"Bright Upbeat" by Olexandr Ignatov
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This is one of the strangest moments I’ve ever lived through. The entire world is on lockdown, all because of a microscopic parasite called the Coronavirus. Whether the disease is dangerously contagious or horribly overplayed, it has devastated the economic landscape of our world and reshaped how everyone lives life. Many are more scared than they’ve ever been—and that includes Christians. The world is turning to medical research or government legislation for answers. Christians are turning to the Bible. Many are wondering what God has to say about something like the Coronavirus, and a chapter in the Bible Christians are frequently turning to is Psalm 91. It is there that we read something that sounds awfully like the pandemic we are facing:
For [God] will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. (Psalm 91:3 ESV)
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. (Psalm 91:5–7 ESV)
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. (Psalm 91:9–10 ESV)
Psalm 91 may be the most common “spiritual pill” Christians are taking for the Coronavirus, because it seems to promise immunity from pandemics, like the Coronavirus. But there are two serious problems with this approach.
First, God never promises immunity from disease in the Bible. If Psalm 91 is promising Christians protection from getting deathly sick, it is standing all by itself in the Bible. But not only does it stand all by itself, it actually stands against the rest of the Bible. For example, Jesus promised His disciples that they would experience suffering in the world (John 16:33). Epaphroditus, a faithful minister alongside the Apostle Paul, was sick almost to the point of death (Philippians 2:27). The truth is that since Christians are followers of Christ and He suffered, they will suffer too (1 Peter 4:1, 12–19). Don’t buy into the popular lie that Christians can be immune from a virus, if they simply have enough faith. On the contrary, God often takes His children through the pain and uncertainty of disease to increase their faith. While not everyone will experience the same degree of suffering or suffer for the same reasons, God always takes His children through pain and turmoil to make them more holy like their Savior (James 1:2–4).
Second, Psalm 91 is not promising immunity from pandemics in this life. That may not sound right at first, but that’s because the psalmist is envisioning a moment beyond this life when pandemics will no longer exist. Psalm 91 is picturing a day when Jesus finally returns and every wrong is made right. No more sickness. No more death. No more sin that would warrant such tragedy. In other words, Psalm 91 is about heaven. Now, I realize that’s a bold claim and it deserves a fair amount of biblical support. So, I want to ask three questions about Psalm 91 that will demonstrate that this chapter is, in fact, projecting the hope of heaven:
WHO IS PSALM 91 TALKING ABOUT?
At first glance, Psalm 91 appears to be talking about the person reading the psalm. But that is actually not the case. Rather, Psalm 91 is talking about Jesus, the Messiah. How do we know this? There are a series of verses in Psalm 91 that describe experiences the rest of the Bible applies only to the Messiah.
After God promises a certain individual that “no plague will come near your tent” in Psalm 91:10, verse 11 says this about the same person:
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11–12 ESV)
These two verses should sound familiar to you. They are the same two verses Satan quoted to Jesus when he was tempting Him in the wilderness. Matthew 4:5–6 records the moment in our Bibles:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:5–6 ESV; cf. Luke 4:9–11)
Satan recognized that Psalm 91 was talking about the Messiah. He deceptively took these two verses and tried to twist them to get Jesus to obey him rather than His Father in heaven. But it’s possible that Satan was wrong. He is the “Father of Lies” after all (John 8:44) and may have intentionally misinterpreted Psalm 91 as a messianic psalm. However, the next verse in Psalm 91 suggests otherwise . . .
You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. (Psalm 91:13 ESV)
Treading on an adder (cobra) and trampling on a serpent is imagery that is directly associated with the Messiah. The first thing we learn about the Messiah in Scripture is that He will crush the serpent’s head:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
Psalm 91 recalls Genesis 3:15. It anticipates that the man the psalmist is talking to will be the Messiah and that He will fulfill the Bible’s first promise of the gospel. Satan conveniently left this verse out of his quotation of Psalm 91. Perhaps he did not want to have to think about his own future demise at the hands of Jesus. But whatever the reason, Satan would have been painfully aware that Psalm 91:13 was talking about him based on its association with Genesis 3:15. He knew that the subject of Psalm 91 was the Messiah and that he was going to suffer at His hands. This is likely why Satan was able to correctly assign verses 11 and 12 to the Messiah as well.
The first two passages offer strong evidence that Psalm 91 is talking about the Messiah. But Psalm 91:14–16 may provide the strongest evidence of them all:
Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. (Psalm 91:14–16 ESV)
These three verses are a composite of verses from at least three different messianic psalms:
May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! . . . Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. (Psalm 20:1, 6 ESV)
He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days forever and ever. (Psalm 21:4 ESV)
Save me from the lion’s mouth, from the horns of wild oxen. You answered me! (Psalm 22:21 CSB)
I have provided a chart below that lists all the key words that Psalm 91 shares with Psalms 20–22 (swipe right on mobile to see the full table).
Psalm 20:5, 7
Psalm 20:1, 6; 22:21
Long life (length of days)
Psalm 20:6; 21:4; 22:21