Psalm 91 Will God always protect us from evil?

This very well known psalm is often used to claim protection from evil things happening against us. It most certainly teaches this, but there are qualifications that need to be made.

First, there is the qualification of who can claim this protection. It is the one who “dwells in the shelter of the Most High.” This refers to the person who looks to the Lord as a “refuge and fortress” It is “trusting in God” as v. 2 makes clear. The idea of “dwelling” is repeated again in v 9. “Refuge” also communicates a continual trust in God’s protection. Verse 9 explicitly says that it is “because you have made the Lord your dwelling place” that “no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

“Dwelling in the Lord” communicates to me an idea of continual trust, but more than that. It is living in a way that everything we do is related in the proper way to God and his presence with us. It is seeing every aspect of our life with respect to God. Given the greatness and glory of God, his reality should be the primary influence on everything that we think, say and do.

The idea of “dwelling” is further described in vs. 14-15. It is a “holding fast to God in love.” There again is an idea of continual trusting, but with the added quality of “love” which shows that the person sees and delights in the greatness and glory of God. Another “because” is given in v. 14 : It is “because he knows my name.” To know the name of God is to know what he is like–his character.

The second qualification that needs to be made with regard to the promise of protection and deliverance is that it is not a promise of unconditional immunity to anything evil. It is instructive that the devil quoted verses 11-13 when he tempted Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple. God is not promising here that we can always cheat death because of our relationship with him.

I think one of the wrong assumptions that we often bring to passages like this is that these evil things that are happening are outside of God’s will. We see them as negative attacks on God’s people that God does not design and that he thus protects us from. Seen in this light, how could we escape the conclusion that God constantly fails us? How many Christians have suffered innocently? How many have died young (v. 16)?

But when we look at the promise here through the lens of God’s meticulous providence which decrees all that happens, we see them differently. To me, the key phrase to understand what the psalm is promising is v. 8. “You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.” These bad things that are described here are evil things that are coming from God’s enemies (someone has to shoot the arrows in v. 5!), BUT they are also God’s just recompense of the wicked. God is promising that the one who dwells in him will not be punished in judgments like the ones described here.

The deliverance promised is ultimately a spiritual deliverance. Very often, God delivers us here and now from physical dangers such as the ones mentioned in the psalm. But we have to apply what I call “the Betsy Ten Boom test”. Was God unfaithful to this precious saint who lost her life in the Nazi concentration camp? Was he unfaithful to his promise to “satisfy Betsy with long life” (v. 16)? No, Betsy had eternal life and triumphed fearlessly (see v. 5, “you will not fear…”) over the evil that she walked through.

So, yes, we can use Psalm 91 to ask our loving Father for protection from all kinds of evil, but we must understand that his deliverance is ultimately a spiritual deliverance. He brings us through “many trials and tribulations” (John 16.33, 1 Peter 1:6-7


Numbers 11.10-15 A perfect Savior foreshadowed

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

Compare Moses’ attitude with that of Christ our sin bearer. Moses was unable, as a sinful human being, to carry the weight of the sin of the people. They were a “burden” in verse 12. But Christ is able to “carry all this people alone.” Jesus will never tire of “carrying me in his bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child.” Whereas Moses wanted to be killed rather than deal with the sinful people, Jesus was willing to be killed in order to save his sinful people.

On this Good Friday, when we remember the sacrifice our perfect Savior made for us, let the contrast of this imperfect savior in Numbers remind us of the glory of Christ, who bore the burden of our sin in his Body on Calvary!


John 11.35 Why did Jesus weep?

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”  38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

John 11.32-38

Why did Jesus weep in John 11.35? I don’t think anyone can give a conclusive answer to this question, but here are some observations:

  1. Jesus has not yet come to the tomb when he weeps, because v. 38 says, “then Jesus… came to the tomb…” This implies that it is not the fact that Lazarus is dead and gone that he is weeping. Besides, he knows that he is going to raise him (he hints at it in v. 15). This is the most obvious thing to me to indicate that these are not tears of grief over death that parallel Mary’s tears. I just don’t see how that could be Jesus’ emotion when he knows that Lazarus is about to be resurrected.
  2. It is when Jesus sees Mary weeping (v. 33) along with the Jews who are with her, that he is “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” This is the stated context of his weeping and offers the most help in discerning the cause of his tears. However, the fact that the word “deeply moved” can also mean “indignant” makes it difficult to pin down exactly what emotional state this word is referring to.
  3. The fact that the Jews say “see how he loved him” could be showing the reason for his tears, but it is also possible that John is indicating a misunderstanding of Jesus’ tears.
  4. Everything Jesus says and does in this chapter shows that he is focused on the far more important eternal spiritual realities of life and death (see my other posts on John 11)

Based on the above (especially #1), I think it is safe to conclude that Jesus is NOT weeping because of grief over Lazarus’ death.

It is slightly more likely that he is weeping out of sympathy for the grief of Mary and the Jews weeping with her. This is a reason often stated at funerals–that Jesus sympathizes with our grief and that he is with us in our sorrows. Let me say that this is TRUE! Jesus does sympathize with us and knows our grief and is with us in it.

But because of #4 above, I think this still misses the mark. As I said at the beginning here, I don’t think we can say anything conclusively, but it seems warranted to me to say that Jesus is in a troubled emotional state (perhaps “indignant” is the right word?) that brings him even to tears because of the spiritual state of the people around him. It is spiritual death that leads to physical death, and the grief of Mary and the Jews is a vivid demonstration to Jesus of the reality of sinful mankind’s need for spiritual resurrection.

These verses show Jesus’ humanity so clearly. We see him experiencing one of the strongest of human emotions, even attended by tears. But while this is a very human emotional response, I believe that Jesus is feeling it for very different reasons from those around him. He is moved not just by the physical separation of death, but by the spiritual death that is its cause.

Grief that is caused by the spiritual death that surrounds us is something that will often come over Christians in this world. I have experienced something very much like what Jesus demonstrates here while I was attending a funeral for a non-believer that was led by his atheist father, who obviously had no real hope, and who could therefore offer no real hope to those who had come to be with him in his time of grief. As I watched the pall-bearers, who were all wearing black t-shirts with heavy metal bands featured on them, complete with pictures of demons and death, it filled me with grief and indignation that this was unfolding without any announcement or public demonstration of the hope of the gospel.

I think this is what Jesus is experiencing here. He sees the ravages of sin and its resultant death, and he doesn’t see any indication in the people around him of a true belief in him as the resurrection and the life. Therefore when he says in v. 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” he doesn’t just mean that they would see God’s glory manifested in the physical resurrection of Lazarus, but he also means that if they would believe, they would be spiritually resurrected themselves.

All this is not to say that Mary is unregenerate or an unbeliever, but she is acting here in the flesh. Her words, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” are not the way a believer appropriately responds to the death of a loved one. They are an accusation that Jesus has not done what he should have done. Contrasted with this is what I have heard at many Christian funerals through the years–declarations of confidence that death is not victorious and that God has promoted that Christian loved one to glory and that the promise of resurrection is certain because that one who has believed in Jesus will never die!

A further reflection is that this spiritual grief over spiritual deadness and unbelief is something that I can even feel for myself! My “new self” (Eph. 4.24) grieves over the unbelief that is present in my flesh–the “old self” (Eph. 4.22)

Jesus’ tears are a reminder to see the world around us as it really is; to grieve over its lostness and unbelief. But praise God that John 11 doesn’t end with v. 35. Jesus goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead–a picture of the authority that Jesus has to raise those who believe in him from spiritual death to a new and never-ending life!