The Word of God is rich with promises for believers to claim. But if we don’t understand some basic principles of Biblical interpretation, it’s pretty easy to read some of these assurances and misapply them in our lives. Then, when things don’t go according to our assumptions, we begin to doubt the God who we believe made the promise in the first place.
Today, we’re going to look at Psalms 91, a passage rich with big, bold promises from God. We want to learn how we can responsibly understand what the guarantees actually are so we can be audacious in our faith as we trust God to faithfully keep every one.
First things first, let’s look at Psalms 91 in its entirety.
Like I said, LOTS of big, bold promises! I’ve told you before about the time I found myself so buried in despair it felt like God was a liar. My circumstances seemed to contradict passages like Psalms 91. I didn’t feel like God was protecting me at that time. It felt like the evils He promised wouldn’t touch me were actually consuming me!
What I’ve learned in the years since that time is this: I have to allow God to give me a proper understanding of His promises. I have to be careful with passages like Psalms 91 and use sound principles of Biblical interpretation to sort out what God wants to speak into my heart and life. I need eyes to see and ears to hear what He’s teaching me. When Scripture seems to contradict reality, I have to first apply wisdom to my interpretation of the Word of God. Then, I have to choose to believe it. Whether it seems true or not.
The fact is, my perception of reality just isn’t as trustworthy as the Bible. What seems so obvious to me today will often look totally different down the road. Hindsight has almost always revealed that the promises of the Bible are true, and my understanding flawed. At this point I’m confident the small percentage that still confuses me will become clear in time as well.
So, before we dive into Psalms 91, let’s look at some basic principles of Biblical interpretation we can use moving forward.
Basic Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Principle 1 – Let Scripture Interpret Scripture
The first of our principles of Biblical interpretation is without question the most important. The beauty of the Bible, and what makes it different from every other piece of literature in history, is that it is the inspired Word of God. Even though God used somewhere around 40 men over a period of about a couple thousand years to write it, every single word in there was supernaturally breathed out into the hearts and minds of each author through the power of the Holy Spirit.
That means that even though it’s authorship is so diverse, it’s message is congruent. When one passage seems to say something to contradict another, there is always a third, fourth, and even fifth passage that when put together perfectly unites the whole message. When we’re not sure how to understand something we’re reading, step one should be to look at the whole of Scripture to lend us perspective and insight.
Principle 2 – Look at the Context and Don’t Bring Your Own
People can (and do) pull one or two verses out of the Bible and use that passage as an island to support just about any twisted thing they want to say. But the Bible is not a bunch of single verses meant to stand on their own. Like we already pointed out in the first of our principles of Biblical interpretation, it has to be taken as a whole. Every verse has to be taken within the context it was presented.
It’s really easy to come to Bible study with our own ideas about what is true, and then try to use what we find there in the pages of Scripture to support our own ideas. But this is a dangerous practice! We have to avoid bringing our own context and try our best to understand what God actually intended the passage to say.
Principle 3 – Accept the Plain Straightforward Meaning of the Text
My pastor always says, “If the plain sense makes sense, then there’s no sense in looking for any other sense.” We often want to pull some deep meaning out of a passage that actually has a really simple and straightforward message. But when the Bible says that God created the earth in six days, and on the seventh He rested, for instance, we don’t have to try to figure out what that actually means. It means exactly what it said.
This also means that poetry should be understood as poetry, history as history, parables as parables, and directives as directives. We don’t need to speculate about who the prodigal son really was. He was nobody. It was a parable – A made up story God used to illustrate a point.
This also means that we’ll take into account who the passage was meant for. If God is making a promise to a specific person, that doesn’t mean it is a promise we can all claim. For instance, when God tells Joshua that the walls of Jericho will fall if the Israelites follow His directives to march around the city, it doesn’t mean we can all go marching around the walls of any city we wish to destroy, claiming the promise that the walls will fall. As we’ve already learned, context matters!
Principle 4 – Understand that the Bible is About God, Not You.
If you’re reading the Bible primarily to learn about yourself, you might be missing the point. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible reveals so much about us and our deep need for a Savior. But more than it shows us who we are, the Bible shows us who God is. That’s the main point. It is our primary source of information about our Lord and Savior. It is absolute Truth, and it shows us everything we need to know in order to have deep and intimate relationship with Him.
Principle 5 – Let the Holy Spirit Be Your Guide
The last of our principles of Biblical interpretation is not one I found on a lot of other lists, but I still believe it is absolutely essential to a proper understanding of Scripture. Friends, what makes us different in the family of God from the rest of the world is that we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! He is the One who inspired every Word of Scripture. You better believe He knows exactly what it means, and He is the One who can lead us into all truth.
So, submit yourself to Him in humility and come to Bible study ready to be shown where you’re wrong. Come ready to learn. Come willing to change. Come asking Him to give you wisdom, and trust Him to supply everything you need. Come with eyes to see and ears to hear, and leave the rest to Him!
