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Living with God’s Loving Assurance
Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 3: Songs that Glorify the God of Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 24, 2019
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: Psalm 91: 1-8, 11-16
Background Scripture: Psalm 91
Before we begin this lesson, allow us a personal word. We complete eight years of writing the Winter Quarter lessons for the Advocate. When we began writing in September, there were no United Methodist printed materials with which to work. However, with this last lesson, the Student Book is available and we urge you to study the lesson written by Stan Purdum. It is excellent!
Every commentator suggests when you read Psalm 91, read also Psalm 90. In some ways, they are companions. Psalm 90 begins the Fourth of Five sections of the Psalms. The message laments the difficulties of life, its brevity, and frustrations. Psalm 91, on the other hand, is a psalm of trust through every kind of difficulty, with the assurance God will see us through. In a way, 91 is an answer to the questions 90 raises. The hyperbole of the psalmist’s assurance needs to be heard in the light of the realities Psalm 90 identifies.
We in America have had all our illusions about safety shattered in recent years: 9/11, school shootings, mass killings in various venues, threats stated and unstated, and the list continues. Now our leaders insist on making us afraid of any strangers who are different from us. Fear indeed makes us a different people from whom we have been across the years.
Like our hymns, Psalm 91 has four stanzas/verses: 1-2; 3-8; 9-13; 14-16. Again, like our hymns, the Psalms are poetry, and the defining feature of Jewish poetry is parallelism.
A good way to think of parallelism
is the “rhyming of ideas” rather than the “rhyming of words.” The second line repeats the ideas of the first in different words, or, sometimes, in contrasting ideas.
In the opening line, “whoever dwells – rests” and “in the shelter…in the shadow” are classic examples of Hebrew poetry. The important message here is we are active participants in seeking God’s shelter, not waiting for God to come to us. Covenant-keeping is a two-way street! Throughout this Psalm, there is a dynamic relationship between the worshipper’s actions and God’s.
The worshipper speaks affirming God is his “refuge and fortress.” The words of Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” immediately come to mind. Have your class sing! Prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and the ensuing Babylonian Captivity, Jerusalem, its walls, and the Temple had been Israel’s protection. All was destroyed, and they learned the hard lesson – only God could be their “refuge and fortress.”
In the next stanza, the Psalmist begins with two metaphors of danger from which God will save: the fowler’s snare (traps of our enemies), and deadly pestilence (plagues and epidemics of disease which can ravage whole populations.) A beautiful picture of God’s protection is drawn from wildlife, with the wings of the mother bird protecting her young. Jesus used this same imagery in his lament over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34. Jesus is emphasizing the Father’s desire for His people to trust Him and His providence.
Sam was playing golf one day and sliced his drive into the rough. While seeking his ball, a large bird flew at him, making loud noises, flapping her wings, and generally being a nuisance. When he located his ball, there was a nest with several baby birds on the ground. He moved the ball without penalty!
God is then described in military terms as a “shield” or “rampart” – part of a wall. These defenses will protect from “night terrors” and those dangers of the day when the “arrows” fly or “the pestilence stalks,” when the storms come, when we are attacked on every side with situations we cannot control. Again, Jewish poetry is clearly seen in these combinations of “rhyming ideas.”
Fear is not a sin, but a powerful defense mechanism God has placed in us. However, our God is greater than anything we have to fear. In Romans 8, Paul lists all that could separate, but then declares: “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” John writes in I John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out all fear.”
The statement about a thousand or ten thousand is the hyperbole mentioned earlier, but the exaggeration does grab our attention. God is present in every conflict, every storm, every temptation – everywhere – all the time!
As is often the case in these lessons, the first two verses of stanza three are skipped, but there is a very important condition described before the promise of this stanza is stated. “If you make the Most High your dwelling … your refuge … then no harm can come near.” In fact, angels to lift up are promised! Surely, you recognize this is the verse Satan quoted Jesus when he tested his identity. “If you are God’s Son, then throw yourself down from here because….” The tempter then quotes Psalm 91:11-12.
The critical factor is the word “dwelling” and because Jesus worked constantly to dwell with God, the Father, he knew he did not have to prove anything. More importantly, this relationship was not to be tested – Jesus trusted God and this knowledge would take him to Calvary and beyond!
Hopefully, no one takes verse 13 literally. In so many places in scripture we must use, as John Wesley defined in the Quadralateral (scripture, tradition, reason, and experience), reason as one of the measures of our faith. The lion and the cobra are used figuratively to represent any and all persons and powers who threaten God’s people.
In the closing stanza, the Psalmist is no longer speaking – God is. The reason God is our refuge, fortress, dwelling, rest, and strength is our love for God. God knows our hearts, and the love is reciprocal. We don’t make a “deal” with God. His love flows stronger as the relationship deepens. We relate in the dialogue of prayer, in the practice of loving as Jesus loved, in showing to Whom we belong by how we live and express the Divine love to others. (See lesson for Dec. 30!!) Aloofness is not the nature of our God.
As John Wesley declared on his death bed: “The best of all – God is with us.”
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.