You see, the promises of God are meant to be relied upon. They are not a means to provoke God into action because one wants to witness a display of holy power. It’s a bit like we think of prayer. Congregants have often asked me how they can make their prayers more effective. “How do I get my prayers to work?” But that’s a mechanistic way of looking at prayer instead of a relational one. I know it’s not the intent of their hearts, but it’s almost like saying, “How do I get God to do what I want?”
This psalm is meant to encourage the hearts of those who sing it, who pray it, who read it aloud and own it. It is not meant to make you brash or foolhardy, but diligent and thoughtful, doing all you can for the desired outcome while knowing that the ultimate end is his good will.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer of the church in Europe’s 16th century, lived and taught in Wittenberg during an outbreak of the plague. Luther wrote a long letter to one of his fellow believers that ended this way:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Have faith in God. Wash your hands.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Father, we humble ourselves before you, and pray that you would preserve us and those we love in this time. We hide in the shadow of your wings. Let none be found tempting God at this time, but drawing ever-nearer to Jesus, who is our peace. And let our hope be fixed on the empty tomb and the world to come, that we might serve those in need without fear. Have mercy, O God.
Song: "Psalm 91 (On Eagle's Wings) by Shane & Shane