Several years ago as Liz and I walked the beautiful mall downtown D.C., an ominous storm appeared out of nowhere. Before we knew it, blinding rain pelted us, lightning strikes etched the sky, as thunder sounded like bombs going off. What did we do? We, along with everyone else, ran as fast as we could for the park’s men’s and women’s lone bathroom. Within minutes, you couldn’t have squeezed a sardine in either side. We actually were fortunate enough to stand just outside one of the doors directly beneath a protective overhang.
Why did everyone bolt for the building? The answer is easy: protection. No one wanted to be lit up by a typical 300 volts of electricity descending from a black, angry sky. So, we all became survival sprinters.
Think about this analogy from a spiritual perspective. When, not if, a storm descends on your life, what do you do? Where to you run? Some run to a bottle of Scotch or Vodka, others take heavy doses of drugs, while some grab the phone and dial a professional counseling service. If, however, you are a follower of Jesus Christ, where should you run? The Psalmist answers that important life query in Psalm 91.
For the purposes of our study of this informative ancient song, allow me to re-cast the hermeneutical question which arises from this inspired biblical text:
How Should You Respond To Life’s Threatening Storms (Psalm 91)?
A quick read of this psalm informs us that the first thirteen verses are what scholars call a wisdom saying. Proverbs, as a case in point, is a wisdom book. What does all of this mean? Ostensibly it means the promises given by God to the righteous are timeless truths which are applicable/available to God’s people;
however, there are two caveats: one, the truths do, at times, face exceptions (for whatever God’s lofty purposes are in those exceptions one does not usually know), and two, the truths true to those faithful, obedient saints who avail
themselves of the content, and/or path of said truth.
For instance, Job lived a long faithful, godly life and God blessed him because of it; however, in God’s dimension a test was established with the Devil to ascertain Job’s commitment to God. God does protect His obedient followers, as is showcased in Psalm 91, but there will be times when God permits various trials to accomplish assorted spiritual purposes. Yet even in this there is the divine care as is evidenced in this rich Psalm. Job ran to God in his trials, God heard him, and eventually answered him in a profound, mouth-shutting fashion, and God protected him as we see in Job chapter 1. But from Job’s limited perspective, the content of Psalm 91 would have caused him much spiritual consternation.
Additionally, when God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, they only secured divine protection, at times, when they obediently did what God told them to do. Painting the blood of the Passover lambs over their doorposts so the Death Angel would pass them by is a case in point (Exodus 12). If you painted you had divine protection, if you failed to paint you experienced divine judgment.
All of these truths come to bear in Psalm 91, especially the wisdom section, viz., verses 1 through 13. Here God promises to protect His people when they run to him as life storms descend upon them; however, this is only generally true. From what we know from life and the rest of Scripture, there are times when bad things, even evil things do happen to God’s saints. Just take a look at Paul’s spiritual journey and ministry experience. This is, of course, not to say that God
was not right there protecting this saint from even greater, harsher opposition, which I think He was. One the one hand, Paul was stoned in one city for his faith (Acts 14:19-20), while in another an angel freed him from a prison cell in a spectacular fashion (Acts 16). In all of this God was, in fact, everything He says about Himself in Psalm 91.
Verses 14 through 16 contain what scholars call a divine oracle, or a divine word/promise specifically to those saints who seek God out and who follow hard after Him. Again, the protection and provision of God is wedded to a faithful life, but this is not to say that all of this will be total and complete. Again, Moses saw his share of God’s protection and provision in the wilderness (cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, manna, quail, shoes which didn’t wear out, etc.); however, God didn’t exempt him from trouble but was with him in it, especially when he walked
closely with Him. For instance, when Israel fought the Amalekites, Moses secured God’s protection as he was faithful to hold his hands up. When his hands faltered, the battle went to their enemy; however, when his hands were held up, the battle went to Israel (Ex. 17:10-16).
