Psalms 91

PSALM XCI

The safety of the godly man, and his confidence, 1, 2.

How he is defended and preserved, 3-10.

The angels of God are his servants, 11, 12;

and he shall tread on the necks of his adversaries, 13.

What God says of, and promises to, such a person, 14-16.

NOTES ON PSALM XCI

This Psalm has no title in the Hebrew; nor can it be determined

on what occasion or by whom it was composed. It is most likely by

the author of the preceding; and is written as a part of it, by

fifteen of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., commencing before

the repetition of the four last words of the ninetieth. It is

allowed to be one of the finest Psalms in the whole collection. Of

it Simon de Muis has said: "It is one of the most excellent works

of this kind which has ever appeared. It is impossible to imagine

any thing more solid, more beautiful, more profound, or more

ornamented. Could the Latin or any modern languages express

thoroughly all the beauties and elegancies as well of the words as

of the sentences, it would not be difficult to persuade the reader

that we have no poem, either in Greek or Latin, comparable to this

Hebrew ode."

Verse 1. He that dwelleth in the secret place] The Targum

intimates that this is a dialogue between David, Solomon, and

Jehovah. Suppose we admit this,-then

DAVID asserts: "He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most

High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty," Ps 91:1.

SOLOMON answers: "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my

fortress; my God, in him will I trust," Ps 91:2.

DAVID replies, and tells him what blessings he shall receive

from God if he abide faithful, Ps 91:3-13.

Then the SUPREME BEING is introduced, and confirms all that

David had spoken concerning Solomon, Ps 91:14-16: and thus this

sacred and instructive dialogue ends.

In the secret place of the Most High] Spoken probably in

reference to the Holy of holies. He who enters legitimately there

shall be covered with the cloud of God's glory-the protection of

the all-sufficient God. This was the privilege of the high priest

only, under the law: but under the new covenant all believers in

Christ have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of

Jesus; and those who thus enter are safe from every evil.

Verse 2. I will say of the Lord] This is my experience: "He is

my fortress, and in him will I continually trust."

Verse 3. Surely he shall deliver thee] If thou wilt act thus,

then the God in whom thou trustest will deliver thee from the

snare of the fowler, from all the devices of Satan, and from all

dangerous maladies. As the original word, dabar, signifies a

word spoken, and deber, the same letters, signifies pestilence;

so some translate one way, and some another: he shall deliver thee

from the evil and slanderous word; he shall deliver thee from the

noisome pestilence-all blasting and injurious winds, effluvia,

&c.

Verse 4. He shall cover thee with his feathers] He shall act

towards thee as the hen does to her brood,-take thee under his

wings when birds of prey appear, and also shelter thee from

chilling blasts. This is a frequent metaphor in the sacred

writings; see the parallel texts in the margin, and the notes on

them. The Septuagint has εντοιςμεταφρενοιςαυτουεπισκιασεισοι

He will overshadow thee between his shoulders; alluding to the

custom of parents carrying their weak or sick children on their

backs, and having them covered even there with a mantle. Thus the

Lord is represented carrying the Israelites in the wilderness. See

De 32:11, 12, where the metaphor is taken from the

eagle.

His truth shall be thy shield and buckler] His revelation; his

Bible. That truth contains promises for all times and

circumstances; and these will be invariably fulfilled to him that

trusts in the Lord. The fulfillment of a promise relative to

defence and support is to the soul what the best shield is to the

body.

Verse 5. The terror by night] Night is a time of terrors,

because it is a time of treasons, plunder, robbery, and murder.

The godly man lies down in peace, and sleeps quietly, for he

trusts his body, soul, and substance, in the hand of God; and he

knows that he who keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. It

may also mean all spiritual foes,-the rulers of the darkness of

this world. I have heard the following petition in an evening

family prayer: "Blessed Lord, take us into thy protection this

night; and preserve us from disease, from sudden death, from the

violence of fire, from the edge of the sword, from the designs of

wicked men, and from the influence of malicious spirits!"

Nor for the arrow] The Chaldee translates this verse, "Thou

shalt not fear the demons that walk by night; nor the arrow of the

angel of death which is shot in the day time." Thou needest not to

fear a sudden and unprovided-for death.

