Safe and Secure From All Alarms

Safe and Secure From All Alarms
Keith Phillips
March 30, 2020

In addition to being the ancient hymnbook of Israel, the Psalter reveals how the people of God turned to YHWH in the full range of their life experiences. From tearful laments to jubilant shouts of praise, the psalms reflect the deep emotions of Old Testament saints as they approached God in both prayer and praise. What is more, they continue to serve as a richly expressive model for how we too should and can respond to God in our present-day circumstances.

I think one of the many values of the psalms is that we can vicariously place ourselves into the experience of the psalmist. In other words, whatever the situation, whatever we are feeling—whether sad, mad, or glad—there are representative psalms with which we can deeply relate and further, which provide precious, godly instruction for our hearts. Simply put, the Psalms help to teach us how to worship God in the various circumstances and troubles we encounter in this life.

We find this to be especially true in a particular classification of psalms known as psalms of confidence, or songs of trust (Pss. 4, 16, 23, 27, 46, 62, 91, 115, 123, 124, 125, 131). These psalms of trust express a deep confidence in God and His goodness despite the circumstances faced. To be sure, the sentiment of trust spans the entire book of Psalms, but it dominates a few select psalms, which contain unique expressions of individual and corporate confidence in YHWH.

Psalms of trust, we might say, are somewhere on the continuum between lament and thanksgiving. With the kind of problems addressed in these psalms, we might expect a lament—expressions of deep sorrow, distress, and even despondency. But in these representative psalms, lament gives way to trust; sorrow seems to fade into the background as the psalmist moves toward a greater confidence and growing faith. And in contrast to psalms of thanksgiving, the crisis in these particular psalms has not yet passed. Still, while in the midst of uncertainty or calamity, the psalmist can confidently face whatever challenge, whatever circumstance. Why? Because God’s Word, even past experience, has taught him that God is good and sovereignly safeguards those who put their trust in Him. As a result, one of the unique features of these psalms of trust is that they almost always end with a vow to praise God—for His goodness, His sustaining power and mercy, His faithfulness.

To be sure, these songs of trust are spiritual buoys for our souls that help to chart the course of our persevering faith in God.

With this in mind, let me turn our attention to Psalm 91, an anonymous song in Book IV that is arguably the quintessential psalm of trust. Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarked that out of the entire book of Psalms, “there is not a more cheering psalm” than Psalm 91. “Its tone”, he adds, “is elevated and sustained throughout, faith is at its best and speaks nobly.” This beautiful psalm breathes a cheerful faith into the hearts of its readers as it informs us how it is that we may learn to trust God in the midst of real, immediate danger.

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” 3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. 5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side And ten thousand at your right hand, But it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes And see the recompense of the wicked. 9 For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your dwelling. 11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down. 14 “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. 15 “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 “With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation.”

The theme of this psalm, as I hope you can see, can be summed up as follows—safe and secure. By this, God intends for His people, who live in an unsafe and horribly insecure world, to find safety and security in Him. God purposes through this psalm to teach us how we might come to know and experience shelter in Him when our circumstances are anything but safe and secure. Knowing where our safety comes from is central to this psalm and central to the Christian life.

So, the psalmist begins with a declaration of trust (vv. 1-2). Notice the intentional faith and intimate nature that is communicated through the use of personal pronouns (“I”, “my”) as well as through the use of divine titles in these opening verses: “Most High”, “Almighty”, “Lord”, and “God”. And the point is this, that in the midst of very real dangers, one must have a very personal faith in a very real God: “I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust!” This is the language of faith that plainly expresses that there is no substitute in this world for the safety and shelter that God alone provides.

Perhaps you have found yourself recently, or currently find our present set of circumstances so overwhelming that you wish you could simply build a castle, preferably with a moat, around you and your family and retreat inside for protection. Some of you might even settle for the poor man’s substitute and mummify your homes, wrapping them in toilet paper, as this can be the only viable reason that you would stockpile hundreds of rolls, right? But to such real and present fears that would cripple our faith, the psalmist invites us to turn our gaze away from our situation and look to God, who is our mighty fortress.

There is shelter in His dwelling, the psalmist asserts. There is safety in His everlasting arms. There is shadow under His wings. If you think back to the hot, Arkansas summers that we typically experience, you can grasp the sense of immediate relief that the psalmist is speaking of here through this metaphor, something of the cooling nature and refreshment that a shadow provides from the sweltering heat of an August sun. So it is for those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, those who trust in God, they are made to abide in the shadow of the Almighty and there find sweet relief and cooling balm for their souls.

Next, the psalmist provides the basis for our trust, which rests squarely on God’s providence. This set of verses remind us of the sovereign discretion and will of our heavenly Father. Notice that the psalmist now shifts to the second person singular “you” in this section, addressing individuals directly and focusing on the numerous personal trials one faces. By this, the psalmist is exhorting us, saying in essence, “You, believer; you can trust in God, in all times and in all circumstances, because of the belief and certainty you possess in God’s providence over your life down to the most minute detail.”

Now this certainly does not mean that we as Christians will never experience trials in this world. To the contrary, Scripture plainly reveals that in this world we will have troubles. Nor do these verses indicate that God will necessarily spare us from difficult situations in life. But what this reality and truth brings to our hearts is a comfort in knowing that God is, indeed, working all things for our good and as such, can be trusted with the affairs of our lives, especially in the midst of great hardship and trial. Though dangers may surround us morning, noon, and night (vv. 5-6), we need not be afraid. Though pestilence would stalk us and plague would seek to do us harm, we can rest assured that God delivers and covers us because of His faithfulness (vv. 3-4). He will our shield and portion be!

Interestingly, Satan quotes a portion of this psalm (vv. 11-12) at the time of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4 and Luke 4):

“If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, “He will command His angels concerning You to guard over You,” and, “On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.”

What is fascinating is that God did send His angels to guard and protect His Son. But this was not for the purpose of sparing Jesus from the cross. God sent an angel to minister to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), which served to prepare Jesus for His impending crucifixion. You see, God covered and strengthened Jesus in the midst of His troubles on that night of great anguish though He did not spare Him from the experience of the trial itself. The same is often true in our own lives. But if we trust in God, if our dwelling is with Him, we can rest assured that He will deliver us or cover us, many times both.

Finally, this wonderful psalm ends with God speaking over His people. Notice how this psalm concludes (vv. 14-16), with a divine repetition of “I will”. Here is the Lord’s certain promise of safety. Here are God’s words of our sure security in an insecure world. And please note, this promise is not given indiscriminately to all. This is a promise made only to those who hold fast to God in love and commune with Him in prayer. These are two primary evidences of genuine faith.

So let me ask, “Do you have this type of faith? Do you possess a resolute trust in the Lord despite the difficulties in this world?” If you don’t, you will never be able to experience the safety and security that this psalm offers. May you come to rest and find shelter through the gospel of God’s grace that is provided through His Son, Jesus Christ. And as a result, may you then be able to confidently say in keeping with that old, gospel hymn, “What, therefore, have I to dread, what have I to fear…I have blessed peace with my Lord so near.” Safe and secure from all alarms!

***For anyone interested, Dr. R.C. Sproul composed a hymn based on Psalm 91, “The Secret Place”, as part of a larger compilation, Glory to the Holy One. You can listen and find lyrics to this psalm paraphrase here: https://soundcloud.com/ligonier/the-secret-place.

Keith Phillips - Elder


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