The Place of Safety (Psalm 91:1–16)

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Several of our church families are undergoing the process of adopting a child. One of the first steps in the process of adoption is to establish the home as a place of safety for the child. This requires all sorts of administrative checks and balances, but is necessary so that the child can be brought into a place of safety.

This really sums up the message of Psalm 91: God is our place of safety.

Psalm 90 taught us to consider the brevity of life in the midst of the “perfect storm” of God’s wrath meted out on a sin-cursed world. The consideration of God’s eternality and our mortality will move us to make our lives count for Him as we face this storm. We are to believe that our short lives can matter and that we can experience God’s favour; yes, even in the storms of life.

Even though “Ps. 90 … is somber and stately” while Psalm 91 “is bright and simple,”1 nevertheless the two psalms fit hand in glove. For if the prayer of Psalm 90 is for God’s favour, then Psalm 91 answers that prayer. We might say that Psalm 90 is a prayer to make sense of the storms of life and Psalm 91 reveals the promised answer to that prayer.

There are four stanzas in this psalm and each of them invites us to the Lord, where we are promised shelter in the storms of life.

A Testimony to Hear

In vv. 1–2 there is a testimony to hear, a declaration of the psalimst’s faith: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.’”

This psalm serves as an evangelistic tract. It invites those who sing it to believe the God of the psalm. It is an invitation to a better way of life. It is an invitation to gain a heart of wisdom. With life being so brief and uncertain, with the knowledge of our mortality in the light of God’s eternality and our absolute dependence upon Him, this psalm is a passionate invitation to know this great God, to trust Him and therefore to live for Him. But don’t take my word for it: Listen to the writer’s testimony.

This is one of those so-called “anonymous” psalms because it contains no claim of authorship. Some attribute it to David while others see marks of Mosaic authorship. The latter is quite possible due to its proximity to Psalm 90 in the psalter.2 Further, there are some parallels with terminology and themes between Psalms 90 and 91, as well as with Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32. But, at the end of the day, all we know is the most important thing that we need to know: The writer was a believer, and he wanted those who sing “his” song to believe as well (see 90:13–17). Its anonymity enables us to personalise it. As Kidner points out, because it is “anonymous and timeless” it is “all the more accessible for that.”3

If Psalm 90 was a prayer (“Give me shelter”) then Psalm 91 is its answer. And the answer is deeply theological since in vv. 1–2 God is revealed under four names.

The Confidence

Verse 1 continues the theme introduced in Psalm 90:1–2; that is, God is our only certain place of shelter from the storm: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

Verse 1 is a statement of fact. And it is a fabulously faith-building one! The psalmist is saying, “Whoever makes the sheltering protection of the Supreme (‘Most High’) God his/her home will find themselves securely in the defence of the shade of the infinitely sufficient God.”

“Most High” is a magnificent title for God, which puts all our challenges into perspective. Every challenge to Him, and to those who are in Him, is surely most small. They are puny when measured against our God who is “Most High.” This speaks of God’s supremacy. His supremacy is the measure of the shelter He can provide. There is no limit to His protection because God is “Most High” above all things that happen on earth.

The one who dwells in the secret place of the Most High “shall abide under the shadow” of the Almighty. Those who have made God their home find the He is their defence; the “Almighty” gives them shade in the midst of the heat of sorrows.

The term “Almighty” is a translation of the Hebrew title Shaddai, which speaks of the God who supplies all our needs. The point of this repetitive verse is that the writer has found this to be the case. He has found God to be completely dependable. We must not miss the instruction here that “those whom God has taken under his care are in a state of the most absolute safety.”4 But, as we will note, the experience of God’s dependability is conditioned upon casting our dependence upon Him.

The Confession

Note the personal pronouns in v. 2. The psalmist owns the Lord as “my refuge” and as “my fortress” and ultimately as “my God.” He is at pains to drive home the reality that God is so dependable, so true to His character, that he is willing to trust Him. And to trust God is the answer to the prayer of Psalm 90:12. In fact, “whoever takes on his lips this confession walks in the path of wisdom.”5

This is not merely a statement of “devilish faith” (see James 2:19); rather, it is a strong confession of absolute confidence in the Lord. This writer has the personal experience of being “at home” with God and finding complete satisfaction and security in Him. What a fool he would be not to trust Him! And from the remainder of the psalm it is clear that he wants those who read this to trust Him as well.

