Psalm 91
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This exquisite Psalm may no doubt simply describe the security of the godly man under Jehovah’s protection amid the perils of his journey through life. But it gains in point and force if it is regarded as addressed to Israel[50] in a crisis of its history. Psalms 90, 91, 92 are connected by several links of thought and language. Cp. Psalm 90:1, Psalm 91:9, ‘dwelling-place’; Psalm 90:6, Psalm 92:7, ‘flourish’; Psalm 90:15-16, Psalm 92:4, ‘make glad,’ ‘thy work’; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 91:9, Psalm 92:1, ‘Most High’; Psalm 91:8, Psalm 92:11, the judgement of the wicked. It is natural to consider them as a group. If now Psalms 90 is the plea of Israel in exile, and Psalms 92 its thanksgiving for deliverance, may not Psalms 91 be the voice of faith assuring Israel that it will be safe in the midst of the calamities which are about to fall upon Babylon? As Israel was untouched by the judgements upon the Egyptians which were the prelude to its deliverance, so it will be now before the exodus from Babylon. Jehovah’s Presence will defend His people in a day of distress. The promises of Exodus 23:20 ff. and Jeremiah’s prophecies of Israel’s deliverance from Babylon seem to have been in the Psalmist’s mind. With Psalm 91:11 cp. Exodus 23:20; with Psalm 91:16 cp. Exodus 23:26; Exodus 23:3; Exodus 23:5-7 are an expansion of Exodus 23:25 b; with Psalm 91:15 cp. Jeremiah 30:7, “a time of distress for Jacob”; Jeremiah 30:11, “I am with thee to save thee”; Jeremiah 30:19, “I will glorify them”; with Psalm 90:15, Psalm 92:4 cp. Jeremiah 31:13, “I will make them glad.”

[50] For the address to Israel in the singular cp. Exodus 23:20 ff.; Deuteronomy 32:6; and many other passages. See Introd. pp. li f.

The use of the first person in Psalm 91:2; Psalm 91:9 a, followed by the second person in Psalm 91:3 ff., Psalm 91:9 b ff., is somewhat perplexing. Many commentators suppose that the text is corrupt and emend it in various ways (see notes on Psalm 91:1; Psalm 91:9). But the two occurrences of the first person mutually support one another. If the interpretation suggested above is adopted, Psalm 91:1-2; Psalm 91:9 a will be the profession of the Psalmist’s faith, on the strength of which he addresses to Israel the comforting words of Psalm 91:3 ff., Psalm 91:9 b ff. If the reference of the Psalm is not national but individual, these verses will be addressed, in accordance with the usual practice of the didactic style, to any godly Israelite. Cp. e.g. Psalms 37. Another possible explanation is that the Psalmist, after addressing God in words of confident faith, addresses himself, and reminds himself in detail of all that is meant by that Divine guardianship. For a parallel comp. Psalms 121. It has also been suggested that the Psalm was intended to be sung antiphonally; one voice or choir chanting Psalm 91:1-2, and another answering in Psalm 91:3-8; the first striking in again with Psalm 91:9 a, and the second again responding in Psalm 91:9 b Psalm 91:13, while a third recited the Divine speech in Psalm 91:14-16[51].

[51] The Targum recognises the idea of a plurality of speakers, explaining the Ps. as a dialogue between David and Solomon. Psalm 91:2-3, “David said, ‘I will say to Jehovah,’ &c. ‘For He shall deliver thee, Solomon my son,’ &c.” Psalm 91:9, “Solomon answered and said thus, ‘For thou Jehovah art my refuge, in a lofty dwelling hast Thou placed the abode of Thy Majesty’ (Shechinah).” Psalm 91:10, “The Lord of the world answered and said thus, ‘There shall no evil befall thee,’ &c.”

The Psalm falls into two equal divisions. (i) The Psalmist’s profession of trust in Jehovah, the Most High, the Almighty, gives the theme of the Psalm (Psalm 91:1-2), which is developed in detail (Psalm 91:3-8): (ii) the repetition of this profession in the briefest form (Psalm 91:9 a) introduces a further development of it (Psalm 91:9 b Psalm 91:13), and the Psalm closes with a Divine assurance answering to the Psalmist’s opening profession, and authoritatively confirming his confidence (Psalm 91:14-16).

This Psalm expands the thought of Psalm 90:1, and furnishes a corrective to the somewhat desponding tone of that Psalm.

