Theme: Two Appealing Images
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust fully in God, and what the blessings are for those who do.
Scripture: Psalm 91:1-16
Yesterday, we noted how the Lord spared the nobleman Lord Craven from the plague in London, who stayed behind to demonstrate his faith. There is a similar story from the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In the year 1854, when he had been in London only twelve months, the area of the city in which the young preacher lived was visited by Asiatic cholera. Many in Spurgeon’s congregation were affected, and there was hardly a family in which someone did not get sick—and many died. The young pastor spent most of every day visiting the sick, and there was hardly a day when he did not have to accompany some family to the graveyard.
Spurgeon became physically and emotionally exhausted and sick at heart. He was ready to sink under this heavy load of pastoral care. But as God would have it, one day he was returning home sadly from a funeral when he noticed a sign in a shoemaker’s shop in Dover Road. It was in the owner’s own handwriting and it bore these words: “Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling,” a quotation from Psalm 91, verses 9 and 10 (KJV).
Spurgeon was deeply and immediately encouraged. He wrote, “The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to put those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power I adore the Lord my God.”1
Verse 4 contains two appealing images of God’s protection: first, that of a mother bird, sheltering and protecting her young (“he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge”), and second, that of a warrior’s armor (“his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart”). The exact meaning of the word “rampart” (NIV) is uncertain. The Hebrew word signifies something that is wrapped around a person for his or her protection; hence, it can mean either “buckler,” “armor” or, as in the NIV, a “rampart” or fortress. It may be that something of each of these ideas is in the Hebrew word.
As far as the first of these two images is concerned, we remember how Jesus appropriated it for himself, saying as he looked out over the city of Jerusalem on one occasion: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Jesus would willingly have saved and sheltered Jerusalem and its inhabitants, but the people were not willing. They would not come to him. They would not “dwell” in the shelter of the Most High. They cried out for his crucifixion instead.
As far as the second image goes, we may recall God’s words to Abraham when he was returning from his attack on the kings who had raided Sodom and Gomorrah and carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot. Abraham had won the battle, recovering Lot, the women and possessions. But Abraham was in danger of retaliation by these kings. It was then that God spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). That is what God will be to us, if we will trust him.
Here is an important question: What exactly is it that is said to be the believer’s “shield and rampart” (v. 4)? God, of course! But in what respect? The older King James Version said, “His truth will be your shield and buckler.” In my view, the New International Version is richer at this point, for the Hebrew word means more than mere truth. It has to do with God’s entire character, described as faithfulness. Still something is lost if we do not also realize that the Hebrew word for “faithfulness” is based on the word for “truth” and that what is involved here is God’s faithfulness to his promises, that is, to his word. In other words, it is when we believe God’s word and act upon it that we find him to be faithful to what he has promised and learn that he is in truth our shield from dangers and our rampart against enemies.
Verses 7 and 8 describe thousands falling on either side of those who trust God, noting, “You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” This interprets the death of the thousands as God’s punishment for sin and places the deliverance of God’s people in that context. In other words, it is not a promise that those who trust God will never die of disease or even in some military conflict, but that they will not suffer those or any other calamities as God’s judgment against them for their sin. Their sin has been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ.
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 92.
How did verses 9 and 10 encourage Spurgeon as a young pastor?
What two images are contained in verse 4? What do they communicate about God?
What is promised in verses 7 and 8? What is not promised?
Reflection: When a Christian willingly puts himself in danger in order to help others, what does it reveal about that Christian’s understanding of who God is, and what it means to serve him?
Key Point: It is when we believe God’s word and act upon it that we find him to be faithful to what he has promised and learn that he is in truth our shield from dangers and our rampart against enemies.