The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 91

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 13, 2013


THIS is an antiphonally arranged hymn of confidence in God’s protection. The main theme of the poem is God’s interest in the individual just man. On that interest is based the confidence of the pious in the unfailing protection of the Lord. In verses 1-2 the first singer, or the first group of singers, introduces the theme of the psalm—the security of the pious as based on God’s love. The pious man is guest of the Lord, a domesticus Dei, and he has, as such, a right to the inviolability of the guest. Yahweh is the hill-top, or highland, retreat, or shelter, to which the pious may fly for safety when pursued.

In verses 3-8 a second singer, or group of singers, sings of the perils to which the pious may be exposed—symbolising them by the net and the pit of the hunter. Yahweh keeps His servants safe from these perils: He is like the bird that hides its young from danger beneath its wings, or like the shield that protects the soldier in battle. Though the pious are surrounded by evil influences in the night and during the day; though they may be encompassed in the night-time by the demonic powers of pestilence, and be exposed in the day-time to the perils of burning, poisonous, winds, and the fiery arrows of the noon-tide sun, yet will no evil come nigh to them, nor any ill approach their homes. Secure themselves, they shall be favoured with the delight of looking on the defeat of all their foes.

In the first half of verse 9 the first singer, or singer-group proclaims: “All that is true, for the Lord is my hope.” This declaration is taken up by the second choir, and some of the special kinds of help which Yahweh gives to His own are described. The Angels will bear the pious in their hands over the rough places of life, and the true servant of the Lord will tread unharmed on the lion and the adder.

The psalm concludes with an oracle of the Lord (vv. 14-16). Yahweh solemnly confirms what the singers have said. He promises to the pious rescue and help, because they “know the name” of Yahweh. But the Lord promises His pious servants not merely rescue and protection, but also honour among their fellows, and great length of life.

The psalm contains striking reminiscences of the Song of Moses (Deut 32)—a peculiarity which it shares with the preceding psalm. Hence it has been conjectured that the two psalms were composed by the same author. Psalm 91 might be regarded as the answer of faith to the prayer in Psalm 90. The Massoretic text does not ascribe the psalm to any author.

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