A Question I Was Asked:

Why Does God Not Keep His Promise of Psalm 91?

"According to Psalm 91, shouldn't the righteous of the Lord be given constant protection? Is that not so? But is that what we find in this life? I suggest that it isn't, therefore the Bible is unreliable. My submission is: we cannot rely on Psalm 91."

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, now let us be sensible about this. If that were a divine unchangeable promise, then what about the suffering which people like David (Old Testament), and Paul (New Testament) often went through? I recently heard about a "woman vicar" (a woman vicar? oh well...) here in the UK who allegedly "lost her faith" after her daughter was killed by a terrorist bomb. Presumably she believed in divine blanket protection for all God's people and for their families too. When she did not find it, she (presumably) started disbelieving God. Now, of course, I have every sympathy for that lady 'of the cloth' in that terrible tragedy, but I do suggest that she must have had a flawed concept of biblical faith in the first place.

There are also quite a few cults and sects out there which insist that some sort of continual divine protection is in operation and they see this as a biblical teaching. If that protection (which they themselves insist on defining), is not there, then it must be because "faith" (again, their own understanding and definition) must have been lacking. I will only say here that that says rather a lot about the limited theological understanding of many such groups.

Before we look more closely at Psalm 91, I will simply state that a Scripture such as Psalm 34:19 more fully reflects the correct biblical teaching:

'A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all' (Psalm 34:19; NIV throughout).

Yes, the righteous can expect - I repeat expect - trials, difficulties and persecutions in this life, but the Lord promises to deliver us. Of course, that does not tell us at what point that deliverance shall occur, but many of us (at times and circumstances of God's choosing - not ours!) do find that we are suddenly delivered from serious problems which threaten us, and yet that 'deliverance' may not even occur in this life but could lie beyond the grave and in the resurrection. Yes, we really can count on the promises of God, but is ongoing divine protection [as defined by us] in this present life one of those promises? No, it is not. Moreover, it is unscriptural to teach otherwise. There is always a lack of biblical understanding present with those who teach that we can definitely have this and have that right now; this is the approach of the 'health, wealth and prosperity' teachers who make unscriptural promises to biblically naive people. No, we are promised trials - very definitely not luxury!

To take a 20th century example, Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand was thrown into prison and suffered for many years because of his refusal to renounce Christianity in communist Romania. Yet even during those years in prison there were several distinct occasions where Richard felt the Lord's hand in sparing him from even worse suffering. Finally, he was indeed released and he was able to travel to many places testifying to the goodness of God. So, in his case, he was 'delivered' now but of course, he will certainly be more fully 'delivered' in the future resurrection from the dead. Yes, the promises of God stand - but we have to understand those promises! Why were all the martyrs of God not delivered at their point of martyrdom? To even suggest that they possibly did not have quite enough faith is crass beyond belief and it reveals a very poor Bible knowledge. The answer is that Almighty God is in charge of these things. He alone has final jurisdiction, but the deliverance of these faithful saints is absolutely sure! It occurred when they entered Heaven at death and will be manifested by all of us when they arise in the resurrection!

The sort of blanket protection from every evil which some of us might choose is not, and never was, a biblical promise! Yet - at the end of the day - all of God's true people are delivered:

'"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."' (John 6:37-40).

Again, a few of those who followed Jesus, believed that the 'bread of heaven' which He promised was referring to never going without a meal upon this earth. They looked for a 'blanket,' never missing a meal-type promise. They did not perceive that He was speaking about spiritual things.

In Hebrews 12, God actually promises us trials in this life and even warns that to be without trials might be spiritually very serious for us:

'Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet,"so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:1-13).

Okay, now let us look at Psalm 91. This psalm, like all the psalms, is poetic in style. Some psalms even contain prophecy but the purpose of almost all of them is to strengthen and encourage God's people. They appear in a form which may be commited to memory and readily set to music. They are beautiful, encouraging, and mostly colourful and ornate. While some certainly focus on trials, they mostly look beyond this present life, expressing ultimate spiritual truths. We don't know who wrote this particular psalm (that is, Psalm 91) but it was possibly a Levite priest who was much involved in worship in the temple. My comments on the verses appear beneath each verse in parentheses.

1. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

[At once, the scene is set. We are being shown how a loving and merciful God loves to cherish and protect His people, that is, those who place their full trust and confidence in Him].

2. I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

[Again, these are the sort of people who place their full trust and confidence in God].

3. Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.

[The 'fowler's snare' is a trap which has been set and 'pestilence' obviously refers to a disease epidemic. In other words, God is fully capable of protecting His people from such things, should it be His will to do so, that is. He does not have to act in quite that manner].

4. He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

[Again, our God's loving and merciful to protect His people from evil is illustrated. Firstly, He is pictured as an all-powerful bird sheltering us under His vast wings, then His faithfulness is compared to a shield of battle and a rampart].

5. You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,

[The point in all of this is that the people of God should never be fearful but should count on the eminent justice of His will].

6. nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

7. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

[This shows that it is well within the power of God to more specifically protect certain individuals whom He may wish to afford such specific protection. However, this is not and never was deemed to be a promise of total protection at all times for every God-fearing person, as people like David, for instance, well understood].

8. You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

[Yes, while this may have an application now, it certainly has a much fuller application at the end of time when the evil and wicked are eradicated and the 'meek' finally inherit the earth and, indeed, inherit 'all things'].

9. If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge-

10. then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.

11. For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;

12. they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

13. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

[Again, verses 9-13 could appear like a promise of a blanket protection for all of God's people at all times but that is not so. It is simply a case of stating that wherever God sets His hand to give such a fuller protection He is well able to deliver that. Every single Scripture must be understood in the light of all other Scriptures in order to get a true understanding, also revelation is progressive so Psalm 91 cannot be held up as of superior importance to New Testament teaching. One of the central themes of the Book of Revelation, for example, is that God's true people must be prepared to suffer at the present time but that their entrance into God's kingdom is assured].

14. "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

15. He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.

16. With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."

So these glorious things will be fulfilled in all true believers, if not fully in this life, most certainly in the life to come which we inherit beyond the grave. Again, we need to remind ourselves that none of the righteous of the Old Testament, or New Testament for that matter, believed that such Scriptures amounted to a 'blanket promise' of protection during this present life.
Robin A. Brace. July 1st 2010.