I'm hoping to preach on Psalm 91 later - I want to consider, with care, the protection that Christians can expect in the Pandemic of Covid-19.
The thing that strikes me at once is that broad brushstrokes or bland simplistic statements just will not do - this whole matter is both vast and complex. If I stumble a little in balance or nuance, I trust that my brethren will help furnish us with more detail of what is extremely intricate.
Protection is Messianic
The blanket protection offered from warfare and disease only belongs to Christ by right who alone fully and permanently dwelt in God as His abode v1.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love - John 15:10
As David Dickson says at the start of his commentary on this Psalm "Christ our Lord hath the first right and title; and we only in and through Him."
Protection is Common
Christ, through Common Grace, affords protection to His Creation - through natural immune-response, governmental rule, health-care professions and scientific wisdom, ventilators will multiply, hospital beds be purchased, vaccines designed by drug companies, and virologists, epidemiologists and statisticians conduct research. Advice will be published, laws will become policy, and all will have a fair share in this community grace. This cover is not universally individual but rather indiscriminate. Let us give glory and thanks to God for the common grace that secondarily flows from His mediatorial Kingly protection, Priestly sacrifice and Prophetic edict. Strive with the rest to employ each grace and gift for the wider public interest.
Protection is Powerful
Insulation and immunization are provided by an extra-terrestrial, celestial, power. The Psalmist used 4 names or titles for God to convey this potent, glorious, force. Most High, or El Elyon, is the God above all gods and Name above all names, fondly worshipped by Melchizedek and first revealed through Moses in the 14th chapter of Genesis. It is there Abram encountered God as El-Shaddai, in His almighty, all-sufficiency, both pledge shield and reward. The Sacred Name Yahweh (or Tetragrammaton, YHWH) is the familiar Covenant Name revealed in the God of the Bush, sufficient in Himself and actively present with the Church - His mighty arm was laid bear in the Egyptian Plagues and Exodus. "My God" makes this LORD a personal covenant.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" - Psalm 91:1-2
Divine character becomes the pledge, then, of the display of His attributes. Word-pictures begin to stack up to convey His impregnable, impenetrable, work of protection for the saints: His secret hiding-place provides shade and shelter from attack; His people can run for cover and take refuge in a storm; His mountain-top fortress is a secure, fortified, craggy, stronghold like Massada. In this Covenant God each refugee is safe, and out of reach, of even Covid-19 attack.
Give thanks to God that this protection lacks no strength - it is backed by the Glory of God and His reputation and honour is at stake. Worship the Most High - He is sufficient for this day! Names, attributes and covenantal blood, urge us to run for cover to the God, a fortress and rock, in this "corona-covid crunch."
Protection is Gracious
No human being deserves the insulation the LORD provides. Security from harm was even an overture of kindness to sinless, unfallen, Adam. Since our first parents fell, all men are mired in sin. What we all deserve is to be wiped out as a herd. The fact that any are spared from the spread of Covid-19 is a wonder in itself and a fact of incredible grace.
Protection is Promised
For Jesus the Messiah this was a comprehensive pledge: traps, plagues, darts are included in this Word v3-6. Social distancing, for the Christ, was quite out-of-the question and totally unnecessary v7-8. All around him would drop like flies, but if plague came right to His door, the one well-hid in God was safe, v9-10.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -- the Most High, who is my refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent - Psalm 91:7-10
Protection is Qualified
For others, however, this promise needs seriously qualified - it will help to to consider these caveats under the following sub-headings:
Imagery drawn from hunting, epidemics and battlefields can be taken as pledges of security from dangers like ensnaring plots and trap (both human and devilish), other virulent, malicious, encircling, attacks, whether we are stationery (full-body shield) or mobile (hand-held buckler) in this war.
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday - Psalm 91:3-6
Dickson puts it well for "there are many temptations whereby Satan (as a fowler laying snares) catcheth poor foolish sinners, and there is much contagion of sin, whereby albeit men are infected one by another, and many perish, yet the believer in God is either preserved from falling into the snare, and from being corrupted with contagion of others ill-speeches and manners, or else is rid and delivered out of the danger."
Or as Derek Kidner writes, in his delightful little two-volume work: "Some, like the snare of the fowler, are obvious metaphors for the plots which would entangle our affairs or compromise our loyalty. Other are ills which attack the mind or the body, by human or other non-human agency."
