PSALM 91 OVERVIEW.
This Psalm is without a title, and we have no means of ascertaining either the name of its writer, or the date of its composition, with certainly. The Jewish doctors consider that when the author's name is not mentioned we may assign the Psalm to the last named writer; and, if so, this is another Psalm of Moses, the man of God. Many expressions here used are similar to those of Moses in Deuteronomy, and the internal evidence, from the peculiar idioms, would point towards him as the composer. The continued lives of Joshua and Caleb, who followed the Lord fully, make remarkably apt illustrations of this Psalm, for they, as a reward for abiding in continued nearness to the Lord, lived on "amongst the dead, amid their graves." For these reasons it is by no means improbable that this Psalm may have been written by Moses, but we dare not dogmatize. If David's pen was used in giving us this matchless ode, we cannot believe as some do that he this commemorated the plague which devastated Jerusalem on account of his numbering the people. For him, then, to sing of himself as seeing "the reward of the wicked" would be clean contrary to his declaration, "I have sinned, but these sheep, what have they done?"; and the absence of any allusion to the sacrifice upon Zion could not be in any way accounted for, since David's repentance would inevitably have led him to dwell upon the atoning sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood by the hyssop.
In the whole collection there is not a more cheering Psalm, its tone is elevated and sustained throughout, faith is at its best, and speaks nobly. A German physician was wont to speak of it as the best preservative in times of cholera, and in truth, it is a heavenly medicine against plague and pest. He who can live in its spirit will be fearless, even if once again London should become a lazar-house, and the grave be gorged with carcases.
Division. On this occasion we shall follow the divisions which our translators have placed at the head of the Psalm, for they are pithy and suggestive. Psalms 91:1-2 -- The state of the godly. Psalms 91:3-8 -- Their safety. Psalms 91:9-10 -- Their habitation. Psalms 91:11-13 -- Their servants. Psalms 91:14-16 -- Their friend; with the effects of them all.
Verse 1. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High. The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercyseat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to abide in Christ and Christ in them, become possessors of rare and special benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Into the secret place those only come who know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and those only dwell there to whom to live is Christ. To them the veil is rent, the mercyseat is revealed, the covering cherubs are manifest, and the awful glory of the Most High is apparent: these, like Simeon, have the Holy Ghost upon them, and like Anna they depart not from the temple; they are the courtiers of the Great King, the valiant men who keep watch around the bed of Solomon, the virgin souls who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. Elect out of the elect, they have "attained unto the first three", and shall walk with their Lord in white, for they are worthy. Sitting down in the august presence chamber where shines the mystic light of the Sheckinah, they know what it is to be raised up together, and to be made to sit together with Christ in the heavenlies, and of them it is truly said that their conversation is in heaven. Special grace like theirs brings with it special immunity. Outer court worshippers little know what belongs to the inner sanctuary, or surely they would press on until the place of nearness and divine familiarity became theirs. Those who are the Lord's constant guests shall find that he will never suffer any to be injured within his gates; he has eaten the covenant salt with them, and is pledged for their protection.
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The Omnipotent Lord will shield all those who dwell with him, they shall remain under his care as guests under the protection of their host. In the most holy place the wings of the cherubim were the most conspicuous objects, and they probably suggested to the psalmist the expression here employed. Those who commune with God are safe with Him, no evil can reach them, for the outstretched wings of his power and love cover them from all harm. This protection is constant -- they abide under it, and it is all sufficient, for it is the shadow of the Almighty, whose omnipotence will surely screen them from all attack. No shelter can be imagined at all comparable to the protection of Jehovah's own shadow. The Almighty himself is where his shadow is, and hence those who dwell in his secret place are shielded by himself. What a shade in the day of noxious heat! What a refuge in the hour of deadly storm! Communion with God is safety. The more closely we cling to our Almighty Father the more confident may we be.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. The Talmud writers ascribe not only the ninety-first Psalm, but the nine ensuing, to the pen of Moses; but from a rule which will in no respect hold, that all the psalms which are without the name of an author in their respective titles are the production of the poet whose name is given in the nearest preceding title. And though it is impossible to prove that this highly beautiful ode was not written by David, the general drift of its scenery and allusions rather concur in showing that, like the last, we are indebted for it to the muse of Moses: that it was composed by him during the journey through the wilderness, shortly after the plague of the fiery serpents; when the children of Israel, having returned to a better spirit, were again received into the favour of JEHOVAH. Besides political enemies, the children of Israel in the wilderness had other evils in great numbers to encounter, from the nature and diseases of the climate, which exposed them to coups de soleil, or sun smiting, during the heat of the day; and to pestilential vapours, moon smiting, during the damp of the night, so as to render the miraculous canopy of the cloud that hung over them in the former season, and the miraculous column of fire that cheered and purified them in the latter, equally needful and refreshing. In Egypt, they had seen so much of the plague, and they had been so fearfully threatened with it as a punishment for disobedience, that they could not but be in dread of its reappearance, from the incessant fatigues of their journeying. In addition to all which, they had to be perpetually on their guard against the insidious attacks of the savage monsters and reptiles of "that great and terrible wilderness", as Moses describes it on another occasion, "wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought; where there was no water" ( Deuteronomy 8:15 ); and where, also, as we learn from other parts of Scripture, bears, lions, leopards or tigers, and "the wolf of the evening", as Jeremiah has beautifully expressed it, prowled without restraint. Now in the Psalm before us, and especially in Psalms 91:6-13 , we have so clear and graphic a description of the whole of these evils presented to us, as to bring its composition directly home to the circumstances and the period here pitched upon, and to render it at least needless to hunt out for any other occasion. J. M. Good's "Historical Outline of the Book of Psalms", 1842.
