Psalm 91

Sanctuary

What does the word “sanctuary” mean to you? Do you have a personal sanctuary?

Have you ever played “Hide n’ Go Seek?” The object of the game is to hide, avoid the person who is “it,” and tag “home base.” Those who tag home base will not become the next “it,” the person who tries to foil the players who try to tag home base. Why is home base so important? It is the “sanctuary” in the game, it is the object of freedom from the consequences of being caught.

This child’s game has some parallels with ancient Jerusalem. The Temple was like home base. Because it was the place of God’s presence, Jews saw the Temple as a sanctuary from evil. After all, how could evil stand in the presence of God?

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of YHWH, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.

World English Bible

Psalm 91 was a hymn to those who entered and left the Temple (particularly, the king). The shelter of the Most High was the Temple; the “shadow of the Almighty” was the shadow left by the wings of the cherubim statues over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies (91:1, 4b). The presence of the Living God created a protective cover for the faithful (91:2-4a).

5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and 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 YHWH your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.

In 91:5-8, those who found refuge in the Temple would be safe from the evils of the night (the faithful keeping night vigil in the Temple?) or the arrows that fly by day (a siege of Jerusalem by a foreign power?) or the malevolent spirits who caused disease night and day. The terror, the siege, and the sickness would not touch those in the Temple, despite the anguish and death outside. Those who had cleansed themselves to enter the Temple (especially the king) found refuge in the Lord, and, so, freedom from evil. Indeed, the righteous in the Temple would be empowered to trample evil (91:10-13; the viper and the asp were symbols of Satan, while the lion and the dragon were symbols of death).

14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

91:14-16 shifted place and perspective. Now God spoke directly to the worshiper. He would go with the believe on his way. Those who trusted God (“cling,” “know name,” and call on” are all equivalent to a personal faith) would be blessed (given relief from evil, be honored by God, and live a long life).

The Temple was a tangible sanctuary for the Jew. Faithfulness to God was a “portable” sanctuary; the virtue of fidelity realized the presence of God in life. As the Jews were scattered throughout the Diaspora, the personal sanctuary of faith competed with symbolism of the Temple. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., faith became THE sanctuary for the believer, Jew or Christian.

While it may have been awhile since we played a child’s game with a home base, we all need a place of freedom and safety from the evil of the world. That “place” can be found in a relationship with God. When we are with God, we find his presence and blessing overshadow the evil we endure in life. Fidelity is our sanctuary.

How has your trust in God given you security in an uncertain world?