The subject is the security of the man who thoroughly trusts in God. This subject is worked out by an "antiphonal arrangement" (Cheyne)—the first speaker delivering Psalms 90:1 , Psalms 90:2 ; the second, Psalms 90:3 , Psalms 90:4 ; then the first responding with Psalms 90:5-8 ; and again the second with Psalms 90:9-13 . In conclusion, a third speaker, making himself the mouthpiece of Jehovah, crowns all by declaring the blessings which God himself will bestow upon his faithful ones ( Psalms 90:14-16 ).
This psalm is, apparently, liturgical, and is "the most vivid of the liturgical psalms" (Cheyne). It has a certain resemblance to the speech of Eliphaz the Temanite in Job 5:17-23 , but stands at a higher elevation.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High (comp. Psalms 90:1 ). He who has his thoughts always on God is said to "dwell in him"—to "make his abode with him"—to "sit down in his secret place." He has the Almighty, as it were, for his constant companion. Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. This is not "tautology." What is meant is that "loving faith on man's part shall be met by faithful love on God's part" (Kay). God will extend his "shadow" over the man who places himself under his protection.
The man that trusts in God.
I. WE HAVE HIS DESCRIPTION .
1 . He dwells in the secret place , etc.
2 . He abides under the shadow of the Almighty .
II. HIS CONFESSION OF FAITH ( Psalms 91:2 .) The Lord is his Refuge, Fortress, the Joy of his soul, his God, his constant Confidence.
III. HIS COMMENDATION OF GOD TO OTHERS . ( Psalms 91:3-13 .)
1 . As a sure Deliverer from the hidden foe and from the devouring pestilence.
2 . As Protector ; like that of the mother bird over her young; like that of shield and buckler to the soldier.
3 . As the Inspirer of confidence. ( Psalms 91:5 .) Against the midnight attack—the terror by night (cf. 7:1-25 .). Against open war, when the flight of arrows almost darkened the sky. Against secret disease ( Psalms 91:6 ) and sudden death—the sickness that wasteth at noonday.
4 . As rescuing from the very jaws of death. Thousands falling all around, but God's servant kept unharmed ( Psalms 91:7 ). Seeing only, but never experiencing, the awful recompense of the wicked ( Psalms 91:8 ).
5 . He gives the reason of this. ( Psalms 91:9 .) He made the Lord his Refuge and his Habitation; there no evil could come, nor any plague.
6 . He tells of the angelic ministries through which God thus guards his people; they keep and they upbear, so that no hurt shall come. Still more, they render the man invulnerable ( Psalms 91:13 ). Forces terrible as the lion and subtle like the adder cannot harm. Thus, from his own experience, the man that trusts in God commends him to his fellow man. And next—
IV. THE DIVINE APPROVAL AND DELIGHT IN BOTH THE MAN AND HIS TESTIMONY . At Psalms 91:14 God begins to speak.
1 . Declaring his mind towards his faithful servant. We may regard these verses (14-16) as a Divine soliloquy, in which God, well pleased, meditates what he will do, and why, for his servant. He will deliver, exalt, answer, keep near to, honour, satisfy with long life, and reveal to him the fulness of his love.
2 . Endorsing the testimony in the mind of him to whom it has been given. Making him feel that it is all true, and that much more is true. Thus does God deal with his faithfully witnessing servants, and for and through them to others. This psalm is as true for today as for the day when it was written. Let us but thus trust in God, confess, and commend him.—S.C.
Abiding under God's shadow.
In order to understand this most precious promise, inquire—
I. WHAT IS THE SECRET PLACE OF THE MOST HIGH ? The idea of this "secret place" is frequently met with.
1 . Sometimes it tells of some secret hiding place, such as David often resorted to when a fugitive;. and the sure protection of God is likened to such safe shelter.
2 . At other times, the central tent of the commander of an army seems to be meant, as in Psalms 27:5 , "He shall hide me in his pavilion," etc. The enemy would have to break through rank after rank of the encamped army ere he could reach the well guarded central tent of the leader. So inaccessible to the foe, so strongly placed was it, that it is taken as an emblem of our security in God.
