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Pandemic Protection and Psalm 91

David Shin
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David Shin

Pastor, Hillside O'Malley Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Anchorage, AK

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  • March 28, 2020
    12:00 PM
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Pandemic Protection and Psalm 91

David Shin


So I pull into the parking lot and there weren't that many cars there. It was quite surprising actually, and I felt kind of like I was preparing to go into a biohazard zone or a place that had experienced nuclear fallout like Chernobyl or something. Because in the parking lot, before I got out of the car, I put on my latex gloves and grabbed a cart once I got inside the door and then they had a little station for you to wipe down your hand. Now, I had never done that before and as I entered the grocery store it seemed strangely normal. There was actually quite a bit of food in the fresh produce areas. I didn't see any empty lots or I don't know what you say it, the empty bins of potatoes or empty bins of celery. There was no toilet paper in the aisle. There was no dried beans, no rice, and the thing that struck me was this new reality that we're living in that one of the most dangerous or perceived dangerous things of the week is going to the grocery store. There's a lot of fear, I could sense, walking down the aisles. You're fearful of coming in contact with people and the people around me were really geared up. I thought I was a little bit out of the ordinary for putting on gloves, maybe, maybe not. But I was surprised at how many people had masks, how many people had gloves. I mean this one guy I walked by, he was really set up. He looked like he was going into some sort of some anthrax zone or something. And we're all going around and they have these signs where as you're getting ready to check out to “Please stay at a safe distance from one another” or “Stay 6 feet apart.” And then once I got back in the car, I realize that nothing can this true I had to used my gloved hands to touch my phone and also I touch my car keys. And I proceeded after getting in the car to disinfect my car keys and my phone. And this is this is so surreal. The world that we are living in right now is so fearful of this COVID 19 virus that protection is at the foremost of our minds, physical protection from this pandemic.


I want to look at what the Bible has to say about protection from pestilences and plagues and pandemics. And today I thought that we could take a look at Psalm 91. Let me read a few verses to you.

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you…
10 No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways.

This is a powerful promise. It indicates that GOD's angels will protect us and that the plague, the pandemic, will not come near your dwelling place and you don't have anything to fear. And this is a pandemic protection psalm, if ever I heard one. And it's interesting because Ellen White cites Psalm 91 as specifically applying to GOD's commandment-keeping people. That's found in ET page 120. And she also uses this psalm to refer to those who shall experience the time of trouble and the perils of the last days. That's from Great Controversy, page 638. 


So this psalm, Psalm 91, has special significance for GOD's people living in the very end of time, after the close of probation when the 7 plagues are being poured out on the earth that GOD's people will not get the plague. But in a broader application, I believe that this promise is for us right now and that we can find assurance in the Psalm 91. Because although this may not be in the time of trouble, we know that pestilences and earthquakes are signs of the nearness of the 2nd coming of JESUS CHRIST. 


So let's examine Psalm 91 a little bit more closely. I want to make a few observations about this psalm as we go forward in our reflection of this passage.


Observation number 1 - GOD promises emotional and psychological assurance when HE says, “You shall not be afraid.” I think this is the main promise of Psalm 91 that even though there is chaos/uncertainty/fear all around us that we can find our anchor in GOD and that we cannot be afraid. And so first is the promise of not living in fear. There is so much fear all around us. And Psalm 91 says, “Look, you can have this experience today of not being afraid.” 


Observation number 2 - GOD promises physical protection from the pestilences and pandemics. So the beauty of Psalm 91 is that it is a total package not only of physical protection but of emotional and psychological assurance of not living in fear. 


Now, the natural question that arises in my mind when I read Psalm 91 is “Ok, it promises no pandemic or no pestilence shall come near you.” Does this mean that Christians are immune to the COVID 19 virus? 


