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Deeper Commentary


Psa 91:1

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty-
This follows on from Ps. 90, where Moses had begged for God's condemnation of the wilderness generation to be abrogated, and for that generation to enter the land. It was the same plea of the exiles; they didn't want to wait the required 70 years in exile, as the wilderness generation didn't want to wait 40 years. The answer from God is here in Ps. 91. He speaks about Joshua as one of the very few who would not perish in the wilderness, and bids all Israel follow his example. It all has relevance to the Lord Jesus; for "Jesus" is the Greek form of "Joshua". In the context of the exiles, the Joshua the High Priest of Zechariah's prophecies could have been a Messiah figure who would have led the exiles back to Judah. But he failed, as did Zerubbabel, and so the prophecy was rescheduled and reapplied to the Lord Jesus.

Joshua dwelt in the tabernacle where Moses met with God, "without the camp" of Israel. This was "the secret place", where the word was spoken (see the connections between the "secret" place and God's word: Job 15:8; 29:4; Ps. 25:14; Prov. 3:32; Is. 45:19; Dan. 2:18; Am. 3:7). It was because of this love of the word that Joshua was preserved in those wilderness years, as the bodies of his peer group were abandoned in mass graves in the Sinai scrub: "A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee". Joshua calmly looked at those sights, knowing whom he had believed: "Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see (i.e. meditate upon) the reward of the wicked" (Ps. 91:7,8).

Joshua had been charged to be strong, of good courage, not fearful nor be dismayed. Yet he had a tendency to forget those charges, the implications of his having been called by God for a purpose; and needed to be reminded of them as he forgot or lost faith in them. Perhaps this is why he is an otherwise surprising omission from the list of faithful men and women in Hebrews 11. And here of course is the challenge to us. We too have been given commissions and callings. Whether it be to raise a Godly family, to establish an ecclesia in a certain place, to overcome a specific vice… the obstacles will flee before us, every place where the soles of our feet rest, will be blessed…if we truly believe in God’s purpose with us. Yet like Joshua, we usually fail to have a full faith in this. We get distracted by the views of others, peer pressure, worried by lack of resources, discouraged by setbacks; when it is belief in God’s most basic initial promises to us that will overcome them. Joshua’s fear is all the more reprehensible when we consider the testimony of Ps. 91. Here Moses speaks about Joshua, the one who dwelt in the secret place or tabernacle of God (Ps. 91:1 = Ex. 33:11), and who therefore was miraculously preserved throughout the wilderness wanderings. Thousands of Joshua’s generation died at his side from the various plagues which wasted out his generation during those wanderings; but they never came near him (Ps. 91:5-8). As a result of this, he was commanded by Moses to “not be afraid” (Ps. 91:5); perhaps Moses was thinking specifically about peer pressure, with the assurance that truly God would hear Joshua’s prayers (Ps. 91:14,15). His amazing preservation during the wilderness years ought to have instilled a faith and lack of fearfulness within him; and yet the implication is that he did very often fall prey to fearfulness in later life. Just as with us, the circumstances of earlier life are controlled by the Father to give us faith with which to cope with later crises; but we don’t always learn the lessons we are intended to.

This Psalm is God's response to Moses' depressive prayer of Psalm 90. He is asked to remember that Joshua will enter the land, but that all the same, God will take due note of Moses' love of His Name and will eternally save him- :16 is the climax of the whole answer. Moses argued in Ps. 90:1 that God's people have always dwelt in God, and so, He should relent of His judgment and condemnation of them. God's reply here is that whoever dwells beneath His cherubim, trusting in Him and not idols (:2), will be saved. It's a kind of correction of Moses' assumption that all Israel had always dwelt in God. God is saying that He deals with individuals and their personal relationship with Him, and will not therefore save "Israel" on a collective basis.

Moses' point is that because He has no beginning nor end, by nature, He therefore cannot understand how awful it is to have your existence terminated. Moses lived 120 years with full faculties, but begrudged God not letting him enter Canaan. He had so set his mind on this short term dream that he had lost the perspective of the eternal Kingdom. When he complains man only lives 70 or 80 years maximum, he seems to forget he has lived 120 years with full faculties- and hardly comes over as grateful, because he is so focused upon his own obsessive, self declared dream of changing God's mind so he could cross over into Canaan himself.  