There is always the danger of a mere shallow sentimentality when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. In other words, do we really trust Him? Is He a god or the God, or can you say, He is my God? Calvin laments, “Though many talk much of God’s providence, and profess to believe that He exercises a special guardianship over his own children, few are found actually willing to entrust their safety to Him.”6 Ultimately, it comes down to knowing Him. Knowing His character (as revealed in His names) must be more than intellectual; it must be experiential. We find this in what follows.

An Appeal to Embrace

In vv. 3–8, the writer makes an appeal that we must embrace. He issues and invitation to faith.

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 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 lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked.

(Psalm 91:3–8)

The writer changes the pronouns from “I” and “my” to “you.” He is, at were, making an appeal for his readers to also place their trust in this great God. He does so by highlighting God’s providential care for those who trust Him. It would perhaps be a fair conclusion that he had personally experienced such care at the hand of God.

God’s Covering

Verses 3–4 speak of the confidence that those who trust in the Lord can have as they walk through a very dangerous world: “Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler” (Psalm 91:3–4).

The hunters who seek to ensnare us, and the diseases that would destroy us, lurk all around us. Yet here we are. The Lord has protected us, He has cared for us, and we have been spared from the snares and protected from the pestilences.

The word picture is a beautiful one, in which God is seen as a mother bird sheltering her young from the dangers lurking nearby. God used this very metaphor to describe His relationship to His people in Exodus 19:4 and in Deuteronomy 32:11. Our Lord Jesus used the same picture in Matthew 23:37–39 when He told those in Jerusalem of His passionate desire to care and protect them from the impending judgement. Yet how sad that they chose not to trust Him but chose rather to crucify Him.

In the midst of the onslaught of both predators and pestilence, this man learned by experience that the Lord is faithful to His word (His truth) and therefore he lived as one who was protected as though fully clothed in armour (“shield and buckler”). And this experience is offered to anyone who will trust the Almighty and Most High God who is the “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

Protected by Psalm 91?

A word of explanation is in order here: The psalm does not teach that those who trust in the Lord will never suffer adversity. Both Scripture and history reveal otherwise. However, this psalm points us to the reality that, in fact, God constantly protects His children from much that we usually do not even consider.

Consider this Week

Consider how many dangers the Lord has delivered us from this very week. I wonder how many criminals I have been protected from, some whom have roamed my neighbourhood? How many bacteria has God protected me from? And even though the disease that may take my life could in fact be circulating in my body as I write these words, I wonder how many of the hundreds and thousands of possible illnesses I have been spared from this week.

Though we need to guard against the nonsensical health, wealth and prosperity nonsense floating around, at the same time let us not be guilty of minimising God’s providential care of us. Let us rather pray and ask for His protection. Let us believe Him for protection and provision.

One thinks of that Christian doctor who contracted Ebola and, after being treated and recovering in the United States, went back to Sierra Leone. He was heavily criticised by many, but I suspect that he went back there clinging to Psalm 91.

God’s Control

Verses 5–8 highlight God’s absolute control.

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 lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked.

(Psalm 91:5-8)

Fearless

We live in a culture and a world that is filled with evil and evildoers. And yet we are told that we can face these uncertain days with the certainty that we need not fear. Again, the Bible does not teach that the Christian will never experience calamity. Rather, it teaches that we do not need to fear. As we saw previously, our lives and times are in God’s hands. We can fearlessly, because faithfully, live fruitful lives in the midst of dangers.

I know a man who was accosted by a mugger, who threatened his life. The man replied, “Sin, don’t threaten me with heaven!”

I am not speaking of being foolhardy. Of course not. Several years ago while traveling I went for a run. When I returned, my host asked me where I ran. When I told him, he replied with wide eyes, “Do you know how many people are killed in that street?” I didn’t. God kept me safe, but I never ran that street again.

While we do not want to be reckless, we can trust what God’s faithful Word tells us: Trust Him and be fearless.

Consider the explorers. Some were foolhardy and sinfully and irresponsibly careless. But many were Christians who went forth into the unknown to the glory of God.