Like Psalms 90 it shews familiarity with the language of Deuteronomy 32. Cp. Psalm 91:2 with Deuteronomy 32:37; Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:12 with Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalm 91:6 with Deuteronomy 32:24; Psalm 91:8 with Deuteronomy 32:35; Deuteronomy 32:41; Psalm 91:13 with Deuteronomy 32:33.

Compare also Psalms 121; Job 5:19-26; Proverbs 3:23-26.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
1. Whoever takes refuge with God will find himself under the protection of an Almighty guardian. “He shall be treated as God’s guest … His Almighty Power shall be spread around him during the night of trouble and peril. Loving faith on man’s part shall be met by faithful love on God’s part” (Kay). Such is the sense of the A.V., which is certainly the most natural rendering of the verse. It is however rejected by most modern commentators as tautological. The predicate, it is said, simply repeats the subject, for the verb shall abide, or lodge, does not bear the emphatic meaning of permanent sojourn. But the verb is not used of temporary sojourn only (cp. Psalm 25:13), and if the emphasis is on the words in the shelter of the Almighty, the second line is not merely a repetition of the first.

Other renderings which have been suggested are (1) As one that dwelleth in the covert of the Most High, that lodgeth in the shadow of the Almighty, I will say, &c. Cp. R.V. marg. This construction however is harsh and cumbrous. (2) With the insertion of a word at the beginning of Psalm 91:1, Happy is the man that dwelleth … that lodgeth … that saith …; an emendation plausible enough in itself, but without any support from the Ancient Versions. (3) With a slight change of text, He that dwelleth … that lodgeth … saith of Jehovah. This emendation has much to commend it. It is supported by the LXX (ἐρεῖ), and it gets rid of the supposed tautology, as well as of the somewhat perplexing first person I will say in Psalm 91:2.

But it is unnecessary if Psalm 91:1 is explained as above; the gain to the sense is doubtful; and the elimination of the first person destroys a feature of the Psalm. Its use here is supported by its recurrence in Psalm 91:9.

secret place] Covert or hiding-place. Cp. Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:20; Psalm 32:7, &c.

the shadow] Shelter or protection. The figure is probably (cp. Psalm 91:4) derived from the care of the mother-bird for her young (Psalm 17:8, &c.), rather than from the hospitable roof (Genesis 19:8), or sheltering rock (Isaiah 32:2).

the Most High … the Almighty] Significant titles, chosen to emphasise the power of the Sovereign Ruler of the world to defend His people.

1, 2. The theme of the Psalm; Jehovah a secure defence for those who take refuge in Him.

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
2. I will say unto Jehovah, My refuge and my fortress;

My God in whom I will trust.

I can and will address Him thus in the language of faith. Cp. Psalm 18:2; Psalm 31:3; Psalm 71:3.

Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
3. Surely he &c.] For HE &c. The pronoun is emphatic.

the snare of the fowler] All insidious attempts against life or welfare (Psalm 124:7; Psalm 141:9, &c.; 2 Timothy 2:26).

and from the noisome pestilence] from [omit and] the destroying pestilence. But pestilence comes later in Psalm 91:6, and the LXX, Symm., and Syr., give a better parallel to the snare of the fowler by the reading, which involves only a change of vocalisation, from the destroying word of malignant calumny and slander. Cp. the same parallel in Psalm 38:12, and the numerous complaints of slander, and prayers to be delivered from it; e.g. Psalm 5:9; Psalm 120:2-3.

3–8. The providential care of God described in detail. The Psalmist, if the interpretation advocated above is correct, now addresses Israel; or, it may be, any godly Israelite.

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
4. He shall shelter thee with his pinions,

And under his wings shalt thou take refuge:

His truth is a shield and buckler.

Cp. Psalm 5:11-12; Psalm 17:8; Psalm 63:7; and the figure in Deuteronomy 32:11, though the application there is different. God’s truth, i.e. His faithfulness to His promises, will be a defence against hostile calumnies. The words rendered shield and buckler both denote large shields, protecting the whole of the person.

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
5. Neither sudden assaults of enemies by night, nor open attacks by day (Song of Solomon 3:8; Jeremiah 6:4-5; Proverbs 3:24-25) shall have power to harm thee. The language is figurative: all hostility, whether secret or avowed, is meant.

Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
6. Plague and Pestilence are personified as destroying angels. Cp. Isaiah 37:36.