Now there are several things that we need to reflect upon in this passage. One thing is that later on in Psalm 91, he clarifies that GOD does not exempt us from trouble and from calamity. Verse 15, GOD says, “I will be with him in trouble.” In other words, GOD did not say that you will avoid troublous times but rather like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, GOD did not keep them from the fire but HE was with them through the fires. So, Psalm 91, you have to read the whole chapter to understand that many times living on planet earth means that we have sin around us, the results of sin, and Christians get colds and flus and other things and even like the COVID 19 virus. GOD may allow us to get the virus and become sick; but the beauty of this promise is that GOD says, “I will be with you in trouble.” GOD also promises protection from pestilences as well but if for some reason that we don't understand, in GOD's greater purpose, HE allows us to get this virus. GOD says, “Look, I will be with you through troublous times.” 


Now, we come to our third observation of Psalm 91 that GOD’s promise in Psalm 91 is conditional in nature. So this promise of psychological and emotional assurance of not being in fear, and this promise of GOD being with us in trouble, and this promise of protection is predicated on a certain condition. What is that condition? If you read verse 9 and 10 – Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;” Notice what the verses say. It indicates that the condition for the plague not coming near your dwelling is to make the LORD your dwelling place. That is the condition. If you make GOD your dwelling place, using the language of the Psalmist, he says that ‘that is the condition for not having this pandemic come near your tent.’ 


Now, the idea of GOD being your dwelling, what does that mean? Now, the idea of abiding in the Most High or dwelling in the secret place of the Most High comes up earlier in Psalm 91. If you read verse 1 – “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” So this theme of dwelling in GOD or abiding in the shadow of the Almighty emerges at the very beginning of the psalm and then later on indicates that that is the very condition for receiving of the promises of Psalm 91. So this idea of abiding in GOD is also associated with being in the secret place of the Most High.


There's another place that the Psalmist uses the secret place and it's found in Psalm 27:5 – “For in the time of trouble (notice that the context of this is a time of calamity) HE shall hide me in HIS pavilion; (notice again this is talking about protection in the time of trouble) In the secret place of HIS tabernacle HE shall hide me; HE shall set me high upon a rock.” Notice that the Psalmist says that the secret place is in the tabernacle. So in Psalm 91, when it says that we shall abide or we shall dwell in the secret place of the Most High, comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can come to the reasonable conclusion that this is pointing towards the tabernacle. The secret place of the Most High is found in the sanctuary. 


There are some other clues that emerge in Psalm 91. When you go back to Psalm 91 and see the 2nd part of verse 1, it says “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” So the term secret place has sanctuary implications. And then we come to this idea of the shadow of the Almighty. In other words, if you're in the secret place of GOD, you're also in the shadow of the Almighty. And the question is what is it that is casting this shadow? Again comparing Scripture with Scripture, we look at Psalm 57:1 and it says, “Under the shadow of your wings, I will make my refuge until these calamities pass by.” So in Psalm 57, again it's the context of protection, again it's a context of where we're finding refuge from the calamities, and here it indicates that it's under the shadow of GOD's wings that we find this protection.


Incidentally, in Psalm 91, there is also a reference to the wings of GOD being the place that we find refuge. Let's read it – “Under HIS wings you shall take refuge.” The question is, where in the sanctuary is the secret place where there is a shadow that is cast by wings? What is the exact location that we can find this refuge in GOD? Again, cross referencing it with other scriptures, if you go to Psalm 61:4, the Bible says, “I will abide in YOUR tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the shelter of YOUR wings.” The Bible puts it together that we can find refuge in the tabernacle under the shelter of HIS wings. And if you hone it down to the location where the secret place of the Most High where there is a shadow under the wings of GOD that we can find refuge and protection, it is in the Most Holy Place. 


Let's read another passage here in 2 Chronicles 5:7. The Bible says, “Then the priest brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the temple, to the most holy place under the wings of the cherubim.” 


So let's put this all together here. The Bible says in Psalm 91 that the condition for receiving the protection promised in Psalm 91 is to dwell in the secret place of the Most High under the shadow of the Almighty. And cross referencing it with other psalms, it indicates that this is referring to the shekinah glory or the place where the shekinah of glory of GOD is in the inner sanctum of the most holy place, the throne of GOD where cherubim are there with their wings. And it is in the shadow of these wings, in the secret place of the Most High that we can find refuge and protection and freedom from fear in the midst of the chaos and the lack of peace that is raging all around us.