Consider how unbelieving men went to the moon trusting their instruments and the experts on the ground in Houston. How much more should we trust the instrument of God’s Word and our expert in heaven?

Where do pioneering missionaries come from?

So, whether the enemies lurk at day or night, we are urged that we can dwell safely in “the secret place of the Most High.” Those who know the LORD will find Him to be a refuge and fortress 24/7.

Deliverance

Verses 7-8 indicate warfare; they indicate being attacked by the wicked—and the casualties are high. And yet note the encouragement: “But it shall not come near to you.” Instead, those who have trusted in the Lord will see the wicked receiving their just reward.

I have been reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only American president to be elected to that office four times.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941—“a day that will live in infamy”—he and the US Congress declared war both on Japan and Germany. What I found interesting was how Roosevelt invoked God’s name and how he assumed that God was on the side of the allies. This raises many points for interesting discussion, not the least being that Germany and Italy also thought that God was on their side. The point I am making is that Psalm 91 is not a “war psalm” in which those who trust the Lord are promised victory and the joy of seeing the enemy punished. No doubt those who trust the Lord will see justice—one day. But I want us to look beyond the surface to an even more glorious truth: God’s people will be preserved from His condemnation in the midst of God’s wrath, which is often revealed in warfare.

What a joy to know that, though we deserve wrath, by God’s grace His wrath will not touch us because it was poured out on His Son.

How can anyone give due consideration to such a testimony, to such an offer, and yet turn away? But, sadly, so many do. In fact, some reading this are doing so. In spite of being appealed to, over and over, you continue to trust yourself, or your religion, or your “good” works (whatever in the world those could possibly be), or your bank account, or your image and prestige, or your success, or your health. Stop being foolish. Repent of abiding under flimsy and useless shadows and turn to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you desire to do so and yet you are unsure how the Lord will respond. After all, what if you are not one of His? Will He not turn you away? Well, let me answer that concern by reminding you from this text that you are still alive. No thug has taken your life—yet. No disease has killed you—yet. No enemy has taken your life—yet. No self-destructive behaviour on your part has resulted in your death—yet. God’s wrath has not eternally condemned you—yet. Could it be that the Lord has providentially preserved you because He plans to powerfully save you? Could it be? Yes, it can be! So repent and believe the gospel. Trust God in Christ and you can joyfully cry today, “My God.”

An Encouragement to Live By

In vv. 9–13 we read an encouragement to live by. It is a conformation or affirmation of the author’s faith.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

(Psalm 91:9–13)

The Right Decision

As we come to v. 9, we see a significant change in the way the writer speaks: “Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.”

Here, there is a continuation of the “you” pronoun. In fact, some of the content is similar to what has immediately preceded it in vv. 3–8. Yet there is a significant difference. Let me explain.

It appears that, in vv. 3–8, there was a commendation, a “personal” and powerful endorsement, to trust the Most High as the wonderful benefits were enumerated. But with v. 9 it appears that the invitation has been heeded and that the one being addressed—the “you”—has now joined with the psalmist in also making the LORD his refuge and the Most High his dwelling place.

In other words, this man’s invitation has been heeded. He has gone from exhorting an unbeliever (or perhaps a weak believer) to now encouraging a new (or perhaps a stronger) believer. In what follows are the kind of encouragements that we need to meaningfully and carefully give to one another on our mutual pilgrimage.

The Results of the Decision

In vv. 10–13 the author begins enumerating the results of the decision made in v. 9. Broadly speaking, there are two results.

Constant Care

The first result of the decision to embrace the Lord as refuge is constant care: “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (vv. 10–12). As in the previous stanza those who trust the Lord are promised God’s protection from peril and plagues. The promise is not one of prosperity but of providential care. Yet a new element is introduced here.

Jesus and this Passage

Recall when Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness. The devil tempted Him to cast Himself off the temple, assuring Him that the Lord had made the promise to watch over Him by the angels (Matthew 4:5–7). The evil one was quoting from Psalm 91:11–12. Yet he left out the words “in all your ways” and took the verse out of context. Jesus told him so.

