I’ve been memorizing more scripture this year—longer passages instead of a verse here and there. Before you start getting all impressed on me, let me just say it’s been a challenge. Some days I feel like I’m trying to hold onto an armful of greased bowling balls. About the time I get a good hold on one, the others slip from my grasp.
But I’ve realized my being able to recite long passages with Awana-like precision is not the point. My goal from the beginning was to go long and deep into various passages, and that has been accomplished.
As I go over and over the passages I’m trying to memorize, I spend more time thinking about the words. Passages I’ve skimmed through in the past, I now take word by word and am gaining insight I never had.
Recently, I’ve been working on Psalm 91. This has been a favorite psalm of mine for a long time and I’ve memorized portions of it before. It’s a great one for reciting when you are lying awake at night, bothered by a mountain of “what ifs.” (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.)
I love the imagery of this verse, the beauty of its parallel structure. But I have to admit, I’ve not always believed the message to be 100% accurate. Phrases like “no harm will overtake you” or “disaster will not come near his tent” bother me because I’ve seen very real disasters strike believers and non-believers alike. Believers are not immune to the bad things that happen every day in this world.
I began to ask myself, am I memorizing something that is merely wishful thinking, or can I honestly grab hold of the psalmist words as truth? As I put the words to memory this time, two separate phrases stood out to me: “My God, in whom I trust,” and “His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Yep. Those words again—trust and faithfulness. Once again God reminded me—trust comes from a history with somebody. We trust because the other person has proven himself faithful.
Though no one knows for sure who wrote this particular psalm, Jewish tradition attributes it to Moses. Some even suggest it was written after the incident in the desert with the poisonous snakes. If you remember, the Israelites were once again complaining against Moses and God. They had even gone as far as to call God’s provision of food from heaven “miserable food” (Numbers 21:5). In response, God sends fiery serpents into the camp and many of the people were dying from snake bites. The people repented and asked for deliverance, so God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and lift it up on a pole. Anyone who looked on the snake would not die. This story is a wonderful foreshadowing of what Christ did for us on the cross (John 3:14).
So, did the Israelites have a history of God’s faithfulness to draw on that should have led them to trust? Think about the miracles these people had lived through! They’d seen the angel of death strike the first born all around them, but escaped unscathed; they’d passed through the Red Sea on dry ground and turned around to see the mighty Egyptian army drown; they’d escaped death by hunger and thirst as time after time God provided water and food for them in a desert; and most recently, they’d just come from defeating a mighty Canaanite king. No wonder God was angry at their lack of trust.
As I memorized Psalm 91 again—thinking of it in this context and mulling over those key verses, I suddenly understood what the psalmist was saying. This psalm is not about believers going blithely through life and never coming in contact with any trouble or disaster, this psalm is about our position in Christ when we encounter that trouble.
When we put our trust in God, we are tucked safely beneath his wings of protection. “He is with us in trouble.” He—the God of the Universe—is by our side. And with our God at our side— our God, who has proven Himself faithful, time after time—what do we possibly have to fear? By his death and resurrection, He has already conquered our greatest enemies: sin and death. What more do we need?
If you are struggling with fear and trust issues today, spend some time on the words of this psalm. Remember God’s faithfulness and rest in the shelter of his wings.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”