Does Psalm 91 Guarantee Divine Protection?
If I pray and “claim” Psalm 91 over my loved ones and myself, does this mean God will shield us from a pandemic and no disaster will come near us?
“Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence” (Psalm 91:2).
Does God promise in Psalm 91 that He will protect a Christian from harm? If I pray and claim this psalm over my loved ones and myself, does this mean God will shield us from a pandemic and no disaster will come near us?
God wrote our Scriptures through humans in a particular era of history and through the means available at that time. He used whatever types of literature or illustrations would have been understandable to the original audience. They would have known how to read and understand God’s words to them through whatever form He chose to write. After Christians determine what a verse or passage meant to the original audience, then they can build a bridge for meaning into their own culture. Within scripture, we find the genres of law, narrative history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom, letter, gospel, and ancient apocalyptic literature.1
Within scripture, we find the genres of law, narrative history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom, letter, gospel, and ancient apocalyptic literature.
Before we unpack Psalm 91, it is vital we look at the Book of Psalms as a whole. The Book of Psalms is the songbook of Ancient Israel and deals with all aspects of ancient Hebrew life. The authors of the psalms wrote in the biblical genre of Hebrew poetry. The mechanics of Hebrew poetry are strikingly different from English poetry. This book does not teach straight doctrine per se; it addresses the mind through the heart. The psalms themselves are musical poems, intended to evoke emotion and a response.2 They give us God-inspired models of praise and prayers, teaching us to be brutally authentic when communing with our Creator. Worshipers express their deepest emotions by delighting in God’s beautiful gifts or at other times accusing Him of abandonment.
If Christians use the psalmist’s experience as a literal promise of God, then they will become confused and disappointed. God certainly answers prayer and can indeed instantly anticipate any needed divine protection; however, “God wants us to trust his wisdom rather than to trust that he will yield to our wisdom. There is nothing too hard for God, but we cannot dictate which hard thing he should do.”3
Interpreting Psalm 91
Biblical scholars have divided the psalms into various types, for example: praise hymns, lament, wisdom, thanksgiving, psalms of trust, and kingship.4 Psalm 91 is a musical poem of trust or confidence.
This psalm begins in verses 91:1-2 with a personal testimony from the narrator. Almighty God is his refuge and fortress. Yahweh is the God in whom he trusts.
In verses 91:3-13, the narrator encourages the reader (or listener in the original audience) to have confidence in Yahweh as well. He lists in poetic imagery the ways Yahweh will fight battles, execute justice, and protect those who take refuge in Him.
Continuing into verses 91:14-16, Yahweh is now speaking. The one who loves Him knows his name. One commentator noted, “All this leads to a characteristic term in Psalms for the nature of God: his “name.” It is widely recognized that the “name” of God is not a label or a title but rather a term for his very nature (“what He is in Himself).”5 Yahweh’s name expresses not only his heart for protection imaged within this one psalm, but all the attributes the Israelites had experienced throughout their nation’s history, individually and corporately. Yahweh is the compassionate Deliverer, a gentle Shepherd, and the One Who sees each one.
Psalm 91 in the Life of Jesus Christ
During Jesus’ temptation, Satan flippantly quoted Psalm 91:11-12 and then tried to apply the words out of context. Jesus responded by citing other scripture, “It is also written….” Jesus drew from another part of the canon of scripture to give insight to the Author’s intended meaning of these verses.6
Later, when Jesus visited his hometown of Nazareth, he infuriated the people in the synagogue with his teaching. They drove him out of town and took him to the brow of a hill, intending to throw him off the cliff and kill him. Miraculously, Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on his way. We see divine protection.7
Yet in the years to come, Jesus eventually suffered cruel injustice at the hands of the civil and religious authorities. He was betrayed, whipped, mocked, and crucified. No miraculous delivery here. Jesus’ crucifixion was a vital part of the Father’s ultimate plan of love for his creation.
Psalm 91 for Christians Today
Jesus’ followers must be careful not to interpret an ancient genre through a twenty-first century lens. When Christians pray Psalm 91 (and they should!), they are acknowledging the name of Yahweh, that He is indeed able to accomplish what they pray on behalf of their loved ones and themselves, including deliverance from invisible enemies and violence. However, Christians must also balance this psalm with the rest of scripture, and inversely, the Bible teaches they will experience suffering and persecution in their earthly pilgrimage.
Jesus’ followers must be careful not to interpret an ancient genre through a twenty-first century lens.
As one scholar summarized, “Ultimately in the book of Psalms, God is our king, who reigns over our lives and the world that he has made.”8 When we affirm our confidence in God’s character during times of terror or within a pandemic, we take our lives out of the control of the powers and authorities in this world and place our souls within the hands of our good and loving Heavenly Father. Come what may, we rest in his shadow and take his faithfulness as our shield. After this temporal life is finished, we will stand amazed when our King reveals how He orchestrated innumerable answers to our prayers that are now invisible to our human eyes. Let us pray with the psalmist, “The Lord is my refuge and my fortress, I trust in the name of Yahweh, my God. I will dwell in the shelter of the Most High.”9
1 I am indebted to J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hayes in Grasping God’s Word for the comments on biblical hermeneutics in this paragraph.
2How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, pages 206-208
3 Andrew Hill and John Walton in Old Testament Today, page 375
4 Biblical scholars vary in their names and number for types.
5 J. N. Oswalt in Dictionary of Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, ed. by Tremper Longman and Peter Enns, page 249.
6 See Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.
7 See Luke 4:14-30.
8 M.D. Futato in Dictionary of Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, ed. by Tremper Longman and Peter Enns, page 59.
9 Psalm 91: 1-2, 9.
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