From My Soul Waits
My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust. (v. 2)
Drawing upon an already familiar pattern in the sixth century, Saint Benedict directed in his rule for monastery life that Psalm 91 be sung at the hoursof Compline, the night service of prayer that closed every day of the week. Here, most certainly, is a prayer that “puts the church to bed,” with confident assurance in the all-encompassing protection of God. It is, above all, a song of trust. If there is a New Testament counterpart to its succinct message, it would be found in Paul’s rhetorical questions to the Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:31, 35). The self-evident answer for both Paul and the psalmist is: nothing.
In Psalm 91, we sometimes hear the voice of the psalmist confessing his faith in God: “For thou, Lord, art my hope,” (v. 9). Sometimes we hear the voice of another, as if reminding the psalmist of God’s loving oversight: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee,” (v. 11). And sometimes, as at the end of the psalm, we hear the voice of God himself telling anyone who will listen that he has made a promise to his servant: “I will protect him. I will answer him. I will be with him. I will rescue him,” (vv. 14-15).
Someone has suggested that the vocabulary of protection was virtually plundered for the composition of this poem – stronghold, deliverance, defend, faithfulness, shield, hope, charge over, bear thee, salvation. These describe the sovereign love of a God who, again and again, has intervened unfailingly on behalf of his endangered beloved. Images arise of Noah’s ark shut securely against the seething floodwaters; the ramparts of the divided Red Sea plunging down upon Pharaoh’s horsemen; the cloudy and fiery pillars guiding the children of Israel through the desert; the walls of Jericho crumbling at the sound of Joshua’s ram’s horns; the true-flying stone of a shepherd boy striking silent the blasphemous voice of Goliath.
Israel’s whole history is contained within this psalm, as is the history of all those who have been grafted by grace into her sheltered vine, (see Romans 11:17). “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 8:38-19).
From The Fathers
For if I am made just, no one can frighten me; I am afraid of nothing else, if I fear God. For “I shall not be afraid of the nocturnal fear, nor the dart which flies during the day, nor the terror which walks in the darkness nor the ruin and the midday demon.” You see the steadfastness and vigor of the soul that keeps the commandments of God and has confidence in the freedom that God gives. (Origen)
You are my refuge, Lord, my only safety and shelter.
I know that if I dwell with you – in you –
Any and every affliction that comes can be made into salvation.