Dwelling in the Shelter of the Most High
There was a program on TV quite a few years ago in which a wealthy man gave a large sum of money to some person off the street. The idea of receiving what amounted to a blank cheque would be quite appealing to most people and made for an interesting program. Psalm 91 is almost like a blank cheque. It is one of the most encouraging, affirming Psalms in the whole Bible. God is saying to us, “I will look after you, you need fear nothing.”
I am sure that if we did receive a blank cheque from someone, we would probably wonder what the catch was. We live under the understanding that there is no free lunch. So when we receive this kind of a spiritual blank cheque, we are likewise suspicious and wonder what the catch is. We have a blank cheque bearing our name and a promise of God's protection, but I wonder if we are living as if we have a blank cheque from God in our pocket?
Today we will look at the promises made in this Psalm and examine them carefully to see exactly what we are given here. I hope that as we look at it, we will be encouraged to live with a greater joy and freedom because of the promises made here.
I. No Harm Will Befall You
The promises of the Psalm are wonderful words of encouragement. As we hear them, all fear is removed from us because we realize that we are under God's care.
Look at the promises made here. In the 3rd verse we are promised that God will protect us from the snare of the fowler. Eccl.9:12 says, "Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them." In this verse the same imagery is used to promise that God will protect us from ever present danger.
In verse 7 we likewise hear promises of protection. While people all around us may die, we will not be harmed. Danger and death may come very close, but we will not be touched by it.
Verse 10 is very direct, "then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent." What a wonderful promise of the protection of the Lord.
Children are often told of a guardian angel and we make jokes about the guardian angel working overtime with some children. Well verses 11 & 12 tell us that that there is such a thing as a guardian angel, in fact it is not only one angel which God sends, but all his angels who prevent us from so much as stubbing our toe on a stone.
Verse 13 is quite dramatic. It promises that we not only have protection, but the ability to walk into danger and have no harm come to us. Jesus reiterates this promise in Luke 10:19, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you."
In this passage, we read of promises of the wonderful protection of God. We come to understand that the outstretched wings of his love and power cover us.
Are these promises for real?
When we read the Bible, it is not difficult to find examples in which these very things happened.
We read of Daniel and David who were put in danger by lions. Daniel was put right into a lions den. It was the normal expectation of everyone concerned that in the morning they would find nothing more than a torn up cloak. Instead, they found Daniel alive.
David was tending his sheep when a lion came and attacked his sheep. Not only did David escape from the lion, but he went and attacked him and killed him-not in his own power, but in the power of God according to the promise made here.
Paul, the apostle was on an island one day gathering wood. All the people saw a snake fasten itself onto Paul's hand and they expected that any minute he would die. Instead, he shook it off and was unharmed by it.
In all of these and many more instances, we see the hand of God protecting these people as he had promised in this Psalm.
II. Dwelling Under the Shelter of the Most High
This sermon is bright and encouraging, but at the same time difficult because so often it does not fit with our reality.
It raises many difficult questions. If God will protect us, does that mean we can run in front of a truck, or drive dangerously and not fear any danger? When we read some of the Psalm, it almost seems like it. If God protected us from all evil, we could be very foolish indeed.
Much more difficult is the recognition that righteous people suffer, they have accidents and they die. When we know that, we begin to wonder, where is this promise? Is God a liar or have we not understood clearly what he means to say to us here? My faith invites me to assume that I have not clearly understood what God is saying if I see this as a blank cheque to do what I want and not worry about any harm. This recognition demands that I read the Psalm more carefully and understand what God is saying.
A. Conditional Promise
The first thing we notice when we read it more carefully is that it is a conditional Psalm. It is a promise made not to just anyone. It is a promise made to the one who "dwells in the shelter of the Most High." The promise is only for those who are prepared to put their trust in God. It is addressed to those who resign themselves to God and who walk in close fellowship with God. Those who are so close to God find Him to be a refuge, that is a hiding place. They will find him to be a fortress, that is a tower of defence.
When we determine that we want to do something we might say, "I have set my heart on" such and such. This promise is addressed to those who have set their heart on God. It is not perfect love for God, but the setting of the heart on God that is rewarded with this kind of protection. "Because he loves me,"
It is also for those who know who God is. When God speaks in verse 14, he indicates that the promise is for the one who "acknowledges my name." This refers to those who know who God is, that is who know that God knows everything, is present everywhere is all powerful, is just and is full of mercy.
It is for those who call upon God. It is not a promise made to those who are self sufficient. If we think we can go it on our own, God will likely let us do that. The promise is for those who will call upon the name of the Lord.
