Psalm 91
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics


1. He dwells in the secret place, etc.

2. He abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

II. HIS CONFESSION OF FAITH (Ver. 2.) The Lord is his Refuge, Fortress, the Joy of his soul, his God, his constant Confidence.


1. As a sure Deliverer from the hidden foe and from the devouring pestilence.

2. As Protector; like that of the mother bird over her young; like that of shield and buckler to the soldier.

3. As the Inspirer of confidence. (Ver. 5.) Against the midnight attack - the terror by night (cf. Judges 7.). Against open war, when the flight of arrows almost darkened the sky. Against secret disease (ver. 6) and sudden death - the sickness that wasteth at noonday.

4. As rescuing from the very jaws of death. Thousands falling all around, but God's servant kept unharmed (ver. 7). Seeing only, but never experiencing, the awful recompense of the wicked (ver. 8).

5. He gives the reason of this. (Ver. 9.) He made the Lord his Refuge and his Habitation; there no evil could come, nor any plague.

6. He tells of the angelic ministries through which God thus guards his people; they keep and they upbear, so that no hurt shall come. Still more, they render the man invulnerable (ver. 13). Forces terrible as the lion and subtle like the adder cannot harm. Thus, from his own experience, the man that trusts in God commends him to his fellow man. And next -


1. Declaring his mind towards his faithful servant. We may regard these verses (14-16) as a Divine soliloquy, in which God, well pleased, meditates what he will do, and why, for his servant. He will deliver, exalt, answer, keep near to, honour, satisfy with long life, and reveal to him the fulness of his love.

2. Endorsing the testimony in the mind of him to whom it has been given. Making him feel that it is all true, and that much more is true. Thus does God deal with his faithfully witnessing servants, and for and through them to others. This psalm is as true for today as for the day when it was written. Let us but thus trust in God, confess, and commend him. - S.C.

In order to understand this most precious promise, inquire -

I. WHAT IS THE SECRET PLACE OF THE MOST HIGH? The idea of this "secret place" is frequently met with.

1. Sometimes it tells of some secret hiding place, such as David often resorted to when a fugitive;. and the sure protection of God is likened to such safe shelter.

2. At other times, the central tent of the commander of an army seems to be meant, as in Psalm 27:5, "He shall hide me in his pavilion," etc. The enemy would have to break through rank after rank of the encamped army ere he could reach the well guarded central tent of the leader. So inaccessible to the foe, so strongly placed was it, that it is taken as an emblem of our security in God.

3. But it is to the most holy place of the tabernacle and temple that we think allusion is here made. That sacred chamber was emphatically the secret place of the Most High. It was entered but once a year, and then only by one person, the high priest, bearing the blood of atonement. For all the rest of the year no footfall was heard in that secret place, no eye looked upon the glory of God that shone forth there. That loneliness told of the sad alienation that had sprung up between God and man through man's sin. But that secret place was the earthly dwelling place of God. There, between the cherubim, his glory shone forth, and there he was said to dwell.

II. BUT WHAT IS IT TO DWELL THERE? Literally, no man ever dwelt there. We are driven, therefore, to seek the spiritual meaning of this word. And we note that:

1. Israel entered there in the person of the high priest, when he bore in his hand the atoning blood, which he was about to sprinkle upon the mercy seat. All Israel found entrance there in their high priest, their representative. And whilst they continued in the faith of God, obeying and trusting him, they spiritually dwelt in that secret place, and, as a fact, were under the shadow - the high priest was so literally - of the Most High. No evil befell them, no plague came nigh their dwelling. It was well with them indeed.

2. And we enter and dwell there when, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we come to God, pleading his all-sufficient sacrifice and atonement, of which the blood berne by the high priest told. And we dwell there as we continue in that precious faith. Then we, too, are under the shadow of the Almighty. The Law's condemnation, sin's power, earthly care, death, and the grave, can do us no harm; we are under the sure and blessed shelter of our God. Next let us note -


1. The Lord is to us our Refuge. The Law's condemnation would fasten upon us but for this. And he is our Fortress - the place of vantage whence we fight successfully the spiritual warfare. And he is our God, in whom we trust; he is the confidence, the delight, the joy of our souls; so that we say of him, "He is my God."

2. And all this we take personally, each of us individually appropriating it. The Lord is not merely "a Refuge," but "my Refuge," "my Fortress," etc.

3. And we confess it. "I will say of the Lord," etc.; "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

IV. THE SURE FRUIT OF SUCH DWELLING IN THE SECRET PLACE OF THE MOST HIGH. We shall commend God to others. The rest of the psalm is one prolonged testimony to the blessedness of thus dwelling in God. "Surely he shall deliver thee," etc. Are we, then, thus individually and avowedly dwelling in God? - S.C.

The construction of this psalm is peculiar (see exegetical notes). Ewald gives the best suggestion concerning its structure. Partly the poet expresses his own feelings as from himself, and partly as if they were uttered by another. He seems to listen to the thoughts of his own spirit till they become clear and distinct, like some prophetic words, or some Divine oracle speaking to him from without, and giving him thus the assurance and the consolation afresh which had already sprung up in his heart. The associations of the psalm, and the authorship, cannot with any certainty be traced, but the Jewish idea that it belongs to the age of Moses deserves consideration. Certainly the experiences of the wilderness life give the most effective illustration of both the figures and the sentiments of the psalm. Bishop Wordsworth says confidently, "The scenery of the psalm is derived from the circumstances of the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness." Dean Plumptre says, "The psalm is an echo, verse by verse almost, of the words in which Eliphaz the Temanite describes the good man's life (Job 5:17-23)." Perhaps the two sentences of ver. 1 would be better read as a repetition, according to the customary construction of Hebrew poets. "He that dwelleth... he that abideth... shall say unto the Lord." Working out the Mosaic association, show -

I. THE WILDERNESS PERILS. As Moses would be impressed by them. Limited food. Dangers of pestilence by remaining too long in a place. Active enemies. Local difficulties, as from serpents. Temper of the people. Influence of mixed multitudes. Wearying effect of constant changes, etc. We seldom fully realize the persistent and exhausting anxieties of Moses. Sometimes even his life seemed to be in danger.

II. THE WILDERNESS SAFETIES. Moses could not help contrasting the holy quiet of those forty days he had spent in the "secret place" with God, and the forty years of strain and stress he had spent with the stiff-necked and rebellious people. He must often have yearned for a renewal of those restful hours. And yet the spiritual fact and truth for him was that he did still "dwell in the secret place," he did still "abide under the shadow of the Almighty;" for this, in very truth, is a mood of soul experience, and not a mere bodily relationship. Moses with God in the mount does but illustrate Moses with God always, resting and safe in his "shadow." R.T.

I will say of the Lord. Consider -

I. SUCH RESOLVES GENERALLY. It is good to make them; for:

1. They are really prayers. Underlying them there is the desire of the heart that God may give the help needed to fulfil such resolve.

2. They are a blessed stirring up of the grace of God that is in us. The will summons the soul to energy by means of such holy resolves.

3. They are well pleasing to God, for they are an actual endeavour to do his will.


1. See its nature. He would take the Lord as his "Refuge." It is a confession of need and of trust. And as his "Fortress." He would need help in his warfare; he would rely on the Lord for it. As his God, his soul's Centre, Strength, and Joy.

2. He would do this now.

3. Openly.

4. Personally.

5. Habitually.

III. WHAT LED TO THIS RESOLVE. The experience of God's sheltering love of which he tells in the first verse. He was dwelling in the secret place, was abiding in Christ, and he found, as a fact of his experience, that he was sheltered from all evil.

IV. HOW THIS RESOLVE WAS SUSTAINED. By going and telling others of what God had done for him, and would do for them. - S.C.

These words come as a climax to all that profession of faith which the former part of the verse contains. It is good to say of the Lord, "He is my Refuge" - to have gone to him, and found in him deliverance from all the guilt and condemnation due to our sin, which otherwise would have overwhelmed us. But it is better to have him as "our Fortress," so that, strong in his strength, we may fight successfully the great battle against all the might of the wicked one. But it is best of all, because a yet higher attainment, to be able to say of God, "He is my God," as the psalmist does here. All that is contained in the former declarations is included in this, and much besides. Blessed, indeed, is he who can say of the Lord, "He is my God." We all know what a charm belongs to that which we can call our own. Even a child delights in any gift far more if it can call what is given its very own. And it is the same with men. Possession enhances preciousness, and causes what is our own to be clung to with a tenacity that would be wanting were it not "our own." We know the poet's challenge to our patriotic pride when speaking of "my own, my native land." And the man who will delight in God and cleave to him at all times is he who most of all is able to say of him, "He is my God."

I. Let us EXPLAIN THE MEANING Of such saying.

1. It does not mean that any man can have a monopoly of God so as to exclude all others. It is so with many of our earthly possessions, but not at all so in our possession of God. On the contrary, he who says of the Lord, "He is my God," is generally one who has learnt to say this by the blessed influence of some other who himself has been able to say it. And he is always one who desires that all others should be able to say it likewise.

2. But it means that he has such conscious possession of and delight in God that he could not have more were God his God only, and not the God of any one else. As with the eye, it could not enjoy more of the light of the sun even if no other eye rejoiced in its light. The joy of the light is not lessened, but greatly increased by, yea, is largely dependent on, others enjoying it also.


1. Jacob. At Bethel he had been made to feel his deep need of God, and hence he vows that if God would bring him back in peace, "then God shall be my God," etc. And this is the deep longing of every convinced soul.

2. Miriam and Israel at the Red Sea. They sang, "He is my God, and I will prepare him a habitation," etc. They knew of his redemption, and in the joy of it claimed God as "my God." It is the spontaneous utterance of the redeemed soul.

3. Nehemiah, and many others, who thus continually speak of God. They show how God is the abiding Trust of the believer.

4. Our Lord on the cross cried, "My God, my God," etc.! And in him we learn how this precious truth is the solid rock on which, in times of extremest distress, the soul rests itself.

