Psalm 91 - God the Refuge


Good evening Salt Co. My name is Nick and I had the pleasure of being a college student in this ministry up until I graduated at the end of 2019. For 3 years, I got to be part of the Scott Hall city group and all their shenanigans. During that time, I became a Christian. I went from death to life. That is why I love college ministries. The investment you put in to leading Citygroups, serving, and building relationships is worth it. It’s in that fellowship that the Spirit of God is working to both seek and save the lost and to mature believers.

Around the time that I graduated I got married. I told my citygroup “You guys are cool, but my fiance is cooler”. So we got married that December. And now we are expecting our first kid in September.

That’s a little about me. Tonight, I am excited to continue our series titled “God the …” where each week we look at the different roles of God revealed through the book of Psalms. The Psalms is a tapestry of songs, laments, prayers, and promises. The psalms are organized into 5 books. Unlike verse numbers, which were added later, the grouping of these psalms into different books was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Each of the books was composed in a different time period for the purpose of leading God’s people to know and love Him more.

Tonight, we will be anchoring ourselves in Psalm 91, which is in book 4. As a book, this collection of psalms answers the question for the exiled Israelites of “How do we live in the absence of an earthly king?” Book 4 answers that we live by faith in the one true King, God.

In psalm 91, we will explore God’s role as our refuge. Thus, I want to preach a sermon titled “God the refuge”. Let’s begin.

The author’s refuge

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

This is the main idea that the psalmist wants to convey. Let’s unpack it.

The word used for shelter here refers to the inner-most room of the temple; the place where God’s presence dwelled among His people. This word conveys an intimacy and close fellowship with God. The one who finds refuge in God will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

But what does it mean to abide in the shadow of the Almighty? It means to rest under the protection of the all-powerful God. In other words, he who finds refuge in God will find everything he needs in Him. If there’s one thing you take away from this message, remember this: The one who finds refuge in God will find everything he needs in Him.

A good question to ask when studying the Bible is this: “Why is this here?”, “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire this passage”. Applied to psalm 91, why is this great reminder of God as our refuge in our Bible?

It’s obvious isn’t it? We need this reminder because we don’t find refuge in God by default. When left to ourselves, we don’t seek after God. In fact, we look for refuge anywhere and in anyone other than God!

We all find refuge in something or someone. Our refuge is where we seek protection, satisfaction, our purpose in life. Some people find their refuge in pleasures. They run to entertainment, alcohol, food, sex; anything to numb or distract. Some look to other people for their refuge; a political leader, a boyfriend or girlfriend. Still others say “I don’t need refuge”. What they really mean is that they find refuge in themselves; their own strength, wisdom, and success.

Where do you find refuge?

In high school, I didn’t do a lot of sports. I wasn’t very good at throwing or catching, so baseball, basketball, and football were not an option. Instead, I went out for the track team. I ran the 100 and 300 meter hurdles.

Now when you’re learning to hurdle, you first need to figure out which leg is your lead leg, the one you kick forward when you’re jumping a hurdle. We found that the best way to determine your lead leg is to have someone give you a surpise shove and see which foot you caught yourself with. You may think that your left leg is your lead, but that means nothing if you instinctually catch yourself on your right leg.

I say all that to ask you this: When life pushes you, what do you catch yourself on? When the storms of life come, where do you go? You may intellectually say “God is my refuge”, but do your actions say otherwise?

Guys, you need a better refuge.

When the storms of this life come, your refuge will not stand. All they give is a superficial sense of peace without any real protection. They won’t give you more control over your life. They can’t equip you with a purpose or identity that is worth living for. They are shallow, weak, fleeting houses of straw. Let me explain.

If pleasures are your refuge, in the end your refuge will become your prison. If people are your refuge, they will eventually fail you. If you are your refuge, you will be crushed when life doesn’t go as you planned.

Not only will your refuge fail to protect you in this life, but it will also fail to protect you in the next. The Bible speaks of a great judgement day where we will stand before God. You need a refuge for that day. On that day, our whole lives will disclosed before Him. It will be like watching a replay video of everything we have ever thought, said, or done. As a righteous judge, God will judge us according to his standard: sinless perfection.

What will your refuge do for you on that day? Your success in this life won’t help you. The “good” things you’ve done can’t save you. The Bible says our good works are like filthy rags in God’s sight. It won’t matter if you can point to “worse” sinners out there. Each of us will stand before God alone.

Romans 3:23 shows us what the verdict will be. It says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Guilty.

And what about the punishment? Romans 6:23 says that the “wages of sin is death” which literally means “if sin is how you work, death is your paycheck”. And the death that it speaks of is the wrath of God for sin: hell.

Why do I say all of this? I say these things because if you don’t understand God’s wrath, you will never understand His love. You need to know this: more than any storm you may encounter in this life, you need refuge from God.

The beauty of the Gospel is that the one we need refuge from has become our refuge. God is holy, righteous, and just, but He is also merciful and gracious, slow to anger and full of steadfast love. Instead, of turning His back on humanity, God has made a way for us to have a relationship with Him.

God the Father so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to become a man and to live the perfect life that we should have lived. And at the end of His life, Jesus was hung on the cross where He bore the wrath of God in our place. The punishment for our sins was placed on His shoulders.

Jesus Himself is the refuge that we need; in life and in death.

The author continues:

[2] I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Throughout every age, God has been drawing sinners to find their refuge in Him. This is their battle cry! My prayer for tonight is that this would be our confession. If God is not your refuge, I invite you to come and see what God has done. If you can say that God is your refuge, I hope that this psalm leads you to a greater love for God.

With that said, let me give you a roadmap of where we are headed. This psalm consists of two main sections. First, as we just unpacked, the author sits the reader down and shares his confession of faith with them. Then, with excitement he then lays out three rich Gospel promises from God for those who find refuge in Him. These are promises of 1. Protection and care, 2. Victory, and 3. Steadfast love. Let’s begin.

A better refuge: In the shadow of the Almighty

3-10 Protection and care

The one we see first is the promise of protection and care; the promise of protection and care. Let’s read starting at verse 3:

[3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. [4] He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. [5] You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, [6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. [8] You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.

[9] Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place– the Most High, who is my refuge– [10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

What does this protection look like? Will God always protect His children from physical harm? from death?

For centuries, passages like this one have been abused in so many ways. For example, in Jesus' day, it was taught that physical handicaps were always the result of personal sin. The same thing false teaching is being promoted today in the prosperity gospel. False teachers say that it is always God’s will to bless you financially and to keep you from illness. And if you aren’t healthy or wealthy, well, then it you just don’t have enough faith.

That kind of false teaching doesn’t lead people to faith, it actually leads them to unbelief; to distrust God’s goodness and faithfulness. This leads us to questions like: Why did God not protect my grandpa from sickness and death? Will God heal my __?

Therefore, we need to be careful to not misinterpret this passage. This section does not promise that we will be free from suffering, trials, sickness, and death. Instead, God promises something better. Let’s take a closer look:

[3] For he will deliver you…

God promises deliverance! Yes, for some, that deliverance will come in this life. God often protects His children from physical harm, but not always. What we can be confident in is that ultimate deliverance will come for every believer.

There will come a day when we are freed from all physical and mental handicaps and illnesses. There will come a day when sickness, death, temptation, and sin will be no more. There will be no more grief, pain, heartache, and tears.

Now you may be asking, what do we do in the meantime? I’m glad you asked.

[4] He will cover you with his pinions [feathers], and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

As we confidently wait for our deliverance, we trust in God’s faithfulness. We trust that He is in control even when everything seems out of control. God’s past faithfulness is our confidence for trusting in His future faithfulness.

But there’s one problem with that. We can’t trust in God’s faithfulness if we don’t know how He has been faithful. This is why every believer needs to saturate their lives with the Word of God, and I mean all of it. Too often, the old testament is pushed aside as being irrelevant to our lives. But that’s a total lie! The old testament is filled with records of God’s faithfulness to an unfaithful people. What is awesome is that as we fill our minds with God’s faith-arousing Word, we will began to trust Him more.

And what will happen as we trust Him more?

[5] You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, [6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

As we learn to trust in God’s faithfulness, our habits of worry and fear will be replaced by confidence. Notice that this verse doesn’t say that you won’t experience physical harm, it says you won’t fear it. Take courage, God has numbered your days and you will not leave this world one minute sooner than He has planned.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. [8] You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.

