Bible Commentaries
Psalms 91

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1

This Psalm has no title in the Hebrew; nor can it be determined on what occasion or by whom it was composed. It is most likely by the author of the preceding; and is written as a part of it, by fifteen of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., commencing before the repetition of the four last words of the ninetieth. It is allowed to be one of the finest Psalms in the whole collection. Of it Simon de Muis has said: "It is one of the most excellent works of this kind which has ever appeared. It is impossible to imagine any thing more solid, more beautiful, more profound, or more ornamented. Could the Latin or any modern languages express thoroughly all the beauties and elegancies as well of the words as of the sentences, it would not be difficult to persuade the reader that we have no poem, either in Greek or Latin, comparable to this Hebrew ode."

Verse Psalms 91:1. He that dwelleth in the secret place — The Targum intimates that this is a dialogue between David, Solomon, and Jehovah. Suppose we admit this, - then

DAVID asserts: "He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty," Psalms 91:1.

SOLOMON answers: "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in him will I trust," Psalms 91:2.

DAVID replies, and tells him what blessings he shall receive from God if he abide faithful, Psalms 91:3-13.

Then the SUPREME BEING is introduced, and confirms all that David had spoken concerning Solomon, Psalms 91:14-16: and thus this sacred and instructive dialogue ends.

In the secret place of the Most High — Spoken probably in reference to the Holy of holies. He who enters legitimately there shall be covered with the cloud of God's glory - the protection of the all-sufficient God. This was the privilege of the high priest only, under the law: but under the new covenant all believers in Christ have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus; and those who thus enter are safe from every evil.

Verse 2

Verse Psalms 91:2. I will say of the Lord — This is my experience: "He is my fortress, and in him will I continually trust."

Verse 3

Verse Psalms 91:3. Surely he shall deliver thee — If thou wilt act thus, then the God in whom thou trustest will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, from all the devices of Satan, and from all dangerous maladies. As the original word, דבר dabar, signifies a word spoken, and deber, the same letters, signifies pestilence; so some translate one way, and some another: he shall deliver thee from the evil and slanderous word; he shall deliver thee from the noisome pestilence - all blasting and injurious winds, effluvia, &c.

Verse 4

Verse Psalms 91:4. He shall cover thee with his feathers — He shall act towards thee as the hen does to her brood, - take thee under his wings when birds of prey appear, and also shelter thee from chilling blasts. This is a frequent metaphor in the sacred writings; see the parallel texts in the margin (Psalms 17:8, Psalms 57:1, Psalms 61:4), and the notes on them. The Septuagint has Εν τοις μεταφρενοις αυτου επισκιασει σοι· He will overshadow thee between his shoulders; alluding to the custom of parents carrying their weak or sick children on their backs, and having them covered even there with a mantle. Thus the Lord is represented carrying the Israelites in the wilderness. See Deuteronomy 32:11-12, where the metaphor is taken from the eagle.

His truth shall be thy shield and buckler — His revelation; his Bible. That truth contains promises for all times and circumstances; and these will be invariably fulfilled to him that trusts in the Lord. The fulfillment of a promise relative to defence and support is to the soul what the best shield is to the body.

Verse 5

Verse Psalms 91:5. The terror by night — Night is a time of terrors, because it is a time of treasons, plunder, robbery, and murder. The godly man lies down in peace, and sleeps quietly, for he trusts his body, soul, and substance, in the hand of God; and he knows that he who keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. It may also mean all spiritual foes, - the rulers of the darkness of this world. I have heard the following petition in an evening family prayer: "Blessed Lord, take us into thy protection this night; and preserve us from disease, from sudden death, from the violence of fire, from the edge of the sword, from the designs of wicked men, and from the influence of malicious spirits!"

Nor for the arrow — The Chaldee translates this verse, "Thou shalt not fear the demons that walk by night; nor the arrow of the angel of death which is shot in the day time." Thou needest not to fear a sudden and unprovided - for death.

