PSALM 91 Translation and comment
Number 2 in new series
Resident of the hidden place of the Most High
Overnight guest in the shadow of Power
I will say to Yahweh, “My Refuge and my Hill Fort
My God in whom I have faith.”
For He frees you from the fowler’s snare
And from deadly disease;
He will screen you with his feathers
And under his wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and a firm wall.
You will not fear terror by night
Nor the arrow that flies by day.
You will not fear the infection that walks in darkness
Nor the catastrophe that lays waste at noon.
A thousand may sink down at your side
Ten thousand by your right hand
But it will not reach you.
You will open your eyes and see the reward of the wicked.
As you have made Yahweh your refuge
The Most High your habitation
No evil will happen to you,
No plague will touch your tent.
For he will appoint his angels to take charge of you
To guard you in all your goings;
They will lift you high on their hands
So that you do not strike your foot on a stone.
You will conquer the lion and the cobra
You will step on the lion cub and the snake.
“Because he has loved me,” says the Lord
I will deliver him from danger.
I will set him securely on high,
Because he has known my name.
When he cries to me, I will answer;
In adversity I will be with him;
I will rescue him and restore his honour.
With length of days I will satisfy him
And let him see my deliverance.
The Christian tradition has see this as a messianic psalm, noting that the devil himself applied it to Jesus in Matthew chapter 4. Still, we shouldn’t accept Satan’s biblical scholarship without question. In truth it is a wisdom psalm setting out the blessings of faithfulness to God. Its depiction of the t.l.c. lavished by Yahweh on the faithful man or woman is beautiful rather than convincing. You wonder how in the face of Israel’s history and the suffering of the prophets, such a picture could come to anyone’s mind, far less been communicated.
Perhaps that question gives clue. The picture is not of the historical world, but of the resolute soul of the wise and faithful person, or the communal courage of a perfected Israel. This is the kind of vision which Luther offers in the chorale, Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott, where God remains a safe place even although the world is tough. Luther explicitly admits the suffering the world imposes, whereas this psalm does not. But it does admit that rescue and deliverance are needed, promising that they will be provided.
I think the psalm works as a kind of blessing on faithfulness, bringing hope and peace. Imagine Jeremiah or Jesus saying it to themselves.