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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 91

The occasion and date of this psalm cannot be affirmed, as no historical allusion appears in it. The object, however, is clear, namely, to encourage trust in God in all dangers, offering assurance of safety to all who make him their refuge. Internal evidence offers a strong probability that it was written by Moses after the date of Psalms 90:0, (which see) to allay distrust and apprehensions which would be likely to arise after the fatal decree of Numbers 14:29-30. Several commentators are of this opinion. Many of the dangers enumerated specially belong to the desert of Arabia and to the history of the Israelites while there. Still, like all Scripture, it is adapted to common use, and whatever be the form of danger, in any place or age, the principles of trust, of patient waiting, and the doctrine of the special care of God for his children, equally apply; and it is in this higher and general sense that the psalm is chiefly to be taken.

The change of person, from the third to the first, in Psalms 91:2, and again to the second in Psalms 91:3, returning to the first abruptly in Psalms 91:9, (“ my refuge,”) and resuming it again in Psalms 91:14, has led many to divide the psalm into responsive choruses of three voices. It seems more natural, however, as Hengstenberg suggests, to consider the writer, in Psalms 91:2; Psalms 91:9, as speaking from the depths of his own experience, and in the other places as speaking from the heart of the righteous man. In impassioned style such changes are not rare.

The last three verses, however, must be understood as spoken in the person of God. “It is one of the freshest and most beautiful psalms, resembling the second part of Isaiah in its light winged, richly coloured, and transparent diction.” Delitzsch.

Verse 1

1. Dwelleth Sitteth, or waiteth.

Secret place The allusion is to the holy of holies in the tabernacle.

Shadow of the Almighty Referring to the wings of the cherubim that “shadowed the mercy seat.” See Exodus 25:18-20; Hebrews 9:5. But this could be taken only in the spiritual sense, as in Matthew 6:6; Hebrews 10:19-22. To abide under the shadow of the Almighty is to abide under his immediate protection. The “secret place” is also an oriental phrase for the interior room or rooms of the house or tent, reserved for the master or chief. See on Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20; Psalms 61:4

Verse 2

2. I will say of the Lord The Septuagint has it: “He shall say to the Lord,” but the author must be considered as speaking in his own person, from his own experience, though from the heart of the people.

Verse 3

3. Surely he shall deliver thee The change from the first person in Psalms 91:2, to the second in Psalms 91:3, is abrupt and perplexing. We must either adopt the dramatic theory respecting the structure of this psalm, (see the introduction,) making three speakers, and assigning Psalms 91:3 and part of Psalms 91:9 to the second, Psalms 91:14-16 to the third, (namely, to Jehovah,) and the rest to the first; or, we must suppose in Psalms 91:3; Psalms 91:9 the same speaker adopts the I instead of thou, for the purpose of speaking from his own heart, and for greater pathos.

Snare of the fowler In the enumeration of evils from which the righteous shall be delivered by his single trust in God, he properly begins with the “trap of the fowler” the dangers arising from the secret wickedness of men.

Noisome pestilence Fatal pestilence, or pestilence of wickedness. The words are not specific of any bodily disease, or class of destructive diseases, but apply to any causes by which men are swept away suddenly often those which come from the crafty wickedness of men, and is parallel to “snare of the fowler” in the previous member. It is one of the four great judgments of God, enumerated Ezekiel 14:21; Revelation 6:8. The word “noisome” means calamitous, ruinous, as Psalms 57:1, where Psalms 91:4-6 show it was brought only against wicked men. So Psalms 94:20, where it is rendered iniquity, and Proverbs 19:30, rendered calamity. But see on Psalms 91:6

Verse 5

5. Terror by night… arrow… by day A time of war is here supposed, when the night is filled with apprehensions and the day with battles.

Verse 6

6. Pestilence that walketh in darkness The usual idea of דבר , pestilence, is here preserved, a mode of destruction, whether by sickness or other divine judgment, which is sudden, secret, and without warning. (See on Psalms 91:3.) It “walketh in darkness,” like the angel of death. Amos 4:10.