Verse 6. Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor

for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.] The rabbins

supposed that the empire of death was under two demons, one of

which ruled by day, the other by night. The Vulgate and

Septuagint have-the noonday devil. The ancients thought that

there were some demons who had the power to injure particularly at

noonday. To this Theocritus refers, Id. i. ver. 15:-

ουθεμιςωποιμαντομεσαμβρινονουθεμιςαμμιν

συρισδεντονπαναδεδοικαμεςηγαραπαγρας

τανικακεκμακωςαμπαυεταιεντιγεπικρος

καιοιαειδριμειαχολαποτιρινικαθηται

"It is not lawful, it is not lawful, O shepherd, to play on the

flute at noonday: we fear Pan, who at that hour goes to sleep in

order to rest himself after the fatigues of the chase; then he is

dangerous, and his wrath easily kindled."

Lucan, in the horrible account he gives us of a grove sacred to

some barbarous power, worshipped with the most horrid rites,

refers to the same superstition:-

Lucus erat longo nunquam violatus ab aevo,

Non illum cultu populi propiore frequentant,

Sed cessere deis: medio cum Phoebus in axe est,

Aut coelum nox atra tenet, pavet ipse sacerdos

Accessus, dominumque timet deprendere luci.

LUCAN, lib. iii., ver. 399.

"Not far away, for ages past, had stood

An old inviolated sacred wood:-

The pious worshippers approach not near,

But shun their gods, and kneel with distant fear:

The priest himself, when, or the day or night

Rolling have reached their full meridian height,

Refrains the gloomy paths with wary feet,

Dreading the demon of the grove to meet;

Who, terrible to sight, at that fixed hour

Still treads the round about this dreary bower."

ROWE.

It has been stated among the heathens that the gods should be

worshipped at all times, but the demons should be worshipped at

midday: probably because these demons, having been employed

during the night, required rest at noonday and that was the most

proper time to appease them. See Calmet on this place. Both the

Vulgate and Septuagint seem to have reference to this

superstition.

The Syriac understands the passage of a pestilential wind, that

blows at noonday. Aquila translates, of the bite of the noonday

demon.

Verse 7. A thousand shall fall at thy side] Calmet thinks this

place should be translated thus: "A thousand enemies may fall upon

thee on one side, and ten thousand may fall upon thee on thy right

hand: but they shall not come nigh thee to take away thy life." It

is a promise of perfect protection, and the utmost safety.

Verse 8. The reward of the wicked.] Thou shalt not only be safe

thyself, but thou shalt see all thy enemies discomfited and cast

down.

Verse 9. Because thou hast made the Lord] Seeing thou hast taken

Jehovah, the Most High, for thy portion and thy refuge, no evil

shall come nigh thy dwelling; thou shalt be safe in thy soul,

body, household, and property, Ps 91:10. Every pious man may

expect such protection from his God and Father.

Verse 11. He shall give his angels charge over thee] Evil

spirits may attempt to injure thee; but they shall not be able.

The angels of God shall have an especial charge to accompany,

defend, and preserve thee; and against their power, the influence

of evil spirits cannot prevail. These will, when necessary, turn

thy steps out of the way of danger; ward it off when it comes in

thy ordinary path; suggest to thy mind prudent counsels,

profitable designs, and pious purposes; and thus minister to thee

as a child of God, and an heir of salvation.

To keep thee in all thy ways.] The path of duty is the way of

safety. Thou canst not reasonably expect protection if thou walk

not in the way of obedience. Thy ways are the paths of duty, which

God's word and providence have marked out for thee. The way of sin

is not thy way-thy duty, thy interest. Keep in thy own ways,

not in those of sin, Satan, the world, and the flesh; and God

will take care of thee.

Verse 12. They shall bear thee up in their hands] Take the same

care of thee as a nurse does of a weak and tender child; lead

thee,-teach thee to walk,-lift thee up out of the way of danger,

"lest thou shouldst dash thy foot against a stone," receive any

kind of injury, or be prevented from pursuing thy path with safety

and comfort.

Let us remember that it is GOD, whose these angels are; HE gives

them charge-from HIM they receive their commission,-to HIM they

are responsible for their charge. From God thou art to expect

them; and for their help he alone is to receive the praise. It is

expressly said, He shall give his angels charge; to show that they

are not to be prayed to nor praised; but GOD alone, whose

servants they are. See Clarke on Mt 4:6.

Verse 13. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder] Even the

king of the forest shall not be able to injure thee; should one of

these attack thee, the angels whom God sends will give thee an

easy victory over him. And even the asp, ( pethen,) one of the

most venomous of serpents, shall not be able to injure thee.

