Psalm 91 - A psalm for an epidemic
Topic: Sermon Passage: Psalm 91:1–91:16
I want us to look today at Psalm 91.
And psalm 91 is one of those awesome psalms, bits of which you probably know very well. In his commentary, Derek Kidner says ‘this is a psalm for danger, for times of exposure and encirclement.’ And we could add, a psalm for an epidemic, because if you feel exposed, or encircled, or sense the fear of danger in the community, this is the psalm for you.
And just take a look at it. It’s really in 3 parts. In verses 1-2 the psalmist speaks for himself; then in v3-13 he talks to us, as individuals - the ‘you’ there in v3 is singular, so through the Spirit he’s talking to you, and he’s encouraging you and me to take to heart what he knows by experience. But then the psalm finishes in v14-16 with the Lord speaking to us. And as he does he makes some extraordinary promises.
Let’s begin by looking at v1-2. You could title this opening, ‘what shadow do you live under?’
But start by looking at the four names of God the psalmist uses. Verse 1, ‘the most high’. And if God is the most high, there is none higher. As Derek Kidner says, he’s the one who cuts every threat against you down to size. The one before whom every threat, however great, is dwarfed.
The he’s ‘the Almighty’ Shaddai, mightier than any power, or person you can ever face in life.
Then look at v2, ‘The LORD’ - and the Lord capitalised like that means its translating God’s name, YHWH - I am who I am - the one who doesn’t need anyone or anything to keep him going, the one who was and is and always will be - the Lord.
And then the fourth name, ‘my God’ and you might think, that’s a bit of a let down - just the general, all encompassing name, God. Except look - he’s my God. The most high, the almighty, I am who I am is my God, the psalmist says.
And he can be your shelter. Verse 1: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the almighty.
Not long after we moved here we went for a hike to the top of Dent De Vaulion, and when we were at the top we could see these dark clouds rolling in, but we’re English and dark clouds is like a summer’s day, so we didn’t rush down, but before long we found ourselves in a blizzard, and just down from the peak, fortunately, was a little shed which we sheltered in until the storm had passed.
And the psalmist says, you can make God your shelter. But look what he says - he who dwells in the shelter of the most high.’ And the problem is that you and I treat God more like a therapist or a hospital than our home. We go to him when things are bad, but we don’t dwell with him. We treat him like a temporary shelter until the storm has passed, but then we go to our real home. But the psalmist says, stay there, dwell there and he will be your shelter.
And when you do, you’ll find rest: second half of v1 again, ‘you will abide - you will rest in - the shadow of the almighty.
Now, life can be stressful and full of fears. And add in a virus, and a creaking health system, and close the schools and anxiety can go say high. Why? Because we’re living under the shadow of all that. But make the Most high your dwelling place and the psalmist knows that you will find rest in the shadow of the almighty. So, let me ask you, what shadow do you live under? Even today, what overshadows you. Is it God the most high, the almighty, or is it something else?
Well, look how the psalmist responds: v2, ‘I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”’ And in speaking to the Lord, he’s also speaking to himself, isn’t he? He’s reminding himself ‘God, you’re my security, you’re the one I trust.’ Martin Lloyd Jones, the famous welsh preacher said, we spend too much time listening to ourselves - to our doubts, our fears, our anxieties, and and not enough time talking to ourselves. Telling ourselves, speaking the truth God, you’re my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
But then the psalmist switches and starts speaking to us, and you could call this bit, Total Protection.
Look at v3: ‘For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly perstilence.’ Or as the NLT puts it, ‘He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.’
Then in v5-6 he expands it: ‘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.’
Now, when he says he will deliver you, and you will not fear these things, he doesn’t mean they won’t happen to you. Day or night he says, these threats are real. And while nighttime should be a time of rest, fear can turn it into a time or terror and you lie awake at night worrying. And the dark isn’t just the dark of night, but that dark of the unknown, when it’s a bit scary and you don’t know what’s going on, and you get the impression the authorities don’t know either.
But however bad things are, God is your deliverer the psalmist says, and he will deliver you, so you don’t need to fear. Nothing is higher than the most high, nothing more mighty than the almighty. Instead, v4, God ‘will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.’ Just think of those two pictures he’s giving us. That God is like a bird, whose chicks hide under the wings; but he’s also a mighty warrior who defends you. He’s the one in whom you will find warmth and comfort and endless compassion, but he’s also strong and mighty and your defender.
