SAFE! — Psalm 91:1-16 by Reverend Chuck Wilson

by Reverend Charles Wilson Psalm 91 1:1-16 In 1868, the blind poet and hymn-writer Fanny Crosby wrote these beautiful words:

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.Many people are concerned about safety nowadays. We ask questions like:

  1. What is a safe stock in which to invest?
  2. Is my money in the bank safe? and
  3. Do I need to build a safe-room in my house to protect me and my family from intruders?

Psalm 91 is a Psalm of safety. Consider these words from verse #7:

A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. The first time I remember someone talking about Psalm 91:7 was in 1965. I was a student in college. One of my professors had recently returned from a tour of duty as a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. He was asked to speak in chapel. He left us opened-mouthed with stories of escapes from death. For example, there was the crash where he was the only one to walk away without an injury; he told a story of an antiaircraft round coming into his cockpit, circled around the cockpit, and exiting out the windscreen without harming anyone; and he told of an evacuation flight of wounded solders in which his chopper was riddled with more than a hundred bullets as he lifted off heavy. No one was hit, and, in spite of extensive engine damage, he was able to fly his wounded bird home. He told us his wife came to him the night before he shipped out for Viet Nam and handed him a piece of paper with Psalm 91:7 hand copied on it. She said in her reading and prayers God had impressed Psalm 91:7 on her mind, and she needed to give it to him as a promise-token of God’s keeping. He then open his wallet and showed us the paper his wife gave him with Pslam 91:7, and, then, with tears and a broken voice, he told us it become a ritual for him to quote Psalm 91:7 before he flew out on a mission and when he returned. For certain, in a manner most of us will never know, Dr. Jackson came to experience Psalm 91 as “SAFEIN THE ARMS OF JESUS.” In whose arms are you safe?

1. Is God Your Secret Place? (91:1-8)

Is God your secret place?

As I divide Psalm 91, the first part is verses 1-8. The Psalmist affirms he dwells with God in a SAFE place.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. 5Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. 7A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. 8Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.