Whole Psalm. It is one of the most excellent works of this kind which has ever appeared. It is impossible to imagine anything more solid, more beautiful, more profound, or more ornamented. Could the Latin or any modern language express thoroughly all the beauties and elegancies as well of the words as of the sentences, it would not be difficult to persuade the reader that we have no poem, either in Greek or Latin, comparable to this Hebrew ode. Simon de Muis.
Whole Psalm. Psalm 90 spoke of man withering away beneath God's anger against sin. Psalm 91 tells of a Man, who is able to tread the lion and adder under His feet. -- Undoubtedly the Tempter was right in referring this Psalm to "the Son of God" ( Matthew 4:6 ).
The imagery of the Psalm seems to be in part drawn from that Passover Night, when the Destroying Angel passed through Egypt, while the faithful and obedient Israelites were sheltered by God. William Kay.
Verse 1. He, no matter who he may be, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, patrician or plebeian, young or old, for "God is no respecter of persons", but "he is rich to all that call upon him." Bellarmine.
Verse 1. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High. Note, he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High is not he that conjures up one or two slight and fleeting acts of hope in Him, but the man that places in him an assiduous and constant confidence. In this way he establishes for himself in God by that full trust, a home, a dwelling place, a mansion,... The Hebrew for he that dwelleth, is bfy, that is, dwelling in quietude, and resting, enduring and remaining with constancy. Le Blanc.
Verse 1. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High. What intimate and unrestrained communion does this describe! -- the Christian in everything making known his heart, with its needs and wishes, its thoughts and feelings, its doubts and anxieties, its sorrows and its joys, to God, as to a loving, perfect friend. And all is not on one side. This Almighty Friend has admitted his chosen one to his "secret place." It is almost too wonderful to be true. It is almost too presumptuous a thought for such creatures as we are to entertain. But He himself permits it, desires it, teaches us to realise that it is communion to which he calls us. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." And what is this "secret"? It is that in God which the world neither knows, nor sees, nor cares to enjoy. It is his mind revealed to those that love him, his plans, and ways ("He made known his ways to Moses", Psalms 103:7 ), and thoughts opened to them. Yea, and things hid from angels are manifest to the least of his friends ( 1 Peter 1:12 ). He wishes us to know him, and by his Word and by his Spirit he puts himself before us. Ah! it is not his fault if we do not know him. It is our own carelessness. Mary B. M. Duncan, in "Under the Shadow", 1867.
Verse 1. By secret here is meant a place of refuge from the storms of the world under the secret of his providence, who careth for all his children. Also, by the secret of the most High, some writers understand the castle of his mighty defence, to which his people run, being pursued by enemies, as the wild creature doth to his hole or den for succour, when the hunter hath him in chase, and the dogs are near. This then being the meaning of that which the prophet calleth the "secret place of the most High", and our dwelling in it, by confidence in him; we learn, in all troubles, to cleave to God chiefly or only for help, and to means but as underlings to his providence...
That which is here translated dwelleth, is as much in weight as sitteth, or is settled; and so, our dwelling in God's secret, is as much as our sitting down in it: the meaning is, we must make it our rest, as if we should say, Here will we dwell. From whence we learn, that God's children should not come to God's secret place as guests to an inn, but as inhabitants to their own dwellings; that is, they should continue to trust in God, as well in want as in fulness; and as much when they wither in their root, as when they flourish in it. Robert Horn.
