Expository Sermon on Psalm 91
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 7/2/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch

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Please open your Bibles to Psalm 91.

Every Sabbath as Shelley and I are driving to church, we pass the Maple Valley golf course down in South Renton. Unless it’s the dead of winter, or really unseasonably cold, we see golfers already out on the links. Even on miserable, rainy days, we will see a few of the faithful folks sloshing their way along under umbrellas.

The golf course is separated from the highway by a tall mesh netting, which is designed to protect passing cars from the badly-aimed ball. And the first tee is right up close to that netting, so that Shelley and I can see the players poising themselves to hit the first ball of their match.

And even in our quick drive-by, we’ve noticed that as those golfers stand there getting ready to strike that ball, they don’t just stroll casually up and take a slash at it. Instead, they approach the ball almost reverently, and then adjust themselves into a position they have learned to assume, sort of a stance, and from that stance, they finally swing.

Because in golf, stance is important. And pretty much every sport has its own stance. If you’re getting ready to make a free-throw in basketball, you position your feet and your hands and your elbows according to the way your coach told you to. Stance is important in tennis, especially when you’re getting ready to receive your opponent’s serve. Back when I was a kid I studied a paperback karate book, and I learned that in karate there are certain stances you use, which make you able as much as possible to respond to whatever kind of attack your opponent makes.

And I think stance is important when you’re looking at Psalm 91. When you ask people their favorite Bible passages, quite a few will mention Psalm 91. And no wonder—this psalm is loaded with all sorts of powerful, confident promises to get us through all kinds of difficulties.

For example, it says that God will deliver us from the “snare of the fowler” and from “deadly pestilence,” in other words, from dreadful dangers. In other places, Psalm 91 tells us things we need not fear – the terror of night, the arrow by day, pestilence, plague.

And of course anybody who knows Psalm 91 and also has lived any length of time, discovers that not all of these protections happen for everybody. This Psalm urges us to claim these promises, but they can’t always come true for everyone.

Okay. What do we do with this? What do we do with Psalm 91? Is thisi famous Bible hymn not much more than wishful thinking? Or can it provide us security and confidence?

As I was studying this Psalm this week, I discovered that there are actually people in it. The psalm talks about them. And as we go through the Psalm, and keep an eye on these people, we discover four “stances” that those people inside the Psalm are actually using.

And I think it’s important for us to learn more about these stances ourselves. Because the Psalm clearly says that the people who are in those stances are the ones most likely to find those promises coming true for them. Not always, of course. But just being in those stances themselves make us more ready to receive whatever help or problem-solutions God knows are best for us.

So let’s go through the Psalm, and spot those stances, and resolve to assume those positions in the days and weeks ahead.

Psalm 91:1 [NKJV]: He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

Back in college when I was taking singing lessons, the teacher knew that I was interested in Christian music, so he assigned me a song that was pretty much a word-for-word rendering of this Psalm, from the King James version. I can still sing a little bit of it:

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

I have just sung you Stance Number One. Here is somebody in this Psalm, and that person– in the New King James version – is “dwelling in the secret place of the Most High.” That’s the stance this person is taking.

So what is the “secret place of the Most High”? If you’re reading from the New International Version, you see that it says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High.” That’s basically what the English Standard Version says, and also the New Revised Standard Version. But if you look it up in the Hebrew, there is not only “shelter” but also “secrecy” in that word. In Psalm 119:114, where it says “you are my hiding place,” that’s that same word.

So what is Psalm 91’s first “stance”? Well, let’s read verse one again:

Verse 1: He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

So what’s the first stance you and I should assume if we want to be one of the people in Psalm 91? If you’re taking sermon notes, here’s what I would call Sermon Point One.

Stay in God’s sheltering shadow.

Yesterday when Shelley and I took an after-breakfast walk in our neighborhood, we walked over to the trail just beside the Lake Youngs Reservoir. The trail has shady spots, and also sunny spots. Since it was a warm morning, when we got to the shady spots, we tended to linger there, maybe find an excuse to stay as long as possible. As long as we stayed in the sheltering shadow of those tall trees, we were far more comfortable.

So how do I stay in God’s sheltering shadow? Well, if it’s hot and sunny out, and you find some shade, you stay close to whatever is casting that shade. And staying in God’s shadow, hidden in His shelter, you are staying close to Him.

And that shelter, that shadow, is a movable one. Right here, in this sanctuary, you are under God’s shadow. Jesus says that where even just a few people gather in his name, He is among them. So Jesus is here.

But when the service is over and you drive home in the car, you still need to stay under that sheltering shadow. You need to remember that God wants to be close in your car as well. And that means that you don’t take off your church mask and stuff it under the car seat and put on a less friendly mask. You want God’s sheltering shadow to follow you all the way home, and hover over you there.