3 . But it is to the most holy place of the tabernacle and temple that we think allusion is here made. That sacred chamber was emphatically the secret place of the Most High. It was entered but once a year, and then only by one person, the high priest, bearing the blood of atonement. For all the rest of the year no footfall was heard in that secret place, no eye looked upon the glory of God that shone forth there. That loneliness told of the sad alienation that had sprung up between God and man through man's sin. But that secret place was the earthly dwelling place of God. There, between the cherubim, his glory shone forth, and there he was said to dwell.
II. BUT WHAT IS IT TO DWELL THERE ? Literally, no man ever dwelt there. We are driven, therefore, to seek the spiritual meaning of this word. And we note that:
1 . Israel entered there in the person of the high priest, when he bore in his hand the atoning blood, which he was about to sprinkle upon the mercy seat. All Israel found entrance there in their high priest, their representative. And whilst they continued in the faith of God, obeying and trusting him, they spiritually dwelt in that secret place, and, as a fact, were under the shadow—the high priest was so literally—of the Most High. No evil befell them, no plague came nigh their dwelling. It was well with them indeed.
2 . And we enter and dwell there when, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we come to God, pleading his all-sufficient sacrifice and atonement, of which the blood berne by the high priest told. And we dwell there as we continue in that precious faith. Then we, too, are under the shadow of the Almighty. The Law's condemnation, sin's power, earthly care, death, and the grave, can do us no harm; we are under the sure and blessed shelter of our God. Next let us note—
III. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS INDWELLING .
1 . The Lord is to us our Refuge. The Law's condemnation would fasten upon us but for this. And he is our Fortress—the place of vantage whence we fight successfully the spiritual warfare. And he is our God, in whom we trust; he is the confidence, the delight, the joy of our souls; so that we say of him, "He is my God."
2 . And all this we take personally, each of us individually appropriating it. The Lord is not merely " a Refuge," but "my Refuge," "my Fortress," etc.
3 . And we confess it . "I will say of the Lord," etc.; "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
IV. THE SURE FRUIT OF SUCH DWELLING IN THE SECRET PLACE OF THE MOST HIGH . We shall commend God to others. The rest of the psalm is one prolonged testimony to the blessedness of thus dwelling in God. "Surely he shall deliver thee," etc. Are we, then, thus individually and avowedly dwelling in God?—S.C.
Our place of safety.
The construction of this psalm is peculiar (see exegetical notes). Ewald gives the best suggestion concerning its structure. Partly the poet expresses his own feelings as from himself, and partly as if they were uttered by another. He seems to listen to the thoughts of his own spirit till they become clear and distinct, like some prophetic words, or some Divine oracle speaking to him from without, and giving him thus the assurance and the consolation afresh which had already sprung up in his heart. The associations of the psalm, and the authorship, cannot with any certainty be traced, but the Jewish idea that it belongs to the age of
Moses deserves consideration. Certainly the experiences of the wilderness life give the most effective illustration of both the figures and the sentiments of the psalm. Bishop Wordsworth says confidently, "The scenery of the psalm is derived from the circumstances of the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness." Dean Plumptre says, "The psalm is an echo, verse by verse almost, of the words in which Eliphaz the Temanite describes the good man's life ( Job 5:17-23 )." Perhaps the two sentences of Psalms 91:1 would be better read as a repetition, according to the customary construction of Hebrew poets. "He that dwelleth … he that abideth … shall say unto the Lord." Working out the Mosaic association, show—
I. THE WILDERNESS PERILS . As Moses would be impressed by them. Limited food. Dangers of pestilence by remaining too long in a place. Active enemies. Local difficulties, as from serpents. Temper of the people. Influence of mixed multitudes. Wearying effect of constant changes, etc. We seldom fully realize the persistent and exhausting anxieties of Moses. Sometimes even his life seemed to be in danger.
II. THE WILDERNESS SAFETIES . Moses could not help contrasting the holy quiet of those forty days he had spent in the "secret place" with God, and the forty years of strain and stress he had spent with the stiff-necked and rebellious people. He must often have yearned for a renewal of those restful hours. And yet the spiritual fact and truth for him was that he did still "dwell in the secret place," he did still "abide under the shadow of the Almighty;" for this, in very truth, is a mood of soul experience, and not a mere bodily relationship. Moses with God in the mount does but illustrate Moses with God always, resting and safe in his "shadow." R.T.