5. And it is the seal of salvation. In the Apocalypse we read amongst the promises "to him that overcometh," there shall be written on him "the name of my God," as if the fact that he had so regarded and rejoiced in God were, as it is, the sure token of his belonging to the city of God. Thus from the dawn of the Divine life in man to its consummation in glory, the people of God have ever said of the Lord, "He is my God."


1. The man feels it; he has the witness of the Spirit to the fact that God is his God.

2. He asserts it - openly confesses and professes this truth.

3. He delights in it. It is no mere abstract proposition, but a perennial spring to him of peace, purity, and power.

4. And others recognize it. When no one but ourselves believes that that which we call ours is so, our possession of it is doubtful and insecure; but when all acknowledge our possession, then it is ours. And so with him who rightly says of the Lord, "He is my God."


1. Conviction of your need, leading to fervent desire.

2. Consecration. This includes the renunciation of all that would displease God, and the prompt obedience to all his will so far as you know it.

3. Confession of this to God first, and then to man, that God is your God.

4. Confidence. You are to keep believing that God accepts the surrender you have made. And then comes:

5. Consciousness that it is so. The Spirit testifies to you. May we all make this blessed ascent! - S.C.

Finding various names is a common device of love. The names seem to express the many sidedness of our relationship. It must be specially true of God that we stand in various relations to him, and are helped by a variety of terms and names, which express those relations. There are four names given to God in vers. 1, 2. God the Concealer is the "inaccessibly High One." God the Shadower is the "invincibly Almighty One." God the Covenant maker is "Jehovah, the Lord." And God personally appropriated is "my God." Or it has been put in this way:

1. We commune with him reverently, for he is the Most High.

2. We rest in him as the Almighty.

3. We rejoice in him as Jehovah, or Lord.

4. We trust in him as El, the mighty God.

Perowne's suggestion is more directly in harmony with the psalm. "God is 'Most High,' far above all the rage and malice of enemies; 'Almighty,' so that none can stand before his power; 'Jehovah,' the God of covenant and grace, who has revealed himself to his people; and it is of such a God that the psalmist says, in holy confidence, 'He is "my God," in whom I trust.'" Trying to find the thoughts which one so circumstanced as Moses would attach to the terms, we may say -

I. THE "MOST HIGH" IS ABOVE ALL EARTHLY CHANGES. Unaffected by them in such sense as can weaken his relations to them. We cannot interfere in disputes and difficulties without prejudice. Often we cannot keep calm to form good judgment. God can.

II. THE "ALMIGHTY" IS ABLE TO DEAL WITH ALL EARTHLY CONDITIONS. They can never be so complicated that he cannot unravel them; never so desperate that he cannot master them. "With God all things are possible." If God does not interfere in a case, the reason must be that he will not, because he can if he please.

III. THE "LORD, JEHOVAH" IS UNDER PLEDGE TO INTERFERE FOR HIS PEOPLE'S GOOD. The name "Jehovah" was taken as the sign and seal of the covenant, as the rainbow was taken as the sign of the nature covenant. God, as Jehovah, may be thought of as the "Faithful Promiser."

IV. THE TERM "MY GOD" IMPLIES THAT GOD HAS BEEN, IN ACTUAL EXPERIENCE, WHAT THE PSALMIST FELT CONFIDENT THAT HE WAS. It is an important advance to be able to say, "I know not only what God is, I know also what he has been to me." - R.T.

It is a frequent usage of the psalmist's to compare the soul of man to a bird (cf. Psalm 11., 84., etc.). In the next verse God himself is likened to the mother bird that shelters her young under her wings. And, like a bird, the soul of man is exposed to many dangers. Not alone such as are open and known, but such as are bidden, secret, and subtle; not alone from the hovering hawk, but also from the crafty snare of the fowler. And with such souls as are contemplated in this psalm, it is this latter peril which is the true image of that against which they need to guard, and from which God alone can deliver them. The snare of the fowler - it is a very suggestive similitude. Consider, therefore -


1. A concealed peril. For the fowler to show himself, or to spread his snare in the sight of any bird, would be to defeat the very object he has in view. Hence he conceals himself and his snare both. And so also doth that crafty hunter who seeks for souls that he may destroy them -

"Satan, the fowler, who betrays Unguarded souls a thousand ways" - he does not venture to display openly the evil which he intends by the suggestions be plies us with and the temptations which he puts in our way. Rather he transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Thus craftily does he hide away from us the real nature of the sin into which he would betray us.

2. Adapted to our nature. The fowler does not seek to snare all birds in the same way, but he studies their nature and likings and haunts, and so sets his snare. And is it not just thus with our great adversary? He knows our weak points, where the chink in our armour is through which his darts may enter. He knows where we are vulnerable, how we may be best ensnared. That which would tempt one man would have no attraction, or but little, for another. And Satan knows that. Ah! where should we be were it not for the safe keeping of God?