And when God is on your side, and you are dwelling in him, and finding your security in him, nothing can harm you. As Charles Spurgeon, the Victorian preacher said, ‘He who is spirit can protect us from evil spirits; he who is mysterious can rescue us from mysterious dangers; he who is immortal can redeem us from mortal dangers.
And in v7-10, the psalmist says that thousands may fall around you, but you won’t fall. Evil may befall others, but not you. Plague may come near others - but it won’t come near you. Now, in the middle of an epidemic, how do you make sense of that. Because it may come near you or those you love.
Well, this doesn’t mean we won’t be affected by what affects others. It means that God will allow nothing to happen to you without a loving, fatherly purpose. It means, in the words of Paul in Romans 8, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. 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 - us who go to the LORD for refuge - from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So whatever you fear at the moment, coronavirus or anything else, nothing can ever separate you from God’s love. It can never destroy your security in him.
And in v11-12 - there is this promise of angelic protection. Look at it: ‘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.’ Do you remember the story in 2 Kings 6 of when the enemies of the Lord’s people had the prophet Elisha and his servant surrounded. And the situation seems hopeless. And his servant is filled with fear: ‘Alas , my master, what shall we do?’ Elisah replies, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more that those who are with them.’ And then he prays that God would open his servants eyes so he can see the truth. So he can see the world as it really is. And he does, and that young man sees the mountains around them filled with horse and chariots of fire - the host of heaven’s armies.
You see, God is more than able to protect those who are his. We just need the eyes of our hearts opening to see it. We have nothing to fear. But, of course, satan takes a verse like this and suggests we can use it arrogantly. That we can take unnecessary risks, because, hey, God's angels will protect you - which is just what he did with Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness. Throw yourself off the temple Jesus, and - quoting this psalm - God will keep you safe. But that’s not what this psalm is saying is it. And given our present situation, we should take the risks of coronavirus just as seriously as Jesus did the height of the temple. This isn’t a reason to put God to the test, it’s a promise that when we are finding our security in God in times of danger and fear, God knows how to protect those who are his.
And that is what Jesus did. And the angels did come to strengthen him, in the garden of Gethsemane, when he was about to give his life for God’s purposes, to secure our everlasting protection.
And it’s always interested me, that though satan quotes v11-12 at Jesus, he strangely omits v13, ‘You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.’ And our enemy is a lying snake, and a roaring lion. And through his death and resurrection, Jesus has crushed him under his foot.
And in Christ, these verses are also true for us. That every dark power is under Jesus’ control, so we are not merely survivors in Christ we are victors, more than conquerors through him who loved us and gave himself for us.
But then in v14-16, the Lord speaks to us. And you could call this bit Promised Deliverance.
Look at v14, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him.” You know, when you know what Jesus has done for you - dying for you, winning your forgiveness, pouring his love upon you, you hold fast to him in love. Your heart goes out to God in love because of his love for you. And thats’ the only condition, that you go to him for rescue, and hold to him. And God says in v14, ‘I will protect him, because he knows my name.’
Now, I don’t know what your name means. Martin means, of mars, or from another planet. But for God his name is his character - his multifaceted, ever beautiful character, it’s who he is. And when you know his name, you know his character and so you know he’ll deliver you, however crazy the world seems.
And in v15, ‘When he calls to me, I will answer him, I will be with him in trouble.’ You know, when you are dwelling, and abiding, and resting and trusting in God, and looking to him, how can your prayer life, your inner walk with God do anything except grow deeper. And your praying is going to be increasingly in line with his will, and when you pray, God will draw near - with his answers and his presence.
When I was at school I used to play rugby, and I was a hooker - the guy right in the middle of the scrum. Now normally that guy is big and stocky and muscular, with a thick neck - whilst I’m a weed. But the two guys one either side of me, my props, they were everything a prop should be. And if there was ever any trouble, they’d be right there. And when you’re in trouble, it sure helps to have someone stand by you, doesn’t it? Someone to defend you, or argue your case; someone to protect you and fight for you. Well, that’s exactly what God promises. The most high, the Almighty, will be with you in trouble,
And v16, the last verse, God says, ‘With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.’ Whether you and I live long or short, whether we die young or old, we can die satisfied if God is our refuge, because we know the joy is only just beginning. That this life is just a warm up for the real life to come.
Let me finish with what Spurgeon said about these verses: ‘It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord… 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 can happen to him, for everything is ever used for good.’
So we are safe in God. Let us use that safety, that security to encourage one another and to serve our neighbours in whatever way we can in the days ahead.
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