Psalm 91, like many psalms, does not contain an introduction that tells the reader of its composer or of its historical context. But many have supposed that Psalm 91 is a continuation of Psalm 90, or at least a follow up psalm written by the same author. Psalm 90 is introduced as “a prayer of Moses, the man of God” and begins with the phrase, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place…” The connection with Psalm 91 is hard to miss.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. (Psalm 91.1-2)
The Hebrew word for “to dwell” means “to dwell, remain, sit, abide.” The word translated as “shelter” means “covering, shelter, hiding place, or protection.” The word translated as “abide” means “to lodge, to spend the night, or to rest.” The Hebrew word for “shadow” means “shade or protection.”
The writer used several names to describe God: the Most High, the Almighty (in Hebrew, Shaddai), YHWH (LORD, the covenant name of God, “I Am”), and Elohim (the basic Hebrew word for God).
The Message translation captures all of these words.
You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow, Say this: “God, you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe!” (Psalm 91.1-2 Message)
Psalm 91 is not a psalm to be taken lightly or a word spoken behind the protection of stain glass windows. Moses, or whoever the author was, wrote of the snare of the fowler (3), deadly pestilence (3), terrors of the night (4), arrows that fly by day (4), destruction (6), and plagues (10). The author was writing from a mighty dark and scary reality, and from that reality, he proclaimed the shelter and rest found in trusting in the Lord.
The real question of the psalm is what does it mean to “dwell” in the shelter of the Lord, to call Him our refuge and fortress in the midst of peril, and to trust in Him? Answering that question probably takes a lifetime of faith, but perhaps a few cross references from Scripture will lead us down the right path.
The apostle John thought much about the idea of abiding in Christ. In his gospel, he recorded the words of Jesus, saying,
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 14.4-5)
He also wrote about abiding in Christ in the first of his three epistles.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4.15-16)
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3.24)
Dwelling, or abiding in Christ includes keeping His commandments, resting in His love for us, and bearing fruit as we are connected to Christ and filled with His Spirit. Remaining in the shadow of the Almighty is to lean upon Him and to embrace His ways and His directions. Abiding in Christ does not help us escape the perils of a fallen world but empowers us to bear fruit in a barren land. The shelter of the Most High is not a refuge from the world as much as it is living behind the shield of a King charging into battle.
What does abiding in Christ or dwelling in the shelter of the Most High mean to you?