God’s Promise of Protection
(9) Because you have made Yahweh your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, (10) no evil shall befall you, no plague shall come near your tent, (11) for he will command his angels concerning you to keep watch over you in all your ways. (12) On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot on a stone. (13) You will tread on the lion and the cobra. The young lion and serpent you will trample underfoot. (14) “Because he has set his love on me, I will deliver him. I will protect him because he knows my name. (15) He will call on me, and I will answer him. I (will be) with him in trouble. I will rescue him and honor him. (16) With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Two ideas from the first half of the psalm are reiterated in this second half. Finding “refuge” in Yahweh (vs. 9) echoes the “shelter” believers find in him (vs. 2). The protection from “evil” and the “plague” (vs. 10) reminds us of Yahweh’s deliverance from the “snare” and “pestilence” (vs. 3). Two new images are introduced to enhance the portrayal of God’s protection: “angels” sent to “bear us up in their hands” (vss. 11 & 12) and “treading on the lion and cobra” (vs. 13).
The change from the second person “you” to the first and third person “I” and “he” (vs. 14) marks a turning point where the psalmist transitions from speaking about Yahweh’s protection to quoting the actual words of Yahweh. Here God personally promises to care for his beloved one. He will deliver and protect him (vs. 14), answer his calls for help (vs. 15), and give him a long and satisfying life (vs. 16). In Deuteronomy 19:15 we read that by the testimony of two or three witnesses a declaration will be established. In this segment of the psalm, we find the testimony of two witnesses, one of the psalmist (vss. 9-13) and the other from Yahweh himself (vss. 14-16) to assure us of God’s protective care over those who belong to him.
I. The psalmist testifies about Yahweh's protection. (9-13)
II. Yahweh affirms that he will protect the one who trusts him. (14-16)
Yahweh pledges his protection for those who trust him.
Verses 11 & 12 have an unusual claim to fame. This is the statement which Satan quoted when tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Mt. 4:5-7 and Lk. 4:9-12). The Adversary was seeking to persuade the Son of God to jump from the pinnacle of the temple in order to prove the Father’s love. While he did not actually misquote God’s Word, Satan deliberately distorted its significance. In their original context, these two verses were not intended to be taken literally. They contain figures of speech which vividly portray the greatness of God’s care and concern for those who belong to him.
Like verse 13 which promises we can walk safely among cobras and lions, the description of angels bearing us up is an example of “hyperbole,” the use of exaggerated language to emphasize a truth by overstating it. In other words, God’s care is so assured, it is as if he would send his angels to keep us from crashing to the ground were we to fall from a high place (vss. 11 & 12). God’s care is so certain, it is as if we could safely face ferocious beasts and walk among venomous snakes without fearing for our safety (vs. 13). No one in their right mind would deliberately jump off a cliff or walk among lions and cobras just to see if God will protect them.
When confronted by Satan’s overly literal misreading of Psalm 91, Jesus responded with another quotation from the Old Testament: “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Dt. 6:16). With this one citation, Jesus overcame Satan’s temptation, corrected his misapplication of Scripture showing us how to interpret such promises, and honored his heavenly Father.