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1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, 10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (NIV)

I heard from a skeptic online that this is a failed promise from the Bible, and after reading it, I see their point. It says again and again that if you trust in the Lord and say He is your refuge, no harm will come upon you, nor plague, nor misfortune. However, looking around at the lives of fellow believers, the opposite seems to be true, as many encounter all these issues in this life. What does this chapter mean? And why does it seem to contradict what we see?

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    Many profess to be 'fellow believers'. But they do not show the fruits of faith. This is not a reason to doubt the promises of God. Whom He blesses . . . . . is blessed. The question seems to be prompted by doubt and skepticism. Is Psalm 91 a failed promise ? No it isn't. Whom He blesses, is blessed.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 2, 2023 at 1:02
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    “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us” (Heb :35,39,40) Jul 2, 2023 at 3:54
  • 1
    I notice that Will Brooker does not have a profile page on BH but it appears on CSE. Does this mean Will can't see or respond to answers and comments?
    – Lesley
    Jul 2, 2023 at 10:41

6 Answers 6

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You should take a vision sub specie aeternitatis, that is to say, from the eternal perspective; then any “plague”, or “affliction”, or “wound” can be regarded as such if and only if it refers to harm of that in us, that is related to the eternal and feeds on eternity, which in a good traditional wording is called “soul”.

God will never forfeit those who put their hope in Him, never! Yet, sometimes, He uses plagues, misfortunes, pains etc. upon His beloved in order to protect them from a harm of their soul. Thus, He can hinder business success of His beloved, permit even his bankruptcy, if He sees that riches will lead His beloved one to a luxurious life followed by slackening of zeal towards eternal values and eventually moral depravity.

Remember how did Paul pray to God, Jesus Christ (for nobody prays to angels or to creatures) asking Him to deliver him from a horrible illness, which he called a “sting of Satan”; what answer did he get? Christ’s answer was that this illness was beneficial for Paul’s soul, in order that Paul may not fall into the sin of pride (2 Cor. 12:9). Illness is not a harm from eternal perspective, pride or any other sin - is!

But of course God can and does protect us from temporal afflictions also, and we are right to thank Him for that.

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  • 1 Peter 3:13 - 4:19 has much to say about the trials experienced by God's people because they stand up for Christ in a hostile world. It is not about the suffering that is common to all people, e.g., physical ailments, sickness and death. 1 Peter 4:19 ends with emphasising the faithfulness of our Creator God. "God will never forfeit those who put their hope in Him, never!" +1
    – Lesley
    Jul 2, 2023 at 11:21
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When everyone around you meet a calamity, Christian have to meet it too. Psalm 91 does not say Christian are exclusive, for example;

  • 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence - meaning you had already been in the fowler's snare and within the deadly pestilence but the Lord will save you.
  • 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you - meaning you are within the deads but survive from the dead.

Why would the Lord command His angels to guard the Christian in all the ways? (Psalm 91:11) If there was no danger to Christian, why would Christian need a guardian angel? The answer is strict forward, for Christian are in all kinds of danger too.

It is in human hope that a good deity will just provide a good life and no misfortune, but in Christianity, we are told to endure suffering but promised with peace.

26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:26-27 NIV)

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is the guardian angel, who come to comfort you with peace whenever your heart is in trouble, so that you will be capable to endure the suffering and not be afraid. But not everyone will get help from the Holy Spirit, for faith determined, from the very beginning

1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest (meaning 'have peace') in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2 NIV)

Sadly speaking, how many are truly trust in God. Though the Israelites learn Psalm 91 for thousand years, Paul quoted Isaiah words in Romans 9:27

27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved". (Romans 9:27 NIV)

Therefore, do not be afraid of suffering. In faith, true Christian will survive in peace. This survival does not just mean survival on earth, but eternity with God.

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The Book of Psalms is a collection of songs designed to help worshippers experience a re-enactment of their nation's history with their God. It is divided into 5 books:

  1. Book 1 (Psalms 1-41): David is shown as the poet king who worships God by praising him and reaching through pain and persecution to hope in God. Psalm 22:2, "My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest."

  2. Book 2(Psalms 42-72): God is portrayed as David's king, and Jerusalem and the temple is portrayed as God's dwelling place where people can experience him. Psalm 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

  3. Book 3(Psalms 73-89): Is the darkest of the books, and questions why the wicked prosper. It contains laments of the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of Judah, and the demise of God's promise to David. Psalm 89:44 You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground.