The asp is a very small serpent, and peculiar to Egypt and

Libya. Its poison kills without the possibility of a remedy. Those

who are bitten by it die in about from three to eight hours; and

it is said they die by sleep, without any kind of pain. Lord Bacon

says the asp is less painful than all the other instruments of

death. He supposes it to have an affinity to opium, but to be less

disagreeable in its operation. It was probably an this account

that Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, chose to die by the asp, as she

was determined to prevent the designs of Augustus, who intended to

have carried her captive to Rome to grace his triumph.

The dragon shalt thou trample] The tannin, which we

translate dragon, means often any large aquatic animal; and

perhaps here the crocodile or alligator.

Verse 14. Because he hath set his love upon me] Here the Most

High is introduced as confirming the word of his servant. He has

fixed his love-his heart and soul, on me.

Therefore will I deliver him] I will save him in all troubles,

temptations, and evils of every kind.

I will set him on high] I will place him out of the reach of all

his enemies. I will honour and ennoble him, because he hath known

my name-because he has loved, honoured, and served me, and

rendered me that worship which is my due. He has known me to be

the God of infinite mercy and love.

Verse 15. He shall call upon me] He must continue to pray; all

his blessings must come in this way; when he calls, I will answer

him-I will give him whatever is best for him.

I will be with him in trouble] Literally, I am with him.

immo anochi; as soon as the trouble comes, I are there.

I will deliver him] For his good I may permit him to be

exercised for a time, but delivered he shall be.

And honour him] acabbedehu, "I will glorify him." I

will load him with honour; that honour that comes from God. I will

even show to men how highly I prize such.

Verse 16. With long life] Literally, With length of days will I

fill him up. He shall neither live a useless life, nor die before

his time. He shall live happy and die happy.

And show him my salvation.] vearehu bishuathi,

"I will make him see (or contemplate) in my salvation." He shall

discover infinite lengths, breadths, depths, and heights, in my

salvation. He shall feel boundless desires, and shall discover

that I have provided boundless gratifications for them. He shall

dwell in my glory, and throughout eternity increase in his

resemblance to and enjoyment of me. Thus shall it be done to the

man whom the Lord delighteth to honour; and he delights to honour

that man who places his love on him. In a word, he shall have a

long life in this world, and an eternity of blessedness in the

world to come.

ANALYSIS OF THE NINETY-FIRST PSALM

The full intent and purpose of this Psalm is to encourage and

exhort the godly in all extremities, pressures, troubles,

temptations, afflictions, assaults, inward or outward; in a word,

in all dangers to put their trust and confidence in God, and to

rely upon his protection.

There are two parts in this Psalm:-

I. A general proposition, in which is given an assurance of help

and protection to every godly man, Ps 91:1: "He that dwelleth,"

&c.

II. The proof of this by three witnesses:-

1. Of the just man, in whose person the psalmist speaks,

Ps 91:2: "I will say of the Lord," &c.

2. Of the prophet, Ps 91:3: "Surely he shall deliver thee from

the snare," &c.; which he amplifies by an enumeration of the

dangers, God's assistance, and the angels' protection,

Ps 91:3-14.

3. Of God himself, whom he brings in speaking to the same

purpose, Ps 91:14-16.

I. The first part or verse is a universal proposition, in which

is contained a comfortable and excellent promise made by the Holy

Ghost of security, viz., that God's help shall never be wanting to

those who truly put their hope and trust in him: "He that dwelleth

in the secret place of the Most High shall abide (or lodge) under

the shadow of the Almighty."

1. He,-be he who he will, rich or poor; king or people, God is

no respecter of persons.

2. "That dwells." For that he must be sure to do, constantly,

daily, firmly, rest and acquiesce in God, to persevere in the

faith of his promise, and carry that about him, else he cannot be

assured by this promise.

3. "In the secret place." For his aid and defence is not as some

strong-hold or castle which is visible; it is a secret and

invisible fortress, known only to a faithful soul. In that he may

repose his hope, as a means and secondary defence; but he dwells,

relies, rests in that help of God which is secret, and is not seen

except by the eye of faith.

4. "Of the Most High." And upon this he relies, because he is

the Most High. Above he is, and sees all; nothing is hid from him.

And again, above he is, sits in the highest throne, and rules all.