Psa 91:2

I will say of Yahweh, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust-
This was the attitude which God wished to see from Joshua in his own self talk; and if others in Israel had displayed this, they too would not have perished in the desert but would have lived to enter the land. And yet only twice does Joshua use the phrase "my God" or "my Lord". It seems that he didn't fully live up to these things.

It has been observed that this Psalm has an "antiphonal arrangement- the first speaker delivering Ps. 91:1,2; the second, Ps. 91:3,4; then the first responding with Ps. 91:5-8; and again the second with Ps. 91:9-13. In conclusion, a third speaker, making himself the mouthpiece of Jehovah, crowns all by declaring the blessings which God himself will bestow upon his faithful ones (Ps. 91:14-16)". The Psalm was to be recited, because every man was intended to follow Joshua's intended pattern.

Psa 91:3

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly plague-
The exiles were intended to follow Joshua's example. For the Babylonian captivity was "the snare of the fowler" (Ps. 124:7). The plague is that of :6, which destroyed many of the wilderness generation but didn't touch Joshua.

Psa 91:4

He will cover you with His feathers, beneath His wings you will take refuge; His faithfulness is your shield and rampart-
It would be as if Joshua was located beneath the wings of the cherubim, over the blood of atonement, and beneath the shekinah glory of God seen between the cherubim. This was the intimacy with God which was possible for him. He would be shielded by God from all the plagues which slowly wiped out the wilderness generation. But this promise of being covered with God's wings and feathers was equally to all God's people who chose to go the way of faith of Joshua and Caleb (Ex. 19:4; Dt. 32:11).

LXX has "He will overshadow thee between his shoulders", "alluding to the custom of parents carrying their weak or sick children on their backs, and having them covered even there with a mantle". Elsewhere God is presented as having carried His child Israel through the wilderness. This theme is continued in :12, where we read that the Angels will seek to ensure that we don't even trip up over a stone- language appropriate to guiding a young child in its first steps. Indeed, Hosea uses the same figure- "When Israel was a child...", God took them by the arms and taught them to walk.

God is comforting Moses that he has in fact been preserved through the 40 years wanderings, and didn't die along with that generation.  

Psa 91:5

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day-
The terror at night may refer to marauding tribes of Bedouin who attacked the Israelites and also contributed to the destruction of the wilderness generation. The arrow of the day time would be the arrows of God, even if they were shot by the Bedouin, as in Job 6:4.

Psa 91:6

nor of the plagues that stalks in darkness, nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday-
This is the destruction threatened for those who break covenant (s.w. Dt. 32:24). The plagues were personified as stalking in the dark. But equally at noonday they were to be destroyed by the plagues. LXX "from ruin and the demon of the midday" perhaps refers to sunstroke. Whatever belief in demons the people held, the simple truth was that God destroyed the wilderness generation; all was under His absolute control. There is no radical evil in the cosmos. The exiles were comforted likewise in Ps. 121:6, "The sun shall not smite you by day". They were to follow the path intended for Joshua, and earnestly believe they could participate in the restored kingdom of God. 

Psa 91:7

A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you-
A clear reference to how the wilderness generation fell dead, those whom Joshua knew well, those at his side. Sometimes a thousand fell, other times ten thousand. But his life was to be preserved.God is comforting Moses that his life has been preserved, he has not failed of God's grace.

Psa 91:8

You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked-
The idea is that Joshua would look at the corpses of the slain amongst his fellows, and reflect that this was the recompense for their wickedness. And that wickedness was essentially their unbelief that they would enter the Kingdom. Moses is being reminded that the generation who died in the desert did so because they were wicked. Their death had been their recompense. And he had been preserved from that. Again he is being shown that he was wrong to complain in Ps. 90 about the consequence of sin.

