Summary: God may have purposes of which we may not be aware and if he permits it, he can use it.
When our girls were growing up we could not afford to take a vacation at resorts or hotels, so from the start we decided to camp. I remember our first major purchase of a cabin-style tent from Sears. It was luxurious with a place for a bunk-bed cot for the girls and a large air mattress for us. We never thought that we were deprived for not being able to afford expensive vacations. Those experiences are some of the best memories of our lives. Most of our experiences were very pleasant, but a few were frightening. At one point I took a permanent ink pen and wrote on the wall of the tent next to the door “Psalm 91:9-10.” It reads like this: “If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the Lord, who is my refuge — then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalm 91:9-10). We trusted in the promise of that verse even though that trust was tested several times. We have been caught in very bad wind storms which tore the awnings off nearby camper trailers, and we have been in lightning storms that lit up the tent with each strike, and were so loud they sounded as though they struck the trees all around us. This psalm has been a comfort to us for many years, and we have proven the truth of it over and over.
The opening verse of this psalm have been quoted countless times and repeated in the hearts of God’s people even more frequently: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” There are two striking imageries for God here. One is that of a large bird sheltering its young with his wings: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” A majestic eagle comes to mind as he protects his young high on a craggy mountain ledge. He is the “most high” of all living creatures. The person being protected by God is pictured as a small bird in the nest. No predator comes near the nest because the father eagle is standing in the nest next to his young so that his shadow falls over them. This is a picture of extreme tenderness on the part of God. The young are lovingly cared for and protected. The other image is that of a military fortress: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” And again, “His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” So we have here both the tenderness and strength of God. Tenderness without strength would fail to give the kind of protection needed. But strength without tenderness would fail to be the kind of protection you would want. God’s strength provides our protection, but its motive originates in the heart of God and reminds us that we are cared for deeply.
But I want to go back to the verses from this psalm which I inscribed on our tent: “If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the Lord, who is my refuge — then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.” What if after writing that scripture on our tent, and praying for protection, we had been struck by lightning, or the wind had blown down a tree upon us? What then? Would this verse not be true any longer? Would our belief in God’s protection just be wishful thinking? There have been many Christians who have been the victims of natural disasters — things God could have controlled. Does that mean that he is not able to protect us or, worse yet, that he does not care?
There are several things we need to understand in this regard. The first is: What is generally true may not be always true. These general truths are not are not always true, but that does not make them any less true. If we say to someone, “If you work hard you will succeed in life.” That is true, but it is not true for everyone all the time. Even so, the statement is no less true. The exception to the rule is just that — an exception. “The exception proves the rule.”
Jesus understood that this principle did not apply in every case — even to him. In fact, the devil quoted from this very psalm in order to tempt Christ. He tempted Christ to not only believe this scripture, but to carry it to the extreme. Satan was trying to see if Jesus would fall for the trick he often plays on the people of God. He wanted to see if he would believe that since he was the chosen of God nothing could possibly happen to him. Satan quoted verses eleven and twelve which say: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” And then he invited Jesus to throw himself off the high temple wall and fall into the Kidron valley to see if this promise of God was really true. Jesus wisely quoted the scripture which says in Deuteronomy 6:16: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7). I have known people that refuse to work saying that they are living by faith, when in reality they were putting God to the test to see if he would bless their poor planning or laziness. That kind of false trust is not what this psalm is speaking about.