Verse 1. He that dwelleth, etc.
Verse 1. Shall abide. The Hebrew for "shall abide" is !kwlty, which signifies, he shall pass the night. Abiding denotes a constant and continuous dwelling of the just in the assistance and protection of God. That help and protection of God is not like a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, or in a vineyard; which is destroyed in a moment, nor is it like a tent in the way which is abandoned by the traveller. It is a strong tower, a paternal home, wherein we spend all our life with the best, wealthiest, and mightiest of parents. Passing the night also denotes security and rest in time of darkness, temptations and calamities. With God Abraham passed the night, when He foretold to him the affliction of his descendants in Egypt, and their deliverance, Genesis 15:12-16 . Then also God said to him ( Genesis 15:1 ), Fear not Abram. I am thy shield. And leading him forth he showed him the glittering stars, and said, Tell the number of the stars, if thou bc able; so shall thy seed be. Le Blanc.
Verse 1. The shadow. The allusion of this verse may be to the awful and mystic symbols of the ark. Under the ancient ceremony, the high priest only could enter, and that but once a year, into the holy place, where stood the emblems of the divine glory and presence; but under the present bright and merciful dispensation, every true believer has access, with boldness, into the holiest of all; and he who now dwelleth in the secret place of prayer and communion with the God of salvation, shall find the divine mercy and care spread over him for his daily protection and solace. John Morison.
Verse 1. Under the shadow of the Almighty. This is an expression which implies great nearness. We must walk very close to a companion, if we would have his shadow fall on us. Can we imagine any expression more perfect in describing the constant presence of God with his chosen ones, than this -- they shall "abide under his shadow"? In Solomon's beautiful allegory, the Church in a time of special communion with Christ, says of him -- "I sat down under his shadow with great delight" ( Song of Solomon 2:3 ) -- "sat down", desiring not to leave it, but to abide there for ever. And it is he who chooses to dwell in the secret place of the most High, who shall "abide under the shadow of the Almighty." There is a condition and a promise attached to it. The condition is, that we "dwell in the secret place," -- the promise, that if we do so we "shall abide under the shadow." It is of importance to view it thus. For when we remember the blessing is a promised blessing -- we are led to feel it is a gift -- a thing therefore to be prayed for in faith, as well as sought for by God's appointed means. Ah, the hopes that this awakens! My wandering, wavering, unstable heart, that of itself cannot keep to one course two days together is to seek its perseverance from God, and not in its own strength. He will hold it to him if it be but seeking for stedfastness. It is not we who cling to him. It is he who keeps near to us. Mary B. M. Duncan.
Verse 1-4, 9. 0 you that be in fear of any danger, leave all carnal shifts, and carking counsels, and projects, and dwell in the rock of God's power and providence, and be like the dove that nestles in the holes of the rock; by faith betake yourselves unto God, by faith dwell in that rock, and there nestle yourselves, make your nests of safety in the clefts of this rock. But how may we do this thing, and what is the way to do it? Do this, -- Set thy faith on work to make God that unto thee which thy necessity requires, pitch and throw thyself upon his power and providence, with a resolution of spirit to rest thyself upon it for safety, come what will come. See an excellent practice of this, Psalms 91:1 , He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty; that is, he shall be safe from all fears and dangers. Aye, that is true, you will say, who makes any doubt of it? But how shall a man come to dwell, and get into this secret place, within this strong tower? See Psalms 91:2 : I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress; as if he had said, I will not only say, that he is a refuge; but he is my refuge, I will say to the Lord; that is, I will set my faith on work in particular, to throw, devolve, and pitch myself upon him for my safety. And see what follows upon this setting faith thus on work, Psalms 91:3-4 : Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, etc. So confident the Psalmist is that upon this course taken, safety shall follow.
Our safety lies not simply upon this, because God is a refuge, and is an habitation, but "Because thou hast made the Lord which is my refuge, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee," etc. It is therefore the making of God our habitation, upon which our safety lies; and this is the way to make God an habitation, thus to pitch and cast ourselves by faith upon his power and providence. Jeremiah Dyke.
Verse 1. We read of a stag that roamed about in the greatest security, by reason of its having a label on its neck, "Touch me not, I belong to Caesar": thus the true servants of God are always safe, even among lions, bears, serpents, fire, water, thunder, and tempests; for all creatures know and reverence the shadow of God. Bellarmine.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1-2. Four names of God.