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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 91

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



There are no data for ascertaining either the author or the date of this psalm. The variety of the figures employed seems to indicate a general view of life and its possible perils. It may have been a time when both war and pestilence were raging, but we cannot recover it. Whoever first breathed these words of trust, thousands have found them a source of strength and faith in the hour of trial and danger. Stier mentions that some years ago an eminent physician in St. Petersburg recommended this psalm as the best preservative against the cholera. It will also occur to every one that the psalm is the Hebrew, or, perhaps, rather the religious, expression of Horace’s ode,
“Integer vitæ seelerisque purus.”

The parallelism is fine and sustained.

Verses 1-2

(1, 2) He . . . I.—The especial difficulty of this psalm, its abrupt changes of person, meets us at the outset. The text literally rendered, runs: “He sitting in the hiding place of the Most High; In the shadow of the Almighty he lodgeth, I say to Jehovah, My refuge and my fortress, My God, I trust in Him. The change in the last clause presents no particular difficulty, as many similar instances occur; but that from the third person, in the first verse, to the first, in the second, is very awkward, and many shifts have been adopted to get out of it. The best is to supply the word blessed: “Blessed is he that,” &c[16] The different names for God employed here should be noticed. By their accumulation the poet makes the sum of assurance doubly sure.

[16] The omission of this word by a copyist would be very natural, from its confusion with the numerical heading of the psalm and the initial letter of the word that now begins it.

Verse 3

(3) Snare of the fowler.—The image of the net has occurred frequently before. (See Psalms 10:15, &c) Here, as in Ecclesiastes 9:12, it is used generally of any unexpected peril to life.

Noisome pestilence.Literally, pestilence of calamities, i.e., fatal. (See Psalms 57:1, where the same word “calamities” occurs.)

Verse 4

(4) Feathers . . . wings . . .—For this beautiful figure, here elaborated, see Psalms 17:8, Note.

Verse 5

(5) Terror by night.—Possibly a night attack by an enemy. (Comp. Song of Solomon 3:8; Proverbs 3:23-26.) Comp. Milton:

“To bless the doors from nightly harm.”

In this case the arrow flying by day would refer to dangers of actual battle. But it is quite possible that the latter may be merely the Oriental expression for the pestilence, since it is still so called by Arabians. “I desired to remove to a less contagious air. I received from Solyman the emperor this message: that the emperor wondered what I meant in desiring to remove my habitation. Is not the pestilence God’s arrow, which will always hit his mark?”—Quoted in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, from Busbequin’s Travels.

Verse 6

(6) Darkness . . . noonday.—Night and noon are, in Oriental climates, the most unwholesome, the former from exhalations, the latter from the fierce heat.

Destruction.—From a root meaning “to cut off;” here, from parallelism, “deadly sickness.”

Verse 7

(7) It shall not come nigh thee.It, i.e., no one of the dangers enumerated. The pious Israelite bears a charmed life. Safe under Divine protection, he only sees the effect of perils that pass by him harmless.

Verse 9

(9) Thou . . . my.—The difficulty of the change of person is avoided by the Authorised Version, but only with violence to the text, which runs, “For thou, Jehovah, my refuge; thou hast made the Most High thy habitation.” It is best to take the first line as a kind of under-soliloquy. The poet is assuring himself of the protection which will be afforded one who trusts in God; and he interrupts his soliloquy, as it were, with a comment upon it: “Yes, this is true of myself, for Thou Jehovah art indeed my refuge.” (For the Most High as a dwelling place, see Psalms 90:1.)

Verse 10

(10) Dwelling.—Literally, tent: an instance in which the patriarchal life became stereotyped, so to speak, in the language. (See Note, Psalms 104:3.) Even we speak of “pitching our tent.”

Verse 11

(11) Angels.—The idea of a special guardian angel for each individual has possibly been favoured by this verse, though it had its origin in heathen belief:

“By every man, as he is born, there stands
A spirit good, a holy guide of life.”

Here, however, it is not one particular individual, but all who have fulfilled the conditions of Psalms 91:9-10 who are the objects of angelic charge. (Comp. Psalms 34:7.) (For the well-known quotation of this and Psalms 91:12 in the Temptation, see Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:10-11; with Notes in New Testament Commentary.)

Verse 12

(12) In their hands.—Literally, on, as a nurse a child. There is a Spanish proverb, expressive of great love and solicitude: “They carry him on the palms of their hands.”

Verse 13

(13) Lion . . . adder . . . young lion.—These are used no doubt, emblematically for the various obstacles, difficulties, and danger which threatens life. (For “adder,” see Note, Psalms 58:4; “dragon,” Psalms 74:13.)

Verse 14

(14) Set his love upon me.—Or, clung to me

Verses 14-16

(14-16) Another abrupt change of person. The conclusion of the psalm comes as a Divine confirmation of the psalmist’s expression of confidence. (Comp. Psalms 50:15; Psalms 50:23, with these verses.)

Verse 16

(16) Long Life.—The promise of a long life, while in accordance with the general feeling of the Old Testament, is peculiarly appropriate at the close of this psalm, which all through speaks of protection from danger that threatened life.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 91". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/psalms-91.html. 1905.
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