3. Attractively baited. How the devil lured Saul to persecute the Church, by persuading him that he was "doing God service"! How Christian people are often led to mingle in strange scenes, and to associate with those who are no friends to Christ in their amusements and ways, on the pretext that so they may bring these ungodly ones under good influence, and thus lead them on to something better! The result is generally the reverse of what was expected. Satan has a vast variety of these baits, and the souls are not a few that he has snared by means of them. "It is only for once;" "Don't listen to narrow, prejudiced people;" "You can't help your nature and disposition;" "You can repent, and get forgiveness;" - these are some of the fowler's baits with which he tempts us into his snare.

4. Sometimes he uses decoys. "Religious people do such things: why shouldn't you?"

5. Sometimes he employs several of them together. Old Master Quarles says -

"The close pursuers' busy hands do plant Snares in thy substance; snares attend thy want Snares in thy credit; snares in thy disgrace; Snares in thy high estate; snares in thy base; Snares tuck thy bed, and snares surround thy board; Snares watch thy thoughts; snares attack thy word; Snares in thy quiet; snares in thy commotion; Snares in thy diet; snares in thy devotion; Snares lurk in thy resolves, snares in thy doubts; Snares lie within thy heart, and snares without; Snares are above thy head, and snares beneath; Snares in thy sickness; snares are in thy death." There is not a place in which a believer walks that is free from them. Therefore let us watch and pray.

II. OUR RICH CONSOLATION IN VIEW OF THESE DANGERS. God will "surely" deliver us from them.

1. He has promised to do so.

2. He has done so for his people in all ages who have sought such deliverance.

3. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil; therefore, certainly, these snares.

III. THE NATURE OF HIS DELIVERANCE. How does the Lord fulfil this word?

1. By not letting us fall into them. He keeps us from the evil, that it shall not touch us. This is very blessed - more blessed than to be delivered out of the snare when we have fallen therein. The eider brother was, after all, more to be envied than the restored prodigal. We too much forget this. God has many means of holding us back from sin. Chief of all, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, giving us, as to Joseph, a holy fear and an abiding love of God.

2. By rescuing us out of the snare. Yes, he stands ready to do this. You fallen ones, he will do this for you. - S.C.

The fact is patent. It demands consideration. God does not always give protection from bodily evils to his saints. On a house at Chester, that was spared in the time of plague, is the inscription, "God's providence is mine inheritance." But the man who lived there was not the only good man in Chester at the time. Other good men were not thus protected. Evidently the psalmist "accepts in all simplicity the belief in that which, but for sin and its consequences, would be the law of human life - that visible blessing, and obedience to the Supreme Ruler of the world, must always go together. To us the faith is rather that whatever betides us of outward fortune cannot touch the true life which is hid in God." What we need to see is that the psalmist asserts the ever working law, and leaves us to find the limitations and exceptions that arise in its practical working.

I. THE EVER WORKING LAW. Temporal good attends upon piety. The world is constructed and arranged to give this law a sphere. Just so far as natural relations are kept simple, the law does work. "Honesty is the best policy." Goodness does bring reward. Chastity does secure health. The fear of God does prove to he practical wisdom. The man of wise and restrained habits does stand the best chance in time of epidemic disease. The diligent in business do succeed. "Right is right." Right comes right. "Godliness has the promise of the life that now is."

II. THE EVER MANIFEST EXCEPTIONS. These occasion the distress of men like Asaph, who are too keen to detect the dark side of things. Righteous Job suffers. The wicked are in great power. The exceptions come through the disturbance of Divine arrangements by man's wilfulness and sin. He makes his law cross the Divine law. Then arises the necessity for modifications in the working of the Divine law.

1. The allegiance of the good must be tested.

2. The results of that testing must be used as persuasive example to others. The Book of Job really wrestles with this difficulty. The man who is "upright, fears God, and eschews evil" does not find himself protected from all harm. And yet it is still true, Job in trouble was abiding in "the shadow of the Almighty." - R.T.

This is undoubtedly the image here. Not the outspread wings of the cherubim, which overshadowed the ark of the covenant. Nor the mighty pinions of the eagle, whose home was on the lofty crag, and her path through the sunlit sky. But it is the homely image taken from the familiar scenes of the farmyard and the barn. It is in keeping with the gracious condescension of God to employ such an emblem; it is like the Lord himself, "full of grace and truth." We would not have dared to make such a comparison; but he has done so, likening himself to the mother bird, which fosters, cherishes, and protects her young. Let us note -

I. THE SPECIAL BLESSING HERE PROMISED. It is the gracious protection of God. In the closing sentence of this verse it is likened to "shield and buckler." To Israel it meant protection from outward calamity, such as pestilence and the destruction caused by war; but to us it tells of all that spiritual guardianship we enjoy. From all the guilt of former sin; from the power of sin now; from the might of temptation; from the crushing power of sorrow; from the misery of a useless and, still more, a harmful life; from the fear of death; from all these, and, when it will be well for us, from outward ill as well.


1. The all-availing atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. When this is pleaded and trusted in by the sinner, his guilt is all taken away.

2. From the power of sin, by the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, cleansing the heart and sanctifying our whole nature.

3. From sorrow, by his providence keeping it away; or giving, as to Paul, grace sufficient to sustain it; or by removing its cause.

4. From the misery of a useless life, by inspiring the soul with a desire for others good, and by his Spirit, fitting for service.

