Psalm 91 has been a comfort to disciples for millennia. In this bible study we explore how we may take comfort in God’s promises and have assurance on where our true security lies.
How Psalm 91 speaks into us during the Coronavirus pandemic
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’
3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honour him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.’
Psalm 91 bursts with assurances about the protection of God—replete with words like shelter, refuge, fortress, shield, deliver, rescue, and satisfy. At this time of global pandemic with the novel coronavirus COVID-19, this Psalm speaks God’s power, presence, intentions, and protection against fear. Described as a covering for His people, God’s comfort is a wing of security amidst this world’s uncertainties and suffering.
Will God Protect Us from Pestilence?
Psalm 91 was used by Satan to tempt Jesus in the desert (see Matthew 4:5-7). The Devil said that surely Jesus could place Himself in the way of harm in order to demonstrate the rescuing power of God. But Satan misused God’s Word, removing it from the context of the whole and unity of Scripture. Jesus, honouring Scripture, responded that God is not to be put to the test. Careless behaviour is not condoned by God—and neither is misuse of Scripture.
Learning from Jesus, then, we also must handle Scripture well in our times. That God is our refuge, comfort, and shade amidst pandemic does not mean that if we believe in Jesus Christ we have physical immunity to COVID-19—all credible commentators agree.
However, verses in this Psalm do appear to promise present, bodily deliverance from pestilence. The word pestilence means any sudden fatal epidemic or pandemic, and in its Biblical use it generally indicates that these are divine visitations. The word is most frequently used in the prophetic books. Consider, for example, verses 3 and 6: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” and “You will not fear . . . the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” How do we faithfully interpret those statements?
First, we can remember God’s covenants with Israel, in which God promises abundance as the nation is faithful. As listeners of this psalm commit themselves to God, He would give success in their purpose of inhabiting the promised land and being God’s beacon to the nations. As they trusted, no pestilence would keep the Israelite army from defeating its enemies and from becoming the nation God promised.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The psalm does not promise, then, that no Israelite would ever become ill. God promised that no pandemic would keep them from being the nation He foretold they would become. And the ones who would become ill and pass from this life are not excluded from the promises of God for Israel that will be fulfilled at the end of this age.
3 Other Interpretive Considerations
Three other interpretations are possible concerning God’s deliverance from pestilence.
Perhaps this deliverance refers to a wide range of persistent attacks, including spiritual—and not necessarily always referring to illnesses. In this case, pestilence would be “a figure for various evils” literally meaning “plagues of mischiefs.”
The deliverance promised can involve spiritual deliverance and protection for those who trust the Lord in the midst of these outward difficulties. As J. A. Motyer states, “the promise is not security from but security in”.
The deliverance could also refer to future glory. Tremper Longmann writes, “Christians can pray Psalm 91, knowing that God is with them in the spiritual battle of this life and that, in Christ, God will give them eternal life.”
What Is God’s Deliverance?
To apply this to deliverance amidst COVID-19, we can glean the following principles:
1. We know from the wider testimony of Scripture that God’s promised deliverance is spiritual in the present, while being spiritual and bodily in the age to come.
2. We know that in God’s common grace in this world and in His Fatherly love for believers, all bodily healing that does happen in this life is from His generous hand.
3. We know that God’s plans for this world are secure—His plans for Israel, as well as His plans for the Church and all believers.
What Is the Message of Psalm 91?
Hear God’s message to you that your life is beneath the shelter and shadow of His wings. He is your life’s fortress, delivering you to spiritual strength now and certain bodily strength as well in eternity. This day, no arrows of evil or of disease can touch the meaning and purpose that God is pulling from your life. Make the Lord your refuge, and nothing will be able to affect or infect you that will diminish God’s purposes for you.
The psalm ends with what is referred to by commentators as a divine oracle. God is speaking to His people. And He promises that those who call upon Him will be answered; that those who hold fast to Him will be delivered; that those who trust Him for who He is will be protected.
How Can We ‘Rest in the Shadow of the Almighty’?
In Luke 21, Jesus is speaking about the signs of the end of times. In verse 10, He speaks of wars—of nation rising against nation. In verse 11, He speaks of earthquake, famine, pestilence, terrors, and signs from heaven. In verses 12-17, He talks of persecution for Christians and times when we will be delivered over to authorities for death.
He concludes in verses 18-19: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
Think about this: Jesus says that in dying, not a hair on our heads will perish.
We who believe are spiritually secure through Christ—never to face judgment. We are eternally secure—headed to the place of no suffering or pain. We are presently secure in purpose—no event of the world can surprise, overwhelm, or demote us from fulfilling God’s good works for us here. And, by Jesus’ words, we are to consider ourselves miraculously secure when meeting the eruptive trials of this life.
God’s protection is beyond our understanding. And so, my conviction is to read Psalm 91 exactly how it sounds—that nothing even of my body can be touched by the coronavirus. Though I die, not a hair of my head will perish. Even if my body is touched by COVID-19, it cannot be harmed. In the paradox is the hope. For, the age to come is not ever to be viewed by the believer as a distant and abstract reality.
Know that you are the Lord’s and no evil or manifestation of evil in this world can touch you. You may well suffer in this world. Yet, Jesus has overcome it. So, as you rest in Him, nothing can touch you. Whatever does touch you, His hand is the closer layer abiding over you like a shadow of protection.
9 Ways We Can Take Comfort in God During Coronavirus Fears
Knowing this God is our comfort. Psalm 91 describes Him as our shelter, shadow, refuge, fortress, refuge, shield, buckler, dwelling, rescuer, and protection.
1. Shelter (v. 1): God is our hiding place, covering us with His good purposes.
2. Shadow (v. 1): God is over and beyond us—seeing more than we see and knowing more than we know. We can rest in His shadow.
3. Refuge (v. 2): He is a safe place for us of security; we climb into Him.
4. Fortress (v. 2): He is our defence whose promises cannot be inhibited.
5. Shield (v. 4): Resting in our God deflects the enemies of fear and doubt in times of trial.
6. Buckler (or, shield that completely engulfs) (v. 4): He is a defence on every side. He knows every part of us and our lives—no aspect is beyond His reach.
7. Dwelling (v. 9): God’s protection is not fleeting; His protection serves for our continual habitation.
8. Rescuer (v. 14): He leads us off with Him, drawing us to Himself and rescuing us from being overcome by the world.
9. Protection (v. 14): In His protection, He carries us to an elevated place—by trusting in Him, our minds and hearts become inaccessible to the churning fears below.
As believers, we have committed to Christ that our lives and times are in His hands; our dream is that our days might bring Him eternal glory. The reality of God’s comfort and power to deliver us to eternal life is what delivers us from being dominated by pandemic fear in these days.
The promises of God – of life to come and of His divine purpose give us the shelter that we need. When fears of the coronavirus and its impacts surround us, how much fiercer is the security of an infinite God!