I’ve been thinking about Psalm 91 quite a bit since the coronavirus became a world-wide concern. The rabbi at my Messianic congregation recently wrapped-up a six-part sermon series on this psalm, and none too soon since the very next week churches were asked to stop meeting. There are hospitals overwhelmed by patients, non-essential businesses being ordered to close, and “stay at home” orders coming from governments. It’s scary out there. But we don’t have to let fear take over our lives.
Psalm 91 contains some of the most stunning assurances of God’s care and protection in the Bible, and it’s a good reminder that we need not fear no matter how bad the things around us get. And things are going to get bad. None of us know when Jesus will return, but we do know we’re getting closer. As that time approaches, we were warned to expect “wars and rumors of wars … famines, plagues, and earthquakes” before the end comes (Matt. 24:6-8). None of what is happening now (or which has been happening for the past 2,000 years) should be a surprise for Bible-readers.
We’ve also been told how to handle it when things get bad. We should watch, be ready, pray, stay faithful, and fear not. Easier said than done, though, especially in these times when fear and panic are running rampant. One way to keep ourselves from getting swept up in unfruitful anxiety is by holding onto the promises in God’s word, like those found in Psalm 91.
God’s Power To Deliver
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, all quotes from WEB)
Hebrew words often have a variety of meanings. The one translated “dwell” (H3427, yashab) can also mean remain, abide, inhabit, and marry. It’s that last one that seems out of place to us English speakers. How can marriage and dwelling mean the same thing? But if you think of marrying someone as giving a dwelling to them it starts to seem a little less unusual (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon). The connection also makes sense as part of the recurring imagery of the Lord marrying His people and providing dwellings for them (Matt. 22:2; John 14:1-3).
This place spoken of in the psalm is a secret or “covered, hidden” location (H5643, sether) that belong to the Most High God. Dwelling here lets you rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Using these names helps remind us that God has all power and is perfectly capable of living up to the expectations the psalmist will speak of in the lines to follow. In addition, use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, demonstrates the closeness of relationship the psalmist has with Him and reminds us that He is the I AM who delivered Israel (Ex. 3:14-15). Read more →
What does your heart feel like? If it’s hurried and anxious, as mine often is, then you’re not alone. Our world pushes us to hurry, to perform, to keep up appearances. It’s exhausting. But scripture has encouragement for us.
“Strengthen the weak hands and make the staggering knees firm. Say to those who are hasty of heart, ‘Be strong; you must not fear! Look! your God will come with vengeance, with divine retribution. He is the one who will come and save you.’” (Is. 35:3-4, LEB)
In the midst of all that, faith offers us an oasis of calm. God gives us a new perspective on reality that brings joy, hope, and peace to our hearts. There are times, though, when we’ll still feel hurried, attacked, and afraid. When that happens, there is a specific promise we can turn to. Read more →
Last week we talked about claiming promises from God. But we didn’t talk about the verses that got me started on that study. Psalm 91 is packed full of promises that are clearly meant to include the reader. There isn’t even a writer credited, so there’s no clear historical context, and the psalm is addressed to all who make the Lord their God. There’s nothing to distract from the fact that this psalm was written for everyone who’s in a relationship with God, including you as a Christian today.
Claiming Relationship With God
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps. 91:1-2, WEB)
The psalm begins with a promise to those who remain, inhabit, and abide (H3427, yashab) in the hiding place or shelter (H5643 sether) of the Most High God. They will “stay permanently” (Strong’s H3885 lun) in the shadowing protection (H6738 tsel) of El Shaddai.
Because of that promise, we get the only “I” statement from this psalm’s writer. They claim the Lord as “my God” and say they will have confidence in Him (H982 baach). And they demonstrate that trust by making Him their refuge, shelter (H4268 machaseh) and defensive stronghold (H4684 matsud). That’s something we can do as well.
Stripping Fear of Power
This psalm contains truly incredible promises of protection in the midst of trials. We’d probably prefer it if God’s protection meant we didn’t have to go through trials. But to be delivered “from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence,” there must be someone trying to trap you or a pestilence threatening your life (Ps. 91:3, WEB). And if “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand,” then you must be in a location where people are perishing right and left (Ps. 91:7, KJV). Read more →
The Rabbi in my local Messianic congregation recently gave a series of teachings on the Lord’s “secret place” of safety where His people abide and dwell (Ps. 91). It has been excellent food for thought, and I thought it would be interesting to study one of the Hebrew words that the Rabbi didn’t focus on.
He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. (Ps. 91:4)
The word I want to look at is “wings,” from the Hebrew kanap (H3671). I knew from my Pentecost study on Ruth that this word could also mean the edge of a garment, but I hadn’t spent much time with it before.
Meaning of Kanap
By the way … can anyone recommend a good Hebrew dictionary? I’m not entirely happy with Baker and Carpenter’s The Complete WordStudy Dictionary of the Old Testament. Nevertheless, that’s the one I have, so it’ll have to do for now. Here’s what they have to say about kanap.
A common noun for a wing, the skirt or corner of a garment. It has the basic sense of the outer edges, corners, or extremities of something … The idiom to spread (one’s) wings over means to take to wife … God is often noted as providing a shadow of protection for His people under His wings.
