God’s Presence in the Trial: Psalm 91


Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 91 (NIV)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

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.

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 on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

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This is a psalm about God’s protection over us in times of trial. Psalm 91 provides a very important corrective to contemporary misunderstandings about what it means to trust God. This psalm clearly indicates that God both delivers us out of trials as well as protects us in the midst of trials. Being a Christian does not exempt us from difficulties. God does not promise us that we will never experience tribulations. The promise is that even in the midst of trials, he is our guide and strength. In this psalm, the arrows still fly at us, the deadly pestilence still stalks us, enemies still seek our defeat (vv. 5–7), but through it all, God is our deliverer. The Lord says, “I will be with him in trouble” (v. 15). It does not say that he always delivers us out of every trouble.

This distinction is even more powerful when we remember that this is the psalm Satan quoted (vv. 11–12) when he tempted Christ at the inauguration of his public ministry. Jesus was standing at the pinnacle of the temple and was challenged by Satan to jump off on the basis of this text. It is the only place in the New Testament where Satan actually quotes Scripture. However, like many who read Psalm 91 today, Satan took the verse out of its larger context. He tried to make a broad principle a legalistic equation, or a leverage we can use to test God. Broad principles are not magic formulas or legalistic tests. Jesus responded by quoting a verse from Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7; Luke 4:12). This is the passage that led earlier Christians to establish an important rule of thumb in interpreting difficult or unclear passages of Scripture. The rule is, Scripture interprets Scripture. This means that difficult passages are made clear by clear passages, and we should bring the whole of biblical teaching to bear when we consider possible interpretations of a given passage. Jesus modeled this by showing that Deuteronomy 6:16 made Satan’s interpretation of Psalm 91:11–12 untenable.

For the Christian, we need to remember that if we examine the whole of biblical teaching regarding God’s protection, we find that God’s full and final promise of deliverance and protection is only seen in the light of final judgment revealed at the end of the ages. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Only when all his enemies are placed under his feet do we experience the full deliverance that God has promised.


Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.