Sometimes physical calamities are a sign of God’s judgement towards His enemies. When you see that, don’t fear. Don’t fear because you are in Christ. There is no judgement awaiting you. Jesus has paid for your past, present, and future sin, once for all. So don’t fear, but also, don’t be proud. You were once His enemy too, deserving of the same wrath.

[9] Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place– the Most High, who is my refuge– [10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

Finally, the author promises that no evil will come upon the believer. Instead, God will turn every evil into good for His glory and our benefit.

Consider that day 2000 years ago when Jesus was on the cross. As the Son of God hung, naked bleeding and bruised; As the crowds mocked Him and His followers abandoned Him, who was in control? In the midst of what looked like defeat, Jesus Christ was accomplishing the salvation of people from every tribe tongue and nation. What looked like chaos was actually the climax of God’s redemptive plan. What mankind meant for evil, God used for good.

A few years ago, I went through one of the hardest weeks of my life. During that week, I remember listening to a sermon that talked about the dangers of ignoring unconfessed sin. Like a sliver stuck in a finger, unconfessed sin only gets worse over time. It gives Satan a foothold on your life, to weigh you down with shame. Upon hearing that, I was cut to the heart with conviction. There was sin in my past that I had not brought into the light. Even though I had repented of it to God, I was absolutely terrified to share it with anyone.

The question that the Spirit pressed on me was this: If God had forgiven me of my past, then why was I afraid of what others might think? I had to take refuge in God. I had to choose to trust God over my emotions.

Later that week, I confessed that sin to a few trustworthy people, and afterwards, I felt this huge weight fall off my shoulders. I saw then that God was always working through my sinful past to bring about His redemption in my life.

This promise of protection and care means that every evil that is plotted against us will be turned for our good. Every season of suffering serves to draw us closer to Jesus, the one who suffered for us. Every failure of ours leads us to depend on the Father’s unending grace. Every temptation and trial teaches us to reply on the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Christian, all things work together for God’s glory and our good.

Even death holds no evil for the believer. Death is but a moment. We will close our eyes here and open them a second later and find ourselves looking into the face of our God and savior, Jesus. “Oh death, where is your sting?”

Those that find refuge in God will receive protection and care.

11-13 Victory

Moving down to verses 11 through 13, we see the next Gospel promise for those who make God their refuge: the promise of victory; the promise of victory.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. [12] On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. [13] You will tread on the lion and the adder [cobra]; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

If you’ve read through one of the gospel books, you probably recognize verses 11 and 12. Satan quoted these verses to Jesus when He was in the wilderness. Satan took Him to the top of the temple and said “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” then he quoted this. Satan wanted Jesus to test God instead of trusting Him. But Jesus resisted Satan.

Throughout His whole life, Jesus never gave in to sin. He submitted Himself in obedience to the Father. He relied completely on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. He was never distracted from His mission and His love for God never grew cold. God was His refuge every day.

And I’m sure you all can say the same, right? No!

No one else has done this. Just like Adam and Eve, we have given in to temptation and rebelled against God. When Cain was contemplating murder, God warned him saying “sin is crouching at the door; its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it”. Like Cain, we have failed to resist temptation and rule over sin. Instead of ruling over it, we have given ourselves up to it, to jealousy, envy, bitterness, hatred, gossip, selfishness, arrogance, approving of what we know is wrong and lusting after things that can’t satisfy us. Worst of all, we’re addicted to it. We can’t stop sinning! On our own, we can only trade one sin for another that is more “socially acceptable”. We are slaves to sin!

But the good news for us is that Jesus came to save sinners. He came for those who know the depravity of their sin. He came to free us from our slavery. He came to bring us victory!

After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not give up on humanity. Instead, He made a promise that one day He would send a man who would crush Satan, free us from our bondage to sin, and deliver us from death. And how would He do it? How will this savior be victorious? In Genesis 3:15 we find the answer. There God promises that this man will crush the serpent’s head, but in doing so, the serpent will strike His heel. Jesus' victory, which is our salvation, came at cost of His own life.

By His substitutionary death, Jesus saved us from the penalty of our sin. By His resurrection, Jesus delivered us from death and gives us the hope of eternal life. And now, Jesus has given us His Spirit who is empowering us to rule over sin. And someday soon, Jesus will return to judge this world in righteousness. On that day, He will crush the serpent’s head! For those who find refuge in the grace of God, it will be the greatest day of their lives. For those who find refuge elsewhere, oh what a terrifying day that will be.

