I will be with him in trouble: Psalm 91

The 4th book of Psalms

This is a difficult Psalm to interpret. The problem comes in verses 11 and 12:

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.

These words were quoted by Satan to Jesus at his temptation, if we are not careful we can end up we can end up interpreting this psalm in a way that makes Satan right and Jesus wrong: Perhaps I have been looking at the psalms in the wrong way all my life.
Jesus is standing on the edge of the Temple roof, the city of Jerusalem laid out before him.
Jesus on the Temple roof.

The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 103, have a theme, God is above us.

The layout is like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 1 – 41: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 1 – 41: God is among us.

Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.

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—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honour him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 ESV UK

In West Yorkshire, where I live, is a national museum, The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. One of the galleries is dedicated to hunting, the largest of the guns there belong to fowlers, people who hunt wildfowl. Too large to be carried these were mounted on low punts which the hunter would lay on whilst creeping up on his prey, before firing at, literally, sitting ducks.

Psalm 91 was written at a time long before firearms, it talks of the fowler setting traps, but also of flying arrows. The wild fowl metaphor is completed with the picture of God as a large bird protecting its young. But if we are the wildfowl who is/are the fowler? In ancient Canaan a group of archers was known as a baalim of arrows. Baalim being the plural form of Baal, the Canaanite god. This psalm is about spiritual warfare.

Context is everything. The context of this whole section of psalms is that God is above us and the context of this psalm is God’s protection of us. Verse 1 talks about us being in shadow, verses 5 and 6 speak about night and darkness, as well as day and light, and God’s promise in verse 15 is to be with us in trouble. Spiritual attack can come on us at any time, but especially in our dark times when we are down and depressed.

God being with me in the dark times is my normal situation. Being an autistic Christian is difficult: “Let’s break into smaller discussion groups,” is not a good phrase to hear for someone who cannot concentrate on the one group he is in as voices from other groups cannot be silenced; then there’s the problem of rooms that ate too blight or have florescent flickering light. I have also lived in constant pain for the last 15 years, forgive me if I am not as happy or as clappy as an evangelical is supposed to be, I am walking with God in the darkness. But I do praise and thank God for being close with me and protecting me.

“I will be with him (or her) in trouble.” is the promise of Psalm 91 and I have found that promise to be true..


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