5. From fear of death, by the revelation of the far better life with Christ, to be entered on at once when this life is done.

III. OTHER BLESSINGS THAT COME ALONG WITH THIS ONE. For the emblem employed suggests not only protection from enemies, but much more than that. Picture to yourself what the shelter of the wing of the mother bird is to her young, and it will tell of what the precious promise of our text means to the believing soul.

1. It means happy content and comfort. "My soul shall be satisfied," and that richly - so Psalm 63. declares. And the emblem of our text suggests it, even as the experience of God's saints confirms it. The soul is happy in God. Dungeons as at Philippi and Rome, deathbeds, and desolations of all kinds have been irradiated with the blessed content of those whom God has covered with his feathers, and who have put their trust under his wings.

2. A life hidden with God. See how the young brood are hidden away under their mother's wing! A life hidden from strife and malice and the world.

3. Nearness to the heart of God. The young birds can feel the beat of their mother's heart. So the soul of the sheltered one beholds and feels the love of God.

4. Perfect peace.

IV. TO WHOM ALL THIS IS PROMISED. Not to any and everybody, but to those only who dwell in the secret place of the Most High; that is, who abide, ever trusting, in the Lord Jesus Christ. - S.C.

His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. God's truth here is the certainty that he will keep to his word; the psalmist's conviction of his "truthfulness," "faithfulness." The "shield and buckler" represent the defensive weapons of the older day of hand-to-hand fighting. Both a large shield covering the whole body, and a light, quickly-moved shield, fastened to the left arm, are included; suggesting that the defendings of God are various, and in precise adaptation to his people's need. He is their Defence, both in little perils and in great ones. Get at the thought suggested by this expression of the text, by realizing what our absolute confidence in the integrity of an earthly friend and fellow worker does for us. Take the case of a trusted servant in a house of business. That man's unquestionable uprightness is his master's shield. It shields him from anxiety and care. It shields him from over pressure of toil. It shields him from all robbery and wrong. So, too, with the faithful and honoured wife. Her "truth" shields her husband from home worries, and all home disabilities. "The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her;" and so he can be shielded and at peace. Apply this to God. It is not possible to think he can ever be below himself, or forgetful of his word, "on which he has permitted us" to hope. We may get beyond all mere promises, and assure our hearts in what God is. Illustrate by Luther's time of despondency. On returning home, he found the house shut up, as if some one was dead in it, and his wife dressed in mourning. He inquired what had happened, and she quietly and solemnly replied that "God was dead." It was an object lesson for the desponding Reformer, which he promptly learned. Long as God lives - and he lives forever - he surely is the Hiding place and Shield of his people. To remove God, to bring down our high thought of him, our absolute confidence in his eternal truthfulness and integrity, would be to take away our shield, and leave us helplessly exposed to the assaults of all our foes. - R.T.

I. THE DWELLING PLACE OF THE GOOD MAN - GOD. In such an abode we find:

1. Shelter, protection. (John 14:23.)

2. Nutriment.

3. Rest.

4. Companionship.


1. Omnipotent love encompasses him.

2. The power of the good man to convert all things to his welfare. "All things are yours."

III. THE GUARDS AND SERVANTS OF THE GOOD MAN. The angels are God's messengers and ministers.

1. God employs innumerable invisible ministries to serve us. Angels and unseen powers "that walk the earth both when we wake and when we sleep."

2. Innumerable visible ministries. "More servants wait on man than he'll take notice of" (see George Herbert's poem). - S.

The mention of them is introduced here in order to show how the blessed promise of ver. 10 is fulfilled. The angels are continually spoken of in Scripture. First of all, we read of them in connection with the story of Hagar, and from thence onward the pages of Holy Scripture make perpetual references to them. It, therefore, cannot but be important to us that we should understand, so far as we may, what is written concerning them. For we cannot think that their work and ministry are finished, and that now they have nothing to do with us, nor we with them. We feel sure that the reverse is the truth. True, there has been much of mere imagination in the representations that have been given of angels by poets, painters, and preachers alike. They have been the makers of men's common ideas concerning the angels, and have caused not a little misunderstanding and loss thereby. But a careful study of the Scriptures will show that truth on this confessedly mysterious and difficult theme is both attainable and full of profit. Consider -


1. This the Scriptures plainly assert. They are spoken of there in clear and positive manner, as to their high dignity, their sanctity, power, blessedness, their heavenly home, their employments, vast numbers, and immortality. All this is told of the holy angels. But there are evil ones likewise, who are represented as serving under their prince, Satan, as the holy angels under God. They are evil, wretched, full of malignity, and reserved foreverlasting punishment.

2. And this teaching is to be regarded as literally true. It is not, as some have said, an accommodation to the popular beliefs of the day.

3. Analogy also confirms this. Is not all life, from the lowest zoophyte up to the most gifted of the sons of men, one continual ascent? But why should the progression halt with man? Why should there not be an ascent beyond, as there is up to, ourselves? All analogy leads us to think there is, and to be on the look out and expectation for orders of beings that may span the vast distance that separates man from God. And the Bible confirms this.


