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Coronavirus, Suffering and Psalm 91 The Disciple’s Problem of Trust

What underpins the theology of Psalm 91 is an understanding of the problem of sin in Part 1 and the human experience of suffering in Part 2. These thoughts frame for us the larger questions we need to grapple with as we consider what is at the heart of Psalm 91.

The issue with Psalm 91 is this: It seems to suggest that those who take refuge in God (vv.1, 9, 14), would never suffer from any harm (vv.3 – 8, 10–13, 16.) What am I to make of this? I note three things:

  1. Firstly, the surface reading that the psalmist expects that there will be no death is certainly false! Looking within the context of Book of Psalms itself, we note that Psalm 91 is placed immediately after Psalm 90 which is a Psalm that expresses the brevity of life and the problem of suffering as a result of our sins! (Psa 90:3–10.)
  1. Secondly, this Psalm must also be read in the larger context of the Scriptures. As we have seen previously, Scriptures recognise that suffering can come even to those who “take refuge in GOD”.  This is true for Job and also our Lord Jesus who continued to entrust His soul to God even on the Cross.
  1. Thirdly, Satan himself used Psalm 91:11–12 in the wilderness to tempt Jesus to test God (Matt 4:5–6, Lk 4:9–11.) What was intended by God as a blessing to His people, was twisted by the evil one into some kind of self-centred, on-demand, I-must-have-it-now kind of attitude! Bible commentator James Mays writes:

    “The psalm itself poses a danger. Because its assurance of security is so comprehensive and confident, it is especially subject to misuse that is a possibility for all religious claims, that of turning faith into superstition. In Judaism and Christianity, bits of the text have been worn in amulets that were believed to be a kind of magical protection for those who wore them.”

    That is the danger of reading the Scriptures in a self-centred way. That is the danger of living our faith as a religion (where everything is a mechanical exchange with a genie) rather than a living relationship with Almighty GOD.

So. How then am I to read this Psalm? I read it as an exhortation to trust God in the midst of danger! I read it as a call to really, really trust God. In Psalm 91:13a, “cleave to me” (Hebrew: hashaq) is a reminder to truly cling to God. Yes, the Lord has delivered in the past and He will yet deliver again! The truth is that God has ultimately delivered us from all evil through the death and resurrection of Jesus! This will be fully realised at the new heavens and new earth where: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

However, as we have seen from the rest of the Scriptures, this is by no means a guarantee while on earth. Indeed the call to trust and hold on to GOD is seen in Job’s life:

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.”

Job 13:15 (ESV)

This is also seen in Daniel’s friends,

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:17–18 (ESV) 

and also among the true believers,

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Revelation 12:11 (ESV)

and mostly in our Lord Himself,

“And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”

Mark 14:36 (ESV)

Psalm 91 is a psalm of promises as we take a cursory look at it. However, when understood through the whole counsel of Scriptures, these promises of God are deeply redemptive in nature. At the heart of Psalm 91 is not merely promises of immediate deliverance but the character of promise-keeping God whose promises of redemption and ultimate deliverance will be fully realised in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21).

The call then of Psalm 91, is the same call issued throughout the Scriptures. Will I truly, truly trust and cling on to God?

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Daily Devo

Daily Devotional Journal

Scripture:
Jonah 1:4-16; Psalm 86:11
Tue, 25 January 2022

The Fearful Men

Observation:

How did the sailors’ fear change from verse 5 to verse 16?

Deeper Reflection
THE NARRATIVE OF THE STORM AND SAILORS IS FULL OF irony and comedy. Picture the drama. The seasoned mariners were scared out of their wits (v.5). In an utter frenzy, they dumped cargo, desperately trying to save themselves. In contrast, Jonah the rebellious prophet was oblivious to the danger, sleeping in the bowels of the ship. The mariners were frantically calling out to their gods. But the prophet of the LORD was asleep. And so the flabbergasted captain came to Jonah and commanded him, “Arise, call out to your god!” (v.6). This is a parody of the divine command that Jonah rejected: arise,…and call out against Nineveh (Jon 1:2).65 After an exercise of lot-casting to determine who is responsible for the disaster, the sailors discovered that it is Jonah, who then disclosed, “I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (v.9). Jonah’s talk about “fear” must have sounded incredibly hollow to the sailors who knew about his wilful rebellion!66 It was them, and not the LORD’s prophet, who understood the gravity of what Jonah had done (v.10). Another irony of the story is that because of Jonah’s irreverence, the sailors came to genuinely revere his God (v.16). How about us? Are we like Jonah, professing to fear God but treating God flippantly? Pastor Timothy Keller defines the fear of the Lord as being “overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and His love”67. Let us ask the LORD for an undivided heart that truly fears His name (Psa 86:11).
65 D. J. Wiseman, T. D. Alexander, and B. K. Waltke, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries v. 26 66 Ibid., 116. 67 Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 68.
Application:

What does the fear of the Lord mean to me and how does it impact the way I live?

Prayer:
Write a prayer to God as your response from your meditation on and application of the Scriptures.
Prayer Pointers:
  • Give thanks and praise
  • Pray for pastors and staff: That they will have an undivided heart that fears the name of the LORD (Psa 86:11)
  • Pray for significant people
  • Pray for those in need
  • Pray for self

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