August 26, 2020
Where Are You Living?
The year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, my parents took me to the County Fair. The big attraction was the enormous display of bomb shelters for sale. Salesmen guaranteed that when buried in your backyard, these metal refuges would protect the occupants if the Soviet Union dropped a nuclear bomb near them. After a certain number of days, you could exit your temporary bunker and begin rebuilding. This image remains vivid in my mind—along with the bomb drills at school when students curled up under their desks. I still haven’t figured out how that would save us from a nuclear explosion. Now we build tornado shelters in which we can retreat during severe storms and be safe. Some have taken survival precautions to a new level. People are buying decommissioned missile silos, turning them into their permanent residence. There they feel secure from storms and bombs living 40-80 feet below ground behind impenetrable doors.
Today the world is searching for a refuge where they can be safe from an unseen microscopic virus and highly visible unrest in the streets. Psalm 91 has become one of the most turned to scripture. However, it has also been the most misinterpreted verses. You see bumper stickers reading, “Protected by Psalm 91”. Several ministers claim they can’t get COVID-19 because of promises in this Psalms. Others defy all recommendations and safety precautions, believing this Psalm guarantees absolute safety. One group says all we must do is “refuse to be infected.” This has led and will continue leading individuals to confusion and great disappointment. So, what does this Psalm mean?
With this Psalm, as well as any verse or chapter in the Bible, we can’t isolate it from the rest of scripture. For a proper understanding, we must correlate it with the entire Bible. Believers must balance this psalm with the fact other scriptures teach, we will experience suffering and persecution in this life. David wrote a key to understanding when he penned, Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psa 34:19). Note he didn’t say God would keep us away from afflictions but deliver us out of them. It is important to remember the Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 hymns or musical poems. Writers expressed a broad range of their deepest emotions from anger, disappointment, praise, worship, etc. Psalm 91 conveys the themes of God’s protection and rescue out of danger.
Note several lessons. God’s refuge isn’t like a tornado or bomb shelter we run to when danger is coming. Verse one begins, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High. Dwells means live in. Under His shelter must be our constant and permanent residence. Verse three, For He will save you from the trap of the fowler, And from the deadly pestilence. This doesn’t mean God will keep you from encountering a trap or a disease. Rather it is saying He will take you out of if you become trapped. The author, possibly Moses, used images the reader would be familiar with and immediately understand; images showing symbols of God’s powerful protection like shelter (v1), shadow (v1), refuge (v2), fortress (v2), pinions (v4), wings (v4), shield (v4), bulwark (v.4). All of these had been places Israel found safety from their enemies.
Also, four names of God are mentioned to encourage us to trust Him. God's names aren’t a label or a title but are terms for his very nature. Most High (Elyon, vv. 1, 9) denotes God’s supreme authority; Almighty (Shaddai v1) most powerful, denoting that there is no power greater than God in the vast universe; Lord (YHWH, vv. 2, 9) covenant-making God who is faithful to His promises; God (ELOHIM, v2) God whose power, greatness, and glory surpass anything we can imagine. If God is for us, who is against us (Rom 8:31)?
When Satan tempted Jesus, he flippantly quoted Psalm 91:11-12 and then tried to apply the words out of context. "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'” (Mat 4:6). Jesus responded, "On the other hand, it is written” (v7). In other words, other scriptures don’t justify that application. When we examine other scriptures, it shows Psalms 91 doesn’t guarantee a blanket of protection from disaster, suffer from disease or attack. It does praise God that doing the worst of times He is with us and He is greater than anything Satan uses trying to destroy us.
Two years ago, I developed septic e-coli and spent 8 days in the hospital being pumped full of antibiotics. Last year, I learned I had cancer in my prostate and would have surgery. Hoping that was the end of my illnesses, in March
I came down with bacterial pneumonia that again put me in the hospital for another 8 days. But God was with me, protecting me, and delivering me from the fowler’s trap. Don’t name and claim scriptures until you see them in the context of the entire Bible. You won’t be confused or disappointed.
Sustaining Word for the Week: You have a shelter. Make God your refuge and permanent residence.
Written by: Dr. Arnold Gause
The Sustaining Word can be found at www.sustainingword.org.