All things are under his feet; he can therefore deliver his people

from all troubles and dangers. Yea, he will do it for this

faithful man; he that relies and trusts in him shall never be

frustrated of his hope; protected he shall be; he shall be safe.

1. "He dwells, therefore he shall abide." He shall lodge

quietly-securely. 2. "He dwells in the secret place, therefore he

shall abide under the shadow." In the cool, the favour, the cover

from the heat. 3. "He dwelleth in the secret place of the Most

High, therefore he shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty;"

i.e., of the all-powerful God, of the God of heaven; of that God

whose name is Shaddai, All-sufficient; by which name he made his

promise to Abraham, Ge 17:1.

II. This proposition being most certainly true, in the next

place the psalmist explains it. And that no man may doubt of it,

descends to prove it by three witnesses: first, of a just man;

secondly, of the prophet; thirdly, of God himself.

He brings in the just man thus speaking in his own person: "I

will say unto the Lord, He is my refuge, my fortress my God; in

him will I trust." Is it so? "Shall he that dwells in the secret

of the Most High, abide under the shadow of the Almighty?"

Therefore I will say, in the person of all just men, to the Lord,

that hath no superior, that hath no peer; to that Lord to whose

command all things are subject, and who can be commanded by none;

I will say to him,-

1. "Thou art my refuge." If pursued, I will flee to thee as a

sanctuary.

2. "Thou art my fortress." If set upon, I will betake myself to

thee as a strong tower.

3. "Thou art my God." If assaulted by men or devils, thou, the

Most High; thou, Almighty, art a God able to defend me, and

therefore "I will hope in thee;" I will dwell, trust, rely upon

thee and this thy promise, in every temptation and danger.

Next, to assert the truth of this, he brings in the attestation

of the prophet; for, being moved by the Holy Ghost, he saith as

much, "Surely he shall deliver thee;" and then falls upon the

particulars, from which the godly man shall be delivered, set down

in many metaphors.

1. "He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler;" the

deceits of evil men or devils.

2. "From the noisome pestilence," all danger to which we are

incident, by plague, war, or famine.

Again, when thou art little in thine own eyes,-

1. "He shall cover thee," as the hen does her young, "with his

feathers; and under his wings shalt thou trust," secured from the

rain, the storm, the heat of the sun, and the birds of prey.

2. When thou art grown up, and able to encounter an enemy in the

field, he shall help thee to a shield and buckler, and that shall

be his truth, his veracity, thy faith in it; and which is yet

more,-

Thou shalt not be afraid,-

1. "For the terror by night;" any hidden secret temptation,

danger, treachery, detraction, conspiracy.

2. "Nor for the arrow that flies by day;" any open persecution,

calamity, fraud, assault, invasion.

3. "Nor for the pestilence that walks in darkness;" the

machinations of wicked men hatched in the dark.

4. "Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon-day;" the bold

threats and decrees of tyrants and persecutors.

Moller observes rightly that the promises of deliverance here

made do not belong to one or other kind of evil, but to all kinds

of calamities, open or secret, and so may be applicable to any;

some of which steal upon us, as in the night secretly; others

overwhelm as in the day, openly. But the promise is general, as

Bellarmine well observes; whether the danger come by day or night,

those who trust in God are armed with his shield of truth against

it. "For if God be for us, who can be against us?" Ro 8:31

The prophet goes on, and confirms the godly in their security by

the dissimilarity or unlike condition of wicked men. When thou

shalt be safe, they shall fall.

1. "A thousand shall fall at thy side, on thy left hand,"

overcome by adversity.

2. "Ten thousand on thy right hand," flattered into sin by

prosperity. "But neither the fear by night, nor the arrow by day,

shall come nigh thee."

3. And, which is another cause of comfort and pleasure: "Only

with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and see the reward of the

wicked;" which sometimes falls out in this life, as the Israelites

saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore; Moses and Aaron saw

Dathan and Abiram swallowed up quick, &c. But it shall be amply

fulfilled at the last judgment, Mt 25:31-46. Of which security,

comfort, content, the prophet in the next verse gives the reason;

the danger shall not come nigh thee; when they fall thou shalt see

it, and consider it with content. "Because thou hast made the

Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation;"

thou trustest in him as I do; and therefore shalt have the like

protection, deliverance, comfort, that I by his promise have.

