The state of the godly: their safety: their habitation: their servants: their friend; with the effects of them all.
THIS psalm has no title, and therefore is likely to be by the same author with the foregoing; but this is still more probable from the subject of it: for as the 90th psalm appears calculated for the use of those who were to die in the wilderness, so the present seems evidently designed for those who were to survive this threatened devastation, and whom therefore he arms against the fear of death, by a religious trust in God; with the promise of a miraculous protection to such as trusted in him. Both psalms seem to have been composed soon after the irrevocable decree was passed, Numbers 14 which condemned one part of them, all who were numbered from twenty years old and upwards, to a lingering death in the wilderness, and their little ones to a forty years wandering for their father's sins; but with a gracious promise, however, that they should at length obtain an entrance into the land of Canaan. Both sorts, therefore, stood in need of support and consolation, though of a different kind; and we find it given them in these two psalms. The younger sort are thus instructed and encouraged: He that dwelleth, &c. Psalms 91:1-4. Peters.
Psalms 91:4. His truth— Meaning, no doubt, that gracious promise, Numbers 14:31. But your little ones, which you said should be a prey, them will I bring in; and they shall know the land which ye have despised; whereas of the others their doom is repeated in the following verse: Your carcases shall fall in the wilderness.
Psalms 91:5-8. Thou shalt not be afraid— The younger ones were to rest secure in the divine promise for protection. Amid the daily spectacles of mortality to which they were soon to be accustomed, it is added, Psalms 91:8. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, &c. i.e. "Thou shalt only have the discomfort of seeing those who may be dear to thee fall by their own guilt, and the just sentence passed upon them for their wicked murmurings and disobedience."
Psalms 91:11-13. He shall give his angels charge, &c.— These verses point out still more plainly the occasion of this psalm. For as the people were not only exposed to diseases in the wilderness, but also to the incursions of wild beasts, and particularly the venomous bite of serpents, he tells them, that God would protect them from all these dangers, by giving his angels charge over them, to keep them in all their ways; and Psalms 91:13. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder, &c. There is something so particular in this, that it will suit no other part of history beside that to which we suppose it to refer. For the wilderness in which they were condemned to wander abounded with those noxious creatures, as we learn from Deuteronomy 8:15 and yet we do not read that the Israelites were infested by them, till towards the end of their forty years' wandering, when God was pleased, for the renewed murmurings of that people, to let them loose upon them to chastise them; and even then, immediately upon their humiliation, a miraculous remedy was provided, which deserves our notice. It was a serpent of brass, by the express order of God fixed upon a pole or standard: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when be beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. See Numbers 21:5-9. This brazen serpent was doubtless designed to call to their remembrance the great object of their faith and hope from the fall; the promised victory over the old serpent, through that Seed of the woman who was destined to bruise his head: nor can we have a better comment on the Mosaic symbol, than the words of our Lord himself, John 3:14 compared with John 12:32. See also Hebrews 2:14.; Revelation 12:9., and Isaiah 11:10. By comparing these texts together you will observe the harmony of Scripture, and how naturally the words of our Blessed Lord and his apostles point us through the prophesy of Isaiah, and the brazen serpent of Moses, back to the first notice of a Redeemer given to mankind, in that well-known sentence, Genesis 3:15 or the first link of that chain of prophesy which runs throughout the Old Testament, and has its completion in the New. I shall not lay any stress upon that assertion of Justin Martyr, that the נס nes, or standard, upon which this brazen serpent hung, bore the figure of a cross: it is sufficient to our purpose, if this serpent, erected as a trophy, was considered by them as an emblem of the victory to be obtained over the old serpent by the promised Seed; whether they had any explicit knowledge of the means whereby this victory was to be obtained, or not: for in this view it presented to the minds of the faithful the hopes of a deliverance from death, in a higher sense than a present cure of the bite of these venomous creatures imported; and it is no improbable supposition, that a belief of the one was made the condition of the other. Whether they who looked at the brazen serpent were directed at the same time to repeat the psalm before us, I know, not; but this I am sure of, that it affords a meditation highly suitable to the occasion. A religious trust in God is what we see inculcated throughout; and that remarkable sentence, Psalms 91:13. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder, they young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet, (especially if, as Bochart seems to have proved, these are only names of serpents of different sorts, and should be rendered, the viper and the asp—the serpent and the dragon,) is only saying in other words, Thou shalt bruise the serpent's head: and if an act of faith in that great Person who was to do this for them be here supposed and implied, then it would be easy and natural to interpret the following verses of this psalm in a sense of faith likewise, and as pointing out to them in no obscure terms,—I might say, perhaps, in very magnificent terms,—the gospel life and salvation. Peters. We shall enlarge further on this subject, when we come to Matthew 4:6.
