Week of January 1

The God Who Has Us In His Hands

Read: Psalm 91

“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


John Newton, the great hymn writer, once said, “If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer –His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”

The psalmist knew this when he penned the 91st psalm. Let’s look carefully to see the ways that God cares for us in the midst of severe trials.

The Meaning of the Text

The psalm’s structure
The psalm may be divided broadly into two sections: a wisdom psalm (vv. 1-13) and a “divine oracle” (vv. 14-16; EBC). The heart of the psalm’s message rests in his call for the faithful to pursue the path of godliness despite the troubles of life. Wisdom to see through the difficulties of life enables one to know that the Lord “renews the promises to those who love him” (cf. Proverbs 1; Romans 8:28).
We do well to take time and read the companion psalms that will help us to interpret this one (see Psalms 90 and 92). Psalm 90 focuses on God’s blessing and favor, while our focal psalm confirms God’s beneficence by His promise and oracle (cf. EBC). The Lord will help us to know better how to praise Him if we will follow a similar framework in our prayers and praise. We ask God for His protection (vv. 1-2, 9-10), praise Him for the ways that He does protect us (vv. 3-8, 11-13), and give praise to Him for His salvation (vv. 14-16).
Follow our Lord’s footprints
Verses 11-12 tugged at my heart when I, myself, read them devotionally. I recognized immediately that Satan had used this passage to tempt Jesus during the temptation encounter (Matthew 4:6)!

We know, of course, that Psalm 91:11-12 is not our shield that allows us to pursue reckless behavior. Isn’t it just like the tempter to forget to tell us the entire story when he uses the Bible to lure us away from trusting and obeying the Lord? Satan conveniently fails to mention the part of committing our lives to God and His way. Verse 11 grows out of verse 9, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place. . .”
Keep our gaze on the Lord
We need to slow our minds down a bit here because we must train ourselves to keep our gaze on the Father and our glance on His benefits. This is a simple analogy, but I have noticed at Mother’s Day celebrations that all the moms in my family are focused on their family members, not the gifts that they are given.
The kinds of divine protection are stated here again to “assure God’s care and sufficiency.” There are parallel statements that will help us to recognize the benefit of God being in control: “no harm . . . no disaster,” v. 10, and “he will command his angels . . . to guard you,” v. 11 (EBC). God’s angels will lift the godly out of peril and rescue them (cf. Exodus 19:4; Isaiah 63:9).
The roads in Palestine were often treacherous, so the image rang true when the psalmist writes that the Lord commands His angels to keep us from coming to harm on our life journey (v. 12b). Willem VanGemeren writes, “In life the Lord may permit many terrible things to happen to his children (cf. Job), as he did to his own Son, our Lord. But his children know that no power is out of God’s control. They trust their heavenly Father, while they act responsibly” (EBC).

The Message for Our Lives

I need some sort of theological stepping stool to get a handle on something that this passage asks me to reach toward. One of my little grandsons wanted to “help” me spoon a cold sauce into a sauce bowl that was sitting on top of a counter. I said, “Sure, but we need to be careful, so bring your green stepping stool over here and you may help.” He did, totally unaware that I was watching his every move to make sure that he did not fall. Had he fallen, I would have made sure to comfort and provide whatever aid that I needed to help him. 
The enormity of evil that we see in the world sometimes stretches the reachability of the promise to protect and deliver, doesn’t it? I write openly about this raw judgment because I want to make sure that you know that I am not blind to the tragedies all around us. I also know that the fact of Christ’s own hardship and eventual crucifixion, while cognitively understood, is sometimes quite difficult to know how to apply as a soothing balm in painful trials. So, what are we to do when we pass through the “valley of the shadow of death” and do not feel the “brush of angel’s wings” (Exodus 19:4)? We fix our gaze on the Savior because more than anything we want Him, our ultimate Benevolence, more than anything this world may promise to give.
“Through many dangers, toils, and snare, I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”
-John Newton

For Thought and Action

1. This may take some time today but write down the trials in your life that are requiring you to reach beyond the limits of your ability to comprehend. Then thank God that He is standing by even as you reach toward overcoming the trials.
2. Take time to read aloud God’s oracle of salvation in verses 14-16. Praise God for He has said, “I will be with him/her in trouble.” 

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock