Raymond was reading from Psalm 90, and I want us to turn to Psalm 91. I want us to look at this Psalm in great depth today, because I believe that the Lord has laid it upon my heart to share with you. Psalm 91, we'll read the whole Psalm together. Verse 1: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. 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. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation".
We all know the little rhyme: 'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me'. A simple statement that we all know so well, yet behind it is a profound philosophy. You know that the sticks and the stones may touch you, they may cut your flesh, they may do all sorts of pain and bruising to your body - but you know that if people call you names that there's a choice of whether to listen to them or not, whether to let them affect you or penetrate your heart and hurt you. In a way that statement is an expression of how we can be in the very midst of trouble, yet not let that same trouble touch us or harm us. It is the ability to sing in the midst of the waves and the billows: 'It is well with my soul'.
A. Leonard Griffiths entitled a sermon on verse 6 of this Psalm: 'A Gospel for the Middle-aged'. Now we have a lot of middle-aged - I have to watch what I say, but we have a lot of older folk (well, there we go, I've put my foot in it already!). We have a lot of senior people within the assembly here, and folks in their middle-age, and you find that there are many pressures and trials and tribulations that enter into life at that stage - that's why he titled it: 'A Gospel for the Middle-aged'. When crises enter into life, and we all find that, and we also find - and I have found in my short time in pastoral ministry - that many who are vocal in their faith, when the times of trouble enter in they become shattered and disillusioned as to what is happening to them. As the hymn says: 'Will your anchor hold when the storms of life come in, when the clouds unfold their winds of strife'?
I believe that within the word of God, one of the greatest ways that God has of revealing Himself - apart from the word of God - to a world that is dying, and in sin, and lost, is the testimony and the witness of believers when they enter into trouble in life. When they come into suffering: how we cope - or do not cope - within it. The question that is posed to us by the Spirit of God, by the Psalmist here in 91, is: how do you behave when trouble hits your life? Do you cope? Do you go to pieces or do you go to God? The question that we could ask today is: is there a way of surviving life here in our century? Troubled life, perplexed, stressful, anxious, with all the threats that are on our body and soul, is there a way that God has given us that we might survive without a scratch?
Now the setting of this Psalm is interesting, because we don't really know what it is. One thing we do know is that the Psalmist is describing the ongoing sovereign protection of God's people - that God is ever protecting them in all dangers and terrors which surround them day by day. Literally the Psalm will be fulfilled in the Messianic kingdom, and we see that in Psalms 96 through to 100, it depicts prophetically what will happen upon the earth here when the lion shall lie down with the lamb. But the original setting of the Psalm is unknown, some people think David wrote the Psalm and it's in connection to 2 Samuel 24 - you remember where David took a census of the people, and God had not led him to do such, and because he did it God sent famine to the land - some believe that this Psalm is David talking about how God would relieve the famine. I don't believe that because there's not a note of repentance within the Psalm, and you would imagine that if David was being cursed by God with famine for his sin that there would be an air of repentance within these verses, but there is not. The song is how, as we go through the trouble, God is with us and God will bring us through it.
Some believe that Moses wrote the Psalm, because Psalm 90 - a prayer of Moses that we've already heard this morning - is the Psalm before it. Some believe that Moses is talking about Joshua and Caleb as they went into the promised land - those who, the word of God says, followed the Lord fully - and as a reward for their faith, and their abiding and dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, God let them live amongst the dead, amid their graves. Well, I don't know what the context of the Psalm is, but I know this: that perhaps the very fact that it is undefined and we're not sure what the historic context is, is perhaps a way that the Holy Spirit is able to apply it to your life and mine. In other words, because it's undefined we can apply these dangers to the dangers that we face, these trials to the trials that we have, and we can therefore in turn choose to abide in God, and to trust in God, as these saints did. No matter what befalls us, God is saying: 'I will protect you. I will be with you'.
In other words, it doesn't mean that you will not go through trouble - for man is born into this world, as Job says, as the sparks fly upward man is born unto trouble. But the point of the Psalm is this: that when we go through trouble, God is with us if we abide in Him. The proposition of the Psalm is this: abide in God, verse 1, dwell in God, dwell in the secret place, abide under His shadow, trust in God, live in God, make God your habitation and nothing will harm you - He is the safest place.
I've entitled my message this morning: 'The Only Safe Place To Be'. The old spiritual said: 'Where could I go, where could I go, seeking a refuge for my soul'. Let's hear what the Psalmist tells us, the first thing he tells us is a question, I believe: how do we know God's protection? How can we know God's protection from this Psalm? Now, I want you to look at verses 1 to 4. The first way we know God's protection is verse 1: 'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty'. This is the first way to know God's protection: dwelling on God's character - now note that - dwelling on God's character.
Now in verses 1 to 3, if you look at it, God's character is displayed in His names. Look at the first verse: 'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High' - in Hebrew, 'Elyon', meaning 'the possessor of the heaven and the earth' - the God who is over all things that are. Then we read on: '[We] shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty' - Hebrew, 'Shaddai', it's not the Almighty great in strength, but the Almighty who is great in grace, the God who is bountiful in all our needs, that we shall not need or shall not want or lack because of El-Shaddai. It's the title of God used in Genesis 17 verse 1 when God called Abraham out of his old land, to separate from it and follow Him - he didn't know where he was going, he didn't know what he was going to do, he didn't know how God was going to provide - God called him out as the Almighty God, the God who would provide.
In 2 Corinthians 6 and verse 18 that call is given to the church: 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord', and what does He say? 'And I will be a Father to you, and I will be your God - the Lord God Almighty, the God who will provide'. He is the Most High, He is the Almighty, and in verse 2: 'I will say of the LORD' - L-O-R-D, capital 'L', capital 'O', capital 'R', capital 'D'. When you find that, it is the name 'Yahweh', or 'Jehovah', the covenant keeping God, the eternal unchangeable I AM - the One who was, is, and ever shall be. Then finally: 'He is my fortress and my God' - Elohim, in the beginning God, Elohim, the Creator God, created the heavens and the earth.
Do you see what the Psalmist is doing? If you're going to be protected in life, you're going to have to dwell on God's character - the Most High God who is above all things, the Almighty God who is great in grace and will always provide our need, the Lord the eternal God, the covenant keeping God, the Creator God, Elohim. He is the Most High, and isn't it interesting that in a Psalm, in the context of troubles, we are told to focus on a transcendent God - in other words a God that lifts us most high. He lifts us above these problems to a place where harm cannot reach you. For if you're dwelling in God, you're dwelling in the One who is high above all things and high above your troubles. If you're dwelling under His shadow - and remember that Palestine was a land of great heat, where the sun bore down upon the people and burnt them day by day as they worked in the fields, and to be in the shadow was a metaphor for care and protection from all harm. [Psalm] 121: 'The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand' - God's name is what we ought to dwell in.
We've been looking at His attributes in weeks gone by - but, you know, do we dwell in them? Do we rest upon them? You know, God's names are to create faith in us, to create a confidence in Him - and they ought to lead us, as the Psalmist says in verse 1, to dwell, literally to sit down underneath this great God. It's the opposite of Psalm 1, those who sit in the seat of the scornful, this is sitting in God's seat, sitting under God's shadow, dwelling in His presence, and abiding underneath Him. It's a life of communion with God, a life of security, protection in God - literally to be at home in God! Are you at home in God? Are you dwelling in God? Matthew Henry put it like this: 'This is the man who returns to God, who rests in God, who worships within the veil, who loves to be alone with God - and nothing, nothing, comes between this man and God, and God will come between that man and harm'.
Within the word of God there is a city of refuge that we find in Numbers chapter 25. We haven't time to go into it, but the man-slayer, the innocent man-slayer, could run to that place. Once he got into the walls of that city of refuge no-one could touch him, no-one could harm him, he was absolutely safe - but he was only safe if he didn't move within 1000 yards from the circumference of that city. If he moved out of the city he was vulnerable. Now I want you to notice that this Psalm is not a carte blanc protection of all God's children - it is not! It is consequential upon the abiding of the child of God in God. You must abide, otherwise you will not be protected. But isn't it wonderful to know that, if we abide and dwell in the character of God, we can say like the Psalmist: 'Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man, Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues'. Hebrews 6: 'That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us'. God is our refuge! Oh that we would lay hold upon the Almighty, Elyon, Shaddai, Jehovah, Elohim! Dwelling on God's character.
In verse 2 and 3 it's beautiful because, if you look at it, it says: 'I will say of the Lord', and then in verse 3 it says, 'Surely he shall deliver thee' - do you see the transition from the Psalmist's experience to your experience? This isn't some guy writing thousands of years ago about an experience that he had and you can't have! He's saying the God that protected me - this great God, the Almighty God, the Most High, the Lord, the God of heaven and earth who created all things - you can know His protection too. Verse 3: 'He can protect you from the snare of the fowler' - a picture of birds that have been trapped in a snare. He's talking about all the plots of the evil one and this world against the believer - the perilous pestilence, literally the plagues of mischief, specifically dreaded diseases, plagues and epidemics. It's just a metaphor expressive of all types of evil that can befall us - if you're abiding in this God, He will protect you too!
Dwell in God's name, the second thing is this: shelter under God's tenderness. This is beautiful, verse 4: 'He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust' - isn't that beautiful? The picture of a parent bird, or a mother hen, wooing its chicks and putting them in safety underneath her wings. The Psalmist said in 57: 'In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast' - that is sheltering under God's tenderness. Spurgeon said that if an uninspired man had given this designation to God, of being like a mother hen, we would have called it blasphemy, isn't that right? It seems so far removed from what we think of God, but God says this of Himself! 'I am like a mother hen, and I want to woo you in tenderness. I want you to find a shelter under my wings, metaphorically' - God is caring for His own! Symbolically, there may be a reference to the cherubim and the seraphim on top of the Ark of the Covenant in the holiest place of all, the place where God's presence dwells, the secret place of the Most High - that we can abide in the very place of God's presence, underneath the wings of those cherubim!
