Where the world comes to study the Bible

God the Protector (Psalm 91)

Background: Death of an older believer, who died of cancer.

The words of Psalm 91 are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. Look at them for just a moment:

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!" 3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, And from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; {But} it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes, And see the recompense of the wicked. 9 For you have made the Lord, my refuge, {Even} the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. 11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, Lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down. 14 "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him {securely} on high, because he has known My name. 15 "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him. 16 "With a long life I will satisfy him, And let him behold My salvation."

These are wonderful words of comfort. They speak of God as the Protector of those who trust in Him. They promise that while many will suffer destruction, the one who has trusted in God, who has fled to Him for safety, will be delivered. And yet these words which gave Ann such comfort might seem to have not come true. If God has promised protection from evil and the satisfaction of a long life, why did Ann suffer so long, and then die? Are these words really true? Can we find comfort in them this afternoon? We certain can! Let me show you why they are true, and why they can bring us great comfort as we grieve over the death of one whom we knew and loved.

We have a divinely inspired commentary on these verses in the New Testament, which shed much light on the meaning and application of this psalm to us. In the temptation of our Lord, Psalm 91:11-12 are quoted by Satan to our Lord, at the time of His temptation in wilderness (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10-11). Satan challenged Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple, and to be divinely delivered from death, to show that He was the Messiah. He tried to convince Jesus that since Psalm 91 promised deliverance from suffering and death, God would deliver Him.

Jesus responded by referring to the Scripture which forbade putting God to the test. There is much more that Jesus could have said, and did not. What Satan would only later learn is that the promise of Psalm 91 was to be fulfilled through the suffering and death of Jesus, on the cross of Calvary. God could promise deliverance to those who trusted in Him because Jesus would suffer in their behalf, and would rise from the dead, the Victor over sin, and death, and Satan. Psalm 91 was not Jesus' excuse for avoiding the cross, but His reason for going to the cross.

Just as Psalm 91 was no guarantee that Jesus need not suffer. Indeed, the suffering of Jesus was the reason why the saints are protected and removed from suffering. The important question is this: "From what sufferings are the saints delivered? From what dangers and destruction are we delivered?" Psalm 91 does it promise us that the saints will be delivered from all suffering. Many Scriptures, the experience of many saints (biblical and otherwise) and our own experience, make it clear that Christians do suffer. Let us look more carefully at this psalm to determine what suffering we are promised to be delivered from.

The Psalm begins with the strong statement that God is our refuge, our fortress, our place of safety (verses 1-4). There are two kind of people mentioned in this psalm, and they have two very different destinies. The one group is delivered from destruction, and the other group is destroyed. The all-important need here is to determine what it is that some are delivered from, which is also the means by which others are destroyed. Our text cannot mean that those who trust in God are all delivered from suffering and death, and that those who do not trust in God suffer and die prematurely. The psalm which comes immediately before our text speaks of that suffering and short life which the godly experience, as a result of living in a fallen, sin-tainted world:

1 Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. 3 Thou dost turn man back into dust, And dost say, "Return, O children of men." 4 For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or {as} a watch in the night. 5 Thou hast swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes, and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades, and withers away. 7 For we have been consumed by Thine anger, And by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. 8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret {sins} in the light of Thy presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is {but} labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. 13 Do return, O Lord; how long {will it be}? And be sorry for Thy servants. 14 O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, {And} the years we have seen evil. 16 Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, And Thy majesty to their children. 17 And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands (Psalm 90:1-17).

Psalm 90, written by Moses, speaks of the eternal nature of God and the very temporal nature of man. With God, a thousand years is nothing. For man, 70 years is a long life, and even these years are filled with sorrow and labor. This brevity and painfulness of life is explained by Moses as the result of God's holiness and man's sin. The solution to this problem of pain, and the hope of the believer is not in this life, but in the next. It will come with the return of the Lord. It will come "in the morning". It will come in the future. The solution is not to be found in the deliverance from death, but in a deliverance after death. While it is not clearly stated in this psalm, it would be correct to say that death itself is a kind of deliverance for the Christian, for it removes us from the effects of sin, from pain and suffering and sorrow, and it takes us into the eternal joy of the presence of our Lord.

The destruction from which the believer is delivered is not the suffering and pain and even death of this life, but from the judgment of God, from the "second death" of eternal separation from His presence. This deliverance is so clearly described in yet another psalm, Psalm 73.

1 Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart! 2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant, {As} I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pains in their death; And their body is fat. 5 They are not in trouble {as other} men; Nor are they plagued like mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them. 7 Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of {their} heart run riot. 8 They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. 9 They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return to this place; And waters of abundance are drunk by them. 11 And they say, "How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?" 12 Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased {in} wealth. 13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; 14 For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning.

15 If I had said, "I will speak thus," Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. 16 When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight 17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God; {Then} I perceived their end. 18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form. 21 When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, 22 Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was {like} a beast before Thee. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. 24 With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven {but Thee}? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. 28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:1-28).

Here Asaph, the psalmist, expresses his faith, a faith in God as the Good God, to those who trust in Him. His problem was that while he trusted in God as the One who was "good" to Israel, his experience was that the righteous suffered, while it was the wicked who prospered. He had contemplated giving it up, he confessed, for his piety seemed to be of little profit.

This was until he came to see his life through a different perspective--a heavenly, eternal one (verses 16ff.). He then realized that the prosperity of the wicked was exceedingly short-lived. Their eternal fate was destruction. The righteous, on the other hand, have all of eternity to enjoy the blessings of God's presence and power.

In the light of eternity, the sufferings of this life are but a small price to pay when compared to the blessings of eternity. But even the sufferings of this life are not "evil". They are truly "good" for the saint, for in these times of suffering, God seems even nearer to us, especially as we are drawn nearer to Him. The ultimate "evil" in life is to be separated from God, and if affluence and a life of ease turns us from God, this absence from pain is really an "evil". The ultimate "good" in life is fellowship with Him, enjoying His presence. If suffering in this life enables us to experience His presence in a deeper way, then it is truly "good" and He is "good" for bringing this adversity into our lives.

This is why Ann found comfort in Psalm 91. Not because it promised her a long, trouble-free life on this present earth, but because it assured her that in Christ she would escape the wrath of God. In this life, she did not need to fear danger or even death, for He will raise her from death to eternal life, in His presence, free from pain and sickness and sorrow. That was her hope, and thus we can rejoice in her sufferings and death.

This hope is not for everyone, but only for those who have turned to God for their security and safety. Jesus Christ suffered the wrath of God, and by faith in Him, we may be sheltered from it. If you would share the hope of Ann, you must trust in her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. May you experience the joy and the hope which she did, even in her sickness and pain.

Related Topics: Funerals