“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
—Psalm 91:1, New International Version
THE WORDS OF THE psalmist David were directed by God’s Holy Spirit. They record many promises of guidance and comfort for the footstep followers of Christ with whom God would specially deal throughout the present Gospel Age. Viewed from this standpoint, the words of our text testify to God’s divine protection over those whom he has called to be “joint-heirs with Christ.”—Rom. 8:17
Psalm 91 promises many blessings to those who dwell “in the shelter of the Most High.” This place of divine protection cannot be a physical location somewhere on earth because God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 7:48; 17:24) Let us therefore consider what is represented by the “shelter of the Most High” and what we must do in order to reach, and to obtain, all of the associated promises given in this Psalm.
THE HOLY PLACE
Elsewhere in the Psalms we are told of “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Ps. 46:4,5, NIV) In the New Testament we read concerning the fact that Christ Jesus, as a result of his faithfulness unto death as man’s Redeemer, was raised by the mighty power of God to his own “right hand”—that is, to the “holy place” where God dwells. (Heb. 9:24; 10:12; 12:2) A similar, future reward is promised also to Jesus’ faithful footstep followers.—Rom. 2:7; Rev. 2:10; 20:4,6
The psalmist’s reference to the “shelter of the Most High” emphasizes particularly, however, that God’s care and protection of his people is a present blessing and privilege. We believe this is appropriately pictured in the Old Testament by the “Holy” compartment of Israel’s Tabernacle. The Holy symbolizes our present condition of full consecration to God and our individual development as a “new creature” in Christ. (II Cor. 5:17; Heb. 9:1,2,6) As the Scriptures point out, we have been made “partakers of the heavenly calling,” concerning which God has begotten us “with the word of truth.”—Heb. 3:1; James 1:18
The Apostle Peter assures us that we have been made a “holy priesthood” to offer up sacrifices which are “acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. 2:5) We do not offer material things to God such as animals, cakes and wine as did the priests of Israel under the Tabernacle arrangement. Rather, we offer our entire life to God, as Paul urges: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1
Those who are now, symbolically speaking, dwelling in the Holy condition of the Tabernacle, have renounced all human aspirations and hopes. Indeed, entering into this holy relationship with God requires the symbolic death of the human will, and the doing of the Heavenly Father’s will to the best of our ability. Paul states further concerning this lifelong work: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”—vs. 2
DWELLING IN THE SHELTER
To “dwell” in the shelter of the Most High does not signify being close to God only once or twice a week, nor merely when we are having a particularly difficult problem. To dwell means to constantly abide in a mental attitude of closeness to our Heavenly Father. Such a mindset takes time to develop, but by diligent effort it eventually becomes a fixed part of our habit of thought. Thus, whenever any situation arises in our daily life in which we must make a decision or react, we will first think and ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in this particular experience?”
Being in the shelter of our Heavenly Father is a condition which many around us may not understand. Even those closest to us, whether family or even our brethren in Christ, can know only partially about God’s personal watchcare over us. However, the Scriptures indicate that God knows fully our heart and innermost attitude toward him—that which influences the decisions we make and the things which we say and do. (Ps. 44:21; Jer. 9:24) Thus, our attitude of mind is vitally important and is a barometer of our closeness to the Heavenly Father.
Our attitude in life is of very great importance. In the book of Proverbs, we are essentially told, “We are what we think.” (Prov. 23:7) Thus, our complete dedication to do God’s will, as was also true with Jesus, is a very real matter. Consider the example of two people who are having the same circumstances in life, perhaps in terms of a health problem, or some other difficulty. One person might find strength in the realization of God’s overruling providence in the experience. The other person, however, might live in more or less despair, not having the faith to trust God’s care.
Consecration entails much more than merely a one-time act of giving our heart to God. Rather, it is a promise, or vow, which must be kept daily. (Ps. 116:14) Jesus instructed his followers saying, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) To delight in doing God’s will, as Jesus did, we must not only seek to know his will for us, but to fulfill it each day to the best of our ability. Only by mentally renewing our vow of consecration each day can this be accomplished.
Our attitude should be like that which the psalmist expressed, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.” (Ps. 19:14) Such an attitude enables us to have communion with God, and through the power of his Holy Spirit, to search out and know his will and plan. (I Cor. 2:9-14) If we are faithful unto death, we will have the great privilege of sharing with Christ Jesus in God’s great project of restoring all mankind, which will be carried out in the coming Messianic kingdom.
DWELLING CLOSE TO GOD
The psalmist says in our opening verse that those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will find rest “in the shadow of the Almighty.” To be standing in the shadow of someone signifies being very close to that person. Therefore, to abide in the shadow of the Almighty implies living very close to God. There are many mighty ones in the world, and numerous mighty angels. However, here we are told that we have the privilege of dwelling within the shadow of the one Almighty God of the universe. Thus, the opportunity of dwelling close to God is a grand and wonderful favor which we should appreciate each moment of our Christian walk.
Verse 2 of Psalm 91 says, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” Here the word translated “refuge” is from a Hebrew word which elsewhere in the Old Testament is rendered “trust” and “hope.” If we have made the Heavenly Father our refuge, then truly all our trust and hope is placed in him. In the Scriptures we are told, “I have put my trust in the Lord God,” and “The Lord will be the hope of his people.”—Ps. 73:28; Joel 3:16
In Psalm 91:2 the word “fortress” is also used. It is derived from a Hebrew word that is used numerous times when referring to the places, or “strongholds,” where David went for relief from his enemies. (I Sam. 22:4,5; 24:22, NIV) Repeatedly in the Psalms we are promised that God is our “fortress,” a stronghold in whom we can place all our cares, and by whom we can be led and guided, even in the midst of our enemies.—Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 71:3
THE FOWLER’S SNARES
The words of our lesson further state: “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare.” (Ps. 91:3, NIV) We believe, prophetically, it is Jesus who is pictured here speaking, telling his prospective bride, his footstep followers who are being called and developed during the present Gospel Age, what God will do to protect them. The Isaac Leeser translation connects verses 2 and 3 together as one sentence, rendering them as follows: “I will say of the Lord, who is my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I ever trust, that he will surely deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the pestilence of destruction.” Jesus expressed this trust in God, not only for himself, but also for all his consecrated followers, as he indicated in his prayer the night before his death.—John 17:11-15
In olden times, a “fowler” was someone who hunted birds, usually by means of traps, such as with the use of a snare or net. The “fowler’s snare” suggests the various deceptions which Satan uses against individuals who are striving to do God’s will. One of the snares Jesus warned his followers about is that of allowing ourselves to become overburdened with the “cares of this life.” If we allow ourselves to become engrossed with the concerns and worries of present temporal affairs, we can easily be drawn away from the Lord. Jesus admonished his followers to “watch and pray” in order to recognize and avoid this snare.—Luke 21:34-36
Another “snare” which Jesus has alerted us to is the “deceitfulness of riches.” (Mark 4:19) If we have some amount of prosperity or even a desire to achieve prosperity, we might be tempted to place less trust in the Lord and become entangled with the delusionary appeal of earthly riches. Rather, we are admonished by the Master to lay up “treasures in heaven.”—Matt. 6:19-21
A snare which Satan will often try to use consists of temptations which, if yielded to, would lead to the development of pride. Pride can be defined as having a feeling of self-satisfaction from one’s own achievements. It could be pride in something we did, or have come to understand, or perhaps an obstacle we overcame. We must continually remind ourselves that everything we have and can do is of the Father. (I Cor. 4:7; James 1:17) Jesus, who was perfect in every way, said, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28) How much truer is this for us, who are imperfect.
The Adversary also uses the snare of discouragement. We might become discouraged with our perceived lack of progress in the narrow way, or with how we may have responded to various trials and testings in the past. Let us remember, however, the Apostle Paul’s words: “There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work. The capacity we have comes from God.”—II Cor. 3:5, Good News Bible
We note that Psalm 91:3 says we shall be saved from “the fowler’s snare.” However, the required condition for this deliverance is stated in verse 1, that we must dwell in the “shelter of the Most High”—that is, live in full consecration to the Lord. One who has such an unbending determination to do God’s will, cannot be plucked out of the Father’s hand. Along these lines Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them [his disciples] to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”—John 10:29, NIV
Satan changes his methods of attack and deception at various times in order to suit the conditions then present. During the Dark Ages, there were relatively few Bibles and most people were unable to read for themselves. During that time, Satan’s deceptions were relatively simple, using fear, superstition, and darkness to confuse many people regarding our Heavenly Father and his precious promises. However, now, as we approach the end of the present age, the Scriptures indicate that “knowledge shall be increased.” This includes religious knowledge. (Dan. 12:4) Consequently, Satan has had to develop new, stronger delusions in order to deceive the people.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, Jesus prophesied that at the time of his return and subsequent invisible presence, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” (Matt. 24:24, NIV) We believe the Heavenly Father’s truth is our protection against such deceptions. God’s plan, as outlined for us in the many Bible helps which have been made available to the Lord’s people here at the end of the age, assist us in understanding and harmonizing the Scriptures, and help protect us against the various deceptions which the Adversary is bringing forth at this time.
DELIVERED FROM “DEADLY PESTILENCE”
Verse 3 of Psalm 91 continues by stating that God will save us from “the deadly pestilence.” A pestilence is an epidemic or plague which attacks many people, often with great loss of life. Paul warned the brethren about false teachers who are “ruining whole households.” (Tit. 1:11, NIV) Some of the Lord’s people have seen or experienced situations in which a whole group or large number of people have been carried away by some deception, resulting in spiritual sickness or “pestilence.”
Thankfully, in some cases, after perhaps a long time has passed, individuals may be delivered from such a condition because all along they had been dwelling in the shelter of the Most High and had maintained their full consecration to the Lord. By accepting God’s will and following his leadings, they learned valuable lessons and were delivered in God’s own way and time from what might have otherwise been a “deadly pestilence.”
UNDER HIS WINGS
The psalmist continues, saying, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” (Ps. 91:4, NIV) Here we see the closeness of our Heavenly Father to those who are dwelling in the shelter of absolute consecration. It is similar to the way a mother hen protects her chicks from heat, cold, or danger by covering them with her wings. In Old Testament times, a common Hebrew metaphor was that their king would “cover” or “shade” those who were dependent on him, thus giving them protection. (Judg. 9:15) Likewise, we are assured that our Heavenly Father is the protective shelter or “shade” over his people.—Ps. 36:7; 121:5; Isa. 25:4; 51:16
The latter part of verse 4 states, “His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” In ancient times both the shield and the rampart were very important to a soldier, providing defensive protection from the darts, arrows, and other weapons sent by an enemy. The shield was a personal defense, while a rampart was a fortification, or barrier, which provided protection to a large number of soldiers. The Christian’s defense, of course, is not founded upon manmade weapons or defense. Rather, as Paul says, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.”—II Cor. 10:4,5
God’s “faithfulness” mentioned by the psalmist includes the divine promises and truths recorded in the Scriptures. God’s “exceeding great and precious promises” are our protection against the deceptions of the Adversary. (II Pet. 1:4) In addition, Paul urges us, saying, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” (Eph. 6:10-13, NIV) Arming ourselves with these spiritual weapons is absolutely necessary at the present time.
WE NEED NOT FEAR
Verse 5 of Psalm 91 begins, “You will not fear the terror of night.” (NIV) The Bible indicates that at the end of the present age, as the nighttime of trouble in the world increases in severity, “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.” (Luke 21:26, NIV) However, the psalmist promises that those who are dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, having God’s faithfulness and promises as their shield and rampart, will not have such fears because they know that the blessings of Christ’s kingdom will soon be poured out for all mankind.—Rev. 21:1-5
We also need not fear “the arrow that flies by day.” (Ps. 91:5, NIV) In another place we similarly read of such opposition: “They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows.” (Ps. 64:3, NIV) These “deadly arrows” may include the sharp ridicule, slander, or evil-speaking directed toward us because of our faith in God’s promises. Such attacks may sometimes come from sincere, though misguided, religious leaders or their followers. Yet, none of these arrows can hurt those who have God’s faithfulness and promises as their shield and rampart, and who are dwelling in the shelter of the Most High.
“The pestilence that stalks in the darkness,” is another condition which we are not to fear. (Ps. 91:6, NIV) Here we believe the “darkness” includes the God-dishonoring religious teachings which developed during the Dark Ages, many of which continue to be taught in the religious systems of today. By searching the Scriptures, however, and discerning the harmonious light of truth contained therein, we do not dwell in spiritual darkness, nor do we have the fears associated with such false teachings that others may have.
Verse 6 continues, saying, “Nor the plague that destroys at midday.” (NIV) The Bible indicates that the Gospel Age will end with a time of trouble in which all of the present, imperfect human institutions and systems in which people have long placed their trust will be removed. The Apostle Paul speaks of this as a time of great shaking, during which these former systems will be taken away in preparation for God’s kingdom, with Christ as its ruler. “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken … so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” This time of trouble will bring various severe tests, but those having God’s truth as their shield and rampart will not be in fear, because they have placed their trust in “a kingdom that cannot be shaken”—God’s kingdom.—Heb. 12:26-28, NIV
“A thousand shall fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (Ps. 91:7, NIV) Indeed, it is possible for those who have once known the truth of God’s Word to fall from their steadfastness. However, we are given the comforting assurance, “it will not come near you,” if we are dwelling in the shelter of the Most High. Upon the basis of our daily dedication to the doing of God’s will, we will have his continual care and guidance over all of our eternal interests.—Rom. 8:28
GOD IS OUR DWELLING
Later in Psalm 91 we read, “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you.” (vss. 9,10, NIV) What a wonderful promise is here given! God, the Almighty Creator of the universe, is vitally interested in our spiritual development. He tells us, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” (Isa. 49:16) We are always before our Heavenly Father’s face, and he takes a constant, personal interest in our welfare.
Although each of us will continue to have experiences which will test our faith and trust in God, nothing can happen to us which will affect our eternal interests, if we continue to dwell in the shelter of the Most High. If we call upon God, he gives us this promise: “I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”—Ps. 91:15, NIV
Let us each continue to dwell and rest in the shadow of the Most High, placing all our hope and trust in God’s faithfulness, and in his sure promises. “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.”—Ps. 15:1-5, NIV