Destruction that wasteth at noon-day A description of a battle, and parallel to the “arrow that flieth by day,” Psalms 91:5. It is better to thus take Psalms 91:4-5, as one verse of four lines, as some do, and as the antitheses would justify. But קשׂב , destruction, seems best understood of the sirocco, the terror of all travellers and dwellers in and adjacent to the Arabian desert. In the two other places where the word occurs it is associated with “burning heat” (Deuteronomy 32:24) and violent “storm,” (Isaiah 28:2,) the known accompaniments of the sirocco. See on Psalms 103:16. Bishop Mant thus understands it, and paraphrases Psalms 91:6:

“Plagues that in the darkness waste,

Nor the noontide’s purple blast.”

See more on Psalms 103:16

Verse 8

8. With thine eyes shalt thou behold Like the Israelites who saw the overthrow of their enemies, a stated Exodus 14:30-31

Verse 9

9. The Lord… my refuge On the person speaking here see note on Psalms 91:2-3

Verse 10

10. Come nigh thy dwelling The allusion is to Exodus 12:23. Compare Isaiah 54:14

Verse 11

11. His angels charge over thee The doctrine of angelic ministry to God’s children, or chosen ones, is everywhere recognised in the Bible.

Genesis 28:12; Psalms 34:7; Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14.

Keep thee in all thy ways Preserve thee from the dangers which may beset thy daily life, in whatever path duty may call thee. Thus the path of duty becomes the path of safety. This passage was perversely quoted by the tempter to Christ to encourage him to presumption. Matthew 4:6

Verse 13

13. Lion… adder Two deadly enemies, the one representing open violence, the other secret cunning; both formerly, and the adder (Hebrew, pethen, see note on Psalms 58:4,) still, infesting the Arabian desert. To “tread upon the lion,” may be understood in the sense of triumphing over a vanquished enemy, as Judges 5:21; Isaiah 63:3; or, in the sense of an accidental treading upon, from being too near the monster as he lies concealed in the path. This danger is the common terror of the natives where this animal abounds. Wood says: “In the dark there is no animal so invisible as the lion. Almost every hunter has told a similar story of the utter inability to see him, though he was so close that they could hear his breathing. Sometimes, when he has crept near an encampment, he crouches closely to the ground, and in the semi-darkness looks so like a large stone, or a little hillock, that one might pass close to it without perceiving its real nature. This gives the opportunity for which the lion has been watching, and in a moment he strikes down the careless straggler.” This is especially true of the “old lion,” לישׁ , layish, who is too feeble to roam at large for prey. See Job 4:11.

Tread upon the… adder This allusion to a common danger arising from the serpent lying concealed in the path though here spoken of the pethen, (see note on Psalms 58:0,) applies well to the שׁפיפן , ( shephiphon,) the cerastes, or horned adder. See on Genesis 49:17.

Young lion Proverbially bloodthirsty and ferocious in its youthful strength. See Ezekiel 19:3.

Dragon The Hebrew may denote a monster either of the serpent or crocodile family, whether inhabiting the land or water, but here denotes some formidable land serpent.

Trample under feet A stronger expression than “tread,” in preceding verse, denoting the most perfect triumph over them. On this power over beasts and reptiles see Daniel 6:22; Mark 16:18; Luke 10:19; Acts 28:3-5. It is difficult to imagine how the Israelites, with their flocks, herds and families, could pass through the desert safely without superhuman protection from the evils enumerated in this psalm.

Verse 14

14. Because he hath set his love upon me Jehovah speaks now. Because his love has taken fast hold of me: loved me ardently. “Reclined sweetly upon me.” Calvin. Love, then as now, was “the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 8:28

Verse 15

15. I will answer him The response given to Psalms 91:15-16 of the preceding psalm.

In trouble Compare Genesis 46:4; Isaiah 63:9.

Deliver… honour Deliverance from trouble, even all the perils enumerated, which have been the world’s terror, is not the fulness of the salvation promised. The soul is advanced to “honour” also. God setteth him on high to be understood of, and fully realized in, the spiritual life.

Verse 16

16. Long life Compare the complaint of the brevity and frailty of life. Psalms 90:0.

Show him my salvation Cause him to see my salvation. The acme of all Old Testament hope and desire. To such a character as this psalm describes, God would not only grant all present deliverance and honour, but open to his view the higher knowledge of that mysterious plan of redemption, involving the office of Messiah, to which all Old Testament rites pointed. See John 8:56; Hebrews 11:13; Matthew 13:17.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 91". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-91.html. 1874-1909.