Psalms 91:16. With long life will I satisfy, &c.— If we can doubt what is here meant by long life, we may find it well explained to us, Psalms 21:4. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest him a long life, even for ever and ever. As for the term salvation, let us hear Le Clerc's comment upon the place: "If you interpret this (says he,) in the Christian way, it will be eternal salvation;" but then he adds, But it should first be shewn, that this salvation was clearly revealed, before it be looked for in an ambiguous place, or text." If we can shew, then, that this salvation was revealed from the beginning; or that God's faithful people, all along from the fall, expected some great Person through whom they should at length obtain a conquest over death, then the words life and salvation in the Old Testament will be no longer ambiguous; or, at least, may very naturally be understood of a future life and salvation when the context favours such an interpretation. In short, every prophesy of our Saviour, which was understood by the Israelites, (and it is strange if they should not understand some of them, else where was their high privilege in having the oracles of God committed to them? Romans 3:2.) was to them an intimation of another life; as, on the other hand, the express notices of another life to be met with in the Old Testament, are a confirmation of the prophesies; so that they lend a mutual assistance to each other. I have dwelt the longer upon this subject, as being willing to assign to its proper author this noble remain of the Jewish lawgiver and historian, in itself so excellent and worthy of him; and so exactly suiting the time and occasion that I have mentioned, and no other. See Peters, p. 306.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Scripture abounds with great and precious promises, and God's faithful people, who come to these sacred fountains, may ever draw waters of comfort.
1. The Psalmist describes the safety and consolation of the faithful soul. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High, delights in his worship, and seeks repose, for his soul in the bosom of his grace, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty, sheltered from every danger by Almighty power, and comforted with a sense of divine love.
2. He professes his purpose to fly to this blest hiding-place. I will say of, or to the Lord, He is my refuge in every time of danger, my fortress, impregnable to the assaults of every enemy, spiritual, or temporal, my God, in whose regard, by faith, I claim an interest; in him will I trust, confident of his protection, and expecting all felicity from his power, grace, and faithfulness, according to his promises. Note; They who make God their only trust, will never be disappointed of their hope.
3. He instances a great variety of particulars, wherein God's care of his faithful people would appear. Surely he will deliver thee from every evil and danger, temporal or spiritual.
(1.) From the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence, either literally from those who lie in wait to destroy our bodies, and from the pestilential diseases which endanger our lives, or, from the snares and temptations which Satan lays for our souls; from that most pestilential of all diseases, sin, and that worst of plagues, the plague of our own hearts. Note; How often may every man reflect on seasons of danger, when he owed the preservation of his life purely to the divine providence?
(2.) He shall cover thee with his feathers, expressive of God's tender regard towards his faithful people, as a hen covereth her chickens, calling them when danger threatens, protecting and cherishing them under her wings. His faithfulness and truth, whereon the believer's confidence is placed, shall be thy shield and buckler; his promises engaged for him, his power almighty to defend him. Note; Though we are weak and helpless, our God is able to save to the uttermost; blessed and happy are they whom he covers with his wings and shield!
