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1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:
My God; in him will I trust.
3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler
And from the noisome pestilence.
4 He shall cover thee with his feathers,
And under his wings shalt thou trust:
His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
7 A thousand shall fall at thy side,
And ten thousand at thy right hand:
But it shall not come nigh thee.
8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
And see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge,
Even the Most High, thy habitation;
10 There shall no evil befall thee,
Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
To keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands,
Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
The young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.—
14 “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.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him,
And shew him my salvation.”
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Contents and Division. The idea of the Psalm is contained in the thought, that he, who commits himself with full confidence to the protection of the Almighty, shall share that protection; that he will receive this the more fully, the more he makes his dwelling with Him, that thus deliverance will be afforded him from the greatest dangers, and that he will receive, besides, positive blessings. These comforting and elevating reflections are couched in expressions both lively and impressive. The true division, however, has become a matter of dispute, from the fact that a change of person appears on many occasions, which is quite unprovided for. And yet the supposition of different persons or a chorus (Van Till, J. D. Michaelis, Stier, Maurer, Olshausen, Delitzsch), is to be viewed with suspicion, especially as this change occurs on one occasion even in the same verse (Psalms 91:9), and as in the concluding strophe (Psalms 91:14-16) God is undoubtedly to be regarded as the speaker. This Psalm is significantly employed in the Church-service as an Invocavit for Sunday, and, together with Psalms 3:0, has been designated by the Talmudists as the Poem of Accidents, that is, a song of protection in the midst of impending dangers (Del.). It may perhaps be divided as follows. There is first presented a declaration made (Psalms 91:1-2) by the psalmist with regard to himself. Then he utters words of encouragement of a lyrico-prophetical character, in which he holds up to view the promises of miraculous aid from God, for his own consolation (Psalms 91:3-4), encouragement (Psalms 91:5-6), and the assurance (Psalms 91:7-8), of safety with God (9, 10). And, finally, God’s acceptance of his confession and ratification of His own promises are announced in the form of an oracle (Psalms 91:14-16). Those assumptions which fix the time of composition shortly after the desecration of the Second Temple (Ewald) or before the Passover of the year 162 B. C. (Hitzig), are mere guesses; and yet they are entitled to rather more respect than is the superscription: A song of praise of David, (Sept.), or the supposition that the Psalm was addressed by Moses to Joshua (Venema). [Alexander: “An amplification of the theme that God is the dwelling-place and refuge of His people. This and other points of contact with the prayer of Moses seem to mark it as an imitation of that Psalm, and account for its position in the Psalter.”—J. F. M.]
Psalms 91:1-2. Dwelling [E.V.: He that dwelleth]. The supposition that אַשְׁרֵי has fallen out from the beginning of the Psalm (Olshausen, Hupfeld) is untenable, especially as it necessitates the change of אֹמַר Psalms 91:2 into אֹמֵר, and proceeds from the unnatural assumption that the Church both speaks and is addressed (Olshausen). Now if we consider the psalmist as occupying this double place, we have a confession recorded, which in the first verse is described as an individual one, springing from a sense of a personal relation to God, while in the second the substance of that confession is given. That the punctuators so intended is clear from the fact that they have not, in the second sentence, allowed a participle pointed אֹמֵר to follow the ישֵׁב which begins the psalm. This would give the following connection: He who dwells …. is speaking (Jerome, Luther and most). But they have pointed the 1st imperfect אֹמַר, which shows that they not only viewed the person dwelling and the person speaking as one and the same, but also regarded the Psalmist as that person. It was also not without an object but with good reason, that they separated, by the accentuation, אֹמַר from the following word, although the fact has been either overlooked or misunderstood by most expositors. It was just the usual connection of the words that was to be avoided. For, beside a direct address to Jehovah, an address by the speaker to himself would be much more unexpected and harsh, than the mention of what the Psalmist had confessed to God and experienced in communion with Him. Since the two members of the first verse are connected by “and,” and a finite verb occurs in the second member, the idea might be suggested, that they stand in the relation of protasis and apodosis (Sept., Isaaki, Calvin, Geier, J. H. Michaelis, De Wette). But this would result in an insupportable tautology, which could only be concealed, by foisting, against usage, upon the idea of passing the night, that of resting. In view of the parallelism between the members of the sentence and the thoughts, the resolving of the part. into the corresponding finite verb is seen to form a suitable transition to the conclusion of the sentence. By this mode of viewing the passage the change of persons in Psalms 91:9, appearing suddenly and then entirely vanishing, may also be explained. The psalmist interrupts his confession by addressing to himself words of encouragement. We need not, therefore, supply אֲמַרְתָּ before (Theodoret, Isaaki, Clericus, Hupfeld) or after אַתָּה (Hitzig), or expand the latter into the former. [Dr. Moll therefore renders Psalms 91:1-2 :
Dwelling in the protection of the Highest,
(As he who) passes the night under the shadow of the Almighty,
I say: In Jehovah is my refuge and fortress,
My God, in whom I trust.
Dr. Alexander translates: “Sitting in the secret place of the Most High, in the shadow of the Almighty he is lodged.” This verse he supposes to be “descriptive of an ideal person with whom the speaker is tacitly identified.”—J. F. M.].