A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
7, 8. Though a thousand fall … it shall not come nigh thee] The emphasis is on thee. Thou shalt be as safe as Israel when the firstborn of the Egyptians were smitten (Exodus 12:23): unharmed thyself thou shalt be a spectator of the punishment of the wicked, as Israel was at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:30-31). That punishment is the indispensable counterpart of the deliverance of the righteous, Psalm 91:14-16. Cp. Psalm 92:11, and notes there.

Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
9. For thou, Jehovah, art my refuge!

Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation.

So we must render. The A.V. is an attempt to escape from the difficulties of the verse, but it involves an intolerably harsh construction. As the text stands, the Psalmist begins the second division of the Psalm by repeating the profession of Psalm 91:2, and then, as before, addresses Israel as a whole, or the godly Israelite. Psalm 91:9 b is virtually a protasis;—If or since thou hast madethere shall no evil befall thee.

Here too some critics would cut the knot of the change of persons by emending, Because thou hast said, Jehovah is my refuge, and hast made the Most High thy habitation; or, For as for thee, Jehovah is thy refuge. But the change is unnecessary. The word for habitation is the same as that rendered dwelling-place in Psalm 90:1. The rendering of the P.B.V., “thou hast set thine house of defence very high,” is probably a misunderstanding of the Vulg. altissimum posuisti refugium tuum, which, as the LXX, τὸν ὕψιστον ἔθου καταφυγήν σου, shews, means, Thou hast made the Most High thy refuge. It is supported by the Targum (see note [52] p. 554), but in view of the use of ‘Most High’ in Psalm 91:1 and Psalm 92:1 can hardly be right.

[52] The Targum recognises the idea of a plurality of speakers, explaining the Ps. as a dialogue between David and Solomon. Psalm 91:2-3, “David said, ‘I will say to Jehovah,’ &c. ‘For He shall deliver thee, Solomon my son,’ &c.” Psalm 91:9, “Solomon answered and said thus, ‘For thou Jehovah art my refuge, in a lofty dwelling hast Thou placed the abode of Thy Majesty’ (Shechinah).” Psalm 91:10, “The Lord of the world answered and said thus, ‘There shall no evil befall thee,’ &c.”

9–16. Renewed assurances of Divine protection, ratified by a Divine promise.

There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
10. befall thee] Lit., be let befall thee. Cp. Proverbs 12:21.

thy dwelling] Lit., thy tent, a survival of the language of nomad life.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
11. Cp. Genesis 24:7; Genesis 24:40; Exodus 23:20 (“I send an angel before thee to keep thee in the way”); Psalm 34:7. This verse and the next were quoted by the Tempter (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10-11). If the words are primarily addressed to Israel, there is a particular force in the citation. Israel was a type of Christ; had He not then the fullest right to claim for Himself the promises made to Israel?

They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
12. Upon their hands shall they bear thee] Cp. the metaphor in Exodus 19:4.

lest thou dash &c.] and stumble and fall. Cp. Proverbs 3:23.

Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
13. Thou shalt triumphantly overcome all obstacles and dangers, whether of fierce and open violence, or of secret and insidious treachery. Cp. Luke 10:19; Romans 16:20.

Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
14. he hath set his love upon me] Love responds to love. The word means to cling to with love, and is used of God’s love for Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7; Deuteronomy 10:15.

set him on high] In safety from his enemies. Cp. Psalm 20:1.

known my name] Recognised My revealed character as the faithful guardian of My people. Cp. Psalm 9:10; Psalm 5:11.

14–16. God Himself speaks, solemnly confirming the Psalmist’s faith.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
15, 16. Cp. Psalm 50:15; Psalm 50:23.

honour him] Or, glorify him. Cp. Jeremiah 30:19.

with long life] Lit., with length of days (Deuteronomy 30:20; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16); in fulfilment of the ancient promises, Exodus 20:12; Exodus 23:26 (“the number of thy days I will fulfil”), and in contrast to the destruction of the wicked, Psalm 91:7-8.

satisfy] Cp. Psalm 90:14my salvation] Visible manifestations of God’s Providence proving His care for His people, such as the author of Psalms 90 desired to see, and especially the deliverance from Babylon. Cp. Psalm 98:2-3. Each such manifestation was a harbinger of the final Messianic glory which is the goal of O.T. hope. In the light of N.T. revelation the words of the verse gain a new and larger meaning (1 John 5:11; 1 Peter 1:5 ff.).

With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.
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