This is a lovely psalm, one to know and treasure. Amongst Jews it was to be read everyday, last thing at night, and what comforting truth it gives to rest our head on. Of course the fact that Satan quotes from this psalm when tempting Jesus is a reminder that it can be misused and misapplied, and we need to be careful to avoid that. It could seem to suggest that nothing bad will ever happen to the believer, and the devil would love to have us think that God’s promises have failed when we suffer, but the psalm is speaking of protection in the midst of danger, not immunity from danger. It speaks of the wonderful confidence and peace we can know as we trust our heavenly Father.
The psalm opens with the psalmist’s testimony to his own trust in God (vv.1,2), then continues with an appeal for us to do the same (vv.3-13), and finally concludes with God’s own promise and guarantee (vv.14-16).
Here are four great names for God. He’s the “Most High”, and therefore whatever fears or troubles we face He cuts them down to size. He’s the “Almighty”, the God of all-surpassing power. He’s the “LORD”, the covenant God who keeps his promises and saves his people. And He is “my God” – I think it was Martin Luther who said that many are lost because they cannot use possessive pronouns: if we are to know the rest of which this psalm speaks, then we need to know Him as “my God”.
And there are four metaphors of the security we find in Him – a shelter, a shadow, a refuge and a fortress. Worth, I think, pondering each. To know this rest and security that’s found in God, though, we must learn to “dwell” in Him. He’s not a holiday bolt-hole where we might go when we have the time, whilst mostly we live in the “real world”; He’s to be our ongoing dwelling place amidst the storms of life.
Now the principle which the psalmist has owned for himself is applied to us – every sentence refers to “you” or “your”, and it is “you” singular, calling for personal application by each of us. He runs through a number of things that might seem to threaten us – the plots or schemes of enemies, sickness, the anxieties and fears that keep us awake at night, physical danger (vv.3-6), even the forces of evil (v.13). Despite all these threats, we are assured of God’s personal (v.4) and angelic (v.11,12) protection . Verse four is a lovely picture combining both great tenderness (the mother bird hiding her chicks) and great strength (shield and rampart). And it is not just a guardian angel we are promised, but squadrons of angels (cf 2 Kings 6:17).
This all sounds wonderful, but perhaps it seems not to fit our actual experience. Don’t Christians sometimes fall foul of office politics? Don’t Christians get cancer and other deadly pestilences? Don’t disasters of many different kinds come near our tents? Surely we are not immune from danger, but we are secure in danger. We might be hurt, but we won’t be harmed. We should read this psalm alongside Romans 8:28, 35-39. Knowing we are in the hands of a heavenly Father who is almighty, whatever difficulties we might face we can know we need not fear, we are secure, even in the midst of trouble and tragedy.
Just in case we are slow to respond to the psalmist’s appeal, the psalm ends with God adding his personal guarantee to the truth being taught. There’s an 8-fold promise, and a 3-fold condition – or description of those who can know these promises for themselves: those who love Him, acknowledge Him and call on Him.