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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

By Bryan Jay

My name is Bryan Jay and I have been teaching the Bible full-time for almost 30 years now. In 1992, I began pastoring a new church in Asheville, North Carolina, and in 1997, I moved with my family to Brazil where we lived and served for many years. Since that time, we have moved on to other places, continuing to teach the Word of God.

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