Thoughts On The Psalms:
+ The Psalms are a golden thread through Ancient Christian Worship.
+ In the Ancient Tradition the book of Psalms is to be prayed through weekly.
+ The Psalms express in divinely inspired language the innermost thoughts, even fears, of humankind. They speak of our intense sorrow over sin; of the horror of lonliness; despair soothed by God's love. And they point to our ultimate liberation through Jesus Christ.
+ They should be a significant part of our prayer life.
+ In Acts 4:24-30 we see the early church praying Psalm 2.
+ In Acts 1:20 we see the early christians finding a replacement for the Apostles appealing to Psalm 69:25.
+ In Acts 2:25-35 we see that the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost was Peter giving an exegesis of two Psalms; Psalm 16:8-10 and Psalm 110.
+ James 5:13, Ephesians 5:18,19, and Colossians 3:16 show us that the early church were constantly enjoining the Psalms in their worship and prayer.
The Ancient Tradition is that Psalm 91 is prayed daily, usually at noontime to battle the "noontime devil", or at bedtime to counter the "terror by night". The reality is that the Christian is constantly engaged in spiritual combat, and the Psalms are arrows in our quiver which we let fly throughout the day and night to destroy the works of the devil. Psalm 91 has always ranked among the more favorite psalms among Christians and interestingly is the opening Psalm of the funeral service of the Orthodox Church.
Verse 1) "Where do you dwell/live?" "On what does your mind dwell?" Have you made God your dwelling place? Do you live with God moment-by-moment? Jesus said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.(John 14:23) Later in this Psalm God says, "Because he has set his love upon me..."(v. 14); Have you set your love upon God; By hearing, keeping, and doing his commands/words? Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you and when you pray enter into your closet or secret place. By doing these things we are abiding, lodging, taking up residence with God in the Love of the Holy Trinity, we enter into His divine protection; under the shadow of the Almighty. This shadow is God's glory that we can experience by entering into the holy of holies(Hebrews 10:19) through worship and prayer and communion, both moment-to-moment and in the Eucharist.(Heb.10:24,25).
Verse 2) "I will say of the Lord..." This is a bold confession of faith that we can pray daily. Our faith is in the Lord(Hebrews 13:5,6; Ps. 107:2) A Refuge and a fortress are where we run into for protection when under attack. Daily we pray the Psalms and actualize the promises of God's divine protection. We trust in God and in His ways to battle the enemy.
Verse 3,4) Two ways in which the enemy attempts to destroy us; 1)through deceptive traps, and 2) through the diseases of sin. A fowler is a trapper of birds(Psalm 124:6-8); the snares are hidden by the enemy, they are not obvious. In the very places we normally travel he schemes to trap us. A fowler will especially try to trap young birds, then raise them by hand. Once tamed, the fowler will confine the birds to hidden cages who will attract their fellow birds to visit them. The birds coming to join them are shot with arrows by hunters lying in wait. Let us not be traped, nor be used to trap others. The pestilence pictures the contagion of sin. Sin-sick people surround us, we are one of them, the plague of the heart is common to man, yet we can be delivered from this plague even when it abounds all around us in others. Let us find healing for ourselves, and build our immune systems so that we can effectively fend off the sicknesses of those we interact with.