With all of this theological information in mind, I think we are ready to dig into the rich spiritual soil of Psalm 91. Within these powerful, insightful, and helpful sixteen verses, the divine unnamed author gives us three answers regarding how we should respond to the adversities and afflictions of life. And before we begin, let me re-emphasize how this protective Psalm is built on the premise that God protects those who bolt for the building as it were. Translated, He is primarily all of the wonderful concepts mentioned here to those saints who obediently walk with Him in life and sprint to Him for survival when the going gets really tough, trying, and twisted. I don’t know what’s going on in your life right now, but I think you can head to higher, safer ground by saying to the Lord you will, in fact, strive to be obedient by applying these three timeless truths to your life.
How should you proceed as the winds of adversity pick up, threatening to waylay you? First,
Be Confident (Psalm 91:1-2)
Watch how the inspired author opens up this major meaning:
1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust."
The opening phrase “he who dwells” is a one-word participle in Hebrew, yoshev:
יֹ֭שֵׁ ב בְּ סֵ֣תֶ ר עֶלְי֑וֹן
As such it can be classified as a durative or iterative use of the participle. If durative, it means the saint in question is always seeking to dwell in a special, hidden, private place with God. Since that is not logical, nor practical because we do have spiritual (and emotional) ups and downs in life, and we do have lives which keep us occupied with other ventures, this is probably not the best choice. I opt for the iterative use, meaning the saint in question has many moments, here and there, where he purposefully strives to alone with God. The secret place here is probably somewhere in the Temple precincts where he knows God, who is omnipresent, has promised to be “located” (1 Kings 6:13; 8:12-13). And as I said in the opening comments, you can see the import here on the saint’s responsibility to pursue God in tough times. To pursue is to discover provision and protection.
Question: Where is your “secret place”? The Hebrew word, seter (ר תֵ ס), is used in 1 Samuel 19, verse 2 of Jonathan counseling David to run and hide in a secret
location from the wrath of his jealous father. David knew of many hiding places, especially in the ravines and wadis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Here is a picture of some of those remote caves I discovered a few years ago in this arid, foreboding region. David didn’t have access to the Tabernacle at times, so a statement like this would have pointed him to, at least, find refuge in a secret place of the Most High God in a cave. A cave is remote, hard to access, and quite protective and quiet. Here the servant could find Elyon, the Most High God, the God who is, in fact, higher and loftier than any another so-called god. Interestingly enough, Melchizedek worshipped this God long before the Tabernacle and the Temple, so He is accessible in other locations . . . like a
What is God’s promise? If you run to Him in the midst of trouble, you will enjoy His protective shelter and you will find that He, the Almighty, has unlimited power at His disposal to assist in ways you could never have imagined (Psalm 91:1). Think of Gideon who ran to God when the Midianite army threatened the nation. God met him at the small spring of Harod . . . a secret place, spoke to him, and showed him how to overcome a superior force with an inferior one (Judges 6-7). Makes you want to ask yourself: Where is the secret place I need to run to in this storm to get alone with the Most High and all powerful God? When you do run here, realize He will meet you there, and He will immediately place you under His protective shelter.
What should you pray once you are in the secret place, alone with God? Here’s a good idea:
2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will
“Fortress” here is mesudah ( הָ צוּדְ מ ,( which means “mountain fortress.” If you think it sounds familiar, it should for this is the base form for Herod’s famous fortress in the Dead Sea called Masada. By putting your trust in God in challenging times, He becomes your Masada. This doesn’t mean you cannot be attacked, but you have a divine One who is capable of stepping in between you and the advancing enemy.
Hear any thunder in your life? Seen any jagged lightening? Fearful in any fashion as the storm descends? If so, you need to be confident that God will be there to protect and provide for you as you bolt to His “building,” His secret place.
Second, God calls you to . . .
Be Encouraged (Psalm 91:3-13)
Why? Because no matter what you are facing, when you obediently walk with Him, when you put Him first in your life, when you run to Him and not to others when life heads south on you, you will find that as He went before Israel in the
wilderness, He will most assuredly go before you. Verses 3 through 13 tell us this much in a variety of graphic ways:
3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from
the perilous pestilence.
From this verse, it is possible to suggest that you did, in fact, wind up in the trap of the fowler. It could have been a mean-spirited person who laid a trap to ensure you so they could demean/destroy you, and you wound up caught in their trap of gossip and/or misinformation. Or your life could have been infected by the unseen pestilence of people, like the Pharisees, who tripped you up and affected you with their loaded questions. Either way, for those who run to God there is the promise of divine help.
