God does not promise to keep Christians safe from all harm Psalm 91

I have talked before about the popular but totally false gospel of health, wealth and prosperity. The mistaken and wrong idea that God will always heal Christians of any illness, always give them riches and always make them successful in business and in any other aspects of life, just as long as they have enough faith. The prosperity gospel. You will recognise their slogans. “Say it; do it; receive it; tell it.” “Healing in the atonement”. “You believe you receive”. “What I confess, I possess”. “The law of reciprocity – you give to God and he’ll give back to you”. And possibly the most popular, “Name it and claim it”.
The truth is that health and wealth and success are NOT part of the package of the Christian gospel! Those who come to Christ expecting Him to keep them healthy and make them rich and prosperous will be very disappointed! Those who focus on earthly treasures and receiving a blessing may (or may well not) get lots of stuff, but they will not experience fullness of life. In the end, they will rot in their stuff. Those who know Christ are rich beyond measure – rich in salvation, forgiveness, joy, peace, and glory. That is the real and the only prosperity which the true gospel promises to all believers! This false prosperity gospel rests on twisting and misinterpreting a number of passages in the Bible and one of the most significant is Psalm 91. This is a Psalm we really do need to understand correctly.
Then over the last year and a half we have seen another wrong idea become popular among many Christians, even those who would rightly reject the false prosperity gospel. As the coronavirus pandemic has spread across the world we have seen an astonishing number of Christians respond to it in a very dangerous way, especially from the Christian Right in America. Many Bible believing Christians have rebelled against wearing masks and particularly rejected vaccinations. Their reasoning has been simple. God will protect me. I don’t need a mask. I don’t need vaccinations. I have faith. God will keep me safe. And the first Scripture these misguided Christians have been turning to in order to defend this proposition is Psalm 91.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
The promises continue,
9 If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
A number of Christians have claimed that Psalm 91 guarantees them God’s protection. Many, particularly in the USA, have rejected the things which could keep them safe from Covid, even though a number of them have consequently died from the disease, and very many have become seriously ill. So here is a second reason why we need to understand this Psalm correctly as we answer a very important question. Does God really promise to keep all Christians always safe from any kind of harm? You will probably have guess by now that my answer to that question will be a very clear and loud NO! God does make very many promises to believers, but there is no guarantee anywhere in the Bible that God’s people will always be kept safe and will never experience suffering of any kind.
It shouldn’t really be necessary to defend that point in the light of our morning sermons in 1 Peter. The apostle was writing to Christians who were experiencing brutal persecution from the Roman Empire in the time of Emperor Nero. He holds out to them their living hope of an eternal inheritance,
1 Peter 1:6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Peter points to the example of Christ who suffered so much for our salvation even though he was completely innocent.
1 Peter 2 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 3 18 For Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
And there are some verses from 1 Peter 4 which we missed out in our morning sermons, as Peter explains that Christians should expect to suffer as they follow in the footsteps of their suffering Saviour.
1 Peter 4 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. ….
Jesus had warned his disciples that they could expect to suffer for their faith. So does the letter of James.
James 1 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Paul even told the Romans to rejoice in their sufferings.
Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
If any more proof were needed that believers are not immune from the ordinary sufferings which all human beings have to go through, we can turn to 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”
2 Corinthians 12:7 …. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Paul was suffering in some unspecified way and God did not take that suffering away. The clear picture from both the New Testament and the Old is that believers will suffer sometimes. We are not guaranteed to be spared such things. So how then should we understand Psalm 91 which seems to promise the opposite. We must interpret passages like this in the light of the teaching of the whole of Scripture. And we also need to look closely at what the Psalm actually says.
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
The Psalm is promising God’s rest and protection. God will be a refuge and a fortress. We have seen other Psalms making similar promises. God will be a fortress and a deliverer and a refuge and a stronghold. Look closely. These Psalms are not promising that trouble will not come. Instead they are promising that in the days when troubles do come, God will be there to help those who call on him.
Psalm 91 goes on to talk about the different kinds of problems that believers will face. In the New Bible commentary Alec Motyer makes this important point. “We should isolate the psalm from the rest of Scripture if we understood it to promise immunity. Here, as elsewhere (e.g. Rom. 8:28), the promise is not security from but security in.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
The point is that God will provide his salvation when these things come upon us as Christians. He will save us in them, not prevent us from experiencing them at all. It is only while we are suffering in all kinds of ways, that
4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
It is not that Christians will not experience problems, but that God will be their shield and refuge in the middle of the problems.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
This Psalm is not teaching that Christians will always be immune to pestilence or plagues. That has never been true throughout history. If it was, people would put their trust in God just to be saved from deadly diseases. The point instead is that we do not need to be afraid of these dangers, because God will be with us whatever might happen to us.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
Again people misunderstand this verse and others if they think God is promising that Christians will never fall sick or die. The reality of the experience of believers throughout the centuries is that God does not always deliver them from their enemies. Some suffer, some die, and “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” And it is indisputable that every single Christian in previous generations has died of old age, if not due to some other cause.

