Security under God’s Protection
1 You who abide in the shelter of the Most High,[b]
who rest in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 say to the Lord, “You are my refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I place my trust.”
3 He will rescue you from the snare of the fowler[c]
and from virulent pestilence.
4 With his feathers he will shelter you,[d]
and you will take refuge under his wings;
his faithfulness serves as a protective shield.
5 You will not fear the terror by night[e]
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the plague[f] that lays waste at midday.
7 Even though a thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
such evils will not afflict you.
8 Rather, your own eyes will behold[g]
the punishment inflicted on the wicked.
9 You have made the Lord your refuge
and chosen the Most High to be your dwelling.
10 Therefore, no evil will threaten you,
no calamity will come near your dwelling.
11 [h]For he will command his angels[i] about you—
to guard you wherever you go.
12 They will lift you up with their hands,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.[j]
13 You will tread upon the asp and the viper;
you will trample the lion and the dragon.[k]
14 [l]“Because he loves me, I will deliver him,
I will raise high[m] the one who acknowledges my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer,
and I will be with him in time of distress;
I will rescue him and cause him to be honored.[n]
16 I will reward him with a long life
and show him my salvation.”[o]
- Psalm 91:1 This pilgrimage psalm is a glowing testimony to the security that God bestows on those who come to the temple to place themselves under his protection. They will be strengthened by God and his angels all along the path of life in which perils and snares proliferate on every side: the terror by night, the arrow by day, the fowler’s snare, pestilence, and plague, as well as the asp and viper, lion and dragon—in a word, every possible threat. Death itself seems to retreat, and one gets a glimpse of the peace and joy of the Messianic Age.
En route toward Jerusalem, or toward God, every believer is a pilgrim. The itinerary is not an idyllic dream; rather, amidst risks and dangers, the Lord delivers us from fear and leads us to salvation, to life in his presence. This peaceful psalm is especially suited to be an evening prayer.
We can regard this psalm as an exhortation of Christ developing the invitation that he addressed to his disciples after the Last Supper: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You place your trust in God [the Father]. Trust also in me” (Jn 14:1). We are to journey along the path of life with the constant certitude that the divine Persons surround us with a never-ending solicitude.
- Psalm 91:1 The shelter of the Most High: a designation in the psalms for the temple (see Pss 27:5; 31:21; 61:5). The shadow of the Almighty: literally, “the shadow of the wings of the Almighty” (see Pss 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8). As indicated by verse 4, the shadow is an image of the safety to be found under the outstretched wings of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. Almighty: literally, “Shaddai,” an ancient name for God (see note on Ps 68:15).
- Psalm 91:3 Snare of the fowler: a proverbial phrase for danger (see Ps 124:7; Prov 6:5; Hos 9:8).
- Psalm 91:4 With his feathers he will shelter you: traditional biblical image (see note on Ps 17:8).
- Psalm 91:5 Terror by night: resulting from true or false alerts of enemy attacks; attacks by day were announced by flying arrows.
- Psalm 91:6 Pestilence . . . plague: dreaded mortal diseases that frequently grew into epidemics (see Deut 32:24; Hos 13:14; Hab 3:5). In place of the plague that lays waste at midday, other versions have: “devil at noon” or the “noonday devil” (apparently a mythological expression for a contagious disease presumed to be caused by the noonday sun).
- Psalm 91:8 Your own eyes will behold: the righteous will be merely a spectator to the threats mentioned and not be harmed by them.
- Psalm 91:11 These words were cited by Satan when tempting Christ to presumption against divine providence (Mt 4:6; Lk 4:10f).
- Psalm 91:11 His angels: the teaching on guardian angels is common in the Old Testament (see Ps 34:7; Gen 24:7; Ex 23:20).
- Psalm 91:12 Against a stone: along the stony paths of Canaan (see Ps 23:3).
- Psalm 91:13 Asp . . . viper . . . lion . . . dragon: these terms correspond to the references found in verses 5-6 and complete the list of deadly threats against God’s servants (see Am 5:19).
- Psalm 91:14 The psalmist reinforces his message by utilizing the form of a prophetic oracle in which God promises Messianic blessings to all who put their trust in him (see Ps 50:15, 23; Rom 8:30).
- Psalm 91:14 Raise high: i.e., “raise him to a high, safe place.” My name: see note on Ps 5:12.
- Psalm 91:15 The Lord gives assurance that his faithful will be honored for living honestly; they will enjoy themselves as his children in this life (see Pss 73:24; 112:9; 149:5; Isa 43:2; Jer 33:3).
- Psalm 91:16 With a long life . . . my salvation: for the sages of Israel, a long life is the reward of the righteous (see Ex 23:26; Deut 4:40; 1 Sam 2:30; Job 5:26; Prov 3:2, 16; 10:27), crowned by salvation (see 1 Tim 4:8f).