Verse 6

Verse Psalms 91:6. Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. — The rabbins supposed that the empire of death was under two demons, one of which ruled by day, the other by night. The Vulgate and Septuagint have - the noonday devil. The ancients thought that there were some demons who had the power to injure particularly at noonday. To this Theocritus refers, Id. i. ver. 15: -

Lucan, in the horrible account he gives us of a grove sacred to some barbarous power, worshipped with the most horrid rites, refers to the same superstition: -

The Syriac understands the passage of a pestilential wind, that blows at noonday. Aquila translates, of the bite of the noonday demon.

Verse 7

Verse Psalms 91:7. A thousand shall fall at thy sideCalmet thinks this place should be translated thus: "A thousand enemies may fall upon thee on one side, and ten thousand may fall upon thee on thy right hand: but they shall not come nigh thee to take away thy life." It is a promise of perfect protection, and the utmost safety.

Verse 8

Verse Psalms 91:8. The reward of the wicked. — Thou shalt not only be safe thyself, but thou shalt see all thy enemies discomfited and cast down.

Verse 9

Verse Psalms 91:9. Because thou hast made the Lord — Seeing thou hast taken Jehovah, the Most High, for thy portion and thy refuge, no evil shall come nigh thy dwelling; thou shalt be safe in thy soul, body, household, and property, Psalms 91:10. Every pious man may expect such protection from his God and Father.

Verse 11

Verse Psalms 91:11. He shall give his angels charge over thee — Evil spirits may attempt to injure thee; but they shall not be able. The angels of God shall have an especial charge to accompany, defend, and preserve thee; and against their power, the influence of evil spirits cannot prevail. These will, when necessary, turn thy steps out of the way of danger; ward it off when it comes in thy ordinary path; suggest to thy mind prudent counsels, profitable designs, and pious purposes; and thus minister to thee as a child of God, and an heir of salvation.

To keep thee in all thy ways. — The path of duty is the way of safety. Thou canst not reasonably expect protection if thou walk not in the way of obedience. Thy ways are the paths of duty, which God's word and providence have marked out for thee. The way of sin is not thy way-thy duty, thy interest. Keep in thy own ways, not in those of sin, Satan, the world, and the flesh; and God will take care of thee.

Verse 12

Verse Psalms 91:12. They shall bear thee up in their hands — Take the same care of thee as a nurse does of a weak and tender child; lead thee,-teach thee to walk,-lift thee up out of the way of danger, "lest thou shouldst dash thy foot against a stone," receive any kind of injury, or be prevented from pursuing thy path with safety and comfort.

Let us remember that it is GOD, whose these angels are; HE gives them charge-from HIM they receive their commission, - to HIM they are responsible for their charge. From God thou art to expect them; and for their help he alone is to receive the praise. It is expressly said, He shall give his angels charge; to show that they are not to be prayed to nor praised; but GOD alone, whose servants they are. Matthew 4:6.

Verse 13

Verse Psalms 91:13. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder — Even the king of the forest shall not be able to injure thee; should one of these attack thee, the angels whom God sends will give thee an easy victory over him. And even the asp, (פתן pethen,) one of the most venomous of serpents, shall not be able to injure thee.

The asp is a very small serpent, and peculiar to Egypt and Libya. Its poison kills without the possibility of a remedy. Those who are bitten by it die in about from three to eight hours; and it is said they die by sleep, without any kind of pain. Lord Bacon says the asp is less painful than all the other instruments of death. He supposes it to have an affinity to opium, but to be less disagreeable in its operation. It was probably an this account that Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, chose to die by the asp, as she was determined to prevent the designs of Augustus, who intended to have carried her captive to Rome to grace his triumph.

The dragon shalt thou trample — The תנין tannin, which we translate dragon, means often any large aquatic animal; and perhaps here the crocodile or alligator.

Verse 14

Verse Psalms 91:14. Because he hath set his love upon me — Here the Most High is introduced as confirming the word of his servant. He has fixed his love - his heart and soul, on me.

Therefore will I deliver him — I will save him in all troubles, temptations, and evils of every kind.

I will set him on high — I will place him out of the reach of all his enemies. I will honour and ennoble him, because he hath known my name - because he has loved, honoured, and served me, and rendered me that worship which is my due. He has known me to be the God of infinite mercy and love.

Verse 15

Verse Psalms 91:15. He shall call upon me — He must continue to pray; all his blessings must come in this way; when he calls, I will answer him - I will give him whatever is best for him.

I will be with him in trouble — Literally, I am with him. עמו אנכי immo anochi; as soon as the trouble comes, I are there.

I will deliver him — For his good I may permit him to be exercised for a time, but delivered he shall be.

And honour him — אכבדהו acabbedehu, "I will glorify him." I will load him with honour; that honour that comes from God. I will even show to men how highly I prize such.

Verse 16

Verse Psalms 91:16. With long life — Literally, With length of days will I fill him up. He shall neither live a useless life, nor die before his time. He shall live happy and die happy.

And show him my salvation. — ואראהו בשועתי vearehu bishuathi, "I will make him see (or contemplate) in my salvation." He shall discover infinite lengths, breadths, depths, and heights, in my salvation. He shall feel boundless desires, and shall discover that I have provided boundless gratifications for them. He shall dwell in my glory, and throughout eternity increase in his resemblance to and enjoyment of me. Thus shall it be done to the man whom the Lord delighteth to honour; and he delights to honour that man who places his love on him. In a word, he shall have a long life in this world, and an eternity of blessedness in the world to come.

The full intent and purpose of this Psalm is to encourage and exhort the godly in all extremities, pressures, troubles, temptations, afflictions, assaults, inward or outward; in a word, in all dangers to put their trust and confidence in God, and to rely upon his protection.

There are two parts in this Psalm: -

I. A general proposition, in which is given an assurance of help and protection to every godly man, Psalms 91:1: "He that dwelleth," c.

II. The proof of this by three witnesses: -

1. Of the just man, in whose person the psalmist speaks, Psalms 91:2: "I will say of the Lord," c.

2. Of the prophet, Psalms 91:3: "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare," &c. which he amplifies by an enumeration of the dangers, God's assistance, and the angels' protection, Psalms 91:3-14.

3. Of God himself, whom he brings in speaking to the same purpose, Psalms 91:14-16.

I. The first part or verse is a universal proposition, in which is contained a comfortable and excellent promise made by the Holy Ghost of security, viz., that God's help shall never be wanting to those who truly put their hope and trust in him: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide (or lodge) under the shadow of the Almighty."

1. He, - be he who he will, rich or poor king or people, God is no respecter of persons.

2. "That dwells." For that he must be sure to do, constantly, daily, firmly, rest and acquiesce in God, to persevere in the faith of his promise, and carry that about him, else he cannot be assured by this promise.

3. "In the secret place." For his aid and defence is not as some strong-hold or castle which is visible; it is a secret and invisible fortress, known only to a faithful soul. In that he may repose his hope, as a means and secondary defence; but he dwells, relies, rests in that help of God which is secret, and is not seen except by the eye of faith.

4. "Of the Most High." And upon this he relies, because he is the Most High. Above he is, and sees all; nothing is hid from him. And again, above he is, sits in the highest throne, and rules all. All things are under his feet; he can therefore deliver his people from all troubles and dangers. Yea, he will do it for this faithful man; he that relies and trusts in him shall never be frustrated of his hope; protected he shall be; he shall be safe. 1. "He dwells, therefore he shall abide." He shall lodge quietly - securely. 2. "He dwells in the secret place, therefore he shall abide under the shadow." In the cool, the favour, the cover from the heat. 3. "He dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, therefore he shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty;" i.e., of the all-powerful God, of the God of heaven; of that God whose name is Shaddai, All-sufficient; by which name he made his promise to Abraham, Genesis 17:1.

II. This proposition being most certainly true, in the next place the psalmist explains it. And that no man may doubt of it, descends to prove it by three witnesses: first, of a just man; secondly, of the prophet; thirdly, of God himself.

He brings in the just man thus speaking in his own person: "I will say unto the Lord, He is my refuge, my fortress my God; in him will I trust." Is it so? "Shall he that dwells in the secret of the Most High, abide under the shadow of the Almighty?" Therefore I will say, in the person of all just men, to the Lord, that hath no superior, that hath no peer; to that Lord to whose command all things are subject, and who can be commanded by none; I will say to him, -

1. "Thou art my refuge." If pursued, I will flee to thee as a sanctuary.

2. "Thou art my fortress." If set upon, I will betake myself to thee as a strong tower.

3. "Thou art my God." If assaulted by men or devils, thou, the Most High; thou, Almighty, art a God able to defend me, and therefore "I will hope in thee;" I will dwell, trust, rely upon thee and this thy promise, in every temptation and danger.

Next, to assert the truth of this, he brings in the attestation of the prophet; for, being moved by the Holy Ghost, he saith as much, "Surely he shall deliver thee;" and then falls upon the particulars, from which the godly man shall be delivered, set down in many metaphors.

1. "He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler;" the deceits of evil men or devils.

2. "From the noisome pestilence," all danger to which we are incident, by plague, war, or famine.

Again, when thou art little in thine own eyes, -

1. "He shall cover thee," as the hen does her young, "with his feathers; and under his wings shalt thou trust," secured from the rain, the storm, the heat of the sun, and the birds of prey.

2. When thou art grown up, and able to encounter an enemy in the field, he shall help thee to a shield and buckler, and that shall be his truth, his veracity, thy faith in it; and which is yet more, -

Thou shalt not be afraid, -

1. "For the terror by night;" any hidden secret temptation, danger, treachery, detraction, conspiracy.

2. "Nor for the arrow that flies by day;" any open persecution, calamity, fraud, assault, invasion.

3. "Nor for the pestilence that walks in darkness;" the machinations of wicked men hatched in the dark.

4. "Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon-day;" the bold threats and decrees of tyrants and persecutors.

Moller observes rightly that the promises of deliverance here made do not belong to one or other kind of evil, but to all kinds of calamities, open or secret, and so may be applicable to any; some of which steal upon us, as in the night secretly; others overwhelm as in the day, openly. But the promise is general, as Bellarmine well observes; whether the danger come by day or night, those who trust in God are armed with his shield of truth against it. "For if God be for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31

The prophet goes on, and confirms the godly in their security by the dissimilarity or unlike condition of wicked men. When thou shalt be safe, they shall fall.

1. "A thousand shall fall at thy side, on thy left hand," overcome by adversity.

2. "Ten thousand on thy right hand," flattered into sin by prosperity. "But neither the fear by night, nor the arrow by day, shall come nigh thee."

3. And, which is another cause of comfort and pleasure: "Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and see the reward of the wicked;" which sometimes falls out in this life, as the Israelites saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore; Moses and Aaron saw Dathan and Abiram swallowed up quick, c. But it shall be amply fulfilled at the last judgment, Matthew 25:31-46. Of which security, comfort, content, the prophet in the next verse gives the reason the danger shall not come nigh thee; when they fall thou shalt see it, and consider it with content. "Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation;" thou trustest in him as I do; and therefore shalt have the like protection, deliverance, comfort, that I by his promise have. Farther, "there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." But the just man may say, I am secure that no evil shall befall me; I desire to know how I may be kept so, that I fall not among thieves. This objection the prophet prevents, saying, in effect, Fear not, "for he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways; they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."

