“For he will command his angels concerning you…they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” These are beautiful, comforting words—powerful promises of God’s protection, a source of strength and solace. And yet these words from Psalm 91 are quoted by the deceiver as he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
The power in these promises is real and true, but requires us to be careful. When we interpret these words of God as some kind of magical guarantee, we miss out on the message of the psalm and the depths of the promises. When we too are tempted to take that step from confidence in God’s protection to assurance that God’s protection can be forced to operate at our beck and call, we fall victim to the deceiver’s lies.
God’s promises of protection and deliverance are not meant as assurances of a life free from discomfort or misfortune. Nor are these words meant to be kept in our back pocket until a moment when we feel like we have the right to hold God to His word. Like petulant children, we say, “But you promised!” when things aren’t going our way.
Did you read verses 3-8? These verses make plain that the life of the psalmist is far from trouble free. The deadly pestilence, terror of night, and a plague at midday are the lived experiences of the writer. There are real reasons to be afraid, real threats to be faced, real troubles to be navigated. When God’s own voice speaks to the psalmist, God promises rescue, protection, deliverance, and that God “will be with him in trouble.”
That seems to be a crucial feature in understanding this psalm. The certainty of trouble is as much promised in God’s words as the truth of deliverance. God’s protection does not mean a life free from threat or danger. But it does mean God’s presence in the midst. As human beings, our lives will face threats. We will become disoriented. We will experience challenges to our understanding of who God is and how God works. Psalm 91 offers us the chance to re-orient our lives and our understanding of God after such struggles. To understand that God’s promises are the richer for not avoiding the realities of our lives, but for plunging directly into them to wade with us through the muck.
Jesus avoids the tempter’s snare in the wilderness. But He does call upon God’s promises of protection (see Luke 23:46). And where is Jesus when He claims the truth of God’s provision? Hanging upon a cross.
Prince Albert, SK