Now as I studied this passage this week, I wanted to see if there were any other individuals that saw sanctuary language in Psalm 91. And I did a quick search of the journal archives and I came across this particular journal that was published in The Journal of the Adventist Theological Society and refers to the Psalmist journey and the sanctuary. Now this article did not do a detailed exegesis of Psalm 91 but it referenced Psalm 91 in passing. And this is what it said, “That Psalm 90 and 93 deals with the problem of a destroyed sanctuary and point believers toward a better sanctuary, i.e., the heavenly sanctuary.” And he goes on later indicating the Psalm 91 specifically is referring to the imagery of the heavenly sanctuary and The Divine King who rules in it. 


So Psalm 91 has all of these allusions and references to the heavenly sanctuary. And to abide under the shadow of the Almighty, to dwell in the secret place of the Most High is to have that experience of being in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. That is what Psalm 91 is pointing out and this is the condition for receiving the benefits of the promises that are there in Psalm 91.


Now the question arises: what does it mean to have that experience of being in the presence of GOD in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary? After all, we're here on earth and GOD is in heaven on HIS throne. There's quite a bit of distance between us. And how do we have that experience? We're locked in here on Earth. Now, there are some Bible passages that point out what actually took place between the cherubim at the Ark of the Covenant. Here's a reference - Exodus 25:22 – “And there I will meet with thee and I will speak with thee from above the ark cover, from between the 2 cherubim which are upon the Ark of the testimony.” Notice what Exodus indicates - that GOD would meet with Moses from between the cherubim. And there, HE would talk with Moses. This is the most ultimate experience of communion with GOD that we can ever have - is the experience that Adam and Eve had before the fall when GOD would come in the evening in the cool of the day and have face to face communion with GOD. 


And the implication of Psalm 91 is that right now even though we are confined to this earth and the sanctuary right now is in heaven and GOD is on HIS throne that this distance does not prevent us from having the experience of the most holy place, the experience of being in the shadow of the Almighty under the shadow of HIS wings, the experience of being in the secret place of the Most High. That rich communion we can have right now.


Steps to Christ page 99, she says, “A closet of communion may be found wherever we are. We should have the door of the heart open continually and our invitation going up that JESUS may come and abide as a heavenly guest in the soul.” Notice what she says; that we can have this closet of communion wherever we may be. In other words, we don't have to be in heaven in the inner sanctum physically of the throne room of GOD. We have the privilege and opportunity to have it now. And notice which she says that “when we have this communion we can have this abiding sense of the presence of GOD in our own heart.” She uses similar language to Psalm 91. 


Patriarchs and Prophets page 88, “In the midst of a world by its iniquity doomed to destruction, Enoch lived a life of such close communion with GOD that he was not permitted to fall under the power of death. The godly character of this prophet represents the state of holiness which must be attained by those who shall be redeemed from the earth (Revelation 14:3). Like Enoch, GOD's people will seek for purity of heart and conformity to HIS will until they shall reflect the likeness of CHRIST.” 


I want to share 2 practical tips from the Spirit of Prophecy and from Scripture about how we can have this experience of communion with GOD, the Most Holy Place experience that the Bible talks about.


The first tip is “begin your day reading and thinking about JESUS.” This is from Desire of Ages page 83, “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of CHRIST; we should take it point by point and let the imagination grasp each scene especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon HIS great sacrifice for us, our confidence in HIM will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with HIS Spirit.” 


Notice what she says. She says that we should spend time thinking about JESUS. And she specifically mentions that we should let the imagination grasp each scene especially the closing ones. Now, we spend a lot of times, typically in the Western culture in the West, analyzing rather than synthesizing. And I believe that there are obviously times for exegesis and analysis of Scripture but here Ellen White is indicating that we use another side of the brain. The right side of the brain is in imagination upon the scenes from the life of JESUS. Now, this is not some sort of Eastern visualization that we're talking about. We're talking about biblical meditation here; thinking about biblical themes. This is Biblical reflections. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings about that, she's talking about the use of our sanctified imagination; but this is using our imagination in our reflection on Scripture. And to be very clear on this is cognitive reflection on Scripture. She says that as we read Scripture, to not only engage our left brain in analysis and critical thinking, but to engage our right brain to imagine these scenes of JESUS. And she says specifically that when we do this something will happen in our Christian experience. 