But there is more:
4 He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
Like a protective bird, the Lord will lovingly and tenderly take that frightened child who comes to Him and wrap His protective wings, as it were (using the figure of speech called zoomorphism), around them to protect him/her from the onslaught of the wicked. In this sense, His “wings” will serve as your protective shield and buckler, which is another word for the protective wall of an ancient fortress. Get all of this images in your mind right now about the person of God. Each of these images suggests, by definition, that you can be assailed in some manner. A hawk could descend on the goose, an enemy could thrust a sword at a soldiers shield, and an army could attack the walls of a powerful fort. But when all of these images point to God, it speaks of His unlimited ability to provide and protect His child who has specifically come to Him. Lovingly and tenderly,
therefore, He will use His power, as He did in the life of a man like Paul, to care for him as he engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6). How encouraging.
But again there is more uplifting news for the believer who bolts to God’s building.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, 10 No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
What does all of this mean? It means that when you are in God’s protective care because you have willfully chosen to run to Him, peace, provision, and protection will be yours . . . even in the heat of the spiritual battle. You won’t wake up with night terrors of what is happening to you, because you’ll know there is nothing the to fear because God has “got this.” You won’t be afraid of verbal arrows people can, and will, shoot at you during the day because they oppose your faith because He’s the God who controls the flight of each arrow. The pestilence of persecution which comes out of the darkness from godless people, and broadsides you when you least expected it, is not feared because God is your immunization, making you invincible to the ultimate goal of their
You might even be in the thick of a battle, say with your godless family, or a godless professor, or a godless culture at your workplace; however, even though they’ve been successful cornering and canceling all kinds of people, God has “got you” and He has “got even this.” And just has Esther and Mordecai lived long enough to see wicked Haman wind up on the gallows he built for the Jews, you shall, because you have been obedient, live to see the godless who’ve meant
you harm to get their just desserts. Yes, a man does, in fact, reap what he sows (Prov. 22:8), and sometimes the godly get to see that reaping when God moves to balance the scales of justice.
I remember a federal agent who caused my father much woe at one point in his career. He constantly worked against and demeaned my father at every turn. My father could never quite figure out why his boss had such a bad, negative, and combative attitude. In 2008, as I’ve noted before, the Lord took my father home. Around 2010, I discovered completely by accident that his former boss had been brought up on corruption charges. Whoa. That slice of information caused
me to understand those last few years of my father’s career in the early 1980s. I just wish he could have lived to see justice prevail, but I’m sure he was privy to this info from his heavenly vantage point.
To re-cap: Why does all of this divine provision and protection occur? Once more, the psalmist relates it directly to an obedient spiritual walk:
9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your
dwelling place, 10 No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your
Even a child could pick up this meaning and promise. Verse 10 is probably somewhat hyperbolic, since we all know, as I’ve stated, that obedient believers do face evil, opposition, and adversity in life. Yet, I think the promise should be well-taken: When God is your purposeful refuge, you will find His purposeful care.
And who knows, God even has the ability to do amazing things to care for you in the angelic realm:
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. 12 In
their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. 13 You
shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall
We all know how the Devil used this very text in Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to get Jesus to purposefully test the Father’s promise to protect His followers caught in dangerous environments. Jesus, of course, rebuked the Devil by quoting Deuteronomy 6, verse 16, which warns against tempting the Lord in any fashion (Matt. 3:7). After this spiritual skirmish, the angels came and ministered to the worn out and weary Christ (Matt. 3:11). Did they give Him some water? A bite to eat? We don’t know. All we do know is they served Him so He would be refreshed and encouraged.
What happened to our Lord is a picture of what can, and does, happen to us. The Devil will send people our way, people who are powerful like a lion (think of Delilah), quick to attack like a cobra (the of the High Priest in Christ’s day), and cunning like snakes (think of the Pharisees who posed loaded questions to Jesus), and their goal will be to discourage and derail us, or, at times, destroy us, so our witness for Christ is truncated or terminated. Yet in all of these situations we should not fear, because if we are walking closely and intimately with the Lord, He will give us not one, but many angels to work behind the scenes of our lives to make sure we are more than all right.