In which verses consider, -

1. That the good man is protected by angels; many angels have a care of one poor man.

2. That they are commanded by God to do it; for are not they ministering spirits sent by God to that end? Hebrews 1:14.

3. That it is a particular administration, a charge given to the poorest, the meanest saint.

4. That they are to keep, to look to, defend thee, and what is thine; thou hast an invisible guard.

5. But then mark the limitation and restriction; it is in "all thy ways," in the walk of thy vocation to which God hath called thee; either walk in them, or the angels have no charge to keep thee.

6. Lastly, "In all thy ways;" not in one but all; for the ways of men are many, and in all he needs the custody of angels: 1. The law is a way, and the way of the law is manifold. 2. Our works and operations are manifold; which are our way too. 3. Our life is a way, and there be many parts and conditions of our life, various ages, manifold states; and in all these ways we need a guardian, for we may slip in every law, in every operation, in every age, in every state of life.

Which that it be not done, God hath given his angels charge over us: to keep us only; nay, which is more, -

1. "They shall bear thee," as kind mothers and nurses do their children.

2. "They shall bear thee in their hands;" the will, understanding, wisdom, and power are, as it were, the angels' hand; with all these they will bear us.

3. "That thou dash not thy foot;" that is, thy affections, which carry the soul to good or bad.

4. "Against a stone;" which are all difficulties and obstacles.

And, which is yet more, under their custody we shall tread under foot Satan, and all his accomplices; him, a roaring lion, an old serpent, a fierce dragon, and all his associates, tyrants, persecutors, and hypocrites; for such is the promise; "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and dragon shalt thou trample under feet."

5. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word stand, saith God;" and here we find the law strictly observed: it was to be proved, that all who truly trust in God were to be protected by God; of which; one witness was the just man, Psalms 91:2; another, the testimony of the Spirit by the prophet, from verse Psalms 91:3 to this verse; Psalms 91:3-16 to which a third, we have here even GOD himself; for in these three last verses the prophet brings Him, God himself, testifying this great and comfortable truth with his own mouth: -

1. "Because he hath set his love upon me," pleased me, loved me, adhered to me, hoped in me, trusted to me with a filial love and adherence.

2. "Because he hath known my name," acknowledged my power, wisdom, goodness; these are the causes and conditions presupposed in the protected.

3. "He shall call upon me." Invocation is necessary also. "Therefore I will deliver him, I will answer him, I will be with him in trouble, I will honour him. I will glorify him, or set him on high;" and the second, "I will deliver him; with long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation."

1. "I will deliver him," by the shield, by my angels, by other ways, directly or indirectly, yet so that it be remembered that I do it; for these shall not deliver without me.

2. "I will answer him;" answer his desires, answer his prayers, so they be cries.

3. "I will be with him in trouble;" join myself close to him, go into prison with him as it were, suffer with him, and think myself pursued when he is persecuted, give him comfort even then; they sung in prison; he neither delivers the martyrs from death, nor does he forsake them.

4. "I will honour him:" for the names of those who suffered for his sake are honourable; "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

These promises may belong to this life; those that follow to the other.

1. "I will deliver him." For the just by death are freed from the present and all future miseries: "Blessed are the dead, for they rest from their labours."

2. "I will glorify him." As if it were not enough to deliver him; such a thing in this life may fall out, as it happened to Joseph, Job, David, Daniel; but the true glory no question must be, "when the righteous shall shine like the sun, be set upon their thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel."

3. "With long life will I satisfy him," i.e., with eternal felicity, with a continuance in bliss, which shall be eternal; for without eternity, even length of days cannot satisfy; as appears by old men, who yet have complained of a short life.

4. And that the prophet speaks of this eternal felicity is more than probable, because he adds, "I will show him my salvation;" I will show him Jesus, my salvation; that is, I will bring to pass, that when through his whole life I have given him sufficient evidences of my fatherly affection, I will at last translate him to a place where he shall no longer live by faith, but shall see, and experimentally feel, what he hath believed.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 91". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.