The book of Ruth provides examples of both the idiomatic sense, to marry, and the use of kanap in reference to God’s protection. Boaz tells Ruth,
The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge. (Ruth 2:12)
Later, Ruth asks Boaz to be her redeemer by saying,
I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.(Ruth 3:9)
Use of this word to describe God’s involvement with His people covers pretty much all of history, from Deuteronomy 32:11 which describes God leading Jacob as an eagle who spreads her wings over her young, to a prophecy in Malachi which reads,
But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.(Mal. 4:2)
The Psalms show that this kind of active protection and help (Ex. 19:4) is available to all God’s peple who pray to Him and abide in Him.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. (Ps. 36:7)
It’s a beautiful cycle: God’s loving kindness inspires trust, trust makes us stay close to God and abide under His wings, where He gives more proof of His mercy and love, which in turn makes us trust Him even more.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by. (Ps. 57:1)
Trust in God is never misplaced. When He wraps His covering of protection around us, we can be assured of abundant help.
Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. (Ps. 63:7)
We see this analogy continuing in the New Testament as well. Remember this Hebrew word can mean the edge of a garment as well as wings? In the gospels, simply touching the edge of Christ’s garment in a spirit of faith was enough to heal physical ailments (Matt. 9:20-22).
Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well. (Mark 6:56)
Under His Wings
There’s also a far more sobering New Testament continuation of this analogy with wings. It follows one of Jesus’ confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matt. 23:37)
Both “wanted” and “willing” in this verse are translated from the Greek word thelo (G2309). It “indicates not only willing something, but also pressing on to action. … Thelo, therefore, means to will as the equivalent to purpose, to be decided upon seeing one’s desire to its execution” (Zodhiates). Christ isn’t saying a ho-hum, “oh, it would have been nice to gather you, but you didn’t like that idea.” This word is much more focused. It shows Christ reaching out with a longing and an intention to help His people, and it shows them purposing in their hearts to actively reject Him. No wonder He wept over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41. This was not at all the relationship God wanted with His people.
In Ezekiel 16, we find a narrative where God is speaking to Jerusalem to reproach her for her unfaithfulness. It begins with a reminder that she was unwanted and despised until He took pity on her (verses 1-7).
“When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God. (Ezk 16:8)
God took notice of Jerusalem, and made a marriage covenant with her, covering her with the boarders of His garment and protecting her in the shadow of His wings. And then she chose to reject Him.
Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord God. “But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it.” (Ezk 16:14-15)
The sobering truth is that we can also reject God’s covering protection. We can push Him away, batting aside the wings stretched out to shelter us, and run the opposite direction. I can partly understand a hesitancy to step into a close relationship with God. He wants to know us more intimately than anyone else ever can, and that can be intimidating. But to leave Him after tasting of the good fruits of being in a relationship with God boggles my mind right now. And yet that’s exactly what Israel did again and again.
Paul says the stories of Israel’s disobedience were “written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). If we need to be admonished by their example, then that must mean there’s a chance that we might do the same things they did. We need to be warned against rejecting God, and on guard against straying away from Him. Going back to Psalm 91 and reading the first few verses, it reminds us of the necessity for dwelling and abiding in close relationship with God. Only when we actively choose to walk into His outstretched arms can we take part in the wondrous relationship He offers us.
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. (Ps. 91:1-4)
I’ve finished making my way through a study of Proverbs, in preparation for my church’s women’s group discussion about favorite proverbs that is taking place this afternoon. My first post covered five proverbs from chapters 1-10, the second covered five from chapters 11-20, and this last post is for chapters 21-31. I still haven’t decided which of these 15 is my favorite, but at least I’ve narrowed it down to 15.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold. (Prov. 22:1)
I just heard a sermonette last week about God giving people names with meanings that fit the roles He designated them for — Jesus = savior; Paul = small; Peter = a little stone; Abraham = father of a multitude. From what I understand, names in Hebrew thought are inseparable from the essence, character, and reputation of a person. Therefore, it is better to have a good reputation, a name worthy of respect, than to have great riches. The word for “favor,” which is described as better than silver and gold, is from the word chen (H2580), and it means “favor, kindness, grace, loveliness, charm, preciousness.”
For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. (Prov. 24:16)
It doesn’t promise that if you are a just person you will never fall — it says you will be able to get back up rather than fall deeper into mischief. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” David said, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). If — when — we fall, we can be assured that God is holding our hand and will help pick us back up (Ps. 37:24).
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Prov. 27:6)
King Lear would have been a very different play had the titular character been heeding this advice. When a friend wounds you, it is generally 1) an accident, or 2) with a view to your good. David wrote, “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141.5). It might make us angry at first, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can often see that we were reproved out of love, and that we become better people with a stronger friendship as a result. In contrast, listening to the flattering words of those who secretly seek our hurt can only lead to grief.
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. (Prov. 30:5)
Here we leave Solomon’s proverbs and read “the words of Agur the son of Jakeh” (Prov. 30:1). This is a two-fold promise. Firstly, that God’s words are free of imperfections. As such, it is all profitable and no part should be ignored or neglected (2 Tim. 3:16). Secondly, that the Lord shields those who trust in Him. This was a frequent subject in Psalms, such as “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). Connecting these two points is the fact that God’s commands are designed to protect us, as illustrated by this comic I saw on Facebook the other day.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. (Prov. 31:30)
This is from the end of the virtuous woman passage contained in “words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him” (Prov. 31:1). When I was younger, I latched on to this verse as a substitute for my perceived lack of beauty — if I couldn’t be pretty, I could at least fear God and earn praise that way. As I’ve become more comfortable with myself and more mature as a Christian, my views on this verse have changed. I concentrate more on the last half of the verse, asking “How can I be a woman who fears the Lord?”
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (! Pet. 3:3-4)