When we recognize that the promise is conditional and given to those who know God, we see that it is not a blank cheque, but is given in the context of relationship. That means that protection comes according to the plan and direction of God. He cares for us as we care for his concerns. We do not enter into foolishness of any kind, we do not do things that will get us into trouble.
When we recognize that the promise is conditional, we also must understand that not everyone will receive the promise. It will cause us to re-examine our lives and ask, am I living in relationship to God. Have I put myself under his care.
Part of the way to understand the promise made here is to understand the conditional nature of it. Another part of understanding the promise is to understand what the protection of God really means. What it means that God will answer when we call to him. Often we think answer means grant, but an answer may be refusal, explanation, promise or a conditional grant.
When children ask for something and we say "no" to them, they will give us the impression that we have not answered them, when in fact we have not given them the answer they wanted. We are the same way with God. The promise is that we are under the shelter of his wings and that may mean different things at different times as the Psalm itself indicates. This becomes clear when we read clearly God's affirmation of the promise in verses 14-16.
1. From Trouble
Sometime it will mean that God will protect us from trouble. This is the promise we have in verses 14,15a.
One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three men stood firm for God. They were not afraid of what might happen to them. Anyone standing there watching them being thrown into the furnace would have thought that God had not protected them from the fiery furnace. The truth was that he protected them in a most amazing and dramatic way. They came out of the furnace without even so much as the smell of smoke on them. Sometimes God delivers like that.
There is an old story of a preacher who was to go to a certain town to preach a few sermons and visit the Christians there. His enemies knew when and where he was going and had set a band of armed men in the way so that they could prevent him and kill him on the way. A guide had been sent to direct the preacher so that he would make it to the village and not get lost, but instead he got lost and took the preacher a different way. Eventually he made it to the town. In this way, God had protected him from danger.
2. In Trouble
But sometimes, we are not protected from danger. The Psalm recognizes this in verse 15b. This does not mean however that we have fallen out of the protection of God for the promise which God makes is "I will be with him in trouble."
I remember a time when we were at camp and we had to sleep in a rather dark cabin. One of the children was sleeping in a different room-the kids were quite small at that time. We had learned a new song that week at camp and all of a sudden in the middle of the night we heard a small voice singing this song, "God is always near me, in the darkest night, he can see me just as well as by the morning light."
Charles Spurgeon was ministering in London during a Cholera plague in 1854. Hardly a day went by that he was not called to ministry to the dying and sustain the living. He was discouraged and tired of the constant demands and constant distress. While walking home one evening after another funeral, he saw a few verses from this Psalm displayed in a store window. How encouraged he was by its words. It gave him the strength to go on.
3. Through Trouble
But even that does not exhaust the meaning of this Psalm. Sometimes we are preserved by going through the very deepest of troubles. This is part of the meaning of verses 15c,16a.
What we find here is that "no evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good."
The two great examples of that kind of protection are Joseph and Jesus.
Joseph was sold into slavery, falsely accused, put into prison. Anyone looking at his life would think that God had forgotten him. The truth was that Joseph was being prepared and put into place for a much greater role-that of having a place of refuge for a whole nation and for a place for the nation to multiply. God saved and delivered, but the trouble was a part of the plan. If the trouble had not happened, neither would the deliverance. God delivered through danger.
Jesus is of course the example par excellence. He gained the victory over sin by going through death itself. Once again, God was a refuge and provided a deliverance, but it came through trouble.
4. Beyond Trouble
Ultimately deliverance occurs which places us beyond trouble. This is the thrust of the final phrase in verse 16b. Finally, we will all experience heaven. If we have lived for God, we will know him for eternity. Revelation promises that then there will be no more tears or sorrow or trouble. It will be heaven indeed. God promises this ultimate deliverance to all who rest in him. What a wonderful hope!
When it is storming out and we have to travel, it is always so wonderful to return and enter into the shelter and warmth of our own home.
When we have been away and have seen nothing but strangers for several weeks, it is great to return to the people we know and we feel comfortable among those we know well.
That is the nature of the promise given in Psalm 91. We can live in the shelter of the Most High. Even if we are away from home, among strangers, out in a storm, the presence of God never leaves us. God is the Most High God, the Almighty, the one whose faithfulness is our shield. Because that is true, we can rest in Him.
Verse 2 is an invitation to a decision. Will we decide every day that the Lord “is my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust?” I hope that you are able to do that and enjoy the comforting presence of God. God is with you while you are with him. "No moat, portcullis, drawbridge, wall, battlement, and dungeon could make us so secure as we are when the attributes of the Lord of Hosts environ us around."