There is no doubt that we live in turbulent times. It seems so many of the small joys in life are being replaced by fear, anxiety and doubt. “Safety” is now a relative term. Just over two weeks ago a festive day in one of our most historic cities was overtaken by terror and chaos, and the century-old tradition of the Boston Marathon was forever scarred. The question on most of our minds can only be, “What next?”
So as analysts offer dire predictions of further terror, how should believers respond? Should we be afraid? Should we change our daily routines? Should we avoid public gatherings? What about safety in our churches?
Psalm 91 offers comfort and direction for believers when we may be feeling vulnerable and fearful. It’s an excellent psalm to send to a believer who is in a dangerous situation – someone who is serving the Lord in an unstable part of the world, or a “first responder,” or in military service.
1. Believers must guard against distortions and distractions.
Satan used verses from this psalm to test the Lord Jesus in the wilderness, in an attempt to distract Him from His earthly mission: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (v11-12). Satan twisted the meaning of these verses, but the Lord was well aware of Satan’s tactics, and He refuted him with the correct use of Scripture (Luke 4:10-12).
As followers of Jesus, we too should be alert and on our guard. We know that Satan is prowling around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). One of his favorite strategies is to distract our attention from the Lord by creating an atmosphere of turmoil. He can use the media, anti-Christian organizations, misguided extremists - or even misquoted Scripture - to undermine our trust in God’s unfailing love and care. Thus the peace that God intends us to enjoy is disrupted or destroyed.
To detect Satan’s schemes, believers must know God’s Word. To defeat his schemes, believers must trust God’s promises.
In 2 Timothy 3:13-17 we read, “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of… you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2. Believers don’t have to be afraid.
“You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day”(v5). After reading that verse you may be thinking, “But I’m still afraid!” Terrors by night and arrows by day dominate the daily news. Bullets, bombs, and senseless attacks fill our world with fear and uncertainty. Although those things may happen around us, Psalm 91 teaches that believers don’t have to be afraid. We can be immune to the normal fears of life.
Notice that this psalm does not say that God’s people will never encounter terrors or arrows - but it does say that we don’t have to be afraid of them! Why? Because committed believers live in the shelter of the Most High. They abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Committed believers take refuge in the Lord, and they trust in Him: “I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust"(v2).
In verses 1 and 2, four different Hebrew names are used for God, and they emphasize His power and sovereignty:
“Most High” (Elyon): the omnipotent and sovereign God.
“Almighty” (El Shaddai): the all-powerful God.
“LORD” (Yahweh or Jehovah): the self-existent God who redeems His people.
“God” (Elohim): the majestic and mighty Creator-God.
What stronger protection could we ever need?
Verse 4 paints a beautiful picture of safety: “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” As a young eagle takes refuge under the strong wings of its parent, so we find rest when we entrust ourselves to our Father’s all-powerful care. Instead of focusing on fear, we can focus on God’s “feathers.”
Believers who look to the Lord for protection do not have to be afraid.
3. Believers are “immortal” until their work on earth is done.
As believers, we understand that we are eternally immortal, but for this doctrinal point we use the word “immortal” in reference to our physical life on earth.
Psalm 91 appears to go further than just teaching that the believer does not have to be afraid of life-threatening situations or death. It seems to assure us that the Lord will deliver committed believers out of these situations. But this poses an apparent problem, because believers are not always delivered from dangerous situations, are they? Godly believers have died at young ages from tragic accidents, for example, and countless believers of all ages have been martyred.
How can we resolve this apparent contradiction? Here are a few of the explanations that Bible scholars have suggested. A full answer may include a combination of all these points.
- A. The promises of Psalm 91 are general Old Testament principles of God’s protection and long life for the godly believer. However, they are not absolutes, with no exceptions. In His sovereign ways, God may choose to allow a threatening situation, or severe persecution - and even death - for His glory, and greater reward for the believer.
- B. Physical protection is only part of the promise in Psalm 91. Life for the believer is eternal, and death is only a transition. Nothing in this world can take away or end a believer’s life – it is safeguarded forever. The Lord Jesus promised, ”I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.“ (John 10:28). He also taught, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).
- C. Believers are “immortal” until their work in life is complete. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign. Thus God has a sovereign plan for each believer’s life, and believers are “immortal” until their work in life is finished. Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Daniel was thrown to the lions – but he wasn’t killed because it was not God’s time for Daniel to die. His life’s work for the Lord was not yet done. Jonah was tossed into the stormy sea, but he didn’t drown because his mission in life was not finished. The apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake, but the venom wasn’t fatal - because Paul’s work for the Lord was not complete.
While our decisions may factor into God’s sovereign will for our lives, believers are “immortal” until their work on earth is done.
Don’t be anxious about anything!
Whenever we’re anxious or afraid, the apostle Paul advised: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, that transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Bring your fears and anxious thoughts to the Lord! If His peace is guarding our hearts and minds, we won’t be shaken by the chaos surrounding us, no matter what the circumstances may be.
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD Himself, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:3-4).