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
Monday, April 20, 2015
Defense, Destiny, and Death
I have always struggled with Psalm 91, more, perhaps, in the last few months. The response of my natural thinking to the solid yet soaring promises of protection is to point out that I have not been so protected, that I’ve suffered loss, that I am broken in one way or another. And it is not just me. I can hardly make a claim to righteousness. I could assume I deserve what happens to me, but I see those far more righteous than I am suffering, in pain, impaired, enduring tragedies, and even dying “before their time”. How do I reconcile human experience with God’s assurance of shelter and defense?
One way in which the Holy Spirit answers my objections is to show me that the psalmist is giving us a picture of the Anointed One. Here’s how it ends (vv. 14-16):
Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.
The viewpoint shifts from the narrator speaking to someone about God’s nature and love to that of God Himself speaking about His Servant.
The Incarnation was not a trip to the amusement park. From the moment of His conception to His arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus was under attack. The adversary sought to end His life before He could fulfill His destiny. Everyone from King Herod to His own extended family in Nazareth took a shot at Him. But Jesus was protected and His life preserved: And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. … And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away (Luke 4:16-29).
Jesus was destined to die – as are we all. What difference did it make if He died at the foot of a bluff up north or in agony on a Roman cross atop Moriah in Jerusalem? The shield and buckler of God that allowed the Lord to pass untouched through the crowd of Nazarenes might seem pointless as the hammer drives the nails through His hands and His feet.
The difference is the meaning that Christ’s death upon the Cross has. Even if He had been raised up from a death that occurred under other circumstances, only His death that day in Jerusalem as the Passover Lamb could fulfill the prophecies and promises of God recorded in the Book from Moses to Malachi. Thus Psalm 91 speaks of Christ and how the Lord kept Him even through death and hell and brought Him out of the grave triumphant.
Does it apply to us at all? There’s another verse in another Psalm: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15). It is not only the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus that is part of God’s plan. Our lives, our trials, and the time, place, and manner in which we leave this world are significant and bear meaning and purpose as well. Death is part of our destiny.
When I read that last verse from Psalm 116, I tend to put the emphasis on the saints. Certainly His holy ones are greatly loved and valued by the Lord, but that is not where the weight belongs. We can have many struggles and tribulations and victories in this life, but most of us will die only twice – once to self as we are crucified with Christ and once physically. Both of those deaths are indeed precious to our Father, and He is careful to make the best possible use of them. No death of a saint is a waste, and no death will be wasted by the One who watches over the sparrow’s fall.