Notice what she says, reading the last part of that quote again. She says, “As we thus dwell upon HIS great sacrifice for us, our confidence in HIM will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with HIS Spirit.” The implication of what she’s saying is that when we use our sanctified imagination, in reflection upon Scripture, that the text of Scripture goes from the propositional phase to the personal phase. It goes from the theoretical to the experiential. The implication is that this transverses or traverses that gap between head knowledge and heart knowledge and brings them together. And in contemplation and reflection using our sanctified imagination in reading Scripture that JESUS becomes personal to us in a real way. 


This is from the Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing page 1 – “Let us in imagination go back to that scene, and, as we sit with the disciples on the mountainside, enter into the thoughts and feelings that filled their hearts. Understanding what the words of JESUS meant to those who heard them, we may discern in them a new vividness and beauty, and may also gather for ourselves their deeper lessons.” The implications of this is that in our devotions every morning to make our meditation upon JESUS CHRIST to think about HIM,  to imagine HIM as we are reading Scripture and to engage not only our left brain of analysis and critical thinking but also our right brain of creativity and imagination that is grounded in the Word of GOD.


Patriarch and Prophets page 85 – “The infinite unfathomable love of GOD through CHRIST became the subject of HIS [Enoch’s] meditations day and night. And with all the fervor of his soul, he sought to reveal that love to the people among whom he dwelt.” Notice what she says. She indicates that the experience of Enoch was in contemplation and meditation upon CHRIST and the love and the sacrifice that HE was to have on man's behalf. The subject of Enoch’s thought life was a continual reflection upon the sacrifice of CHRIST. Remember Enoch had that most holy place experience. He dwelt in the secret place of the most high and was translated without seeing death. And this is the experience that we are to have. So it starts in our thought life and the subject of our thought life is to be about JESUS CHRIST. 


So we come to tip number 2 in having this rich communion with GOD is to meditate on the passage throughout the day. Psalms 1: 1 – 2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in HIS law he meditates day and night.” 


Meditation is a biblical practice. It's a biblical concept. And biblical meditation lies at the very heart of the experience of having the most holy place communion with GOD that Enoch had. Notice that Enoch meditated on CHRIST and His sacrifice all throughout the day; and this is how he walked with GOD according to Patriarchs and Prophets. 


Now, since meditation is at the very heart and core and soul of what this communion with God really is, it would seem very likely and logical that for the true practice of meditation, there is also a false or a counterfeit practice meditation as well. Notice that in Psalm 1, the subject or the nature of the meditation is cognitive. It says “In HIS law does he meditate day and night.” So, biblical meditation is always to fill your mind with Scripture. 


Now, Eastern or mystical meditation or mysticism and the emergent church movement is a non-cognitive type of meditation that involves the eastern practice of emptying your mind rather than filling your mind with the Word of GOD.


So we need to clarify from the very beginning what Biblical meditation is. Biblical meditation very simply is to think and to reflect upon the Word of GOD continually. That is what Biblical meditation is. It's not this transcendental Eastern mysticism that is being espoused even in many Christian communities today. So Biblical medication is at the very heart and soul of the Christian experience and is an integral part of what it means to have this communion in the secret place of the Most High.


Few other passages, I want to share with you. Joshua 1:8 – “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth but you shall meditate in it day and night.” Psalm 119: 97 – “O, how I love YOUR law, I meditate on it all day long.” 


Meditation is not drudgery. Have you ever had something that you loved to think about, the favorite place you want to go in your mind when you have a moment, perhaps it's a subject that you just love thinking about, perhaps it's a person that you want to think about. If we love JESUS, our sweetest thoughts will be about HIM. 


I want to encourage you today to heed the invitation of Psalm 91 to dwell in the secret place of the Most High, to abide under the shadow of the Almighty, to have that experience of rich communion with GOD every day, to think about JESUS, to imagine the final scenes, to spend time thinking about GOD, to meditate upon HIM throughout the day, to be consumed with the beauty and the glory of GOD in our thought life. We can walk with GOD like Enoch walked with GOD today.

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