Who knows what those angels have done in your lifetime as you’ve drawn near to God. As I packed up my family to head from Arizona to northern California to become a Senior Pastor for the first time in my life, I took the family from Green Valley to Tucson for shopping and a quick treat at Dairy Queen. Heading south to our home, Liz notified me one of the kids needed to use the bathroom. So, I pulled off the double-lane exit, along with many other cars. Sitting at the light, I prepared to turn left to head back over the over-pass to a gas station. When the light changed, I put my foot on the gas and headed out into the intersection. At that precise moment, Liz asked me to look at something to my right. When I turned my heard, I instinctively applied the brake ever-so-slightly.
That brief pause saved our lives.
A car, full of four drunk men, shot in front of my car from the left to the right and took out the car turning right in the lane next to me. Had I not paused, I would not be here today. I’ve often wondered how many angels were in the intersection that day.
Later, at my new church, I taught for many years in the felon ward of the youth jail. I remember the first time I went into the ward and asked the prisoners to form a circle around me. I just wanted to be able to walk in a circular format and talk to all the gang members of the various ethnic gangs face to face. The guards, on the other hand, had a fit and came running out of their observation booth.
“What are you doing? Are you crazy? You can’t do that?” they screamed. “You can’t be surrounded by forty young and strong felons” they argued. “If they decide to take you hostage, there is nothing we can do to save you."
For five years I taught those felons in a circular format. They were lions, cobras, and serpents in their gangs, for sure. None of them ever touched me. On the contrary, we enjoyed many rich, profitable times together as we studied the Word of God, and I prayed for them and their court dates. I wonder how many angels it took to keep me safe in that setting. Probably more than one, I’m sure. But since God was my refuge, I was not afraid for I knew in my heart He would be with me, and so, too, would be a few of His crack angelic troops.
So, be encouraged! When you go to God when lightning is striking all around you, rest assured He will be everything He said He would be here in verses 3 through 13. One final truth is tucked away in the closing three verses:
Be Expectant (Psalm 91:14-16)
Here God is doing the talking to His saints, so you might want to listen up:
14 "Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. 15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation."
Everything the Lord says here is directly related to you being in love with Him, with you pursuing Him, and with you being obedient to Him. When He sees through your actions that He is number one in your life despite what you are facing, then He moves to do everything He says He will here:
• He will (eventually) deliver you from your storm.
• He will set you, as it were, on a high fortress so you are untouchable.
• He will answer you when the storm bears down on you.
• He will deliver you and then honor you.
• He will add years to your life.
Amazing. Want to live longer? Then make your life one of running to Jesus.
Here’s a snapshot of one believer whose life is a walking illustration of Psalm 91:
Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina spent 20 years in Turkey. He had a quiet but deep ministry there until 2016, when after a failed military coup, the government arrested him along with journalists, activists, military officers, and others. The Turkish government labeled Brunson a spy.
Brunson was held for more than a year without charges. He spent nearly two years in prison, often enduring long trial sessions. At one point, it looked like he could spend years or even decades in Turkish prisons. Finally, after pressure from the Trump administration, Brunson was released from prison and returned to the United States.
In a Wheaton College chapel talk, Brunson candidly said that he did not feel God’s overwhelming presence during his stay in prison. Instead, he experienced
something even deeper. Brunson said, “[After a few days in prison], I completely
lost the sense of God’s presence. God was silent. And he remained silent for two
When he was finally brought to trial, things were even worse. He says:
There are some who go into the valley of testing and some do not make it out ... I
was broken. I lay there alone in my solitary cell, I had great fear, terrible grief, and I was weeping. And the thought kept going through my mind, Where are you God? Why are you so far away? And I opened my mouth as I wept aloud, and I was surprised at what I heard coming out of my mouth. I heard, “I love you Jesus. I love you Jesus. I love you Jesus.” I thought here is my victory. Even if you’re silent, I love you. Even if you let my enemy harm me, I love you. [As] Jesus said, “But the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Even in this prison where he felt abandoned by God, God worked overtime to provide for and protect His child. And as that child leaned hard into Him, there came the day when Jesus worked in the lives of many political leaders to get this man free. Now he is a walking, talking testimony of the Lord who is our strong tower in troublesome times.