Psalm 91:1 (and the rest of Psalm 91) Is the Biblical 9-1-1 to Call in Our Time of Trouble
Psalm 91:1, Secret. Heb. cether means “covering, shelter, hiding place, secrecy,” and is from the root word meaning “to hide, conceal.” When troubles comes our way like a tidal wave, the natural human reaction is to stand and fight or to flee in fear. In psychology this is known as the fight or flight response. The Bible teaches us there is both a time to fight and a time to flee (Eccl 3:1; Matt 24:16; 12:14 cp. Eph 6:14; Luke 19:13), but at all times we need to be hiding in the secret place of our relationship with our Almighty Father in heaven, to which the latter part of this verse alludes. Out of that place, and from under the shadow of the wings of the Almighty and in his throne room, we will not be cowering in fear from our enemies, but we will find the courage, will and stamina to stand firm in faith, and, if necessary, to come out and to fight the enemy not in our own strength, but in that of Elohim as led and guided by his Spirit.
Abide. Heb. luwn means “to lodge, stop over, pass the night or abide.” A lodge is a place where one temporarily spends the night. When dark times come our way, we need to stop over, spend the night, run to and abide in the throne room of the Almighty! This speaks of prayer, worship, praise and studying his Word.
Psalm 91:1, 4, Under the shadow of the Almighty…under his wings. According to the ancient Jewish sages, Moses composed this psalm for the tribe of Levi who dwelt under the shadow of the wings of cherubim that stood over the ark of the covenant in the Tabernacle of Moses—a physical representation of YHVH’s throne room in heaven. The sages go on to explain that the psalmist describes the devout man of faith who lives with Elohim in his heart, and who never leaves Elohim’s shadow. Such a man is a true biblical hero of faith to whom Elohim pledges (v. 16) he will satisfy with long life and show him his salvation (The ArtScroll Tanach Series Tehillim/Psalms Commentary on Ps 91). This psalm ends with the promise of the blessing of long life to those love and serve YHVH, and beyond that, salvation, which is the Hebrew word Yeshua—the very name of the coming Messiah who would offer his people deliverance from the ultimate enemy, namely sin and its death penalty. The result of this deliverance is the glorious divine gift of eternal life through faith in Yeshua the Messiah—the supreme gift and blessing of all! This psalm is a prophecy pointing to the Messiah.
In Jewish understanding, the Tabernacle of Moses wasn’t complete until the glory of YHVH’s presence took residence in the tabernacle’s inner chamber, the holy of holies. This was evidence that YHVH was making this habitation his own in a most intimate way. How was it possible, they ask, for the Creator of the universe to inhabit a mere tent? They explain that he focused his presence into this tiny spot. This isn’t unlike a magnifying glass that reflects the suns rays into a small but focused point on a piece of wood or paper. Were the earth closer to the sun, it would be burned up. Yet the sun’s light can be brought to the earth in a concentrated form that will not cause harm. This is exactly what Elohim did when he incarnated Yeshua into the womb of Mary. The sages had the understanding that the holy of holies is a picture of man’s heart that the Creator wants to indwell, which is the most sacred sanctuary of all.
The conception and birth of Yeshua was the fulfillment of this prophecy. The fire of the Set-Apart Spirit that came down upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was a fulfillment of this desire of YHVH of which the fiery glory cloud that dwelt in and over the Tabernacle of Moses was a prophetic portent. Yeshua promised his disciples that through this same divine fire he would dwell in their hearts after his death, resurrection and ascension. The result of this divine encounter of Elohim with those in the upper room resulted in many repenting of their sins and coming to faith in Yeshua the Messiah (Acts 2:38–41), which is the greater message of Psalm 91.
Psalm 91:3, Snare of the fowler. This is literally referring to a bird trap and the trapper. In ancient times, birds were trapped and used for food. This could be a poetic picture of Satan and his demons who fly through the air searching for human prey. A biblical example of birds being metaphors for destructive and deceiving evil spirits can be found in Genesis 15:11 and Matthew 13:4, 19. This verse, then, is a promise to the saint of protection from evil, demonic spirits.
Deliver. Heb. natsal means “to snatch away, deliver, rescue, save, strip, plunder; to tear oneself away, deliver oneself; to be torn out or away, be delivered; to strip off, spoil.” The Hebrew word has a much more expansive meaning than the simple English word deliver. The idea here is not just delivering one from one’s enemies, but a stripping away from or spoiling one’s enemies. One can almost imagine an enemy who is bewildered by the unexpected action of the superior force of a deliverer who suddenly swoops in like a night raider and snatches away his illegally gained loot from out of his hand. This is what our Almighty Elohim promises to do for his children who abide under the shadow of his wings.
Perilous pestilence. Pestilence is the Heb. word deber (the root of which is dabar meaning “a word or thing”) meaning “an infectious disease or plague,” and can refer to a pestilence sent by Elohim as a punishment for sin or for, presumably, not obeying his word. In other words, when men fail to obey the word (dabar) of Elohim, the word of Elohim becomes their punishment. Elohim’s word carries with it both a blessing and a curse. Those who obey it will be blessed and those who disobey will be cursed (e.g. Deut 28:1, 15; 30:19–20) with diseases and plagues. Exod 15:26 plainly tells us that if the saint obeys YHVH’s commands, the diseases of Egypt won’t come up them. Conversely, from this same verse, it can be logically deduced that if we don’t obey his commands, diseases will come upon us. Perilous is the Hebrew word havvah referring to “a chasm of destruction, or engulfing ruin or calamity.” Havvah combined with deber forms a very powerful word picture relating to the severe punishment that befalls those who disobey his commandments.