Applying Principles of Biblical Interpretation to the Promises of Psalms 91
Let the Holy Spirit Be Your Guide
Psalms 91:1-2 – Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him.
Let’s use these first few verses as a guide to start our Bible study out with a prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to be our guide.
Dear Heavenly Father,
As we come into your presence seeking to understand what You have promised us, give us wisdom! Reveal to us Your truth through Your Own Holy Spirit so that we will have the confidence to live in the shelter of Your shadow. You are the Most High God. The Almighty One. Give us rest as we seek to make You alone our refuge. Be our place of safety!
Lord, as we move forward give us ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to understand and feet that are quick to obey! Prove Your faithful love to us and show us that You are trustworthy so that we will be able to declare with confidence that YOU ARE OUR GOD AND WE TRUST YOU!
In Jesus’s Name Amen.
Accept the Plain Straightforward Meaning of the Text
Psalms 91:3-4 – For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with His feathers.
He will shelter you with His wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
So often I interpret Scripture through my exceedingly temporal perspective. But that just isn’t the perspective from which it is written. It’s not the plain sense. We want promises like this one to mean we’ll never have to suffer the sting of betrayal or endure a terminal disease. We want to believe God is promising to make our life easy or pain free.
But our God is eternal. His promises are too. 1 Thessalonians 5 lends some perspective to this promise of protection.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls us is faithful.
You see, it’s not literal, temporal traps and diseases we need protection from. What we need is for our whole spirit, soul, and body to be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. We need to be holy – Set apart for God so that when the end comes we will be granted eternal life with Him.
From where we stand, eternity seems so far away, but the Bible promises again and again that there will be a day when this reality will be revealed for what it is – short. Temporary. But a breath!
As Psalms 91 assures us, God’s faithful promises become our armor and protection. But not for this short life, from this short life! He has called us to an eternal relationship with Him and He is faithful to keep us; spirit, soul, and body, protected from this corrupt world so that we can stand before Him blameless for all eternity!
Let Scripture Interpret Scripture
Psalms 91:5-8 – Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in the darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes and see how the wicked are punished.
Like I said before, this promise doesn’t always feel true. But when we use principles of Biblical interpretation, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, we see we’re not promised a lack of trouble. We’re simply told we don’t have to fear those troubles because the One who holds us has overcome.
John 16:33 – I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
Friends, we don’t have to be afraid of the sorrows and the trials that are sure to come our way. Though these terrors and disasters stalk us, and though we see them destroying so many around us, we can live in peace. True, all-consuming peace!
Why? Because our God has overcome this world and we are living for something greater. So, we find the evils indeed cannot touch us because as 1 John 4:4 promises, through Him we too have overcome this world! We are His and according to John 10:28-30, no one can snatch us out of His hand.
It may sometimes look like those who live to indulge their flesh are winning. Every now and then it may seem like they’re not miserable, but we need only open our eyes to see the delusion shattered. Those whose hope is in anything less than the One True God are headed for destruction. Their lives are miserable. Their insatiable thirst for more consumes them, leaving them empty and unsatisfied. That is not our destiny!
Look at the Context and Don’t Bring Your Own
Psalms 91:9-13 – If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter,
No evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For He will order His angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
Real quick, let’s remember a few ways the enemy shows up in Scripture:
In Genesis 3, he appears to Eve as a serpent. In fact, he is cursed by God as a serpent and promised that one day the offspring of Adam would “crush his head.”
In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re promised the power to crush lions and serpents under foot when those are both forms used to describe Satan!
Ephesians 6:12, and Revelation 2:10 can help us further define our enemy. We’re assured we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of darkness. These are the evil seeking to conquer us, the plague that’s coming after our homes.
In 2 Timothy 4:17-18 Paul tells Timothy how God rescued him from a death sentence. But ultimately, Paul still ended up losing his life for his faith. I don’t really think that’s what he’s talking about in these verses when he says,
But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul was not literally rescued from every evil attack. But he was delivered from the lion’s mouth forever and brought safely into God’s Kingdom! Friends, the same victory is ours!
Understand that the Bible is About God, Not You.
Psalms 91:14-16 – The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My Name.
When they call on Me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with long life and give them My salvation.
Are we ready to believe these promises? Are we ready to give Him our love? Are we ready to trust in His Name? 1 John 5: 3-4 reminds us that to love God is to obey Him and put our faith in Him. And putting our faith in Him is what enables us to overcome in victory.
So let’s resolve to call out to Him. Let’s believe He will answer. Let’s search for Him in our troubles, knowing we will find Him every single time. Let’s accept His rescue – not with a flawed understanding that looks to never have suffering, but with wisdom. Wisdom that lets go of fear and lives with an all-consuming peace.
John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Our Lord has given us His salvation sisters! Our eternity is secure, so let’s trust Him with our todays! Let’s live in His shelter. Let’s make Him our refuge. And let’s declare with confidence,