This verse is not for Christians who indulge in extreme sports. It is not for those who tempt fate by walking over a gorge with a 269-metre drop on a loose rope without any safety harness. This verse is for those with brains.

The promise is that those who trust the Almighty can be assured that He knows every step that they take and will do whatever is necessary to protect them as they walk in His ways. In fact, the implication by the phrase “in all your ways” is that these ways are actually God’s ways. Is this perhaps why the evil one did not mention these words when he misquoted the verse?

Again, this passage is not an amulet promising that the Christian will never experience calamity. Kidner observes, “This is, of course, a statement of exact, minute providence, not a charm against adversity…. What it does assure us is that nothing can touch God’s servant but by God’s leave.”7

No Unnecessary Stumbles

Sometimes the angels will seemingly stand by while we stub our foot against a stone. How else can you explain Job, or Joni Erickson Tada, or any number of other people whom you may personally know who are Christians undergoing intense trial? The verse does teach us that, as we walk in the shadow of the Almighty, nothing can happen to us that does not have His loving and all wise permission. As someone has pointed out, Romans 8:28 promises that everything that happens does so in accordance with God’s glory for the good of His people, and then several verses later we read of nakedness and peril and sword as experiences of God’s people. In other words, we were never promised a rose garden—or at least not one without the thorns.

We should also note that sometimes we turn away from God’s shelter and, when we do, we fall. Yet even here we find the Lord’s providential care at work. Calvin concurs:

That we frequently stumble is owing to our own fault in departing from him who is our head and leader. And though God suffers us to stumble and fall in this manner that he may convince us how weak we are in ourselves, yet, inasmuch as he does not permit us to be crushed or altogether overwhelmed, it is virtually even then as if he put his hand under us and bore us up.8

Celestial and Terrestrial

God’s guardian angels may be both “celestial” and “terrestrial.” The former are supernatural creatures that God has mandated to be ministers to those who are heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14). God commands them to care for us.

Consider the situation with Elisha and the Syrian army (2 Kings 6:14–17). The Lord had an innumerable host, His angels, surrounding the enemy. Or consider God sending His angels to let Peter out of prison (Acts 12). He sent an angel to encourage John while he was exiled on Patmos (Revelation 1). But perhaps the most significant example are the angels that assisted Jesus shortly after He refused to fall for the misapplication of this very verse. The Bible says that, after Jesus succeeded in overcoming the devil’s temptations, angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11). Jesus refused to turn the stones into bread and the angels supplied bread because of this. They did, in fact, bear Him up. That would not be the only time.

I Come to the Garden Alone?

Three years later, Jesus was being tempted again, and again, and again. He was betrayed and the soldiers from the temple were on their way to arrest Him to subsequently have Him crucified.

Jesus, meanwhile, was praying in the garden—alone. The temptation to turn from the cross was immeasurably strong—so strong, in fact, that Jesus was sweating, as it were, “great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).

This was preceded by two things. First, Jesus cried out, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (v. 42). This was an intense time for Jesus. It was a time of deep spiritual temptation. But note, second, what happened in the next verse: “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (v. 43). The Father sent an angel to encourage Jesus. How He did this we are not told. But that an angel was sent and that he strengthened Jesus is clear.

What I find interesting is that it was after this angelic help that Jesus was seen “being in agony” (v. 44).

We can learn from this that God’s providential and even celestial care for His children in no way exempts them from hardship. Jesus is Exhibit A, whose experience crushes forever the lies of the prosperity gospel false prophets.

We can deduce from this that the promise of angels watching over us is not a guarantee against hardships. Rather, it is God’s undertaking that He has His eye on us. We should take deep comfort from this.

Terrestrial Angels

Though this is not the author’s point I want to make a brief pastoral application that the Lord sometimes sends human “angels” to keep us in the path of blessing—or to get us there. The seven “angels” of the seven churches in Revelation 2–3 were likely the pastor-teachers of those churches. Sometimes, God uses human messengers to encourage us.

Be grateful that the Lord sends messengers to keep you in the way, lest you dash your foot against a stone. Further, turn away from those devilish temptations that will deafen you to such messengers.

Certain Conquest

The second major result of hiding under the shadow of the Almighty is certain conquest. By this I mean confident living in the face of conflict: “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot” (v. 13).

