We come now to psalm 91, one of the most beloved in the whole psalter, and for good reason. It is a beautiful psalm of reassurance, of close and intimate trust in God’s loving purposes for us. And yet it is also a psalm that we must handle with the greatest care. Why? Because we know that this is the very psalm that Satan used to tempt Jesus! Our enemy took those beautiful verses:
For he shall give his angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
And suggested to Jesus that he could therefore throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple and God would be sure to catch him! And the deeper temptation of course was to put God to the test, to destroy the intimate and trusting relationship he had with his Father by setting little tests and traps. So Jesus rightly replies, not just for himself but for all of us: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. I see that during the course of this pandemic Satan has been trying out the very same temptation with the very same psalm, and sadly some Christians have succumbed. ‘You don’t need a mask or a vaccine’, the tempter says, this time, ‘Look you’ve got psalm 91! Go ahead and throw yourself into the path of the pandemic unprotected, and even likely to infect others, and see, God will look after you because you are a special ‘super Christian”. But Jesus as has told us already not to abuse this psalm, for its deepest message is not about some temporary shield from earthly suffering, no Christian is promised that, but a much deeper assurance that God will be with us through every trial and suffering, and that in the end he will give us the thing we need most, and which no one can take away, which is salvation itself! And so the psalm ends:
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and bring him to honour.
With long life will I satisfy him: and shew him my salvation.
So my poetic response to this psalm focuses on that central promise and the deep comfort it brings through any and every trial.
As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.
He shares our grief and wipes away our tears
And even in this life he shelters us
Beneath the shadow of his wings. Our fears
And hopes are known to him. His faithfulness
Will be our shield and buckler. We can trust
His constancy and know he will be with us;
With us through the best and through the worst.
I may be threatened by the passing harm
Of outward pestilence, but still I trust
He gives his angels charge, and with his arm
He shelters and embraces me. No power
Can separate me from his love. His Name
Is my protection and delight. I pour
My heart and soul to him in songs and psalms,
And he will bring me through my darkest hour.
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