Our Shield and Shelter in Times of Pestilence Psalm 91

At Veterans Memorial Chapel This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for August 9. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

The activities of this last month led me to review Psalm 91 as I prepped for two funerals within our VMC family. I felt the message of this Psalm is so poignant for our time, that I am postponing our study of “the Discourses of Jesus in The Gospel of John” to discuss it.

David is most likely the author of this Psalm. There is no inscription on this Psalm, but the style is un-mistakenly his. As we know, David was a warrior. He lived in hiding much of his young adult life. He began his military career in an outnumbered army of an oppressed nation. By the time he was an old man, he had dominated and made peace with all the nations around him. He understood first hand front line warfare at the worst. Most successful soldiers will tell you there are two main elements to living through any battle. One: your own training and skill in battle, and two: all your comrades around you and their mutual trust and support of each other. David adds a third element to survival. In fact he moved it up to the most primary aspect of survival, trust in God!!! In verse 1 he presents his theme for the entire Psalm. Let me break it down a bit. “He who dwells . . . ” that is, takes up ‘permanent residence’ “in the shelter . . .”. This is a common military word meaning a shield or a ‘bunker,’ “. . . of the Most High will abide in the shadow . . .” ‘Shadow’ is more completely explained in verse 4, where God is described as a chicken hiding her chicklets under her wing’s feathers. This picture in no way demeans the greatness of our God, but it gives us a beautiful intimate picture of God’s protection of those who follow Him. Notice also (back in verse 1) the ‘shadow’ is casted by “The Almighty.” This term for God emphasizing His power and strength, to a point that there is no one ‘almighty-er’ than God.

So this whole Psalm is dedicated to convincing and encouraging the follower of God, that God “has your back” in the trials of life, whatever those trials are. Verse 2 repeats the theme by stating God is our refuge and fortress, and emphasizing our need to trust Him. Verses 4 through 6 point out some of the attacks that come against a believer. First “the snare of the fowler.” A fowler is a hunter who specializes in catching birds. Since the purpose of catching the bird is to eat it, he traps the bird in a snare. As the bird moves about his daily life, suddenly he is trapped or snared, often by being lured into the trap by incentives left by the fowler. Again we have a beautiful picture of what happens to us. In life, we go about doing our business, when our enemy lures us into a trap and we get stuck. God promises those who follow Him protection from and/or deliverance from those traps.

Verse 5 talks about “terrors of the night” and “arrows that fly in the day.” The ultimate weapon in David’s day was the arrow. Often in ancient battles a hundred plus archers would aim and simultaneously shoot arching arrows, all landing within several feet of each other. A reign of terror. It could happen either at night or day. It was all but unavoidable.

Verse 6 changes the attack to include a stalker. Here the enemy hides and tracks you down and eventually, when you think all is well, suddenly the attack comes. “Pestilence” and “destruction” are the terms used to describe these attacks. Pestilence is a disease, which you cannot see, and you may not know you have till it attacks you. COVID-19 is an example of a pestilence. Destruction is a more general term, used of anything that destroys.

The encouragement comes again in verse 4 where the believer is sheltered under the protective wings of God. Not only do we have God’s wings over us, but we have His “shield and Buckler” (armer, v. 4). “1,000 fall at your side, 10,000 at your right hand” (v. 7).

Then come those puzzling words, “It shall not come near you” (vs 7b). Is this Psalm saying we will never see pestilence? Or is he saying that we will always, in this life, survive pestilence when it happens? We know from our own Chapel Family’s experience that some have gotten this virus and survived, but others have succumbed to it. Exactly what is the Psalmist trying to tell us?

Let’s start by looking at the Psalmist himself. He was a warrior, he faced all kinds of enemies, human or natural ones. And he came through. In his Psalm’s, many times we see him praising God for deliverance. But all the deliverances that happen on this earth prefigure an ultimate deliverance as described in Ps 23:6, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Psalm 91:8 echoes that same idea as the believer will “look with your (own) eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.” If I may be so bold and make an application: some are delivered by God from catching COVID; others are delivered by God by recovering from it; others are delivered from their COVID by God by being taken home to God’s house.

As we move on down to verses 11-12 we see God providing guardian angels to protect us. I was once asked if I believed that God gives every believer a “Guarding Angel.” My answer was “no” this verse tells us He has “angels,” not just an angel, looking out for us!! As we come to the end of the Psalm, verses 14-16 are the words of a promise by God, Himself to those who trust in Him, “I will protect him . . . .” He also promises “long life,” yes that is eternal life, and salvation to those who follow Him. CH Jim Odell