Psa 91:9

Because you have made Yahweh your refuge and the Most High your dwelling place-
The stress is upon "you"; Joshua would not fall and be slain because of his unbelief, because he had in faith focused upon the things of Yahweh. Not simply in having faith that Israel could easily enter the promised land, but in his subsequent choice to live in the tabernacle, to dwell in God's presence.

Moses too is being comforted that he has indeed taken refuge in Yahweh and would be blessed for it- but with ultimate salvation, not with short term entance into Canaan as he so wished.

Psa 91:10

no evil shall happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling-
This seems to look back to Job 5:19: "He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee". Ps. 91 is Moses' encouragement to Joshua that the destroying Angel in the wilderness would not harm him, but he would be protected by the Angels who would "keep you in all your ways" (:11). Thus Moses may have seen Job 5:19 to be talking about evil brought by Angels of evil (Ps. 78:49)- i.e. Job's satan Angel who brought the trials, as discussed at length on Job 1. "Your dwelling" would refer to the tabernacle "without the camp" where Joshua lived.

Psa 91:11

For He will put His angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways-
Instead of the Angels bringing plagues of death upon Joshua, as did upon the wilderness generation after the pattern of what they did in Egypt, instead the Angels would guard him. The Psalm describes how Joshua was miraculously preserved from the punishments which befell his generation in the wilderness; thousands fell at his side from the various plagues sent to waste away his peer group. But he was preserved. It is in this context we read that the Angels would be given charge over him, lest he dash his foot against a stone during that wilderness journey (Ps. 91:11,12).

Yet these words were understood by the Lord Jesus as relevant to Him personally, when He was in the wilderness (Mt. 4:6). The Lord Jesus clearly saw Joshua as a type of Himself. The double application of Psalm 91 to both Joshua and Jesus makes Joshua a potential Messiah. He and the High Priest Joshua at the time of the restoration could have been Messiah figures; but they failed to rise up completely to this. So Joshua is not simply a type of the Lord Jesus. Rather were the potentials possible for him, which he didn't totally fulfil, reapplied and rescheduled to the Lord Jesus.

"Guard" is the same word used in Gen. 3:24, and thus alludes to the Angels keeping  men in the way to the tree of life- not only physically but spiritually preserving them. The figure of dashing the foot against a stone suggests the idea of spiritual stumbling against a "rock of offence" or stumblingstone (s.w. Jer. 13:16, of how the exiles refused this potential help and did stumble). The Angels bore up the Lord Jesus to help Him avoid these. But only because He Himself wished for that strength, and avoided the temptation He faced to abuse it and wrongly use it. But "to guard you in all your ways" is omitted when the 'Satan' of the Lord's own human mind cited this verse to Himself in the wilderness temptations. He was tempted to omit the fact that God's protection was not a blanket promise [as He was tempted to think], but only in the context of the person who is walking in the way to the tree of life. And this is a common failure of believers- to grab hold of a verse promising protection and blessing, and assume it applies in a general sense, without paying attention to the context of the promise. Thus men charge into battle with these words written on their helmets...  

Psa 91:12

they will bear you up in their hands, so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone-
See on :11. God was willing to "bear up" Israel and bring them into the land / kingdom (s.w. Dt. 32:11). But only Joshua and Caleb made use of that. Nothing need have caused them to stumble. And the same is true for us. But we need to want that, whereas Israel in their hearts turned back to Egypt. As noted on :4, this is the language of a parent leading a child in its first seps, ensuring they don't trip over a stone. Moses is being reminded that God had so gently cared for him through the wilderness journey, and he should focus upon that rather than his personal bitterness and ranting against God of Ps. 90. 

Psa 91:13

You will tread on the lion and cobra, you will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot-
The treading underfoot of the adder must have a connection with Genesis 3; the seed of the woman trampling sin underfoot. This conquest of sin by Jesus was therefore partly due to Angelic strengthening of Him (see on :11,12). Through them "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself", making Christ a sin-offering for us. There are also connections with the restoration prophecies of Isaiah, which speak of these wild animals being subdued. But again, the exiles didn't want this; just as it seems the full potential of these things was not realized by Joshua.