Farther, "there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any

plague come nigh thy dwelling." But the just man may say, I am

secure that no evil shall befall me; I desire to know how I may be

kept so, that I fall not among thieves. This objection the prophet

prevents, saying, in effect, Fear not, "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."

In which verses consider,-

1. That the good man is protected by angels; many angels have a

care of one poor man.

2. That they are commanded by God to do it; for are not they

ministering spirits sent by God to that end? Heb 1:14.

3. That it is a particular administration, a charge given to the

poorest, the meanest saint.

4. That they are to keep, to look to, defend thee, and what is

thine; thou hast an invisible guard.

5. But then mark the limitation and restriction; it is in "all

thy ways," in the walk of thy vocation to which God hath called

thee; either walk in them, or the angels have no charge to keep

thee.

6. Lastly, "In all thy ways;" not in one but all; for the ways

of men are many, and in all he needs the custody of angels: 1. The

law is a way, and the way of the law is manifold. 2. Our works and

operations are manifold; which are our way too. 3. Our life is a

way, and there be many parts and conditions of our life, various

ages, manifold states; and in all these ways we need a guardian,

for we may slip in every law, in every operation, in every age, in

every state of life.

Which that it be not done, God hath given his angels charge over

us: to keep us only; nay, which is more,-

1. "They shall bear thee," as kind mothers and nurses do their

children.

2. "They shall bear thee in their hands;" the will,

understanding, wisdom, and power are, as it were, the angels'

hand; with all these they will bear us.

3. "That thou dash not thy foot;" that is, thy affections, which

carry the soul to good or bad.

4. "Against a stone;" which are all difficulties and obstacles.

And, which is yet more, under their custody we shall tread under

foot Satan, and all his accomplices; him, a roaring lion, an old

serpent, a fierce dragon, and all his associates, tyrants,

persecutors, and hypocrites; for such is the promise; "Thou shalt

tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and dragon shalt

thou trample under feet."

5. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word

stand, saith God;" and here we find the law strictly observed: it

was to be proved, that all who truly trust in God were to be

protected by God; of which; one witness was the just man,

Ps 91:2; another, the testimony of the Spirit by the

prophet, from verse 3 to this verse; Ps 91:3-16 to which a

third, we have here even GOD himself; for in these three last

verses the prophet brings Him, God himself, testifying this great

and comfortable truth with his own mouth:-

1. "Because he hath set his love upon me," pleased me, loved me,

adhered to me, hoped in me, trusted to me with a filial love and

adherence.

2. "Because he hath known my name," acknowledged my power,

wisdom, goodness; these are the causes and conditions presupposed

in the protected.

3. "He shall call upon me." Invocation is necessary also.

"Therefore I will deliver him, I will answer him, I will be with

him in trouble, I will honour him. I will glorify him, or set him

on high;" and the second, "I will deliver him; with long life will

I satisfy him, and show him my salvation."

1. "I will deliver him," by the shield, by my angels, by other

ways, directly or indirectly, yet so that it be remembered that I

do it; for these shall not deliver without me.

2. "I will answer him;" answer his desires, answer his prayers,

so they be cries.

3. "I will be with him in trouble;" join myself close to him, go

into prison with him as it were, suffer with him, and think myself

pursued when he is persecuted, give him comfort even then; they

sung in prison; he neither delivers the martyrs from death, nor

does he forsake them.

4. "I will honour him:" for the names of those who suffered for

his sake are honourable; "precious in the sight of the Lord is the

death of his saints."

These promises may belong to this life; those that follow to the

other.

1. "I will deliver him." For the just by death are freed from

the present and all future miseries: "Blessed are the dead, for

they rest from their labours."

2. "I will glorify him." As if it were not enough to deliver

him; such a thing in this life may fall out, as it happened to

Joseph, Job, David, Daniel; but the true glory no question must

be, "when the righteous shall shine like the sun, be set upon

their thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel."

3. "With long life will I satisfy him," i.e., with eternal

felicity, with a continuance in bliss, which shall be eternal; for

without eternity, even length of days cannot satisfy; as appears

by old men, who yet have complained of a short life.

4. And that the prophet speaks of this eternal felicity is more

than probable, because he adds, "I will show him my salvation;" I

will show him Jesus, my salvation; that is, I will bring to pass,

that when through his whole life I have given him sufficient

evidences of my fatherly affection, I will at last translate him

to a place where he shall no longer live by faith, but shall see,

and experimentally feel, what he hath believed.

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