And whatever you do this coming week, day by day, you need to live as though God were close to you. You need to remember the commandments that he wrote with His own finger, those commandments He had the Israelites preserve with such care in the ark.

Because the minute you or I stray from such commands as mental murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting, we have lost the shadow of the Almighty. He still loves us, of course, but we need to hurry back under His shadow and ask Him for forgiveness.

Remember how when Israel wandered in the wilderness, God was a protecting shade to them, in a large hovering cloud that kept away that heat of the sun? When that cloud moved, the people quickly packed their tents so that they could continue to stay under the sheltering shadow of God’s presence.

Jesus resolved to stay in God’s sheltering shadow. He resolved to be God’s person totally. He knew His Bible well, and urged us to study ours. I mean, just reading through the Bible passages for our Bible year plan has given me wonderful insights into chapters I thought I knew. If you would like to pick up this plan during the second half of the year, right where are Bible year plan says to, and jump into it if you’re not there already, if you do this, you will find God’s presence there.

Now, back to Psalm 91. In the very next verse – verse 2 – we find the second “stance” we need to assume in order to stay within the protection of Psalm 91.

Verse 2: I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”

It’s interesting the way the different Bible versions translate the first few words of verse two. The New King James says “I will say of the Lord,” and the New International Version says the same thing: “I will say of the Lord.”

But the English Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version both say “I will say to the Lord.” And it’s possible to translate it either way. But either way, it is the second stance you and I need to take to position ourselves within Psalm 91. It comes Sermon Point Two. What is this second stance?

If the first stance is to stay in God’s sheltering shadow, the second stance is to speak out your trust in God.

So whether you’re speaking about God, or to God, it’s important to speak out your trust in him. Talk about it. Talk to Him about it, talk to other people about it.

One of the great midweek joys for Shelley and me is our Wednesday night at the 7:30 prayer call. A week ago this past Wednesday we had 20 people on that call, and this past Wednesday there might’ve been almost as many. The first thing we do on that call is to share answers to prayers – sort of an expanded version of today’s Celebrations and Concerns time. And then we ask for prayer requests, and then we pray about them.

And it is amazing what we hear. Several people have been on the prayer call for a long time – and came to in-person prayer meeting before that. And they tell us they been praying for years for a loved one, or friend, to turn their hearts to the Lord.
And this past Wednesday we heard two people tell us how sharing their faith – in one case to a very difficult person, and in another case to a relative – is working. It’s not snap-of-the-finger easy, and it requires patience, but they are taking this second stance seriously about speaking out their trust in God.

If you read through the average Psalm, you’ll find that this psalmist will most often speak both to God and to other people about God. A psalm will say, “Praise the Lord, for He is good,” and will then switch and say, “Lord, You have been our strength and help for many generations.” So when you speak out your trust in God, speak both to God, and to anyone in your life that the Holy Spirit gives you an opportunity to.

And this speaking most often isn’t done with your voice. I know that a number of you have learned from personal experience how important it is to be a mature, loving Christian–a consistent Christian–in easy times or in difficult times. Because it’s when we’re going through tough times that our Christian witness gains in power.

Now we come to the third stance, the third position we need to assume in order for this Psalm to truly be ours. Let’s start with verse 3. Here’s where we start learning about some of these breathtaking Psalm 91 promises.

Verses 3 – 7: Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.

Now, here comes Stance Number Three.

Verse 8: Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.

Can you spot the stance in that verse? Let me tell you what I think it is. I think it’s an important one.

The first stance is to stay in God’s sheltering shadow. The second stance is to speak out your trust in God. And I think the third stance is to watch as God brings justice.

Why is this so important? Well, for one thing, the verse we just read says that with our eyes we will see the reward of the wicked. That’s important because there is such a thing as injustice. There are many evils that need to be put right.

And I think one of the worst things we can do is to try desperately to ignore the news, or to simply allow voices we happen to trust to interpret the news for us. Back in Jesus’ day, a lot of people trusted the Pharisees to interpret the Bible for them. The problem was that the Pharisees, who should have been studying the Bible, instead studied the writings of generation after generation of rabbis who had developed opinions on the Bible.

This means that the average layperson back then had to decide whether to accept what the Pharisees said (and those interpretations often veered sharply away from the real meaning of the Bible texts), or they had to decide whether to keep their eyes open, see things as they really were, and watch God at work.

Verse 8 could have simply said, “The wicked will get their reward.” But instead it says, “With your eyes you shall look, and see the reward of the wicked.” And it even uses the word “only.” “Only with your eyes you will look, and see the reward of the wicked.”

What that seems to say to me is that we need to keep our eyes open. We dare not turn uncaringly away from what is happening on the planet. We can’t solve all of Earth’s problems, but we need to keep our eyes open so we can watch the divine Problem-solver at work.

After all, Jesus often told His disciples to “watch.” He tells them to watch because they don’t know the day or the hour of His return. He talks about householders who get burgled by thieves because they did not watch. In Gethsemane, He begged his disciples to tarry there and watch with them while he prayed. He said “watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.”

And Jesus’ late-in-the-day friend Paul had something important to say about this. Put some kind of marker here in Psalm 91, because we’ll be back in a few seconds, and turn to First Thessalonians 5.

1 Thessalonians 5:1 – 6: But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.

And if we stay awake – as Jesus insisted that Matthew 25’s five foolish bridesmaids should have stayed awake – we will see God at work. If we pay attention, we will see that justice will eventually be done.

If we weren’t in God’s secret shelter, if we weren’t under the shadow of the Almighty, it would be terrifying and paralyzing to watch Earth’s events unfold. But Psalm 91 tells us what God can do, and what He eventually will do, to bring justice.

So, let’s go back to Psalm 91 and read some more about God’s power. Let’s start with verse 9.

Psalm 91:9: Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place . . . .

Notice that? Notice how this reminds us of the first stance we need to be in, the first position we were urged to take: Stay in God’s sheltering shadow. This verse just repeats that idea – “Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the most high, your dwelling place.”

And now we come to some more good news about God’s power. Let’s start at verse 9 again:

Verses 9 – 10: Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;

Again, those are some powerful promises. Not only are they breathtaking, they don’t always happen as swiftly and emphatically as it sounds like they will in these verses. From many years of pastoring, I have known quite a few people who made the Lord their refuge, and their dwelling place, but who still went through difficult situations like cancer or other crises.

So what do we do with this? How much weight can we put on Psalm 91 when it doesn’t seem as though things always turn out the way the Psalm says they will?

I think the next couple of verses – very familiar ones – might be able to help.

Verses 11 – 12: For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You see what I mean? Those verses are familiar, aren’t they? And why are they familiar? Because the devil quoted them to Jesus, a little over a month after Jesus was baptized.

Actually, when the devil quoted these verses, he left out a key phrase. In both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, the devil did not repeat the part of the verse that said “to keep you in all your ways.” Here’s what the Seventh-day Adventist Bible commentary says, commenting on Matthew 4:6: “Satan quotes from Psalm 91:11, 12, but omits the words ‘to keep the in all thy ways.’ Perhaps this was designed to obscure the fact that the protecting care of God is available to us only when we remain in ways of God’s own choosing. Satan knew that when a man departs from the straight and narrow way he leaves God’s chosen ground and steps over onto the enchanted ground of the enemy. But Jesus refused to depart from the pathway of strict obedience to the will of the Father.” (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 313)

Now – why do I think these verses lead us to our last stance, the last way we should position ourselves firmly within God’s will? Let me give you this final stance and then we’ll talk about it.

The first stance is to stay in God’s sheltering shadow. The second stance is to speak out your trust in God. The third stance is to watch as God brings justice. And I believe that the fourth stance is to release your future’s timing to your Heavenly Father.

Jesus believed these Psalm 91 promises. But He knew very well that he needed to release His own future to the will of His Heavenly Father. Three and a half years after the devil quoted Psalm 91 to Jesus, Jesus would face the horror of betrayal and rejection and eventually death. Even in the garden of Gethsemane He begged God to release Him from that terrifying fate if there was any possible way.

But Jesus released His future’s timing to His Heavenly Father. Jesus knew that God had a plan to save humanity, and that Jesus was part of that plan.

And maybe even while He was listening to Satan selectively quote this Psalm, maybe Jesus thought about the next two verses, and claimed them as His promise as well.

Verse 13: You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

Isn’t that interesting? Both the lion and the serpent are Bible symbols of Satan. Peter called the devil a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8, and in Revelation 12:9 Satan is called “that old serpent.”

So as we read through the promises of Psalm 91, and as we claim them – which we should – we need to remember to leave the timing of these future events to God.

Ever since I was a kid, I have once in a while enjoyed sneaking into uncooked macaroni and pasta bags and just chewing on those crunchy pieces of pasta. I actually did it again this week.

I chewed only a few pieces, and it took me a long time. And I know, of course, that pasta tastes best – and is best for you – when you’re patient enough to allow it to boil for the suggested time.

And God knows the boiling point. He has a timeline He knows will work best to draw the affairs of this earth to their conclusion.

Verses 14 – 16: “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon 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.”

And back to verse 4:

Verse 4: He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge;

That’s our closing song—taken directly from this verse. One of the stances we’re supposed to take is to speak out our trust in God. Let’s stand to our feet and do that right now.