Distressed But Safe.
This particular Psalm will always evoke fond memories of God’s unflinching faithfulness over us during the later years of our time in the Philippines in a war zone. Trapped in a village and caught between two opposing insurgent groups battling for political control over a municipality, saw everyone in the village fleeing overnight, except for a few older men and us. Not long after, a further escalation nearly saw our home incinerated (see note below). As one walks through this Psalm, the modifying pronouns immediately stand out, broadly reflecting three views: a confession in the first and third person pronouns were used to refer to the psalmist himself (vv. 1-2); then in an exhortation, he addressed the reader in the second person pronoun (vv. 3-13); and finally, an oracle, where God spoke, using the first person pronoun (vv. 14-16).
In the ancient rabbinical interpretation, this psalm is “A song for evil encounters” through the engagement of four divine names (Psalm 91:1-2). When one belongs to the Lord, He is certainly not hidden from him who is seeking shelter, as He becomes their hiding place, and although he is unable to see His face, His shadow casts by His Almighty Presence offers a level of confidence in His protective capacity (c.f., Exodus 33:17-23). The psalmist’s enduring experience of Yahweh’s shielding him enabled him to testify that He can be trusted in whatever He had said He would do (c.f., Numbers 23:19-20).
How then does El Elyon-El Shaddai protect? He delivers His people literally from the very jaws of lethalness and death in the face of both human and non-human dangers. It is pertinent to note that He does not save them from suffering, but He will assuage their fears and insecurities in the chaos surrounding them (Psalm 91:3-4). From an absolutely safe vantage of refuge in Him, the writer metaphorically indicated that although you may not escape the horrors from your enemies and from the ensuing natural disasters (comparable to battles and wars, the ravages of diseases, death and destruction in your violent world, including the judgment of the wicked), no harm will descend on you. Also, these dangerous episodes of sudden onslaughts and perils, without respite during noon and nights, from destructive occult powers (Psalm 91:5-6), will not engender any crippling fears as you come under the covering of God’s faithful shield. And whatever caused the death of others, it will not come near to you, as you observe how God will punish the wicked (Psalm 91:7-8). God is totally in charge, as He remains your safeguard, and He will even give His angels orders to protect you wherever you go, so that you will not slip or stumble in your escape, and despite the presence of wild creatures, they will not be a hindrance to you (Psalm 91:9-13). The confidence in God is palpable, both internally within our consciousness and externally in our demeanour, as we stand representing Him where He stood in the midst of any conflagration.
In conclusion, God spoke and confirmed all that had been mentioned by the faithful psalmist (Psalm 91:14-16). The basis for his deliverance and extraordinary salvation is the mutuality of a loving relationship, for to know one’s name is to comprehend another on familiar personal terms. Moreover, God will honour the faithful man in the process; blessing him with victory, success, fame and a long life. He will truly know and enjoy to the fullest (viz., ‘let him see’) that Yahweh is undoubtedly his Saviour. Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).
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