1. Who and what are they? Much has been assumed concerning them; as that they existed long before the creation of man; that they are altogether different in nature from man; that some of them kept not their first estate, etc.

2. But may it not be that angels are perfected men? The poet Young thus writes -

"Why doubt we, then, the glorious truth to sing? Angels are men of a superior kind; Angels are men in lighter habit clad, High o'er celestial mountains winged in flight, And men are angels loaded for an hour, Who wade this miry vale, and climb with pain And slippery step the bottom of the steep." Why may not this be true? For there is no being higher in nature than man, except God himself. If angels be different from men, why, then, were men created at all? If, without all man's toil and pain, beings existed who could render to God the love, worship, and service he desired, wherefore man's much sorrow and misery? But if, on the other hand, it be true that there is no other entrance on the angelic state than by this weary life of ours, the mournful mystery of life has some light shed upon it. And angels are often called men, and appeared as such. And our Lord said that in the resurrection we shall be as angels; and in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12) we are said to have come to myriads of angels, and the following sentence shows that they are the same as "the Church of the Firstborn, and the spirits of just men made perfect." And the quotation by the writers of 2 Peter and Jude, from the same passage in the apocryphal and unauthoritative Book of Enoch, need not stand in the way of the reasonable and helpful belief we have been maintaining. Milton - that mighty manufacturer of so much mischievous mistake - is the real author of men's common beliefs about the angelic world. And they who hold such beliefs lose much.

III. THEIR OFFICE. They are said, in these verses:

1. To have charge of the people of God. "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth," etc.?

2. They keep God's servants in all their ways. Perhaps by suggesting thoughts, purposes, and resolves. But we do not certainly know. If we could see them at their work, we should be in peril of worshipping them, as St. John was.

3. They sustain them, upbear them, so that not alone by great ills, but by little ones, they shall be unhurt.

4. They give victorious power over all kinds of spiritual foes (ver. 13).


1. The heavenly world and its employments become more real to us. We know that our work shall not be perpetual singing, but high, holy, blessed service.

2. The mystery of life is lightened. We see whither we are going, and wherefore here we have to suffer.

3. One chief pain of death is lessened. For we are not debarred from rendering service to those we leave behind. The thought that we can no more help our loved ones is one of the pains of death. But by this blessed teaching it is taken away. - S.C.

For associations of "angels" with Moses and his times, we may recall the New Testament saying, that the "Law was given by the disposition of angels." Moses had associated angels with Abraham and Jacob; and when God proposed to withdraw his personal guidance of Israel, he offered Moses to send "an angel" before them. It was a common belief, even among the heathen, that human beings have each their guardian genius; but the psalmist here does not appear to refer to any such belief. We should obtain a worthier idea of the Bible representations of angels, if we regarded their sensible appearances as designed to illustrate God's abiding, unseen spiritual agencies in the blessing of men. The term "angel" is properly applied to any and every agency God uses to do his work of keeping, guiding, comforting, or correcting men. God has redeeming angels, afflicting angels, destroying angels. "He maketh winds his angels, flaming fire his ministers."

I. THE ANGEL CHARGE. Illustrate from the time of the destruction of the Egyptian firstborn. Then Israel in Goshen was in the charge of God's angel. Or refer to the preservation of Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua in the times of sudden pestilence in the desert. These were in the angel charge. Or take the case of Elisha at Dothan, when, seemingly in the power of the Syrians, he was really safe in the angel charge. Or see Peter in prison, likely enough to follow James to his fate. He really was in the angel care and deliverance. Or take the case of the Covenanter, who, escaping from his foes, climbed into the hollow of an old tree, over the hole of which a spider at once spun a great web, which made the pursuers feel sure no one could have crept inside. That spider was God's angel.

II. THE CONDITIONS OF THE ANGEL CHARGE. These the tempter kept back when he urged Jesus to rely on, or rather presume on, the angel charge. He repressed the words, "Keep thee in all thy ways," which distinctly mean "a good man's ways," "the ways a good man ought to be taking." "Only in the ways of God's vocation, and with a view to progress in those ways, have we a right to the promise." If we want to do right, we may be sure of God's angel help. We have no claim if we want to do wrong. - R.T.

To whom is this promise addressed? Not to any and everybody indiscriminately, but only to those who dwell "in the secret place of," etc. (ver. 1). Therefore it was especially applicable to our Lord. Some have concluded, that, as this verse was made use of by Satan when he tempted our Lord, the psalm is to be limited in its application to him only. But this is an error. Satan quoted it; but, as he always does when he quotes Scripture - a not uncommon custom of his - he alters it; he left out the qualifying clause, "in all thy ways." It is not in any ways that we can have the angels' care, but only in those that are right. The promise is for all God's people, as they go about their own proper and appointed ways. Next, let us ask, what is the meaning of the text? Our word "dash" is not a true rendering; the Hebrew word used is generally rendered as in John 11., where our Lord speaks of a man not stumbling if he walks by day, but as sure to do so if he walks at night in the dark. It means that then he would be likely to strike against some stone in the way, and so be tripped up. There is no idea of violence in the word. When Satan used it, he meant to suggest to our Lord that if the promise was that he should not even stumble over a stone, how much more might he be sure of protection were he to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple! The word, therefore, points to a very small and ordinary matter - the being kept from falling over a stone, as a mother would hold up her child from such mishap. Now, the text teaches us -