Knowing that victory has been accomplished and that our eternity is secure, we respond by fighting against sin and temptation. On our own, we are powerless, but through the Spirit who lives in all believers, we more than conquerors! As we pray, study His Word, and live in fellowship with other believers, the Spirit will free us from the power of sin. He will form our hearts to see sin for what it is. He will remind us of His Word when we need it most. He will give us boldness to share this good news with others. He will take the victory that Jesus accomplished and apply it to our lives.

Those who find refuge in God will receive victory.

14-16 Steadfast love

The last promise described in this chapter is the promise of steadfast love; the promise of steadfast love. Let’s continue at verse 14.

[14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. [15] When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

By this point, you may be wondering how you make God your refuge? To answer that, the author paints a picture of what this looks like. Looking at the text, we can conclude that the one who finds refuge in God is someone who loves God, who knows God, and who calls to God for help.

I think there are two ways we can go wrong here. The first is one I’ve seen played out in my own life. For many years of my life, I claimed the title of “Christian”, yet I did not find refuge in Him. When I felt convicted of my sins, I would run to Him for forgiveness, but I had no intentions of repentance. I was a Christian by name only. I wanted cheap grace without a real relationship. Is this you? Do you run to God when you are desperate but have no desire to really know Him?

God doesn’t want your lip service, He wants your heart. God wants you to know, love, and depend on Him. This is what it means to make God your refuge! This is what true faith is!

That’s the first way we can go wrong. The other extreme is that some of us don’t depend on God because we don’t really believe these promises. Maybe you’ve thought things like “this isn’t that big of a deal to God” or “God doesn’t have time for this”. Or maybe you’ve asked yourself “Does God like me, or does He just put up with me?” You are constantly burdened by the belief that God is always disappointed in you.

Regardless of which side describes you, you need to know that God delights in faith. He wants your dependence. He is not disappointed when you ask for mercy. Actually, He finds joy in forgiving you. He wants you to find refuge in Him. Why? Because faith gives God all the glory. Faith says “I have nothing to offer and everything to receive”. Faith says “I am weak, but you are strong”. Faith says “I’m not good enough, but Jesus you are”.

Tonight, if you know that God is not your refuge and you want Him to be, don’t waste another minute. Choose today to turn away from sin and to find refuge in the finished work of Jesus.

Returning to this passage, I want you to notice who is speaking now. This is no longer the author speaking, this is God’s voice. “Because he holds fast to me in love”. Because He really wants us to believe these promises, God himself finishes this psalm. To the one who makes God their refuge, He says “I will deliver you, protect you, answer your prayers, be near to you in trouble, rescue you, honor you, satisfy you, and save you.” All I can say is wow! When you make God your refuge, in Him you will find everything you need.

The obvious question left to ask is how. How can this be?

I’ve had the joy of being married to my best friend for 1 1/2 years or 3 covid years. We got married in December right before covid hit. Due to the pandemic, we got to spent a lot of extra time together. Over the year, I noticed that when my wife, who I usually do everything with, was not beside me, even for a day, I missed her. The deeper our fellowship, the more we noticed each others absence. If I feel this sense of loneliness when my wife is not around me, how much more lonely did Jesus feel on the cross?

Verse 15 says “When he calls to me, I will answer him”. On the cross, as He was bearing God’s wrath for our sin, Jesus called out to God. He said “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”… For the first time, ever, the Son spoke to the Father and there was no response.

Being fully God as well as fully man, Jesus has always existed. Jesus was there on the day of creation. And, since eternity past, the Father Son and Spirit had always enjoyed each other’s presence.

Jesus, the one who loved God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength; Jesus, the one who knew and depended on God for everything. This Jesus was forsaken on that day so that we would never be. Oh how Jesus loves us that He would be forsaken for that hour so that we would not be separated from God for eternity. Oh how the Father loves us, that He was willing to give up His beloved Son, so that we could be called His beloved.

And so, in response, we abide in that love. If you are in Christ, the Father loves you as much as He loves His own Son. There is no sin or failure that could make Him love you any less and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more. His delight, favor, and love for you are grounded in Jesus' obedience. So stop trying to earn God’s love and stop beating yourself up over your failures. You cannot be separated from His love.

Those who find refuge in God will receive steadfast love.

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