Discuss: Does Psalm 91 Guarantee Divine Protection?

[The psalms] give us God-inspired models of praise and prayers, teaching us to be brutally authentic when communing with our Creator. Worshipers express their deepest emotions by delighting in God’s beautiful gifts or at other times accusing Him of abandonment.

God certainly answers prayer and can indeed instantly anticipate any needed divine protection; however, “God wants us to trust his wisdom rather than to trust that he will yield to our wisdom. There is nothing too hard for God, but we cannot dictate which hard thing he should do.”

Yahweh’s name expresses not only his heart for protection imaged within this one psalm, but all the attributes the Israelites had experienced throughout their nation’s history, individually and corporately. Yahweh is the compassionate Deliverer, a gentle Shepherd, and the One Who sees each one.

When we affirm our confidence in God’s character during times of terror or within a pandemic, we take our lives out of the control of the powers and authorities in this world and place our souls within the hands of our good and loving Heavenly Father.

For Discussion:

  • What do we miss from a passage like Psalm 91 if we simply “claim the promise” rather than taking the time to study and understand the passage?

  • How can we encourage those around us when we do hear them utilizing verses in ways that might not be the intention of the passage?

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Great article. Here in the US, I think the “claiming” of Biblical “promises” and taking verses out of context are significant issues the church needs to respond to. On the surface, misinterpreting a passage as a promise of protection, health, etc. may seem relatively benign (I think we all have been guilty of misinterpreting/misunderstanding Biblical passage at least once in our life!), but I think they can lead to discouragement even to the point of turning away from the faith.

With that in mind, I find the second discussion point to be very worthy of attention and would be curious to hear the opinions of others on it. I think the “misuse” of Biblical passages is quite common, in part, because few attempt to correct (in love) such interpretations. Such interpretations are often pleasing to the ear (at least until the “promise” does not seem to hold true) and, as such, liable to spreading quite readily unless some loving resistance is offered. Perhaps, one technique for addressing the issue would be starting a gentle debate with the individual utilizing the text in such a way. We could ask them why they interpret the passage in question in such a way. I think it is wise to treat the other as a dialogue partner who we could learn from, rather than present ourselves as the “know it all” teacher.

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We need to understand God’s perspective on the temporal body and the eternal spirit before we claim any Biblical promise. Our bodies are dust; our spirits live on. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20, ESV). “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, ESV). “And,” Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28, ESV). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood this. When forced to choose between worshipping God or Man on pain of physical burning, they chose the former, saying:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (ESV)

“But if not…”

These words need to inform our thinking about whether God protects us not only from human persecution but natural events such as plagues. Who are we? If we are our bodies, then not only is every promise of protection in the Bible a lie because God clearly does not protect our bodies from harm, but naturalist beliefs deserve much more credit than we grant them. If we are our spirits, however, then every promise of protection is absolutely true and we can cast aside all fear of persecution, plague, and death. This is the promise that Daniel’s Heavenly compatriots and the Psalmist claimed.

If we walk in spiritual fellowship with God through Jesus, then we will not abandon wisdom. In this case, wisdom tells us that we need to pray for physical protection knowing that God may choose to protect only our spirits. This has important implications. First, we must not foolishly risk physical harm. This puts our families and friends at risk because if we contract the plague, then we risk giving it to them. Second, we must not blithely state that God “did not answer” our prayers if we get sick. We know what we mean, but our unsaved friends do not. What do we think that they hear when we say that God did not answer our prayers? Third, we must not be angry with God if he chooses to not to protect our physical frames. Good and evil alike return to dust; what right do we have to expect anything else?

In all things, know that God always protects the spirits of his children, although he may choose not to protect their bodies.

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Hi, @jspare. I love that you brought this up, because this “claiming” of things like this in the Bible is almost everywhere I turn. I did not come across it so much in my younger years when I was attending a Lutheran church. That isn’t to say that denomination has it all right or anything, but in my own experience, I have mostly encountered this with those from more charismatic circles. There is a belief in some of those circles that we can bring heaven to earth if we just pray and have enough faith, and I think that many times, that belief underlies the misapplication of verses such as the ones in the presented passage.

I think Brendan (@blbossard) is right to say we need to understand God’s perspective. If we think about how the Jews thought when Jesus came, we scratch our heads at how they could be so caught up on their present circumstances involving the Roman occupation that many of them could not see Jesus as their Messiah. But at times, we do the same thing. We are so caught up in our momentary afflictions that we misconstrue what God is saying in passages like the focal passage here, and we kind of cheapen what God means when He says He will deliver us and be a refuge and our salvation. The reason some of the Jews couldn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah they were expecting is because what they were expecting was too small. It’s kind of like reducing a full-sized candy bar to bite-sized (For me those bite-sized things are just a tease!). God wants to give us the full-sized version of the candy bar, but we are attempting to force that into our bite-sized expectation of Him and His redemptive acts. It’s okay to ask God for healing, to ask Him for protection knowing full well that He can do it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for those things. But when times come in which God chooses not to keep us from things like illness, misapplying verses like these can keep us from experiencing that deep trust in God and what He has done in Christ, and that will rob us of having internal peace. I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…” (Berean Study Bible).

This can be difficult, and I am interested in what others might have to offer in response to this. I think most people don’t even attempt to correct it when they know it’s wrong, because they don’t know how to approach it, and they don’t want it to be confrontational. I will have to give this one more thought.

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