  4. Book 4(Psalms 90-106): Reminds us of Israel's early history, and how God himself has always been their dwelling place and their king, even before the time of David. This book then praises God for gathering his people from exile. Psalm 106:43-45 Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. Yet he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.

  5. Book 5(Psalms 107-150): His people have returned and celebrate pilgrimages to Jerusalem. They look forward to a bright future with God and have the hope of a future great king. Psalm 11:2 The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

Psalm 91 is set right at the start of Book 4 and retells the story of Israel's wilderness wanderings in an idealised and poetic form. Notice how there are references to pestilence and plague, like those wrought on Egypt, and also the arrows like those of Pharaoh who was pursuing Israel. The ark that went with them was sheltered under the wings of the cherubim and it was followed by a pillar of cloud and fire that sheltered the people. They survived a plague of serpents and an angel went ahead of them. Notice how the in the psalm they will not strike their foot on a stone and in the wanderings, their clothes and their sandals did not wear out.

So, Psalm 91 is not a set of promises for any person, anywhere at any time, but instead is an invitation to look back at your own life and see how God has brought you where you are today.

Is this one-sided retelling a lie? Well no, because Psalms also retells the same events from a different perspective. In Psalm 106 it tells of all the rebellion that the Israelites participated in and were punished for: Psalm 106 14-15 In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test. So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease among them.

So Psalms does not promise that bad things will never happen to you, but it does portray your life a complex, emotional journey, though all of which we can express ourselves to God.

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  • 'Divided into five books'. So, could you say where the 'divisions' occur ?
    – Nigel J
    Jul 2, 2023 at 12:00
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    @NigelJ Every Bible I've ever seen has the divisions. Look between Psalm 41 and 42.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 2, 2023 at 12:11
  • I added the chapter numbers next to the books.
    – Steven
    Jul 2, 2023 at 12:16
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Psalms 91 like many others are a clear prophecy related to Jesus, however, many are reluctant to accept this as it does not 'fit' the crucifixion account. Therefore, imply it’s a general guidance for believers or an understanding of what has happened. Yet others Psalms are quickly used as a clear indication of the Messiah, even when some are clearly not or have been distorted.

Psalm 91 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge-

10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.

16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."

PSALMS general

Psalms 91 is a clear prophesy of Jesus being protected like many Psalms which have a similar tone, such as;

Psalm 20:6 6Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He answers him from His holy heaven with the saving power of His right hand.

Psalms 9:13 “O you who lift me up from the gates of death”

Psalms 27:2-5 "When evil-doers came upon me to eat up my flesh, Even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell… For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion: In the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me."

Psalm 41:9-13 - 9 Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. 10 But may you have mercy on me, LORD; raise me up, that I may repay them. 11 I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. 12 Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. 13 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

Psalm 116:16 - 16 Truly I am your servant, LORD; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains.

Psalms 34:20 & 22

  • 20 He protects all his bones; not one of them will be broken
  • 22 The LORD will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

[NT that compliments the Psalms]

John 11:41-42 Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. And I knew that thou hearest me always."

Luke 22:44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Hebrews 5:7 “Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear."

Matthew 4:6 ........ ‘He will command His angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ”

Luke 4:10-12 - 10 for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee: 11 and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. John 19:36 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken

[The only Psalms prophecy that has any similarity to the crucifixion story]

Psalms 22:16 (17 in the Jewish Tanakh) - however there is a serious translation issue related to the word kaari

The translation given is: "Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet."

HOWEVER

Jewish scriptures

This reading is based upon the Masoretic Hebrew Texts that reads as follows Psalm 22:17 (Hebrew text) כִּ֥י סְבָב֗וּנִי כְּלָ֫בִ֥ים עֲדַ֣ת מְ֭רֵעִים הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י יָדַ֥י וְרַגְלָֽי׃ Here we can see Masoretic Text clearly has כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י kā-’ă-rî,

So should read - P22:17 17 For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.

For more detail see: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/77814/33268

[Conclusion]

This is not a failed prophecy, Jesus called on God and prayed to be saved, he was heard and saved from any harm. It is clearly talking about one person not a nation or people. Me, him, you, your eyes, my, your tent all indicating one person.