Psalms 91:3, etc.Terror by night (Psalms 91:5). The best view is that which supposes attacks of enemies to be referred to, (Sol. Song of Solomon 3:8; Proverbs 3:23-26). The psalmist does not here enter an incorporeal, unearthly realm (Stier); and יָשׁוּר does not relate to demons (Shedim) or ghosts (the ancient translators). Nor is the devil and his brood; as a contrast to the angels, denoted either directly or indirectly by the lions, adders and dragons (Stier and Schegg, and Delitzsch in part). The dangers, especially those which threaten travellers, are represented here by illustrations readily suggested. But the nature of these dangers and the mode of overcoming them, are set forth in such a way as that they may be applied to all the powers, either of nature or of the spirit-world, which threaten destruction (Luke 10:19; Mark 16:18; Romans 16:20). So the snare of the fowler, in Psalms 91:3, is not identical with the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26), but at most an emblem of death (Ewald, Hitzig), though probably only a representation of dangerous snares generally (Ecclesiastes 9:12). For in Psalms 91:3, pestilence does not yet appear as a disease, but represents the plague-like attack of ruin or evil (Hosea 13:14). The picture is still a general one. It is only in Psalms 91:5, that the dangers of war by night and by day are added to it. In Psalms 91:6 pestilence and sickness [E. V.: destruction] are introduced as diseases. In Psalms 91:11 ff., after a description of God’s protection of the righteous dwelling in his tent, the dangers of the traveller are brought into view. The concluding sentence enlarges the view after Psalms 50:23.—The emperor Alexander I. is said to have been awakened by means of this Psalm. The Countess Tolstoj gave it to him in writing on the evening before his march against Napoleon in the year 1812.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. He who knows God, knows also what he has in Him, and what he knows of God he will declare under different circumstances and at different times. But to call upon, pray to, thank, and praise Him in all times of need is not an easy thing for even pious men to do. For the dangers which threaten men, the enemies which lurk around them, their menacing conduct, are innumerable and of many forms; visible and invisible, foreseen and unsuspected, concealed and openly displayed, by day and by night, in the house and by the way, at home and abroad, with violence, cunning, and malice, planned and executed for the ruin of many.
2. But if our path of life is full of obstructions, over which we are walking in constant danger of death, we have not merely to do with attacks from without, but also to contend with temptations which arise within ourselves, from timidity, want of faith, and weakness. For this we need, in equal measure, divine encouragement to our soul, which holds up to view and confirms the promises of God’s help, as well as that help itself in actual experience.
3. We must therefore take refuge in God’s Truth as well as in His Omnipotence and Love. Then will we in all dangers not only trust in the protection of God; we will also be guided by His word, and learn to distinguish between the fearless and confident resort to God in the true paths of our calling, and the presumptuous courting of danger so as to tempt God (Matthew 4:6). Then, since we not merely hide ourselves under the wings of the Almighty (Psalms 17:8; Matthew 23:37), or refresh ourselves under the shadow of His house (Numbers 14:9; Hosea 14:8; Jeremiah 48:45), but take up our abode in God as our Dwelling-place, we can raise our contemplation above the conditions of time, to a life whose duration none can declare, and wait for the coming deliverance.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
No man can do without God’s assistance, but it is only believers who acknowledge it, and derive consolation from that assistance in conformity with the Divine promises. Many experience the protection of God, but it is only those who trust Him, that gain lasting profit therefrom.—He who has taken refuge in God, will not leave Him again, but remain ever with Him.—Men must be guided by God’s word, if they would learn to rely upon His will.—We know most assuredly that God is for us, because we can be with Him and He with us.—Whether life be long or short, the main thing is that we gain during it the gracious presence of God, and experience the saving help of the Highest.—God does not merely send His servants and messengers; He comes also Himself to help and deliver the righteous.
Starke: He who has God for his dwelling-place is raised so high, that the devil, the world, and all temptations cannot harm him.—True hope in God is naturally a token of a state of grace, for none can have a true living hope in Him, who have not true faith in and sincere love for Him.—The chief ground of the assurance of the righteous that they will obtain God’s protection, is His truth and faithfulness in graciously fulfilling His promises.—What to others is a poison and rod of anger, must to believers be a wholesome medicine: God even knows how to direct everything by His wisdom and goodness for the highest good of His children.—Beware of rejecting anything, which God graciously sends to thee.—The hut of the believer is a surer defence against all the afflictions and punishments which come from God, than the grandest palaces of the ungodly.—God is indeed very willing to protect us and to do us good, but we must do our part too, and with humility and faith seek with Him these blessings.—It is not our merit and worthiness that make us partakers of the defence and help of God, but true faith, by which we know His name.—Six times in succession does God say: I will. How great is such love! Call thou out to Him in reply: I will. I will accept the order in which Thou dost promise to prove Thy readiness to help.—Arndt: It is a comforting word, that God, the chief captain of the guard, Himself keeps watch and guard over His children.—How men by sincere trust in God are so well assisted, is proved, partly by what God does for them, and partly by the words of comfort they address to themselves.—Tholuck: God’s covering extends everywhere, and thou needest not seek any other.—Vaihinger: Vital union with God is the ground of help.—Umbreit: Enjoyment in a long earthly life does in no way exclude a striving after immortal glory and the hope of eternity, but supposes only a peaceful contentment with the present, and a child-like pleasure in the glad light of the sun.—Diedrich: Let God rule outside with His thunder: but keep thyself completely shielded in Him.—Schaubach: The Christian should exult in the victory of Jesus Christ, not with vain and harmful delight, but as a living witness to the Divine truth and righteousness, to the honor of God and the comfort and strengthening of his own soul.—Taube: It is not merely a safe progress through this world of sorrow that is here kept in view, but satisfaction in and from the God of salvation and life; and only then can we be satisfied.
[Barnes: Religion blesses a man in this life and blesses him for ever. In possession of this it is a great thing for him to live long: and then it is a great thing for him to die—to go to be for ever with God.—J. F. M.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 91". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany