If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. Psalm 91:9-12It’s so tempting to read Scripture in isolation. To take a passage and make life application with no thought to author, audience, context, or what the rest of the Bible says. For example, in reading Psalm 91, I can celebrate the fact that I can look forward to a life free from harm, disaster, and even stubbed toes!
Hmmm. Wait a minute…If that’s true, then why did my son whack his big toe on his dresser last night? Ouch. And why has my husband been struggling with illness these past eight weeks? And, come to think of it, why did last week’s storm damage our roof?
What’s one to make of the promises of Psalm 91 when we can look around Providence on any given Sunday and see faithful believers suffering and dealing with disasters of their own?
That’s part of the beauty and benefit of reading through the Bible, as we are with The Journey. We are thoroughly immersed in context and can, thus, interpret what we’re reading through the lens of the rest of Scripture. No verse or passage is examined in isolation like a lone star in the sky. Instead, we’re seeing the constellation surrounding it and the bigger picture it reveals.
So, let’s consider Psalm 91, because I confess it is a difficult one for me to understand given what I see around me and experience in my own life.
First, who wrote Psalm 91? If you look for an author to be named, you won’t find one. Many biblical scholars suggest, however, that Moses is its author based on the fact that he wrote the preceding Psalm 90. Also, a bit of unique phrasing in Psalm 91 is similar to a phrase in Deuteronomy, also written by Moses.*
What difference does it make to consider the author when reading Psalm 91? Well, clearly it’s not crucial, or God would have inspired a byline; however, I find it helpful to consider that these are likely Moses’ words. Why?
Well, as we conclude our reading of the Pentateuch (the five books authored by Moses), I feel like we’ve gotten to know him fairly well. We’ve been fortunate to see his story unfold from babe in a basket to hothead in the field, from murderer to exile, from reluctant follower to faithful servant to humble leader. And we’ve certainly seen him deal with challenges, disappointments, and disasters.
Moses, who dwells (yashab: to abide, to remain) with God, speaks of a rescue and a rest that one experiences only in God and even in the midst of hardship. His eyes were fixed on God and set on a Promised Land beyond Canaan.
In fact, I often wonder why Moses doesn’t get upset when he is told he will not be entering the Promised Land. Here I confess my self-centeredness when I admit that if I were Moses, I might have argued with God’s decision and pleaded my case. My heart aches for Moses to enter into the land himself and complete the journey. Clearly, though, Moses doesn’t grieve this loss.
Why? He has seen God, talked with God, and experienced God like none other. He has witnessed the power and glory of God, and he wants God, not land. He knows the journey is about something much greater than an inheritance of land.
Perhaps if Moses did pen Psalm 91, the deliverance and salvation promised in its lines refer to something more, something greater. Perhaps it refers to our ultimate homecoming, when we will be given more than an inheritance of land, but a kingdom to rule? More than an encounter with God, but an eternity with him?
Spending the past three months with Moses as we’ve read through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I have come to marvel at his courage, his patience, his humility, and his faith. I’m reminded by Psalm 91, whether he is its author or not, that I want to make my dwelling place in God so that in the midst of this life I can experience peace knowing he is my rest, my refuge, and my deliverance.
* Some biblical scholars suggest that David is the author of Psalm 91. In either case (Moses or David), both men dwelled (yashab) with God.