Jesus was saved as implied by the prophecies otherwise they are false / incorrect - let relied on to show Jesus was prophesied but seem to ignore the clear indication that Jesus will be protected/ saved.

Otherwise, you would have to imply that God betrayed his promise to save Jesus and this is unthinkable

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The chapter of Psalms 91 closely resembles the language of Mark 16 (later addition), it is likely that the author was alluding to it. Though, note the Psalm 90:15 NJB that says, "let our joy be as long as the time that you afflicted us, the years when we experienced disaster", which means we need to read things in context.

[Mark 16:18] (NKJV)
... they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Thus, the answer to this question is the same as the question asked about the promise of invincibility of believers in Mark 16:17-18.

It is a general statement

We find the same language of invincibility of believers, repeated throughout the Bible, if we check the cross-references:

  • Ps 121:7NHEB The LORD will keep you from all evil. He will keep your soul.
  • Proverbs 12:21 No mischief shall happen to the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil.
  • Deut 7:15 And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you have seen and which you have known, will he put on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you.
  • Luke 10:19 Look, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will in any way hurt you.
  • Luke 21:16-18 They will cause some of you to be put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. And not a hair of your head will perish

The modern reader has lost all ability to grasp the basic general statements. The American people, in particular frown upon any statement remotely resembling a general statement, they are allergic to it, or I should say, they are deeply phobic to it; they cry racism when encountering a general word about particular races. Hence, you can see them quickly jumping to deliberately quibbling to find the exceptions to any statement on social media comments section. The sceptic who raised the question can be blamed for this problem.

We see some of the invincibility marks being fulfilled in the book of Acts, such as Acts 28:3-6. And, we see such miracles and supernatural experiences in the book of Acts, but in contemporary testimonies around us. Of course, not all believers experience God and peace, let alone miracles, supernatural provisions and salvation. The point is not that these words apply to all believers in all the times (see Eccl 3), but generally this is the case for a true believer. There are various stories of how prisoners in jail have received the great joy of God after experiencing God's Spirit. People still live in immense spiritual comfort and riches despite being poor financially, even lacking basic food.

Being inspired by these promises and tradition, some early Christians often created fantastical legends of apostles and saints really defying death and torture, perhaps for a misguided purpose of motivation. The story of Erasmus of Formia states that he defied numerous ways of torture, even being burned with tar, he survived, and eventually only died when his intestines were removed and wound up around a windlass.

The scripture also states, "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2Tim 3:12) thus, the promise of invincibility does not mean worldly immunity from sickness and death, but a discriminatory spiritual favour, in spite of the persecution, suffering to death. The difference is that a believer with divine grace will never suffer a hopeless pathetic state of life which the ungodly suffer.

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The meaning of Psalm 91 is to encourage reliance on God and especially participation in the Temple, where the psalmist believes God's protection is nearly absolute. The promise only fails if the reader understands the psalm as applying in general rather than in the context of ancient Judaism, where Jerusalem and its Temple were thought to provide special protection. A note in the NABRE explains of Ps 91:

[It is] a prayer of someone who has taken refuge in the Lord, possibly within the Temple (Ps 91:1–2)... 91:1 - The shelter of the Most High: basically “hiding place” but in the Psalms a designation for the protected Temple precincts, cf. Ps 27:5; 31:21; 61:5. The shade of the Almighty: lit., “the shadow of the wings of the Almighty,” cf. Ps 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8. Ps 91:4 makes clear that the shadow is an image of the safety afforded by the outstretched wings of the cherubim in the holy of holies.

So the wings and shadow of God that shelter believers are not properly understood as being available everywhere and in every time, but especially in the Temple precincts in ancient times. Admittedly other verses promise protection outside of the Temple as well. So the problem of a "failed promise" is not completely solved by the fact the Temple is the focus of God's protection. However, if readers understand the psalm as the words of pious poet in his particular time and place, rather than a promise directly from God to every believer everywhere, then we can accept their comfort and encouragement without a threat to faith.

A similar meaning is found in Ps. 48. Reading it may help one to understand the poetic sense of Ps. 91 in promising shelter within the "shadow of the Almighty."

10 We ponder, O God, your mercy
    within your temple...
13 Go about Zion, walk all around it,
    note the number of its towers.
14 Consider the ramparts, examine its citadels,
    that you may tell future generations:
15 That this is God,
    our God for ever and ever.

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