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September 26, 2010
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

Psalm 91 is best known to us because vv. 11-12 are quoted in the Gospel of Luke 4:10-11. Largely for this reason portions of the psalm were selected for Lent 1 this year. In that context the psalm speaks about Jesus’ own trust in God. The psalm, however, speaks in general to those who live in ‘the shelter of Most High’ and who proclaim the Lord as their refuge. It is about those for whom God is a dwelling place (v. 9). The same word was used in Ps 90:1. The repetition of the term in Psalm 91 assures those involved that the Lord hears the call in Psalm 90 and will deliver them (91:14-15). In contrast to the brevity of life lamented in Ps. 90:4-6, 9-10, the Lord will satisfy them with long life in today’s psalm (91:16a).

The sections selected for the lectionary reading today, vv. 1-6 and 14-16, speak strongly about the Lord’s protection and care for God’s people. Some of the verses have a quaint sense to them, almost medieval in their content speaking of deadly pestilence, shields and bucklers, terrors by night, destruction that wastes at noonday and scourges that come to one’s tent. The verses that are omitted, vv. 7-13, which include the verses  quoted in the Gospel also indicate that the Lord’s protection exists for the one who trusts in God even at the expense of those nearby. Such thoughts should at least raise questions for the reader/listener. Is the Lord’s ‘protection’ so selective and favouring? Many would not see it that way with plenty of experience to say that the faithful too can suffer.

The quotation of vv. 11-12 in Luke 4:10-11 also touches on this aspect. It is the tempter who quotes Psalm 91 to Jesus suggesting that he understand the words of the psalm in a literal and simplistic sense, God will take care of those who trust in him in all circumstances, protecting them physically in dangerous circumstances. But Jesus resists this suggesting, as he is said to quote Deut 6:16 in Luke 4:12, that such an interpretation is itself a misappropriation of the text. It is to make the promise of divine care and presence a simple ‘insurance policy’ against trouble. But as the book of Job and the story of Jesus himself show, trust in God’s care does not mean an absence of difficulty in life. This psalm calls us to ask what then is the nature of the ‘satisfaction’ and ‘salvation’ from God in v. 16. Maybe, rather than relief from hardship and trouble, it is more to do with the Lord ‘being with’ those who are in trouble (v. 15b). Is it the presence of the Lord with the one who is in trouble that is ‘salvation’ rather than relief from the trouble itself? The psalmist says a similar thing in Psalm 73.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

Verses 1-2 naturally make a good call to worship as they are.

Verses 14-15a could be adapted as a congregational response in the prayer of intercession:

Those who love you, deliver them; protect those who know your name.
As they call to you, answer them.
Finally, the end of the psalm can be adapted for the final blessing:
You who love the Lord, the Lord will deliver;
the Lord will protect you who know God’s name.
When you call to God, God will answer you;
God will be with those in trouble,
and rescue you and honor you.
With life God will satisfy you, and show you salvation.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
will be with you,
now and forever.
Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

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