Psalm 91 bursts with assurances about the protection of God—replete with words like shelter, refuge, fortress, shield, deliver, rescue, and satisfy. At this time of global pandemic with the novel coronavirus COVID-19, this Psalm speaks God’s power, presence, intentions, and protection against fear. Described as a covering for His people, God’s comfort is a wing of security amidst this world’s uncertainties and suffering.
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Will God Protect Us from Pestilence?
Psalm 91 was used by Satan to tempt Jesus in the desert (see Matthew 4:5-7). The Devil said that surely Jesus could place Himself in the way of harm in order to demonstrate the rescuing power of God. But Satan misused God’s Word, removing it from the context of the whole and unity of Scripture. Jesus, honoring Scripture, responded that God is not to be put to the test. Careless behavior is not condoned by God—and neither is misuse of Scripture.
Learning from Jesus, then, we also must handle Scripture well in our times. That God is our refuge, comfort, and shade amidst pandemic does not mean that if we believe in Jesus Christ we have physical immunity to COVID-19—all credible commentators agree.
However, verses in this Psalm do appear to promise present, bodily deliverance from pestilence. The word pestilence means any sudden fatal epidemic or pandemic, and in its Biblical use it generally indicates that these are divine visitations. The word is most frequently used in the prophetic books. Consider, for example, verses 3 and 6: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” and “You will not fear . . . the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” How do we faithfully interpret those statements?
First, we can remember God’s covenants with Israel, in which God promises abundance as the nation is faithful. As listeners of this psalm commit themselves to God, He would give success in their purpose of inhabiting the promised land and being God’s beacon to the nations. As they trusted, no pestilence would keep the Israelite army from defeating its enemies and from becoming the nation God promised.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The psalm does not promise, then, that no Israelite would ever become ill. God promised that no pandemic would keep them from being the nation He foretold they would become. And the ones who would become ill and pass from this life are not excluded from the promises of God for Israel that will be fulfilled at the end of this age.
Other Interpretive Considerations
Three other interpretive notes can be considered concerning God’s deliverance from pestilence.
Perhaps this deliverance refers to a wide range of persistent attacks, including spiritual—and not necessarily always referring to illnesses. In this case, pestilence would be “a figure for various evils” literally meaning “plagues of mischiefs,” as stated in the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.
The deliverance promised can involve spiritual deliverance and protection for those who trust the Lord in the midst of these outward difficulties. As J. A. Motyer states, “the promise is not security from but security in” (emphasis in original).
The deliverance could also refer to future glory. Tremper Longmann writes, “Christians can pray Psalm 91, knowing that God is with them in the spiritual battle of this life and that, in Christ, God will give them eternal life.”
What Is God’s Deliverance?
To apply this to deliverance amidst COVID-19, we can glean the following principles:
1. We know from the wider testimony of Scripture that God’s promised deliverance is spiritual in the present, while being spiritual and bodily in the age to come.
2. We know that in God’s common grace in this world and in His Fatherly love for believers, all bodily healing that does happen in this life is from His generous hand.
3. We know that God’s plans for this world are secure—His plans for Israel, as well as His plans for the Church and all believers.
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What Is the Message of Psalm 91?
In the Israelite context of this psalm, a promise was made to a new nation that no purpose of God’s could be thwarted. In our times, God has promised the believer that He has prepared good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). No coronavirus can come between us and His plans. For the believer, being able to glorify God with our lives is the ultimate hope and dream for this life. Being able to fulfill His will for us cannot be disrupted or cancelled.
Hear God’s message to you that your life is beneath the shelter and shadow of His wings. He is your life’s fortress, delivering you to spiritual strength now and certain bodily strength as well in eternity. This day, no arrows of evil or of disease can touch the meaning and purpose that God is pulling from your life. Make the Lord your refuge, and nothing will be able to affect or infect you that will diminish God’s purposes for you.
The psalm ends with what is referred to by commentators as a divine oracle. God is speaking to His people. And He promises that those who call upon Him will be answered; that those who hold fast to Him will be delivered; that those who trust Him for who He is will be protected.
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How Can We ‘Rest in the Shadow of the Almighty’?
Jesus gives us words in Luke 21 that are parallel in theme to Psalm 91. Hearing them and receiving them into our spirits, we can receive the security that Psalm 91 promises to rest in our Almighty God.
In Luke 21, Jesus is speaking about the signs of the end of times. In verse 10, He speaks of wars—of nation rising against nation. In verse 11, He speaks of earthquake, famine, pestilence, terrors, and signs from heaven. In verses 12-17, He talks of persecution for Christians and times when we will be delivered over to authorities for death.
He concludes in verses 18-19: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
Think about this: Jesus says that in dying, not a hair on our heads will perish.
We who believe are spiritually secure through Christ—never to face judgment. We are eternally secure—headed to the place of no suffering or pain. We are presently secure in purpose—no event of the world can surprise, overwhelm, or demote us from fulfilling God’s good works for us here. And, by Jesus’ words, we are to consider ourselves miraculously secure when meeting the eruptive trials of this life.
God’s protection is beyond our understanding. And so, my conviction is to read Psalm 91 exactly how it sounds—that nothing even of my body can be touched by the coronavirus. Though I die, not a hair of my head will perish. Even if my body is touched by COVID-19, it cannot be harmed. In the paradox is the hope. For, the age to come is not ever to be viewed by the believer as a distant and abstract reality.
Touch the hairs of your head—reach up and grab them. Know that you are the Lord’s and no evil or manifestation of evil in this world can touch you, not even a strand you hold. You will suffer in this world. Yet, Jesus has overcome it. So, you being in Him, nothing can touch you. Whatever does touch you, His hand is the closer layer abiding over you like a shadow of protection.
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9 Ways We Can Take Comfort in God During Coronavirus Fears
Knowing this God is our comfort. Psalm 91 describes Him as our shelter, shadow, refuge, fortress, refuge, shield, buckler, dwelling, rescuer, and protection.
1. Shelter (v. 1): God is our hiding place, covering us with His good purposes.
2. Shadow (v. 1): God is over and beyond us—seeing more than we see and knowing more than we know. We can rest in His shadow.
3. Refuge (v. 2): He is a safe place for us of security; we climb into Him.
4. Fortress (v. 2): He is our defense whose promises cannot be inhibited.
5. Shield (v. 4): Resting in our God deflects the enemies of fear and doubt in times of trial.
6. Buckler (or, shield that completely engulfs) (v. 4): He is a defense on every side. He knows every part of us and our lives—no aspect is beyond His reach.
7. Dwelling (v. 9): God’s protection is not fleeting; His protection serves for our continual habitation.
8. Rescuer (v. 14): He leads us off with Him, drawing us to Himself and rescuing us from being overcome by the world.
9. Protection (v. 14): In His protection, He carries us to an elevated place—by trusting in Him, our minds and hearts become inaccessible to the churning fears below.
As believers, we have committed to Christ that our lives and times are in His hands; our dream is that our days might bring Him eternal glory. The reality of God’s comfort and power to deliver us to eternal life is what gives us the spiritual deliverance from being dominated by pandemic in these days. The promises of God – of life to come and of His divine purposes in this life – shade, shelter, and satisfy us. When fears of the coronavirus and its impacts surround us, how much fiercer is the security of an infinite God!
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Now, read the psalm in full, and meditate on the truths of God’s comfort and protection:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place-
the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Motyer, J. A. “The Psalms.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 485–583. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Longman, Tremper, III. Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary. Edited by David G. Firth. Vol. 15–16. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014.
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Lianna Davis is author of Keeping the Faith: A Study in Jude and Made for a Different Land: Eternal Hope for Baby Loss. She and her husband, Tyler, live outside of Dallas, Texas and have two dear daughters.