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This morning I was reminded of Psalm 91 and how the Psalm functions in order to give hope and confidence to the believer in times of trouble.

As a certified biblical counselor I am always interested in helping people to counsel themselves by using the Bible and their knowledge of Scripture in general. Paul himself encourages the Roman Christians to counsel one another through the Word of God. He states:

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 15:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Toward that end of trying to help people counsel one another during this time of uncertainly, I will use nothing more than the study notes from the MacArthur Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible for my comments. The point of that is to show how a person can learn to counsel themselves using nothing more than a solid study Bible, making observations from the text and having familiarity with Scripture as a whole..

Read over the Psalm. My observations and comments will follow.

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 cover 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— 10  no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13  You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. 14  “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15  When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16  With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 91:1–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The first observation is to note that the Psalm speaks of God’s absolute sovereignty. Today many people do not accept the idea that God is absolutely sovereign. That includes Christians who may not know the Scriptures as well as they should; yet the concept is taught in many places including here in Psalm 91.

The idea that God is absolutely sovereign over all circumstances is a truth designed to give the believer confidence and hope in those circumstances. We can see this as the Psalm broadly details the various circumstances that can produce fear.

Note vss 3, 5, 6, 7, 10. They all speak of scary circumstances including the schemes of evil persons, pestilence (disease), night terrors, war, pestilence again, war again and plague. That is scary stuff but before the scary stuff is mentioned a declaration by the believer is made:

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.

What does it mean to dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the shadow of the Almighty (vs 1)? Verse 2 answers the question by declaring that God is the refuge and fortress for the believer (no matter what is implied) and so the believer trusts in the absolute sovereignty of God regardless of the circumstances. This speaks of the faith (trusting God) of the believer especially when the chips are down and it looks as if God is not in control.

Note that each verse that describes very scary circumstances (3, 5, 6, 7, 10) is followed immediately by verses (sometimes in the same verse that describe the scary circumstances) that speak of God’s protection and his love for those who trust in him (vss 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,).

One of the questions that comes up is does the Psalm mean that a believer will be literally be protected from all the scary circumstances and trials mentioned? This is a pertinent question for today since most of us are in lockdown over the Corona Virus and that given pestilence is mentioned twice and plague once. All of those terms describe some kind of sickness or disease that threatens one’s health and can produce death.

We know that believer’s experience poor health and die from disease. We know that believer’s get involved in war and are often persecuted, so what kind of protection are we talking about here?

This is where the believer needs to know the Bible well especially the Book of Job. Within the context of God’s sovereignty even Satan had limits as to what could be inflicted upon Job. In other words God often permits and sanctions that believer’s suffer just like anyone else. This is the price a believer pays for living in a sin cursed world. It’s not pleasant but it is temporal.

The genuine believer knows that there is a life to come that comes after his or her physical life ends. The MacArthur Study Study Bible notes that Psalm 91 can be read literally when we understand it in Messianic terms meaning that in heaven there is no more “scary stuff” and all promises are literally fulfilled.

The Psalmist recognizes scary stuff, yet has confidence in God because he or she knows that regardless of the circumstances their salvation is safe and secure. The New Testament believer understands this if they have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation.

In verses 14-16 it is God himself who speaks to give assurance to the believer.:

14  “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15  When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16  With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 91:14–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

As a biblical counselor who has counseled many people who have suffered from anxiety I can tell you that I always point to the gospel first. Understanding and embracing the gospel of grace alone in Christ alone (not good works or what I call good person theology) is the first step in putting anxiety away.

It’s the start of thinking biblically about life and about eternity. Remember, that the Bible is God’s love letter to those who trust in Him. Read it, embrace it, study it and use it to counsel others as you learn to counsel yourself.

Psalm 46 is another Psalm that can give comfort in times of uncertainty like we are in. The link will take you to recent sermon on Psalm 46 that was given in my church’s first week of shutdown.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God