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"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. 

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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. 

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PSALM 91:11–12

 

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 . . . 

PSALM 91:13

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. 

 

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PSALM 91:14–16

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).

Psalms 20–22 identify the Messiah as God’s anointed king and unite His fate to the fate of His people (Psalm 20:9; 22:24, 26). He is a man who will undergo significant suffering to the point of death (Psalm 22:1–21), but will overcome death through the power of God’s salvation (Psalm 20:1–9; 21:1–13; 22:21–31). It becomes especially clear in Psalm 91:16 that the Messiah will rise from the dead. God promises to satisfy Him with “long life” (91:16), which Psalm 21:4 says that the Messiah will ask from the Lord. Psalm 22:21 explains that He will ask for this life when He is put to death, and the Lord will answer Him. This implies that the Messiah will rise from the dead.

Therefore, Psalm 91 is an intricate examination of the Messiah’s victory over death. It is not picturing a temporary reprieve from a viral epidemic. It is forecasting a day when death itself will be permanently vanquished, including death caused by plagues and disease. Because Jesus’ destiny is tied to the destiny of His people, His resurrection (Psalm 91:16) becomes the hope of our future resurrection (Psalm 22:26).

WHAT DOES PESTILENCE AND DESTRUCTION REFER TO?

So, if Psalm 91 is about Jesus and His resurrection, why does the psalmist put so much attention on pestilence and destruction (i.e., plagues) as the invisible enemies the Messiah will overcome? The answer has to do with what pestilence and destruction are really referring to. The word for pestilence (Psalm 91:3, 6) means more than just an ordinary pandemic. It is a destructive illness sweeping through an entire nation as a direct result of their disobedience against God. Pestilence today may or may not be God’s judgment against a group of people; that’s not something God has told us. But the pestilence mentioned in Psalm 91 is associated with the devastating consequences of Israel's disobedience to God’s Law:

The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The LORD will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. (Deuteronomy 28:20–22 ESV)

In the same way, the word for destruction (Psalm 91:6) means a kind of plague that attacks people for disobedience:

And I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend my arrows on them; they shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured by plague and poisonous pestilence (i.e., destruction). (Deuteronomy 32:23–24 ESV)

Psalm 91 uses pestilence and destruction as an example of the kinds of curses Israel would face for disobeying God. History proved that Israel suffered these consequences for their disobedience (1 Chronicles 21:14; Jeremiah 29:17; Ezekiel 5:17). But Psalm 91 pictures one man not succumbing to the pandemic. This person did something no Israelite could do: He found a way to break the curse. Therefore, Psalm 91 is more than a story about widespread disease; it’s a triumphant commentary on the Messiah’s ability to erase the full spectrum of the curse that Israel and the rest of the world deserve.

HOW DOES PSALM 91 APPLY TO THE CORONAVIRUS?

It may be tempting to turn Psalm 91 into a promise of immunity from the Coronavirus, but fortunately for us it does not guarantee this. Yes, I said fortunately, because Psalm 91 actually promises you something better: A resurrection. It’s nice not to get sick from COVID-19. It’s even better not to die from it. But the best news of all is that you will one day rise from the dead, whether you died from a virus or not! The Messiah will be satisfied with long life (Psalm 91:16) and He shares this life with all those who trust in Him. 

 

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But how do we know that the Messiah’s victory over death will one day be our victory over death? Psalm 91 does not seem to apply this hope directly to us. Is there any indication in other parts of Scripture that we too will share in His resurrection? Hosea 13:14 says, “Yes!”

 

I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? (Hosea 13:14)

The word for plagues and sting in Hosea 13:14 are the same words for pestilence and destruction in Psalm 91:6. Hosea 13:14 is commenting directly on Psalm 91 and spelling out its application for you and me. The Messiah’s eternal protection from the curse of death will become our eternal protection from the curse of death. Since He rose from the dead, we will too. This could happen, because as the book of Galatians says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13–14)

Jesus was able to remove the curse of death from us, because He took the curse of death that we deserve upon Himself. His death means that death no longer rules over us. Therefore, His life means we will live eternally with Him.

CONCLUSION

Psalm 91 is a great psalm to read during this uncertain time. But I want to encourage you to read it with its true message in mind. Don’t settle for some kind of declaration of temporary protection that is not even guaranteed by the psalm. Aim for the lasting encouragement of a future resurrection that is projected by Psalm 91 and proclaimed by the rest of Scripture. We long for the day that the Coronavirus is gone and life can return to normal. But we should long even more for the day when death is permanently defeated and eternal life becomes the "new normal" with Christ our Savior.

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