I. ANGELS CONCERN THEMSELVES ABOUT SUCH LITTLE THINGS AS THESE. This is very wonderful. For think of who and what the angels are; how great, glorious, holy, blessed; how high and august the office they fill, and the employments in which they engage. And then think of their stooping to such work as this - the preventing of a man stumbling against a stone. We know they concern themselves about the salvation of the soul, for that is a great matter; the soul so precious, that Christ was content to die to redeem it. But that our feet may not even come in hurtful contact with a stone - surely that seems beneath and unworthy of them. But this same truth is told of in many other Scriptures; cf. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered;" "Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father," etc. Therefore it is true the holy angels have charge over the minute details of our lives, as well as over great events. The Lord's loving providence reaches down to all these little things, of which our life is mainly made up. How blessed this truth is! All our life cared for by the Lord!

II. BUT WHAT IS LITTLE IN ITSELF MAY NOT BE SO IN ITS CONSEQUENCES. How mighty are little things in the results that often flow from them! For the body, a slight stumble may have lifelong consequences. For the soul, men fall little by little, not by great crimes, but by a series of little sins. And so, too, for the rise of the soul. We do not leap into heaven; but we "grow in grace" - ever slight increase and advance.

III. OUR REAL DIFFICULTIES ARE IN CONNECTION WITH THEM. Otherwise angels would not be put in charge over us. Many can keep from great sins who allow themselves in little ones. "Take me the little foxes," etc. We either think we can manage the little affairs of life, or we neglect them.


(See also vers. 5, 6, 10.) Those dealt with may be read in the light of wilderness experiences. Then we have:

1. The common Eastern terror of the night, both as time of insecurity and time of spread of disease. Thieves work at night; sudden attacks of enemies are made at night; the angel of pestilence strikes at night; wild beasts roam at night; fires mostly break out at night.

2. The dangers of sunstroke and lightning flash, which are the "arrows that fly by day."

3. The diseases that breed in unsanitary conditions, and gain force to sweep thousands away.

4. The open and subtle attacks of the animals of the desert. The lion that attacks in front; the adder that bites the heel. Bonar tells us that "the putrid plague fever often comes on in the night, while the patient is asleep; the solstitial disease seizes in heat of harvest upon a man in open air, and cuts him off, perhaps, ere evening." Now what of spiritual peril may these typify?

I. THE PERILS THAT CONNECT WITH THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HELPLESSNESS. At night we can do nothing to ward off evils. So there are times in life when we feel to be in circumstances which we cannot even try to control. The good man would be hopelessly distressed if he were compelled to think he was at the mercy of circumstances. The psalmist knows that darkness and light are both alike to his protecting God.

II. THE PERILS THAT COME THROUGH THE OVERMASTERING OF OUR EFFORTS. In the day we can watch, we can resist, we can order our conduct wisely, we can act promptly; and yet we are constantly finding the forces round us are bigger than we. Sunstroke and lightning typify the things that will not be "according to our mind." But the psalmist knows nothing is beyond the Divine restraint. That which happens is permitted.

III. THE PERILS THAT COME TO US VICARIOUSLY. We are constantly suffering from the sins and neglects of others. If we do right and our neighbour does wrong, both may have to suffer the consequences that result. As in case of infectious diseases. So national troubles reach the evil and the good alike.

IV. THE PERILS THAT COME THROUGH WILFUL WRONG DOERS. Represented by the violent "lion," and the insidious, treacherous "adder." The psalmist believes in God as Restrainer of the wrath of men. - R.T.

The marks and tokens of these are set forth here.

I. THEY HAVE SET THEIR LOVE UPON THE LORD. Their hearts have turned to him, away from sin, and now are "set," firmly fixed, upon him. Numbers of people feel a passing affection for Christ; their hearts burn within them for a while; but the fire soon dies down and out. But these have set their love, not their mere thought or approval, upon him.

II. THEY HAVE KNOWN HIS NAME. This is a higher degree. Their love has led to their keeping near to him, and to constant intercourse with him; and so now they have come to know him, as we say we know a dear and honoured friend, whom we have tested and tried and never found wanting. So these have come to know God; and, of course, they are "set on high." Such knowledge lifts the soul above the cares and trials, the temptations and sorrows, of life. As the small birds, whom the hawk seeks to prey upon, avoid their foe by keeping high above him, so do these, the Lord's beloved, live above where the sins, snares, and sorrows of this world can do them harm.

III. THEY PRAY EFFECTUALLY. "He shall call upon me, and I will answer." The life of prayer, the walk with God, ever characterizes these people. And they have power in prayer - their prayers are answered. This cannot be said of all or most prayers, of which, so often, nothing seems to come. But it is otherwise here.