The words used by the Psalmist for God are informative. In the Old Testament, God’s names inform us who He is. In verse #14, God says of the one who trusts in him, “I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.” We are not sure of the Psalmist’s identity. Whoever he was, his experiences are David-like. So, let’s assume the writer is David. Without question, David knew the “secret place of the Most High,” the “shadow of the Almighty,” and the covenant grace of Jehovah. The name “Most High” means God is the only God and all others claiming to be God are false. In Psalm 31:6, David refers to all false gods as “lying vanities.” They are “lying vanities” because they can’t deliver on their claims. In Judges 6, we have the call of Gideon. God sends Gideon to his hometown and directs him to destroy the image of Baal and cut down the sacred trees dedicated to the worship of other false gods. Because of fear, Gideon obeyed God’s command at night. When the people of the town awoke and saw what Gideon had done under the cover of darkness, they wanted to kill Gideon for his sacrilege against their “lying vanities.” Gideon’s father halts the lynch mob by asking, “If Baal is god, can’t he defend himself against a mere man?” God reveals Himself as “God Most High” over the false gods and their followers. “God Most High” delivers on His claims. Gideon then reveals another name for God: “God is my peace.” That is, God keeps us through trials in peace. Therefore, the “secret place of the Most High” is the place of both PEACE and SAFETY. “Almighty” speaks of power. The name “Almighty” simply means there isn’t anything God can’t do that is according to His will. Our God is no impotent “lying vanity” promising and failing to deliver. The “lying vanities” of our world are many. (1) The gods of government promise us security from-cradle-to-grave if we will become wards of the state and give the state everything we have. (2) The gods of wealth promise money can buy us whatever we need – that is, unless there is an economic downturn and a currency collapse. (3) The gods of education promise learning and knowledge will enable us to understand the secrets of the cosmos and we can then cast aside the superstitions of religion – especially, the antiquated and divisive ideas of the Bible. David says the “Almighty” is his God. Knowledge of God Almighty gives us understanding of life. A few days ago I met a retired English teacher who informed me she is an agnostic. When she found out I was a minister, she wanted me to know she was not going to believe anything she couldn’t understand totally. I guess she thought that was going to impress me. I smiled and said, “Well, I do it a bit differently. I believe in order to understand. It is by faith in the Almighty God of the Bible who made heaven and earth I am informed of our world. I’m so sorry you don’t have any help.” Finally, David says, I will say of the LORD (that is, Jehovah), He is my refuge and fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” Jehovah is the great covenant name of God. Jehovah is the name of God who is our Savior. This is the name of Jesus. Jesus’ name means “Jehovah saves.” All who flee to Jehovah will find Him a wall of salvation. All who flee to Jehovah will find Him able to save. Jehovah is strong to save. Years ago I suffered a shoulder and chest injury in a bench press accident. It was a number of years before I returned to the gym. When I did, I was afraid of and struggled with the bench press. Particularly, I was afraid of 225. For six month, it taunted me. There was something about the bar and four 45 pound plats over my chest. My friend George told me I had to get the fear out of my mind. George is massive and strong. At the time, he weighed about 300 pounds, and it was all muscle. I have seen him press 500 pounds. One day George said to me: “Okay, Chuck, today is the day you get two-and-a-quarter.” I said: “George, keep your hands on the bar, and don’t let me get hurt!” George said, “George is here. You’re safe. Now, push, you sissy old man!” And safe in the hands of George, the weight came down and up six times while George stood over me smiling with his hands just under the bar. The frightening metaphors of the snare, the terror, the arrow, the pestilence, and the destruction are not too strong for Jehovah. He smiles at them. Indeed, there is One for us who is stronger than George. Jehovah is stronger than all our sins. Jehovah is mighty to save. Jesus is mighty to save. Are you safe in the arms Jesus? If you are safe in the arms of Jesus, life holds no terror, and death is no mystery. But what about all the inequities and wrongs of life? When will we see the hand of God’s justice? I really love verse #8: “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.” Indeed, there is a day of accounting. David said “Only with his eyes” he would “behold and see.” God’s people will be invited to witness His judgment. “Behold” means an incredible and spectacular event. However, none of God’s “reward” for the wicked will come nigh His people; however, we will see it and be glad and worship.

2. Is God Your Habitation? (91:9-13)

Is God your habitation? David speaks of God being his habitation in this manner in verses 9-14:

9Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; 10There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. 11For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. 12They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. 13Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Now, I’m sure you’re not asleep and you have already noticed my second point is a repetition of the first point. Why is that? Well, it’s because of the nature of Hebrew poetry. A good point is always worthy of being repeated. It is emphasis. It is good pedagogical methodology. So, once again, are you safe in the arms of Jesus? Can you trust God? As a part of our practice of prayer, my wife and I read a Psalm and incorporate it in our prayers. Lately, as we have read the Psalms, one of the things we have noticed is how the various Psalmists focus on the past as they deal with the present and future. For example, when there is a call for repentance of sins, they look back and recount both their sins and the sins of their fathers. They emphasize the commonality of sins. Then, when there is a call for faith in God, they once again focus on the past and recall the mighty acts of God’s deliverance and  salvation. They clearly understand the past is formative for framing both the present and future. As men and women have sinned in the past, they sin today. As God has condemned and judged sin in the past, He condemns and judges sins today – and tomorrow. As God has been gracious to those who have called on His name and turned from their sins, He continues to forgive and will not withhold His grace from anyone who turns from his sins and call’s on God in Jesus’ name. God’s ways do not change. He is no “lying vanity” that cannot be trusted. As Hebrews 13:8 reminds us: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” So, can we trust God? The Psalmist affirms we can. Nevertheless, I still ask the question? Do you? Specifically, I want to know that no evil is going to befall me; I want to know no plague is going to come nigh my dwelling; and I want to be able to tread on the lion, the adder, the young lion, and the dragon with impunity. I don’t want to be afraid in my old age. All these are metaphors for the things that frighten me. Well, was God with me in my youth? The answer is Yes. Well, has He changed? How is it I have forgotten Isaiah 46:4, “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you”? But, you see, what I really want is for God to be with me in the upcoming surgery on my eyes and allow me to have sight like I had in 2004. I fear the darkness and the walking things therein, the terror and pestilence. I know them well. They frighten me. What do you fear? What causes you to struggle with God as your habitation? Did you miss the angels? He will give His angels charge over us to keep us in all or ways, even to carry us in their hands so that we do not dash a foot against a stone. In Acts 26 we find the account of Paul’s disastrous voyage toRome. The trip was undertaken at the end of the sailing season. However, Paul had a trial date inRomeand his guards were determined to deliverer their prisoner on time. Off the coast ofMaltathey encountered a storm. It seemed all was lost. However, Paul informed the sailors, his guards, and the other passengers to abandon ship and commit themselves to the waves so that they could be saved. He informed them his God had sent an angel to bear them up in his hands out of the stormy waves. And they believed. And they were all saved from the storm. Do you believe in angels? I do. I believe in order to understand. Indeed, we are safe in the arms of Jesus because He has and sends powerful friends. So, why am I so afraid when God is my habitation?