(3.) No fear shall dismay. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, from fire, storm, robbers, or spirits of darkness who would in frightful dreams disturb the mind, or inject distrustful fears of God's care and protection: nor for the arrow that flieth by day; the sudden and unexpected judgments of God: nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, when the dead are carried forth to their graves; or, as arising from hidden causes, and stalking terrible through the land: nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon-day, when the heat causeth the pestilential vapour to be more fatal; or respect may be had to that suffocating wind, which, in some Eastern countries, kills those who are exposed to it: none of these shall terrify the faithful; God can preserve him from death, or make him triumphant over it; so that he shall never know that fear which hath torment. Note; (1.) If we lie down in peace, and sleep undisturbed, if we awake refreshed, and pass the day in safety amid the unnumbered dangers which surround our path, God's hand is to be thankfully acknowledged. (2.) Faith in God delivers from terrifying fear; and even death, to the faithful believer, has lost its sting.
(4.) In general desolations the faithful shall be safe. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; such dreadful havoc does the plague often make: but it shall not come nigh thee; either a particular providence shall guard their houses, as when the destroying angel passed through Egypt; or at least they shall not be hurt by it if they fall, for to them death is gain. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and see the reward of the wicked, in whose destruction God is glorified; and in his righteous judgments his people rejoice, and adore him.
2nd, We have here many more rich promises of God declared, and the character of his faithful people described, to whom they belong.
1. Their character. [1.] They make the Lord their refuge, trusting in him in every time of trial. [2.] The most High is their habitation, where their souls find sweet repose, and a comfortable provision of all good things. [3.] They set their love on God, he is the grand object of it, and reigns in their hearts without a rival. [4.] They know his name; are acquainted with his word, where he has made the most glorious displays of his perfections; and with his Son the brightness of his glory, by whom alone the Father can be truly known, Matthew 11:27. [5.] They call upon him in ceaseless prayer for the relief of all their wants, and testify their continual dependance on his protection and care. Reader, is this thy character? then blessed art thou. For,
2. Great are the promised blessings which the Psalmist, in God's name, yea, which God himself, pronounces on all such.
(1.) No evil shall befall thee, nor any plague come nigh thy dwelling; either God will, by a distinguishing act of his providence, protect them; or, whatever trouble comes, it shall be sanctified, in the issue produce their greatest good, and prove a real blessing in disguise.
(2.) Angelic guards shall attend their steps; they minister to the heirs of salvation, and from unforeseen danger preserve and protect them with the most condescending tenderness, and with mighty power. Satan applied this passage to Christ, but with the omission of a material clause: they shall keep thee in all thy ways, into which by Divine Providence thou art led, or by the Divine Word directed; for out of the path of duty we may not expect the way of safety.
(3.) The powers of darkness shall be subdued under them. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; literally, these noxious animals being restrained from hurting; or, figuratively, wicked men and wicked devils, for power and subtilty compared to these, shall be trodden down: the young lion and dragon shalt thou trample under feet, even Satan, whose head shall shortly be bruised under the feet of God's faithful people.
(4.) God himself promises, in trouble to be with them, and out of trouble to deliver them. Trouble we may expect, it is part of the lot of God's people; but his presence and a sense of his love overbalance every affliction; and living and dying he will deliver his faithful ones from their trials, either by giving them strength to support and overcome them, or by discharging them from the warfare, and admitting them to his eternal rest.
(5.) He will hear all their prayers, and give them answers of peace. He gives the spirit of supplication; and when that spirit is put forth in prayer, he grants the requests which the believer makes in the way which is most for his good; for the prayer of faith never returned empty.
(6.) He engages to set them on high, on the rock Christ, against which all storms and tempests rage in vain, and from whence they can look down on all the impotent malice of their foes; and to honour them, not only with justifying faith, with the title of his sons or daughters, and the graces of his Spirit here below, but with an inheritance eternal in the heavens, and with a throne of glory everlasting.
(7.) With long life will I satisfy him; they shall live here as long as God has work for them to do; and shew him my salvation, the fulness of it above, when all the unutterable blessedness which the Lord Jesus hath purchased shall fully, freely, and eternally be bestowed on the faithful soul, and he shall be for ever satisfied with it.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 91". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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