Verse 5,6) God wants us to be free of the fear that comes from knowing of the spiritual combat we are engaged in. We are not to be afraid of evil men or devils. We are not to fear the "terror by night" nor "the arrow that flies by day" nor "the pestilence that walks in darkness" nor "the noonday devil". The "terror by night" are the robbers, the demons, who come to steal, kill, and destroy"(John 10:10). These thieves will come at night, so let us say our prayers just before we lay down to sleep(Compline - Ps 51, Ps 70, Ps 143, Ps 91). The arrow that flies by day we note are descibed in Ephesians 6:10-18 are the fiery darts of "the wicked one", thoughts that enter our minds from without. We can and must "quench" these fiery darts with the "shield of Faith". And we can accomplish this by taking unto ourselves the "whole armour of God". Truth, living righteously, our feet firmly standing in the Gospel, the shield of faith, our minds protected by the helmet of salvation, and the "sword of the Spirit, which is the (spoken)word of God; praying always...". Note that our prayers are to be the "spoken word of God, which becomes a sword against the enemy who is attacking us. The pestilence that walks(stalks us) in darkness may be the very "terror by night" we described earlier. It is written, "Your adversary, the devil, walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour - whom resist steadfast".(1 Peter 5:8) Often we experience a "dark night of the soul" where we face terrible demons of fear, lonliness, regret, shame. Let us battle these temptations with the Psalms which address each one of these condemnations of the devil. Sins can plague us in the night, they stalk us and we must fend them off with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. "The destruction that wasteth at noonday" is known in the Septuagint translation of the Bible as "the Noonday devil". This noonday devil is common to man, and it is at noontime that many people experience a spiritual weariness, a despondency(known as ascedia by the monastics). A mysterious dejection settles into the minds of mankind. This destruction that comes is likened to the pestilential hot wind that is experienced in the Eastern countries that begins about 8 a.m. and becomes overwhelming at noontime, suffocating, burning, and making people weakened to the point they cannot continue. The Arabs call this wind, "the poison winds". This is why the Church has always called Christians to a time of prayer at noontime(known as the hour).
Verse 7,8) You can be protected from all the effects of the demonic attacks which were just described; the temptations are common to man, but deliverance is for the "blessed man", "the man who dwells in the secret place of the Most High"; thousands will fall all around, but not you.
Verse 9-12) We learn here that we are protected from ultimate evil, from the plague of death. Just like the death angel passed by the homes with the blood of the Lamb on the doorposts(Exodus 12), so will death pass us by in the Resurrection. But do not confuse "bad things" happening to us in this world with "evil things". God takes all things, good and bad, and works them together for our good if we love Him(Romans 8:28-39). And we are instructed that we have angelic help in our spiritual battles. Angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those who will be heirs of salvation(Heb. 1:14). Angels are assisting us always in our daily battles, even maneuvering us around satanic obstacles that would have tripped us up had they, the angels, not intervened. And this without our knowledge. Yet we pray Psalm 91 and other Psalms(Ps 34:7; Ps 103:20,21) which call on the angels to assist us.
Verse 13) We are to take authority over the demons, and enforce the victory of Christ over Satan(Luke 10:17-20). We are to "tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy(Luke 10:19)". To tread upon these demons means that we put them under our feet in Christ(Eph. 1:19-23). We proclaim the victory that Christ has won over the devil and his works(1 John 3:8; Acts 10:38; 2 Cor. 2:14; Col. 2:13-15; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:4,5; Rom. 8:37-39). Note the two types of evils described here in verse 13; the lion and the adder; then the young lion and the dragon. The lion is an open and violent force, like the attacks that come upon us in trials and dark circumstances. They roar loudly, causing fear; we sense the impending doom. The adder(asp) is a snake in the grass, you don't see it, but it is very dangerous to our souls. These snakes try to creep up on us unaware, but the moment we spot them we are to trample them underfoot with all the forces of heaven at our disposal: the Name of Jesus, the Word of God, the virtues, and prayer. The young lion is a lion at the peak of his powers; the dragon is the most dreaded of serpents: Even these powerful demons can be trampled under your feet by the power of the Cross.
Verse 14-16) In these three verses we hear God Himself speaking of what He will do for the man who "loves God", who "knows my Name". God promises to "answer" you when you call upon him, to be with you "in trouble", to "deliver you, and to honour you. And He will satisfy you with the perfect "length of days". Whatever God has planned for you is the perfect length of life for you, and most importantly it will end with God showing you His salvation. In "The Great Litany" of "The Divine Liturgy" we pray, "For a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, and for a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ."(2 Cor. 5:8-10; Rom. 14:9-13) What is meant by a "painless death"? It is not teaching us to pray that we not experience physical pain while dying. It is teaching us to pray that we not experience spiritual pain at the time of our death. A painless death is when we die and feel no pain because we are free of attachments to this world. Death is painful for those people who are attached to the things of this earth(Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 4:19), they love the things of this world(1 John 2:15-17). When a person dies and is still attached to the things of this world it is a painful death. Let us pray that God will help us to become detached from this world and be prepared for the time of our departure(Phil. 1:21-25; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).