Treading Triumphantly

Before moving on, there is something here of deep significance. In v. 13 we are given the encouragement that those who find the LORD as their refuge and the Most High as their dwelling place will be given the ability to “tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.” Is this literal? It could be.

Think of Daniel in the lion’s den. Think of Paul on Malta (Acts 28). Think of Mark 16:16–18.9 Think David Livingstone surviving a lion attack.

Don’t think weird snake handlers in deep south American churches—or of recent scandals in South African churches. That is nonsense. Yet there are many credible stories of Christians who have been spared serious injury and/or death from the fangs of animals and reptiles. No doubt, with God as our refuge, the one who created the animals can control them. But I don’t think this is the main point. Rather, the idea is doubtless that the Lord will care for His people even in the most dangerous and threatening of circumstances—including spiritually threatening ones. Jesus Christ is the case in point.

Crushed and Trampled

It is interesting that Satan chose to quote Psalm 91, particularly because it is precisely as the result of Jesus making God His refuge, thereby refusing to misapply vv. 11–12, that Jesus in fact crushed the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) and trampled on the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8).

There is an important lesson here for us: Those who make God their refuge may at times find themselves striking their foot against a stone. But if so, it is simply in preparation for a mightier crushing of the serpent’s head (Romans 16:20).

Decorating your car with a bumper sticker claiming that the vehicle is “protected by Psalm 91” is no guarantee that it will not be stolen. A house with Psalm 91 engraved on its front gate (I have one in my own neighbourhood) is no insurance against theft. But if the Lord allows the car to be in an accident or the house to be robbed, then for those who have God as their refuge much good is sure to come from it (Romans 8:28–30). In the midst of adversity you will overcome the designs of the evil one.

This, of course, applies also to death and dying. The Bible does not promise the Christian a reprieve from the physical death sentence attached to sin. Psalm 90 is clear evidence of this. However, those who have God as their refuge can face death triumphantly. They can trample underfoot the adders of fear and the lions of terror that otherwise control the thoughts of unbelievers concerning death (Hebrews 2:14–15). Again, Jesus is both the reason for and the example of this.

Jesus Christ died voluntarily. The devil did not take His life from Him. He willingly laid it down. He is the only person in history who had to will His death. He was not susceptible to death, for He was without sin. So it was completely up to Him to commit His spirit to God (Luke 23:46). In death, as in life, God was His refuge. He died victoriously. When Jesus died, His work was finished. One major result of His finished work was that the devil was finished as well (John 19:30; Hebrews 2:14–15; Revelation 12:7–12; 20:1–3)!

The point is that, for the Christian, even when the worst thing happens to us, it proves to be the best thing. When the angels are told to “leave us to die,” it is precisely then that the Christian experiences the final triumph over the fangless serpent who is forever the toothless lion.

A Promise to Believe

Finally, the author gives a promise to believe, and it is the promise of salvation by faith: “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (vv. 14–16).

In this final stanza, we have another change of pronoun, and the psalmist falls silent as God now directly speaks.

There is wonderful flow throughout this psalm. One who has experienced God as his refuge commends this refuge to those who need refuge. The testimony apparently is well received for now the one addressed has experienced God as their refuge. The writer then “disciples” the new convert further into what having this refuge means. But now the final voice is, well, the Final Voice! God now speaks directly to those who have come to bow to Him, to trust Him as their refuge. And what He has to say is filled with promises to embrace. As Brueggemann notes, “it is the ground for confidence that the last word is not spoken by us, but to us.”10

A Place of Safety

God describes Himself as a place of safety in v. 14: ““Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name.”

O Love that Will Not Let You Go

Note the inseparable connection between running to God as our refuge and love for the Lord. The saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” may have an element of truth in it, but the question is, what is the response of those once they are safely behind enemy lines? Many people run to the Lord for refuge when ruin surrounds them. Yet as Martin Luther noted, this psalm refers to “one who really dwells and does not merely appear to dwell and does not just imagine that he dwells” in God.11 Those who truly dwell are devoted to the Lord. We may put it this way: Do you love God? Do you rest in God as your refuge because you have a relationship with Him? Those who have Him as their refuge will love and own Him as their Redeemer.