Yet Psalm 91 verses 9 and 10 do appear to be unconditional in their promise that God will always keep believers safe
9 If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
Many Christians particularly in USA have put their trust in God to protect them from Covid, instead of masks or vaccinations. Many have become seriously ill and a number have died from the disease. The cruel and totally explanation some would give for this sad fact is that those who died just didn’t have enough faith. Verse 2 says I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Those who died simply failed to make God their refuge and their dwelling place. They just didn’t trust God enough. That understanding is as cruel as it is a distortion of what Scripture actually teaches.
Psalm 91 continues with a wonderful promise of divine protection by guardian angels.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
I happily believe that angels exist, because the Bible says so. I believe that God sometimes does intervene and protect his children through the supernatural actions of angels. But I don’t believe that these verses give Christians any guarantee that they will not be hurt or even die by wild animals. The Southern Snake-Handling Baptists are missing the point here. God rescued Daniel in the lion’s den, but all Christians in Africa know better than to provoke a lion or to take risks with cobras or any other snakes. Any promises in Psalm 91 relate to the problems which might befall Christians. They could never apply to Christians who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way.
Again the final verses of the Psalm appear to offer believers a cast-iron guarantee that they will never be harmed and always live out a long life.
14 ‘Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’
Look again. God is promising rescue and protection, but that only means anything when the believer is right in the middle of a dangerous situation. He will call on me, and I will answer him; when we are actually facing danger.
I will be with him in trouble, again, only when we are in the middle of that trouble. I will deliver him and honour him. The precondition for God delivering us is that we are facing disaster. It would be meaningless to talk about God rescuing us if we were always being kept safe so that we were never in danger in the first place.
There are eight wonderful promises for believers in those three verses. God will rescue us – he will step in and intervene. He will protect us. He will answer our prayers and be with us in the midst of our troubles. He will deliver us and vindicate us as satisfy us and grant us his salvation. Those promises are for those who love God, and acknowledge his name, and who call on God in prayer. But we should understand these promises to refer to our eternal salvation – not to being kept safe from every injury or illness in this life.
One more thing. It should also be obvious that God will not protect believers who deliberately put themselves in danger. For example, Psalm 91 does not give licence for Christians to drive at ridiculous speeds without seat belts. Two verses of Psalm 91 are probably particularly familiar to us all from what we read in Luke chapter 4 about the time Jesus was tested by the devil in the wilderness.
Luke 4 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
In that third temptation the devil was testing Jesus by misquoting and twisting Psalm 91 – that was the same trick as he used on Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Didn’t God say this?” It is the same trick the devil is using in so many settings today, misquoting and distorting Scripture so God’s children get confused. Some bad preachers use this Psalm to teach that if we are Christians we will always be safe. God will always protect us. We will never suffer accident or injury or failure or discouragement. Let me be absolutely clear. God does not promise any such protection. The temptation for Jesus here was to ask God His Father to prove his love and protection. To do something which would make God show his presence. To prove he was there.
12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’“
I believe this is the temptation which followers of the false prosperity gospel are falling into when they misinterpret Psalm 91. Putting God to the test. The mistaken anti-mask, anti-vaccination Christians are trapped in the same temptation. Asking God to prove that he exists or to prove that he loves us by keeping us safe from all dangers. We should never expect God to prove to us that he exists – because He won’t do that. And Psalm 91 does not teach that He will.
There are indeed glorious promises in Psalm 91 for God’s people when we face all kinds of perils. God will be our refuge and our fortress. God will keep us safe into eternity. But it is very clear from the rest of scripture that in this world of tears God does not guaranteed that we will never ever suffer.

This entry was posted in 1 Peter.

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