What has just been said above can be applied to struggles against the world, the devil and flesh. However we might be assailed, and always when we are encircled, the army of God finds help under attack. As the apostle Paul could state:
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen - 2 Timothy 4:16-18
If a blanket-promise deliverance from Covid-19 is not present for the Christian, but must be carefully-qualified, for every true believer, who by faith abides in Christ, we can be sure that no assault will harm or dent. Coronavirus cannot touch the election, vocation, justification or glorification of a believer. Without a shadow of a doubt the saints are beyond the reach, by our Mediator's sovereign dominion, of any attack that Covid-19 imagines might separate us from the love of God in Christ. Multitudes will be plunged into eternal torment by this plague. Trials can wobble saints. Corona can panic hearts. Yet no disciple of Jesus can come to lasting harm by the any pandemic, Covid-19, spread. Every believer should glory is the salvation that was purchased by Christ's blood for the security of His flock.
Perfect Corona immunity is not promised in this life. If, for the saints, it will be complete in the next life, now all Christians share in epidemics of suffering which risk life for all on the planet. Doubtless those in Christ will not, necessarily, be infected like the rest - abiding in Christ provides a definite, unusual, high-level and degree of protection (pray that God might, in His mercy, afford special shelter to many frontline workers at particular risk, whether they are ministers, missionaries or medics, involved in this coronavirus fight). Even cessassionts know Paul faced more-than-spiritual risks:
Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure - 2 Corinthians 11:25-27
Yet many believers will be among those who fall ill - when that happens we must not doubt His Most Wise care. Disciples can rest safe in the comforting knowledge that not a hair will be harmed, or a sparrow fall to the ground, unless our Father knows, and unless God has decreed that Corona works for good for each saint who loves God.
This protection is promised but it is not automatic. Presumption is avoided by clinging to the Covenant, trusting in God, resisting carnal fear, standing on the promises and diligent use of the means of grace. The key thing, here, is prayer, for which embattled Christians are promised an audience. Along with adoration, confession and thanksgiving, we are told to kneel and cry-out, in earnest petition, in pleading supplication, with expectation of an answer. If God, in free grace, pours out needed help even when we forget to ask, it is chiefly through prayer we experience Yahweh's strong, protective, presence and deliverance from plagues.
When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him - Psalm 91:15
The commander of God's Hosts does not lack holy help. The Mediator's mighty minions run into millions - God's angels are agents used to protect true believers, who are described in the Book of Hebrews as the heirs of salvation.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot - Psalm 91:11-13
Swift to obey, commanded by Christ, these helpers of the saints, in many unseen ways (like fiery chariots that Elisha and Gehazi saw on the hills), serve to protect the bodies and souls of His servants (as the converted-cannibal chieftain, of South-Sea Island, Vanuatu, later informed missionary John. G. Paton). Those who love the Lord can anticipate, as we pray, God will send help in rare invisible forms to act as masks for this disease. Yet in conquering deadly venom and a most ferocious attack, as Christ's own temptation taught us, we must not put God to the test: such apostolic feats, like the viper Paul shook-off on Malta, were credentials of His office and signs of the Age to Come (at that time breaking into the world). Covid Virus may not prove deadly, but, in that case, Cobra venom might!
Finally our hope does not rest in this life or the production of an effective, drug-trialled, vaccine, which adds a few more years. Beyond the foes we face, and the sickness that attacks, there is honour and glory, for the believer found in God. All fears and tears will be swallowed up in life. The cure for Corona is heavenly treasure in Christ.
"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation" - Psalm 91:14-16
No son or daughter of Adam, without God's true, saving, grace, has any ultimate hope as they stare Coronavirus in the face. None of the wonderful promises, laid out God's friends in this Psalm, offer an ounce or shred of hope to those beyond the bounds of the Covenant. They, with just deserts, might expect to be fully exposed to the ravages of this disease. It is only by common grace that any may expect any protection from the State. If they succumb to Covid-19, they will be plunged into a snare from which there is no escape. Those without faith abide far from Christ - what a terror to those bereft of shelter, refuge or fort, when Coronavirus is afoot. May a proper fear of death (and God's just, abiding, wrath) be a means, these days, to prompt more to think of what awaits those who perish without Christ. It is a mercy that in the Gospel this Psalm tells us to run to One who can give comprehensive insurance cover to protect us from this storm.
This is why, at this time, believers should not be fearful but both thankful and prayerful. We must seek grace to hold our nerve as we pray in this truth. We must pray we would show Christ by our courageous confidence. We must pray to abide in His love and for the strength that this truth gives. We must pray for help, when embattled or diseased, against all kinds of onslaught, both physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We must pray for those who are outside of Christ and perishing in their sins. We must pray for kind hearts and hands which extends the love of Christ. We must pray, confessing sin, that we deserve this Covid stroke. We must cry to God, the lover of life, in mercy to spare some, and make many sinners saints.