The Lord speaks of the one who has “set his love upon Me.” This is a strong phrase, which means “to adhere to” or “to cleave to.” It therefore connotes being attached to someone through a very great love or desire (see Genesis 34:8; Deuteronomy 7:7; 21:11).

The promise is that those who so cleave to the Lord will experience God cleaving to them. He will “set him on high” in an inaccessible city where the believer will be safe. Such will be safely protected (Proverbs 18:10; Psalms 20:2; 107:41).

I Know Whom I Have Believed

The Lord’s promises in these verses are “because he has known My name.” To “know” is not merely an intellectual acknowledgement but includes an intimate awareness. The “name” of God represents His character. The reason we find refuge in the Lord is because the knowledge of His character assures us that we are safe with Him, and this leads to a growing love for the Lord. To know Him is to love Him. And to love Him is to trust Him.

God will not be used by us. He will be adored by us. If you are “disappointed” with God, then perhaps you should ask whether He is disappointed with you? Are you simply offering to Him a utilitarian lip service of trust or are you longingly running to His name?

A Promise of Salvation

The psalm ends with the promise that those who have the Lord as their refuge can be assured of safety, satisfaction and salvation: “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (vv. 15–16).

Those who love the Lord belong to the Lord (that is why they love Him!) and He will provide a way of escape (“I will deliver Him”). Again, God does not promise a trouble-free sojourn; however, He does promise that we can live as overcomers. And we are encouraged to pray for this (v. 15). God will make our lives count, He will make us “weighty” (“honour”).

Safe and Satisfied

Verse 16 promises those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High God a life of satisfaction—a life that is “long” (see 1 Chronicles 23:11; Psalm 107:9; Isaiah 58:11).

This promise of long life is recurrent in Scripture (cf. Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 30:20; Psalm 21:4; Proverbs 3:2, 16). This is not an absolute promise, but it is generally true. Calvin helpfully says, “Long life … would be bestowed by God upon all his children, were it not for their advantage that they should be taken early out of the world.”12

This promise is both because of God’s grace and because of His governing principles of life.

Consider, for example, those who live with alcohol, drugs and sex as their refuge. These take an awful toll on the body and the soul. Those who love the Lord guard against such sins of the flesh and this has physical advantages. Nevertheless, the promise is that God takes care of His own. They live satisfied and full lives, regardless of their date with death.

Safe because Saved

Finally, the psalm ends with the note of “salvation.” The Lord promises salvation to those who shelter with Him.

This is a rich and full word, which includes deliverance from enemies, disease and all that is in this world because of sin—including deliverance from the wages of sin, which is condemnation and death. But those who have turned to the Lord as their refuge are promised complete deliverance from this. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. And, one day, the Lord will fully “show us His salvation.”

I so appreciate Calvin’s comment: “The salvation of God extends far beyond the narrow boundary of earthly existence; and it is to this, whether we live or come to die, that we should principally look…. When he has followed them with his fatherly goodness throughout their lives, he at last shows them his salvation.”13

One day, we will literally be sheltered from all that ails us. We will forever be shielded from the evils that currently surround us, for one day sin and its effects will be no more. The lion and the serpent will lie down with the lamb because the Lamb of God has defeated the serpent and the lion.

In the meantime, grow in your knowledge of the Saviour (1 Peter 3:18) and abide in Him as the secret place of the Most High. Oh that we would all see our need to cry out, “Give me shelter!” When we do so, we will find the Lord showing us His salvation. So, repent and run to Him. Read and revere Him. Gather and grow in Him. Trust and obey Him. Learn and gain this heart of wisdom, the heart that worships the Most High God.

Show 13 footnotes

  1. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 650.
  2. The ancient Jewish commentators felt that the anonymous psalms were generally written by the author of the preceding psalm.
  3. Derek Kidner, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 2 vols. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 2:331.
  4. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 5.2:481.
  5. Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 5:599.
  6. Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 5.2:477.
  7. Kidner, Psalms, 2:333.
  8. Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 5.2:487.
  9. I am aware that there is intense debate regarding the legitimacy of these verses as inspired Scripture.
  10. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5:602.
  11. James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 2:751.
  12. Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 5.2:491.
  13. Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 5.2:492.