The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 91

Psa 91:1

CONTEXT: The Moses/Joshua duality is seen in this: that while one generation was perishing in the wilderness, along with Moses himself (Psa 90), the next generation was surviving through that same period, to enter the Land of Promise at last, along with Joshua (Psa 91; Deu 1:35-38). Psa 90 and 91 are thus seen to be two halves of the same whole -- each incomplete without its counterpart.

The historical setting: see Exo 33:11; Num 27:22,23. Of course, the five promises of vv 3-13 belonged not only to Joshua but also to all those who shared his faithfulness. Likewise they belong not only to Jesus, who shares Joshua's name, but to all those who share faith in Jesus: see Deu 4:4.

SHELTER: Or "secret place" (AV). A favorite idea in the Psalms, sig the Sanctuary (Psa 27:5; 31:20; 32:7; 61:4), or, more generally, the place of intimate communion with God (as in Mat 6:6).

WILL REST: A verb which often has the idea of "lodge for the night" (Gen 32:21; Rth 1:16; Psa 30:5; 49:12; etc). So a time of darkness and danger becomes instead a time of rest and comfort (cp Psa 23:5,6; Joh 15:4,5; 1Jo 2:27; Rev 21:3). "He who takes refuge with the Most High, shall find that God is not too exalted to care for frail, perishing man. He shall be treated as God's guest -- God will not be wanting in the sacred duty of hospitality. His Almighty Power shall be spread around him during the night of trouble and anguish. Loving faith on man's part shall be met by faithful love on God's part" (WK). Thus God will be a "home" to all who trust in Him.

Psa 91:3

Vv 3,5: Figures of speech all suggest the hostility of the Amalekites and other wilderness enemies (Exo 17:8-16; Num 14:43-45; Deu 25:17-19).

THE FOWLER'S SNARE: A figure for plotting? The Pharisees were continually plotting against Jesus: Joh 5:16,18; Mar 3:6; Luk 11:54; Joh 7:19-21,25; 8:59; Luk 13:31; Joh 10:31,39; 11:8,16,44-54; Luk 20:14-26; Mat 26:3-5,16. For snare, see 2Ti 2:26.

THE DEADLY PESTILENCE: Could read: 'the mischievous word' (dabar, as in the LXX) -- ie the slander so capable of doing damage. The two phrases of this v would then go very well together.

Psa 91:4

HE WILL COVER YOU: Basically the word means 'to make a fence' (sw Exo 40:21). The allusion here is to the cherubim in the sanctuary, and to angelic protection such as in Exo 12:23; 19:4; Isa 63:9.

WITH HIS FEATHERS... UNDER HIS WINGS: "As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Mat 23:37). This Jesus would have done for Israel, but they "would not"! Thus they were snatched away by the Roman "eagle". The Holy Spirit is pictured as a dove, hovering over and protecting (Mar 1:10; cp Isa 31:5) -- like the Passover Angel. In such manner God revealed Himself to Jesus at his baptism, just prior to his wilderness temptations (cp vv 11-13 here).

UNDER HIS WINGS YOU WILL FIND REFUGE: Psa 17:8,9; 36:7,8; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7.

An article in National Geographic provided a penetrating picture of God's wings. After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno's damage.

One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he struck it, three chicks scurried from under their dead mother's wings.

The mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered it under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had singed her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

Psa 91:5

YOU WILL NOT FEAR: This word usually describes the fear of God. Thus an indirect allusion to God's angels of evil (Psa 78:49) — like the Destroying Angels of the Egyptian Passover (Exo 12:23 again).

Psa 91:6

PESTILENCE: Such judgments as Num 14:12,37; 16:47-50; 25:8.

Psa 91:7

A THOUSAND MAY FALL AT YOUR SIDE: This happened to the Egyptians in Egypt (Exo 12:23), and to the faithless portion of the nation of Israel in the wilderness (Deu 32:30).

Psa 91:9

MAKE THE MOST HIGH YOUR DWELLING: Cp Joshua's words here with Moses' words (Psa 90:1). Both journeyed through the wilderness for years, but in their minds and hearts they made their "dwelling" or "home" with God.

"The Israelites in the wilderness were continually exposed to change. Whenever the pillar stayed its motion, the tents were pitched; but tomorrow, ere the morning sun had risen, the trumpet sounded, the ark was in motion, and the fiery, cloudy pillar was leading the way through the narrow defiles of the mountain, up the hillside, or along the arid waste of the wilderness. They had scarcely time to rest a little before they heard the sound of 'Away! this is not your rest; you must still be onward journeying towards Canaan!' They were never long in one place. Even wells and palm trees could not detain them. Yet they had an abiding home in their God, His cloudy pillar was their roof, and its flame by night their household fire. They must go onward from place to place, continually changing, never having time to settle, and to say, 'Now we are secure; in this place we shall dwell.' 'Yet,' says Moses, 'though we are always changing, Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place throughout all generations.' [Psa 90:1]... I am a pilgrim in the world, but at home in my God. In the earth I wander, but in God I dwell in a quiet habitation" (CHS).

Psa 91:11

See Exo 23:20. This was true of all the faithful, but esp true of Joshua himself (Jos 5:13-15).

Vv 11,12: Quoted about Messiah although originally about the faithful in Israel: cp Hos 11:1 (= Mat 2:15). Jesus accepted this promise for service and sacrifice, but he refused it for any purpose of self-advantage. So also must the disciple do likewise.

TO GUARD YOU: God's promise to Jacob (Gen 28:15). Hence a continual divine providence and protection for Jesus (Luk 4:29; 22:43; Joh 8:59; 10:39), until he had fulfilled all God's purpose.

Psa 91:13

An allusion to the fiery serpents that killed many of Israel in the wilderness (Num 21:6-9; Deu 8:15). Allusion to Gen 3:15, Messiah's conquest of sin. Whereas Mark has none of the account of the three-fold temptation, which Matthew and Luke have, he does add one unique detail: "And he was there... with the wild beasts" (Mar 1:13). Was Jesus tempted also, in the wilderness, to use his special powers to overcome the dangerous creatures that threatened him there? Or is this an allegorical way of saying that, by overcoming all temptations, Jesus at last will receive dominion over all of God's creation (Gen 1:28; Psa 8:6,7) -- esp the tannim, or "great beasts" of the nations?

YOU WILL TREAD UPON... THE COBRA: Jesus alluded to this (Luk 10:19; and cp vv 11,12 here), but he also warns against taking pride in such achievement. See also Mar 16:18; Rom 16:20. Psa 58:3-6 interprets these figures. The Kingdom prophecy of the little child being unharmed by deadly serpents -- Isa 11:8 -- is to be interpreted, not so much universally, but rather as esp related to Jesus, "the little child" of Isa 7:14; 9:6,7; and 11:6! (Note that "adder" in Psa 58:4 and 91:13 is sw "asp" in Isa 11:8 -- the Heb pethen -- cp "Python" in Act 16:16.)

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