IV. IN THEIR TROUBLES THE LORD IS WITH THEM. "I will be with them," etc. They will have trouble. They are God's jewels; but as the jewel needs to be put on the lapidary's wheel and ground ere it will reveal its brilliancy and worth, so do God's jewels. Therefore trouble cannot be escaped. But bearing it alone may be, and is, by these people. See Paul and Silas in the dungeon at Philippi, and the experience of all the saints in all the ages all along.


1. Deliverance. How could it be otherwise? deliverance real, though not always visible to our eye.

2. Honour. See the golden cross on the top of St. Paul's Cathedral: how that tolls of what this nation thinks of the Crucified One! All the nations praise him.

3. Eternal life. Long life indeed!

4. Satisfaction. "Thou, O Christ, art all I want."

5. The vision of the salvation of God. For himself; for those dear to him; for the world. - S.C.

Because he hath set his love upon me. This verse begins what may be regarded as a poetical setting of the answer which God gives to the fully trusting soul. "God himself comes forward to establish the faith of his servant, writes deeper in the soul so great a consolation, and confirms the testimony of his servant. 'He hath set his love upon me; he knoweth my name; he calleth upon me.' These are the marks of a true servant of God." It has been noticed that the words, "I will," are repeated six times in the last three verses of this psalm: "I will deliver;" "I will set him on high;" "I will answer;" "I will be with him in trouble;" "With long life I will satisfy him;" "I will show him my salvation."

I. THE POSSIBILITIES OF OUR FEELING TOWARD GOD. We may feel toward God all we can feel towards our fellow men - faith, admiration, devotion, etc. We may even go so far as to "set our love upon him" - make him to be our chosen one, our specially loved one. What we do to help ourselves, in the effort to "set our love" on our fellow men, we may do to help in setting our love on God. Such things as

(1) cherish the thought of them;

(2) seek their company;

(3) try in every way to please them.

II. THE RESPONSE GOD MAKES TO MEN'S RIGHT FEELING TOWARDS HIM. This response is found indicated in the assurances of this passage.

1. He gives to them an answering affection.

2. He guards them with an ever-watchful defence.

3. He accomplishes for them mighty deliverances.

4. He grants them gracious exaltations.

The Divine favour comes on men because:

1. They make him their choice.

2. Because they seek intimacy with him (implied in "knowing his Name").

3. Because they are ever making signs of their dependence on him. The signs being their daily and their special prayers. - R.T.

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. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.


1. The knowledge of his Name; i.e. of his nature and character, now revealed to us more fully than then, in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

2. The setting our love upon him. Because he is what he is, and because our love is the surest pledge of obedience to his will.

3. Dependence upon God. Expressed by the habit of prayer - calling upon him.


1. He will deliver him in trouble. By giving him strength superior to all his trials. We cannot escape trouble, but we can conquer it by the aid of the Spirit of God.

2. He will exalt him to the possession of high honours. Give him a position of great security - high above all danger. And of great influence and usefulness. This is high honour.

3. He will answer his prayers. In the only ways in which a supremely good and wise Being will answer the prayers of the erring and sinful - by giving them what they need, and not always what they ask for. - S.


1. That God will answer prayer. But on this, note:

(1) That it is not the prayer of every man, but only of those who have set their love upon God, and who dwell in the secret place of the Most High.

(2) That to them prayer is answered, but often in ways other than they have expected. God will always give to them what is best; but that may be far different from what they have thought.

2. He will be with them in trouble. God is always with us; but in our trouble he is more especially with us. This is shown sometimes by his providential help, or by his grace sustaining us.

3. He will deliver and honour. See this in such histories as that of Joseph.

II. WHAT FOLLOWS FROM IT. That to the man of God the following things are impossible:

1. Disappointment; because God will answer.

2. Loneliness; for God is ever with him, and especially in trouble.

3. Disgrace; for how can that be to those whom he honours?

4. Defeat; for God will deliver. - S.C.

I will be with him in trouble. Illustrate by presence of a friend in the time of sickness and distress. That friend may be unable to help, and yet the best of help comes from that friendly presence. If God is with us in trouble, we are sure he can help and deliver. If he does not, it can only be because he is doing kinder things for us, by letting the trouble stay. The strain of feeling alone in time of trouble may be illustrated by a lonely walk through a strange and dangerous country. "Have you ever walked on, mile after mile, until it grew very dark, and there were no stars overhead, and no friendly voice or guide anywhere; and, as you grew very tired and faint and footsore, did it not seem as if the way became more rough and stony at every step? You can remember each time you stumbled in the weary darkness against a stone, how the pain seemed to shoot hotly through every nerve; and the lack of light, and the uncertainty lest each step might bear you over the precipice, - all this unnerved you. But how different if a loved friend had been with you! and especially if it so happened that he knew the road and the country well!" God's presence is the summum bonum. All we can need is included and involved in it. He really need not tell us what he will do for us; it is enough if he will be there. And so the Lord Jesus wrapped up everything for his disciples in this one assurance, "Lo, I am with you all the days."




IV. GOD'S PRESENCE WITH US ASSURES OF A "HAPPY ISSUE OUT OF ALL OUR AFFLICTIONS." God with us in trouble is the fact; but everything for us depends on our sensible realization of the fact. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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