Shelter and Security Meditation of Psalm 91
A Psalm of the Sheltered Life
Multitudes today are shelter-conscious! Shelter from the A-bomb! Shelter from the H-bomb! William Faulkner, on his way to Stockholm last December to receive the Nobel Prize, paused in New York City long enough to remark to press reporters: “Man has only one question in mind: When will I be blown up?” Professor Henry D. Smith of Princeton University advocates underground cities and industries as the only means of survival. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation has been petitioned for a million-dollar loan to develop a twenty-six-mile-long cave in the Missouri Ozarks into “an underground ‘Noah’s Ark’” safe from A-bomb and H-bomb attacks. The cave would hide several thousand people “whose survival would be essential to future civilization.”
It is significant that the farther men get away from God, the more they feel compelled to go downward to preserve their lives.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pesilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
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.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.
—King James Version
A Psalm of Security
It is the sense of insecurity that is driving people into all kinds of excesses today. They have no peace of mind. Shortly before his death, Joshua Liebman, author of the popular, fast-selling book, Peace of Mind, was reported in one of our weekly magazines to have said to an interviewer, “The one thing I do not have is peace of mind.” Peter Edson, a respected Washington correspondent, declared recently, “Washington today is like a lost man at midnight in the dark of the moon, standing at the bottom of a deep pit, blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back, looking for something that isn’t there. That ‘something’ is, of course, peace.”
Helpless before our own defence we stand,
Turned by our strength into a cowering land.
For he whose weapon is the cosmic flame
Needs cosmic wisdom to direct the aim,
Or falls, self-smitten by his own blind hand.
Three voices speak in this psalm: the voice of the witness for God, the voice of the brother in peril, and the voice of God Himself.
The Witness for God
A sympathizing friend of the brother in peril speaks: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Where is this secret place of the Most High? Within the veil, of course, whither Christ leads us from the cross, through the grave, to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. There by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we may make our requests known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding guards our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith. For we are no more servants merely, not knowing what our Master doeth, but we are friends of the Son,and as friendswe know the secrets of the Father. Is it not written, “The secret of Jehovah is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant”? (Ps. 25:14).
Your life is hid with Christ in God. Here is a home of full confidence, a dwelling where warm affection prevails. Here we acquaint ourselves with God and are at peace. It is a house with a great name: the Most High, the Almighty under whose protecting shadow the redeemed abide. Yea, the Lord Himself is round about us, as the mountains are round about Jerusalem. Here is real security. Thou art safe because God is true. His truth is a shield and buckler. It protects against the entrance of those doubts, those misgivings and fears which, like flying arrows, may assail you. Men may be false, but Cod is true. The heathen may rage, and the people may imagine a vain thing; still God is true. Thou art safe because He in whom thou trustest has all the elements of nature and all the angels of heaven as His agents and messengers, to do His pleasure in behalf of all who abide under His shadow. He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
The Brother in Peril
He says very little. But the little he says is much. It is very comprehensive: “I will say of Jehovah, he is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
How promptly he replies to his sympathizing friend! In the sacred record it appears almost as an interruption of the testimony of his friend. This is faith in ready and deep response. A weary, war-worn believer quickly appropriates what only faith can appropriate: “I will say of Jehovah, he is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
To say this is to say much. To say this is to confirm the gracious work of the indwelling Spirit. Not everyone says this. Not everyone can say this. For this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The heart that speaks thus is not the heart that we have by nature. By nature we seek a defense againstGod. We seek a shelter fromthe true God. Indeed, there are forms of godliness that we put between ourselves and the Lord. When the Lord comes to reckon with us, we entrench ourselves in self-justification, self-righteousness. Nothing is more natural to sinners than the disposition to evade the living God who is offended by their sin.
If it is otherwise with us now, the explanation lies not with ourselves but with that very God from whom we seek to hide. His monarchical grace sweeps away our imaginary innocence. His Spirit punctures the sham of our imagined goodness and integrity. His sovereign invasion of our corrupt and barricaded hearts beats down every element of defiance. The Lord of Hosts by His Spirit and Word assails the bulwarks of sin, and the smitten sinner cries in penitence, humility, and gratitude, “Jehovah my righteousness! Jehovah my strength! My God, in whom I trust.”
It is the language not of faith only, but of love. Jehovah becomes more than an advantage, a convenience, an expedient. He is not merely prized as a shelter. In Himself He becomes precious to us. He is our portion, our all in all. He is my God, in whom I trust.
The Voice of God
Now God speaks. He always has the last word because He always is the First Word. “Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”
His heart is mine, says Jehovah. He has set his love upon me. No, it is not a name for himself that the believer covets. He knows Jehovah’s name, and that name he will glorify. Such love itself the product of divine love; it will never be misplaced. It will never be ignored. Jehovah will honor them that honor him. “I will set him on high because he hath known my name.”
The heart that is set upon the Lord cannot be silent when the object of that love is near. “He shall call upon me.” It cannot but be so! Nor can it be otherwise than that the divine Lover will answer. “And I will answer him.” God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts that we may always cry, Abba, Father. And when we cry, He answers.
He answers, but not always by removing the trouble. Not always by removing the terror by night or the arrow that flieth by day. The pestilence that walketh in darkness may remain. The destruction that wasteth at noonday may not be taken away.
But He does reply. He replies by being with us in trouble.
And even in trouble He can satisfy. So marvelous is His transfiguration of the dark day that we do not fail to see His goodness. And seeing His goodness, we find fullness of life. Seeing His goodness, though we fall in the flower of youth or in the prime of manhood, we fall, still testifying that with long life the Lord has satisfied us. Even the youth of tender years, once he has known the Name, falling in death while spring is still green, dies as old as the aged Simeon who said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
At the time this article was written…
Dr. Leonard Greenway was a teacher of Bible and spiritual counselor at Grand Rapids Christian High School. Dr. Greenway was an ordained minister, holding an associate pastorship in the Burton Heights Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI. He has written Basic Questions on the Bible and Basic Questions on Christian Behavior and was a regular contributor to The Banner, the Christian Reformed denominational weekly.
A good many people seem to think that every generation lives in a sort of intellectual watertight compartment, without much chance of converse with other generations. Every generation has its own thought-forms and cannot by any chance use the thought-forms of any other generation. Do you know what I think of this notion? I think it comes very near being nonsense. If it were true, then books produced in past generations ought to be pure gibberish to us.
—J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World, 91.