Psalm 91:4, His truth. Heb. emet. The Bible defines truth in a couple of ways. YHVH’s Torah-commandments are truth (Ps 119:142 and 151), the word of Elohim is truth (John 17:17). Yeshua, the Word of Elohim incarnate, is truth (John 1:1, 14; 14:6). These are actually three ways of saying the same thing.
Psalm 91:5, Terror by night. The Hebrew word for terror (pachad) refers to anything that causes dread or that which causes a strong emotion of terror. Pachad has as its root a strong verb of fearing with an emphasis on the immediacy of the fear or the result of the fear being trembling, hence the use of our English word terror, which is a stronger than ordinary fear. With regard to end times events that will come upon the earth, Yeshua spoke of “men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). The saint doesn’t have to come under the control of the powerful emotion of fear, dread or terror “because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37), and because “Elohim has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). Night in this verse is an obvious metaphor for the time when evil is most prevalent. Night is when the saint is the most vulnerable, for he is often asleep at this time, and if he is awake, he is unable to see the enemy lurking about and is thus at a disadvantage in defending himself. He is further disadvantaged by the element of surprise, which the enemy possesses to his favor. This is why the saint must pray for spiritual discernment to be able to detect the enemy’s movements in advance. He must also stay under the shadow of YHVH’s wings for protection. He can also call upon YHVH for angelic protection as verse 11 suggests (see also Heb 1:14 where the angels are referred to as “ministering spirits” who are there to help the saints).
Arrow that flies by day. YHVH promises to protect the saint from the enemies he can’t see (at night, v. 5), as well as the enemies he can see during the day. The enemy attacks us via frontal assault during the day, but also surreptitiously under the cover night, when we are the most vulnerable and when we least expect him.
Psalm 91:6, Pestilence. Pestilence is the Heb. word deber. See notes at v. 3. There is a perilous pestilence that lies hidden like a snare waiting to trap us as we’re walking along the path of life (v. 3). There is also a perilous pestilence that lurks in the darkness waiting to destroy us. Peter admonishes us to, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
Destruction that lays waste. Lays waste means “to bring ruin, devastate, to destroy, spoil.”
Psalm 91:9, Refuge…dwelling place. Refuge is the Hebrew word machaceh meaning “refuge, shelter from rain or storm, from danger or falsehood” and derives from the root verb chacah meaning “to seek refuge, flee for protection; to put trust in (Elohim) or to confide or hope in (Elohim).” Dwelling place is the Hebrew word maw-ohn meaning “dwelling, habitation, refuge.” In this psalm, there is an interplay between the words indicating where the child of the Almighty must abide during times of trouble. In this verse, the saint is permanently abiding or dwelling in the Almighty’s spiritual place of refuge, while in verse two, he is taking refuge from evil temporarily in the Almighty’s place of lodging. When combined, these two concepts of taking refuge both temporarily and permanently indicate that the saint must be abiding continually in YHVH’s place of refuge, but he must also venture out into the stormy darkness to face the enemy from time to time. In to put it in modern terms, the saint can’t just permanently camp out in the safety of the church cloister or the quietness of his own life, but he must soldier on in the world doing the work of YHVH even in times evil darkness.
Psalm 91:12–13, The angels…lest you dash. Elohim has his angels as his ministering servants to watch over and to protect his saints (see Heb 1:14). We must call upon YHVH to send them to help us in our time of need.
Charge. Heb. tsavah means “to command, charge, give orders, lay charge, give charge to, order; to lay charge upon, to give charge to, give command to, to give charge unto, to give charge over, appoint, commission.” This is what the Almighty does for us with regard to his angels.
Psalm 91:14, Set him on high. High is the Hebrew word sagab meaning “to be high, be inaccessibly high; to be (too) high (for capture), to be high (of prosperity); be (safely) set on high, to be exalted (of Elohim); to set on high, set (securely) on high, to exalt, exalt (in effective hostility); to be set (securely) on high; to act exaltedly.” Think and ponder on these meanings for a moment. This is the heritage of the saint who abides in the shadow of the Almighty’s wings! This is what Paul refers to in Romans 8:37 with regard to the saint as not just being a conqueror through Yeshua, but being more than a conqueror. In Ephesians chapter two we read,
But Elohim, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Messiah (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Messiah Yeshua. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of Elohim… (Eph 2:4–8)
Psalm 91:15, Tread…trample. This is a reference to evil, demonic spirits. See Luke 9:1; 10:19 and Rom 16:20 where the saint has been given victory over their demonic enemies through Yeshua. In these verses, the saint must exercise the authority he has been given. He must use the name of Yeshua and word of Elohim against the enemy. Yeshua quoted the word of Elohim when battling Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1–11). Moreover, the demons didn’t just leave those humans whom they were inhabiting; Yeshua and the apostles had to rebuke them and cast them out. The saint must put on the armor of Elohim (Eph 6:13–18) and wrestle against evil spirits (Eph 6:12) and must actively fight the enemy’s onslaught (2 Cor 10:3–6) and resist him (Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8–9). Often the saint walks about defeated because the enemy is invisible to him, and because he can’t see him, he assumes he is not there. The Bible teaches us differently. We have an unseen enemy that we must actively resist if we’re to secure the victory that has been given us through the Word, Spirit and name of Yeshua the Messiah.
Psalm 91:16, Long life. This hints at eternal life that is the inheritance of the saint through Yeshua who delivers us from all our enemies including the ultimate one: death.
My salvation. Heb. Yeshua meaning “salvation, deliverance, welfare, prosperity or victory.” This psalm preaches the message of the gospel, and in every way in that it points us to Yeshua and his finished work at the cross and his victorious resurrection where he defeated all of the enemies of the saint including death, the world, sin and the devil and allows those who abide in him to share in his glorious victory. HalleluYah!