Summary: Year C. First Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2001

Year C. 1st Sunday of Lent

March 4th, 2001

Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church

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By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor


Heavenly Father empower each of us here at Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church to know our identity as your children through our baptism. Amen.

Psalm 91

Title: God’s Protection.

This is classified as a Psalm of Confidence. If the doctrine of angels as guardians of individuals in verse eleven was not inserted later, then this was composed in the late postexilic period. However, other than the reference to angels there are no clues to date this psalm. Verses three to thirteen are a wisdom poem, but the thoughts there could be from any period in Israel’s history. There is a cascade of metaphors expressing the myriad ways God protects his faithful ones. It is impossible to nail down where it was used in Israel’s worship. It was probably used in many contexts. The Christian Church also uses this psalm for various occasions- for night prayer, exorcisms, as encouragement for the sick and thanksgiving for healing. In the beginning it seems like one person is speaking A priest? A prophet? A pious person? A king? A teacher? Even God seems to speak in verses fourteen to sixteen. Whoever is speaking, that person is bearing witness to God’s protection always and everywhere and, in wisdom fashion, exhorting others to trust in him. One is truly safe in Yahweh.

The psalm begins with verses one and two, introducing the theme of trust and commitment. Verses three to thirteen, is a didactic poem, sermon-like really, cataloguing situations in which God protects. Verses fourteen to sixteen, closes the psalm with God himself speaking, giving authority to what has been asserted.

In verse, “you who dwell”: Lit, “The one who dwells.” Though originally the setting of this psalm may have been the Temple or some other sanctuary, it has been thoroughly reinterpreted metaphorically and applied to any imaginable setting. Here “dwell” means “dwell on,” “be conscious of.”

“Shelter…shadow”: Metaphors for the divine embrace or secret intimacy with God, these terms conjure up protection images that follow the person and are not confined to a protective “space” in a physical sense. Whether ‘in place” or “on a path” one is protected.

In verses three to thirteen, the theme of protection is expressed in a series of striking metaphors, in staccato-like fashion, conveying assurance in different ways. There are snares, traps, pestilence, plagues, war, and dangerous animals, yet a protective calm coming from God’s presence surrounds the believer and shields him or her. The sheer number of examples wants to communicate that Yahweh’s protective care is not limited to certain times or places. Yet these examples also make clear that God’s care does not insulate, isolate or immunize from trouble.

In verse three, “fowler’s snare…plague”: Whether man-made or natural, God protects from all dangers. A slight change in the Hebrew vowel pointing and “plagues” becomes “destructive word,” meaning slander, false accusation or plot. Some scholars so translate it. However, the thought is the same.

Verse four, “pinions, spread wings”: The wings of the cherubim above the ark of the covenant were thought to be where God was. Hence, the image is one of being taken under God’s wing for protection, like a mother bird would do with her young.

In verse five, “terror of the night…arrow…by day”: The people then liked ghost and monster stories too. Midnight and noonday were both times of danger. The “arrow” could be metaphorical for sunstroke or lightning. One was never out of danger, especially the danger of ambush. Yet, one was never out of God’s protective care.

In verse six, “pestilence…darkness…plague…noon”: this verse makes the same point as verse five, using different metaphors, ones for natural ills.

In verse seven, “a thousand fall”: The picture changes to the battlefield. Surrounded by enemies, outnumbered in strength, one is still protected.

In verse eight, “the punishment of the wicked you will see”: “Recompense” would be a better translation than “punishment.” The psalmist is not taking delight in the misfortune of the “wicked,” but certain that God will manifest his justice. That meant to an ancient that the perpetrator suffers the harm he wished or tried to inflict on the innocent victim; an example of God’s law of cause and effect.

In verse eleven, “angels to guard you in all your ways”: Whether at home or on a journey the believer is safe. Angels, representatives of God, are presented as bodyguards, escorts, guardians, ensuring safety even outside the protective area of “divine intimacy” or consciousness of God’s presence. Even when unaware of his presence, angels are assigned to protect God’s children. This idea arose late in Israel’s history. Satan misquoted it in one of Jesus’ temptations. Here, it seems like more than one angel is assigned a person. However, there is a Talmudic teaching that two ministering angels accompany a person through life and testify about his or her life at judgment. “Ways” here means comings and goings, indeed every situation of life.

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