Verse 4, the word for 'trust' there: 'He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust' - that's a different phrase from the phrase in verse 2 of trust. The phrase in verse 4 means literally 'to hide, to run beneath, to make your refuge in'. Now let me ask you this question: when life becomes bizarre what keeps you? When unpredictable things come upon your path, the troubles that you face, the very thing that you thought would never happen to you, what keeps you? I'll tell you what is the only thing that the word of God says will keep you: your relationship with God! That's it! That is what calms the soul - first of all you need to be saved: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem', the Lord Jesus said, 'thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!'. Salvation! If you're not saved, how can you expect to face the troubles of life? But, child of God, if you're not dwelling on the name of God, the character of God, and if you're not sheltering under the tender wings of God, how can you expect to be safe?
I read an amusing story connected with this verse - maybe you've heard it - about a woman who was meditating on verse 4 here, about these feathers and about the Lord and His wings. She went out to work that morning, and she was walking to work and a gang of fellows came up to her, and she feared the worst. They asked her for any money that she had on her, and she was trying desperately to remember this verse but she couldn't remember it! All she could do was shout: 'Feathers! Feathers! Feathers!' - and they all ran away, probably thinking she was mad! But the truth of this is that that woman grabbed hold and sheltered under God's tenderness. Do you do that?
Picture Elijah, you think of this great man of God - think of him up on Mount Carmel, and you see him battling with the prophets of Baal. The great God of all eternity, and it's His spokesman there - and there that great battle of Carmel, you find great things happening in the spiritual realm. Yet, when you get down the Mount, you find that Elijah runs away from Jezebel, a woman! There he is sitting, weeping, wishing his life would finish, saying: 'I alone am left. Everybody's putting their hands against me. Nobody's encouraging me. I'm the only one holding truth, I'm the only one doing God's will, and I can't take it any more!'. If you came to old Elijah and said: 'Elijah, what did God do for you?', 'Well, He lifted me up and He put me under His wing, and He fed me and He let me sleep upon the downy bed of His tenderness'. Isn't that beautiful?
What about the woman caught in adultery? You ask her her testimony and she says: 'They were after me, they were after my blood! They wanted to sever my flesh with stones of judgement! But I was brought before the Christ of God, and in tenderness He opened his wing and said, 'I don't condemn you, your sins are forgiven you, go in peace'. The tenderness of God that motivates the Psalmist to say: 'Keep me as the apple of thine eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. I will abide in thy tabernacle forever, I will trust in the covert of thy wings'. Beautiful, isn't it?
Thirdly and finally, and this was only the first point of the message, there's another two but we'll go on to them maybe next week! First of all there is dwelling in God's character, secondly there is sheltering under God's tenderness, thirdly there is resting in God's strength. Resting in God's strength, verse 4, the second half: 'His truth shall be thy shield and buckler'. A buckler was a little shield, but the sense of the translation is this: something that is surrounding all, protecting all overhead. Now if you think of the farms, and how they're annoyed continually by foxes - hen farms - and the foxes just come along and bite their head off and away they go. If you were looking at the first half of verse 4, and you saw this hen putting her wing over the chicks, her young, and then a big fox comes along and bites her head off - it's not much good, sure it's not? It doesn't matter how tender her wing is! But what God is saying here is: 'What can penetrate My tenderness will not penetrate My strength'. Do you see it? 'Though something may penetrate My tenderness, it will never get to you through My Almighty strength' - and that's why the Psalmist could say in 35:2, he actually implored God: 'Take hold of your shield and buckler, and stand up for my help'. Isn't that what we've been thinking in Ephesians? To stand in the strength of the Lord.
'His truth', if you look at verse 4, 'His truth shall be thy shield and buckler' - His truth is our strength. It is God's word, we ought to rest upon it, we ought to hide underneath it - and our protection always will be in dwelling in God. Now let me ask you, as we close today - we've much more in this Psalm to study and we'll do it in the weeks that lie ahead - but from verses 1 to 4 can I ask you: are you dwelling on the character of God? Do you want protection from this life? Do you want to be shielded from the nervous disorders that everyone is falling around with among the people of God and among this world? Do you want them not to come near your dwelling? The only way is found in verse 9 and verse 1: Make God your habitation, live in God, dwell on the character of God, shelter underneath God's tender wing and rest in the strength of God's word - and if you do that nothing will touch you!
Will you do it? Will you draw near to God and let Him draw near to you? In doing that, though the sticks and stones of trials of life may touch your flesh, they will never penetrate your soul. As the apostle said: 'Though the outward man perish, the inner will be strengthened day by day'.
Let's bow our heads, and as you do so - none of us are exempt from trials and troubles, take comfort from these words as we pray together: Father, we thank Thee that God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. In other words, Lord, if the carpet is pulled from under us we know that God's Spirit cannot be pulled out of us. Though disease eat our flesh, nothing can eat our soul. Though we forget God in senility, God will not forget us for all eternity. Our Father, help us to dwell, abide, and lodge under Thy shadow, beneath Thy wing, and abide under the truth that is a strong shield. Amen.
Don't miss Part 2 of 'The Only Safe Place': “Getting Through Life”
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'Psalm 91' series, titled "The Only Safe Place" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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