Over the years, I have struggled with the whole idea of Psalm 91 that 1,000 will fall at your side and 10,000 at your other side. The reason I have struggled with this is because I’ve known many, many Christians who have applied that to their lives and claimed they would not get COVID-19, they wouldn’t die in car wrecks or they wouldn’t die of the cancer that they were experiencing. I’ve seen it apply to people who minister among the streets of large cities, of Christians who go to war, and the of all the other various problems people face.
I’ve been uncomfortable with it, because I’ve seen too many Christians die in unfortunate situations. The first time I realized it was when a prominent minister in the Portland area, a godly man for sure, was killed in a traffic accident as he was traveling to preach the gospel. I was about 16 at the time, and wondered. The next time I remember was when I was in seminary. A student was headed home for Thanksgiving break and was killed in a tragic freeway accident.
I could go on, but the idea of being able to apply Psalm 91 to my everyday life has bothered me. Taking a promise of God, spoken to a particular person/people, in a specific time and experience to my time and place seems problematic to me. It’s not that I do not believe in God’s providence, protection or promises. On the contrary, I definitely believe in God’s protective hand, his promises and his power. I just have seen too many people who apply Psalm 91 die or fall by the “arrows.”
We just had a discussion ab out this after our Community Group met this last week. People were wondering if I could even believe the Bible at all if I couldn’t apply scripture to myself. I had to assure them that I am not doubting God’s providence, his promises, or his prophecies. I don’t doubt scripture. I wonder a out how to apply some instances of scripture to our own lives.
Then this morning, I read Psalm 91 in the LIFE Journal reading plan. I thought it a bit ironic that we just talked about it last week in our Community Group, then read it this morning.
Here’s what I read in the Andrews Study Bible notes:
91:8 This verse may provide an interpretative key: the various threats of life listed in the poem can be understood as punishments (reward) for the wicked; it does not mean general disasters or natural calamities, but God’s judgments on the evildoers. Consequently, a calamity may strike a believer (see the case of Job), but the believer is free of God’s punishment or retribution for evil, because he stays in the Almighty (see Ex. 15:26).
Jon L. Dybdahl, ed., Andrews Study Bible Notes (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2010), 745.
This is what i wrote in my LIFE Journal today:
This partially answers it. Number one it’s a poem, and not necessarily a promise of God. It’s meant to be uplifting, powerful statements, and not necessarily meant to be divine facts. Secondly, it’s more talking about the promise of what will happen to the evil doers, than it is the righteous. It’s basically saying that the evil doers will experience all these things, but God’s people will not receive God’s punishments. It’s not talking in general about the stuff we all face, death, destruction, sickness, etc. But a believer will not have this happen because of God’s retributive judgment.
So, God’s promise is that you and I will not have any of these things listed in Psalm 91 as a judgment from God if we are living in obedience to Him and His call on our lives. This isn’t a statement that you will never be accidentally killed, or get sick in a pandemic, but that you will not experience those as a judgment from God. He will watch over you and will keep your heart through anything you face.
It seems to me that in the course of this discussion, we should also read:
Isaiah 43:2 (ESV)
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
You and I won’t experience the problems of society as a retribution of God, His judgment. But we can bank on the idea that when we pass through the waters, the fire, he will see us through it. Our eternity is secure because of the Lord’s promises. Until then, evil happens.