A Psalm for a pandemic
Are you intrigued by the convergence of pandemic and Easter, of world-wide death and a celebration of resurrection life defeating death?
Psalm 91 (NIV)
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]…
3 Surely he will save you…
from the deadly pestilence…
5 You will not fear…the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,…
but it will not come near you.
These words seem very relevant to our time – the promise of rescue from the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,…the plague that destroys at midday.
Does this mean that those who rest in the shadow of the Almighty don’t need to wash their hands and keep physical distance during a pandemic?
The line before pestilence that stalks in the darkness is You will not fear…the arrow that flies by day.
Does the Most High always protect His followers from military violence? If not, how do we interpret these promises?
Commentator Derek Kidner* suggests Jesus’ life and teaching to understand this Psalm.
First, God’s help in facing trouble doesn’t mean we won’t die by violence (333). Jesus said,
16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21)
This promise leaves us again scratching our heads. If not a hair of our heads will perish, why will people be able to kill us? Doesn’t the prospect of God’s people meeting a violent death negate the Psalm’s promise that we won’t fear the arrow (Psalm 91:5)?
Kidner goes on to show that for Jesus, miraculous protection came in the form of “angelic help …when it was most needed” (333) On the night that Jesus was arrested,
41 [Jesus] knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[a]
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
Jesus received angelic strength to keep praying so that he could face the work He had to do; namely, to lovingly submit to those who planned to ask the Romans to kill him and to voluntarily die for the sins of humankind.
Having died, Jesus then rose on the third day as He had predicted, demonstrating most eloquently the reason why His followers need fear neither violence nor pestilence. The promise not a hair of your head will perish gives Jesus followers the assurance of resurrection life on the other side of death. Jesus’ death and resurrection give meaning to the promises of Psalm 91.
Paul of Tarsus writes, then asks rhetorically
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[a]
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15)
Strength for the inevitable journey toward death, whatever form it takes. Death swallowed up in victory. In the meantime, wash your hands.
*Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150 Inter-Varsity, 1975