The prophecy about Christ personally that He would tread upon snakes and wild animals (Ps. 91:13) is quoted as being fulfilled in the disciples, who ‘were’ Christ on their preaching mission (Lk. 10:19; Mk. 16:18). In Old Testament times, God described His whole people as His anointed one, His Christ: “The Lord is a strength unto his people, and he is the saving strength of his anointed” (Ps. 28:8 RVmg.). The whole people were His anointed King, His Messiah, the anointed one. And so it is for all those today who are “in Christ”.

The ‘devil’ of the Lord’s own nature tempted Him to apply Ps. 91:11 in a wrong context, and jump off the pinnacle of the temple. But if the Lord had gone on, as surely He did, He would have found the words: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet” (Ps. 91:13 AV). This promise would have been of wonderful comfort, as throughout the wilderness temptations the Lord “was with the wild beasts” (Mk. 1:13).

Psa 91:14

Because he has set His love on Me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him on high, because he has known My name-
This implies that our love of God is expressed in seeking to appreciate His name. To know Him is to love Him, and to want to be like Him; there is something compulsive and magnetic about who He is. The knowledge of God elicits quite naturally a merciful spirit (Hos. 6:6).

But it seems that :13-16 speak of potentials which Joshua personally didn't fully realize. But they did come true of the Lord Jesus. It is therefore not the full picture to just say that "Joshua was a type of Christ". He was, but the connection is also in the fact that what Joshua didn't realize, the Lord Jesus did. And the fulfilment therefore came about in even more wonderful terms; for the Lord Jesus was "set on high" through exaltation to Heaven and being made prince of the kings of the earth, and being delivered from death through resurrection.

The word for "To set love upon" is that used about how God set His love upon Israel (Dt. 7:7; 10:15). We see here the mutuality between God and man, and especially Moses. For all Moses' depression and anger with God in Ps. 90, for all his desire to see immediate answers, for all his refusal to accept the just consequences of sin, God recognized that Moses had set his love upon God, just as God had set His love upon him. Moses was the one who supremely "has known My Name", witnessing the declaration of the Name on Sinai. Despite Moses' ranting of Ps. 90, God saw his heart was set in love upon Him. And we should be prepared to see that in other believers.

Psa 91:15

He will call on Me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him-
Again, this only partially came true for Joshua, and was fulfilled above all in the deliverance and honour of the Lord Jesus. The exiles failed to make use of these potentials, as it seems Joshua didn't fully either. "Troubles" is the word used of Jacob's time of trouble (Gen. 35:3; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1). David's experience of trouble was representative of how the exiles and all God's people could ultimately follow the path of Jacob to deliverance out of exile and from his strong enemies. But in Ps. 71:20 David sees his deliverance from the day of trouble as ultimately being in the resurrection of the body, being 'brought up again from the depths of the earth'.

This is clearly relevant to Moses, who is honoured more than any man apart from the Lord Jesus, throughout Scripture. Only the Lord Jesus "has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses" (Heb. 3:3). Although Moses' requests of Ps. 90 appeared unanswered, God assures him that He will answer him- in that the essence of his prayer, his desire for salvation, will be eternally answered (:16). Through all our depression and even ranting at God, as Moses in Ps. 90, God sees to the core desire- for eternal salvation. And He will give this to us as He promised Moses. This will eternally answer every impression of unanswered prayer that we ever struggled with.

Psa 91:16

I will satisfy him with long life, and show him My salvation-
This came ultimately true for the Lord Jesus when he was given eternal life. The fulfilment in Joshua was pale in comparison to this, and he lived slightly shorter than Moses. There are a number of occasions where the Lord’s need for salvation by God is emphasized. Ps. 91:11,12 is quoted about Jesus in Mt. 4:6. Now Ps. 91:16 goes on to prophesy how God would give the Lord Jesus salvation: “With long life (i.e. eternal life) will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.” Ps. 69:21 refers to Christ’s crucifixion (Mt. 27:34); the whole Psalm describes Christ’s thoughts on the cross: “Save me, O God... Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it...Let your salvation, O God, set me up on high” (Ps. 69:1,18,29). This need of the Lord for salvation is impossible for the Trinitarian paradigm to cope with.