As you read through the amazing promises of Psalm 91, do you ever have doubts spring up? The psalm seems to be saying that if you trust God, nothing bad will happen to you, and your life will go smoothly. (Even to the point that you won’t stub your toe!) And, the opposite seems to be implied as well: If things aren’t going well, you must not be trusting God.
That’s a troubling conclusion, isn’t it? It almost sounds like karma. If I’m suffering, it must be my own fault.
The plot thickens. Satan, you see, quotes Psalm 91 during the temptation to try and derail Jesus. He says, “Jesus, if you trust God, he will protect you—don’t the psalms say he will not even allow you to stub your toe? So, surely you can throw yourself off this cliff with no worries! And, if God doesn’t do that, he’s not keeping his word!”
Here’s a good Bible interpretation rule of thumb: If you come to the same conclusion Satan does, you’re probably not reading it right.
So if we shouldn’t be reading Psalm 91 like Satan, how should we expect the fulfillment of this psalm in our lives?
1. We experience the fulfillment of Psalm 91 in how God uses pain to grow us in our knowledge of himself.
In John 17, Jesus declared that the essence of eternal life is knowing God. That means that, in the bigger picture, any harm that comes to you that increases your relationship with God is not really harm but help.
The psalmist alludes to this in verse 15: “I will be with him in trouble” (ESV). This is a clue in the psalm that godly people are sometimes going to experience trouble, and he’s anticipating that the promise of protection for many of us may not always be literal and physical—at least initially.
And, when God says in verse 16, “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation,” he’s not talking about simply adding pain-free years to our lives. He’s talking about adding despair-free life to our years.
2. We experience the fulfillment of Psalm 91 in God’s promise to use all things for good in our lives.
Bible passages should never be interpreted in isolation; that’s how a lot of false doctrine gets started. It’s what Satan tried to do with Psalm 91. Whether willfully or ignorantly, he interpreted it without knowledge of the rest of the Scriptures.
Verses like Romans 8:28 show you how these promises in Psalm 91 are true. While it promises that God is working all things together for good, “work together for good” does not mean that bad things are really good things in disguise. It means that God takes genuinely bad things and brings his power to bear in them so that you will be better off—that is, more Christ-like (cf. Romans 8:29)—for them having happened.
From the vantage point of eternity, we will be able to see how God exercised his power in such a perfect way that all the evil that happened will, in the end, only lead to greater glory for God and greater joy for us.
God takes genuinely bad things and brings his power to bear in them so that you will be better off—that is, more Christ-like.
That’s the ultimate defeat of evil. All evil deeds ultimately accomplish the reverse of what their authors intended. We see this most clearly, of course, in the cross, where Satan and the powers of evil did their worst and God turned even that for our salvation!
Believer, you can rest assured, God is doing the same thing with your pain.
3. We experience the fulfillment of Psalm 91 in the resurrection.
As Christians, we recognize that this life is really just a prelude to the eternal one, a life in which “[h]e will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
We’re going to a place where the worst pain we go through now will seem like brief birth pangs swallowed up in the joy of new birth. Psalm 91 is ultimately, literally fulfilled in that resurrection we look forward to, where there are no stubbed toes and no “death by pestilence.”
The imagery of God protecting us under his wings like some kind of mother hen shows us how committed God is to protecting us from all harm. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He shielded us so that the harmful elements would not ultimately destroy us. And that guarantees us that he is working all things together for good and that ultimately this whole story is going to end for us in glorious resurrection, just like his did.
Jesus’ resurrection is the promise of what is to come for us, a resurrection in which every phrase of Psalm 91 will be literally true, and that promise is supposed to redefine how we see everything now on earth.
4. We experience the fulfillment of Psalm 91 in moments of deliverance.
It is true that our primary and ultimate fulfillment is experienced in the previous three points. But don’t overlook the fact that God sometimes gives us signs of this deliverance in our day-to-day lives now.
One of my favorite books is called Shadow of the Almighty. It’s the journals of Jim Elliot, one of the five young missionaries slain on the beaches of Ecuador in the 1950s, and it was published by his wife, Elisabeth Elliot, many years later. The title comes from Psalm 91.
The title is ironic when you think about the fact that Jim was literally pierced through the heart with a spear and killed, something Psalm 91 promises won’t happen. But Elisabeth called her book Shadow of the Almighty because she was utterly convinced that the refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death but a refuge through it and a refuge from final and ultimate defeat.
In the book, she quotes Jim as saying, “I am immortal until my work on earth is done!”
The same is true of you: You are immortal until your work on earth is done. There may be some painful chapters along the way, but if you hold on, you’ll see that God was working it all together for good, just like he said.