Psalm 91 is the psalm of protection! It has long been a favorite passage of scripture for me. It all started back when I was in seventh grade. I had a Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Smith, who asked all the students in her class to memorize some scripture verses. I believe Psalm 91 was the longest and most challenging passage. I don’t remember now what any of the other verses were, but I memorized those too. Psalm 91 had the greatest impact. I remember being challenged to memorize the passage with promises of benefits in later life if it were recited regularly.
During my teenage years into early adulthood I remember reciting Psalm 91 from memory often. Psalm 91 became my anchor in the storms of my early life. When I struggled with my faith as a teenager because a different trusted teacher taught things as biblical that I knew were not, the message of Psalm 91 was there in the background.
Although I had many doubts, I remembered, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.“ I struggled in my faith, questioning who God was and the reality of His existence, but I still longed to dwell in that secret place. At the time, whether I knew it or not, I was resting in the shadow of the Almighty. He was my refuge and my fortress.
I started studies at Northeast Bible College right out of high school. I struggled financially, believing God to provide, and He did, but not always in ways that I expected. I also struggled with my faith, questioning everything I had been taught as a child growing up in a Pentecostal church. I questioned everything and started rebuilding my belief system. At the core of my newly forming belief system were the words of the first verse of Psalm 91. I believed in God and sought to dwell in His secret place, and because of that I have been able to rest in His shadow.
I had grown up in church and went straight to Bible college out of high school. After two years of struggling with college, I began to question if what I was taught and what I was learning anew about living as a Christian worked in the real world. For the most part I had lived a sheltered life. I decided – I believe I was Spirit led – to join the U.S. Marine Corps to see if I could live my faith while serving in the military during the Viet Nam conflict.
I was learning to dwell in that secret place, but I’m not sure I can easily explain how. In the Marines I would have the opportunity to see the rest of the promises of Psalm 91 in practice. “He is my refuge and my fortress.” I trusted in Him and He protected me.
As a Marine I was trained to fight, to kill, and to follow orders. When I went to Viet Nam, I was assigned to 1st Battalion 9th Marines as an assistant machine gunner. The fact that unit was nicknamed the “Walking Dead” may give some idea of what I might have been in store for if my arrival had not been delayed. I was only in Viet Nam for a month and a half before my battalion became the first Marine unit withdrawn from Viet Nam by order of President Nixon. I witnessed combat, but miraculously never had cause to take another’s life. Part of Psalm 91 says, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day; nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you.” That part of the Psalm 91 promise was made very real to me during my two years of enlistment in the Marines.
Today, I am reminded of Psalm 91 amidst all the news of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Psalm says, “Because you have made Yahweh your refuge, and the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. For he will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.”
Because I have learned to dwell in the secret place of the Most High I have nothing to fear during these times that are fearful for many. Does this mean that I should go out in public and throw all caution to the wind? No, I can go out in public knowing that I can trust God for protection from pestilence if I don’t act foolishly.
Psalm 91 also says that I can tread on the lion and cobra - trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot. That doesn’t mean I should go to Africa or the nearest zoo and start stomping on lions or serpents. That’s probably not what is meant by dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. Let’s not put God to the test by acting foolishly!
When tempting Jesus at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Satan took Jesus to a high place at the edge of the Temple area. He said to him, "If you are the Son of God, jump off! The Scriptures say, 'God will command his angels to take care of you.' It is also written, 'Their hands will catch you so that you will not hit your foot on a rock.'" Satan was quoting from Psalm 91.
Psalm 91, the Psalm of protection, is important enough that Satan knew to quote from it when he was trying to get Jesus to do something foolish. Luke 4:12 says that Jesus replied, “But the Scriptures also say, 'You must not test the Lord your God.'" Jesus did not jump from the high place at the edge of the Temple area. However, in the same chapter, Luke 4:29 and 30, the people of Nazareth got angry and forced Jesus to go out of town. Their town was built on a hill. They took Jesus to the edge of the hill to throw him off. But he walked through the middle of the crowd and went away.” Jesus refused to foolishly put God to the test when tempted, but then the crowd tried to push him off a cliff the angels were there to protect him. Jesus knew how to dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
The last three verses of Psalm 91 say, “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him, and honor him. I will satisfy him with long life, and show him my salvation.” Notice now how the promise is not only of protection. It’s a promise of two way communication because I have set my love on Him.