3. Is God Your Salvation? (91:14-16)

The third and final point is this question: Is God your salvation? Psalm 91:14-16 is what is known as an oracle of salvation, and it reads in this manner:

14Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. 15He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. 16With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

An oracle does two things. (1) The first thing an oracle does is inform us of something we don’t know, and it is something we can’t find out by searching. We’re not even aware of the existence of the information to be given. Only God can reveal His secrets to us. For example, what is the meaning of the death of Jesus on the Cross? Apart from God’s explanation, we can’t understand it. From the human perspective, Jesus was a common criminal who was executed by the Roman authorities for His crimes. It wasn’t a particularly significant event. It was a daily occurrence in the empire. As noted, to understand the death of Jesus otherwise, we need an explanation from God. At this point, I want to return to the last clause of verse #4: “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” God’s “truth” is what He reveals. The Bible purports to be the written revelation of God’s person, acts,  will, and salvation. Therefore, if you want to know who God is, go to the Bible and you will be introduced to Him; if you want to know what God has done, you will be shown His might acts;  if you want to know God’s will, go to the Bible and it will be shown to you; and if you want God’s salvation, go to the Bible and you will not be disappointed. (2) The second thing an oracle does is call us to receive and believe God’s salvation. God says through David: “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” What is your hope for this life? What is hope of salvation? In what do you trust? Are you holding on to a “lying vanity” that cannot deliver? Melinda has lived one of the most tragic lives I have ever seen. She was educated well, but she never was an emotionally strong person, nor has her faith been more than church membership. She married Bill, her college sweetheart, and the first five years were idyllic. Bill wanted to be a lawyer. He worked and went to school. They put off having children until he was through law school. But coming home after taking the bar exam, and passing it with honors, he fell asleep,  ran off the road, hit a tree, and was killed instantly. Melinda was devastated! She was inconsolable in her grief! Melinda was a hoarder. Bill was born to money, had a good job, and bought her beautiful and expensive things to keep. After his death, her hoarding and fear for the protection of her things became a sickness. She was paranoid a burglar would steal her things. She had the most expensive and sophisticated home-protection system I have ever seen. She also had a loaded gun in every corner. People in the neighborhood knew not to knock on her door unless you called first. She once told me: “Chuck, if I were to lose these things Bill gave me, I would have no reason to live.” In a recent conversation, I found out Melinda is now in a nursing home. Her family had to get a court order and remove her for her safety and, as it was explained, for the safety of the people in the neighborhood. Most of her beautiful and expensive things were sold at auction to provide funds for the nursing home. Instead of turning to God through Jesus Christ to save from her sins and assuage her in her grief, she turned to hoarding her things. Her things have now been taken from her, and she is left old and pitiful. What do you turn to other than the oracle of God’s salvation proffers to us in the strong name of Jesus Christ?

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.

Disclaimer: Except for three personal illustrations, all the stories I told are greatly modified. Names have been changed. Any resemblance to someone you know is accidental.

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