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Psalm 91

Safe beneath God’s outspread wings

Each day the news conveys enough potential threats to totally debilitate us. Life was just as uncertain in ancient Israel. This psalm promises all who love God his presence and protection in every situation.

Whoever lives in the shelter of God Most High
rests secure in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I declare this of Yahveh:
he’s my refuge and fortress
the kind of God you can really trust.

3 He will surely protect you
from hidden snares and virulent plagues.
4 He’ll shelter you in his warm embrace
safe beneath his outspread wings.
His truth will be your shield and shelter.
5 You needn’t fear the terrors of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day—
6 neither the plague that stalks in darkness
nor sudden death that devastates at high noon.
7 Though a thousand fall on your left
and ten thousand on your right
when it’s all over
you’re still standing—unscathed
8 a solemn witness
to how evildoers get repaid in full.
9 Because you’ve taken refuge in Yahveh
and made your home in the Most High
10 no harm will come to you
and no tragedy track you down.
11 For he’s charged his angels
with your care
to protect you wherever you go.
12 They’ll lift you up in their hands
lest you bruise your foot on a stone.
13 You’ll step on lions and snakes unharmed—
even lions in their prime and deadly serpents.

14 “Because they hold fast to me in love
I’ll rescue them.
I’ll set them in safety
because they know me by name.
15 When they call on me
I will answer them.
When they’re in trouble
I myself will be with them.
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life will I satisfy them
and grant them my deliverance.”

This psalm’s first thirteen verses declare God’s faithfulness and promise his protection in every possible situation. In the rest of the psalm, God himself assures us it’s all true: he offers protection, on-call deliverance, honor and long life to everyone who loves him. Who could ask for more?[1]

But does the psalm really promise a life of endless prosperity and security? God literally protected Daniel from lions and Paul from a deadly viper, but Daniel and Paul certainly didn’t live trouble-free lives. Maybe the promises are mostly hyperbole or point to God’s ultimate defeat of evil. But if so, then what good are they to believers facing life’s many challenges now?

We might wish the psalm were a legal contract we could bind God to, guaranteeing us an easy life. But this isn’t law. It’s poetry, which inspires us in a way no legal contract ever could—inspires us to trust that God loves us, is in control and will walk with us through the fire and deliver us, even if deliverance looks way different or takes way longer than we think it should. We may want law, but poetry soars high above law. And like all poetry, this psalm speaks to the heart, leaving the head to catch up as it can.

Lord, though no one ever trusted you like Jesus did, it cost him his all. Yet you promise here that that you’ll always rescue, protect and honor me. Help me to trust that your goodness and mercy will never fail me. Whatever your promise is to me right now, help me to trust you, Lord. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on God’s promise:

“Because they hold fast to me in love, I’ll rescue them.
I’ll set them in safety because they know me by name.”


[1] Many psalms in Book III (Psalms 73-89) focus on Jerusalem’s fall and Israel’s exile. This psalm encourages believers whose faith has been badly shaken and may be taken as a response to the question raised in Psa. 89:49.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.