My fifth-grade teacher held a class contest to memorize Psalm 91. After the elocution competition, in typical Indian reverse psychology (i.e., not for her benefit), Mrs. Roberts spurred me into a lifetime of Bible study with “I didn’t think you would be the one without a single mistake.”
I recently sent this message to my classmate, perhaps the smartest student in that class: Psalm 91: do you remember? I have been immersed in that Psalm we all memorized with Mrs. Roberts since I was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer. Never knew I’ll need it so much nearly 60 years later! Having gone somewhat quiet processing post-retirement realities and widowhood, my classmate responded with affection: “Who can forget Mrs. Roberts?”
As I begin this article, I have two daily weekday treatments left. Bonnie and I have experienced supernatural peace, strength, and joy mainly because Psalm 91 has been my devotional focus for over six weeks. We know from whom all blessings flow and by whom all healing comes. The Lord has sustained me without significant side effects. The Lord willing, I will finish three notebooks of reflections on the Psalm when I ring the “graduation” gong—a practice for those who complete cancer treatment courses.
My best word to capture the depth and breadth of Psalm 91 is “Enfolded.” The en-prefix communicates location, whether in geographical space or existential state. Tucked inside the safety folds of God’s personal and providential care, the Psalmist trusts the powerful all-sides preserve of God.1
Have you heard of the “Double Down sandwich”? The sandwich is breadless. Chicken fillets form the outside of the sandwich, slices of cheese and bacon comprise the center, and a secret sauce permeates every bite. In Hong Kong, the take-out version comes with an edible wrapper!
Layered in double-down sandwich format, each new section of this Psalm begins with the word “for” (or “because”), wrapping emphasis around reasons while addressing a range of dangers, including death.
The Enfolder (vv. 1-2)
The Enfolding I (vv. 3-8)
The Enfolder, Enfolded, and Enfolding (vv. 9-10)
The Enfolding II (vv. 11-13)
The Enfolded (vv. 14-16)
The wrapper has four sides and corners, enfolding the sandwich to consume immediately or store without much waste!2 I shall give you four sides from text and theology, with four corners of illustration and application. This spiritual sandwich will not get soggy. Store it in your heart.
The Enfolder (vv. 1-2)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Verses 1 and 2, the top chicken fillet of this Psalm, combine surface markers and security pointers. The opening pronoun, “whoever,” invites anyone to enter and enjoy the promises of the Psalm.
A “quadrangle of safety” marks four points on the surface of the human body to prevent mistakes during invasive surgery. In public safety, the exact phrase points people to areas of refuge to protect them.
Four metaphors and four names of God point you to a quadrangle of safety.
God keeps the believer. We enter into this promise by dwelling in God as our preferred shelter. We are not just temporarily housed in Him. Dwelling in God is personally expressed by trusting in Him.
Only the larger object can be detected in the shadow-silhouette, though smaller objects may be nestled in the bigger thing. God overshadows us in protection, even as He overshines us in person.
We say to the LORD, “You are my refuge.” This is not merely positive self-talk. “Trust” here is expressed in words, “I will say” (v. 2; cf. v. 9) but means much more. It is a personal acknowledgment, a move toward and a reliance on God.
Ramesh with refugee families in Germany.
“Fortress,” a synonym for refuge, is common verbiage in the Psalms for defense. God envelops us in Himself as our fort. Attack(er)s have to go through Him to get to you. None is able without His knowledge or permission.
Notice the possessive pronouns in addition to “I,” “my refuge, my fortress, my God.” Once declared, one can’t return to alternate sources of necessary and sufficient protection. The Psalmist did not have auto, health, or life insurance to guarantee coverage in the case of accidents, illness, or death. God is the place of personal preservation, prevention, and protection.
The worst sin in the Old Testament is to deify anyone who is not God—idolatry! Though idols are nothing, the Bible does not deny that other gods are worshipped. However, it reserves the title of the Most High to only One. Elyon is Sovereign over all reality.
By definition, an almighty is in a class of one. Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, those movies are wrongly named. Ramesh Almighty or (your name) Almighty would be improperly claimed. There can’t be two “almighty.” Unlike the world’s boxing bodies who compete for the most respected belts, God’s competition belt never retires, nor is it exchangeable as newer, younger, brighter contestants “beat” Him. Shadd ai—the all-powerful, omnipotent One—resembles mountain-like majestic strength.
This version, all letters in caps, translates God’s disclosed self-identity (Exod. 3:14), His eternal and causal self-existence as the meaning of YHWH. The covenant-making, keeping, and saving One is committed to His people in steadfast love.
The old line, “there’s only One God, and you ain’t He!” captures Elohim; the root word means the first and last, the one and only creator and ruler of heaven and earth.
The New Testament accords God’s Old Testament names—Alpha and Omega; the first and last; the One Who was, is, and is to come; the Almighty; King of Kings; and Lord of Lords—to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:8; 17-18; 19; 5:11-14; 19:16).
I recently met “twice-refugees.” Three families worked at the U.S. AIR FORCE base in Kabul until they fled to Ukraine at the withdrawal of the protection of U.S. troops. Sadly, Russia invaded Ukraine. Again, with nothing but a suitcase, they traipsed into Germany.
Germany’s refugee policy, not entirely altruistic, welcomes the stranger into their sanctuary. Each town has solicited volunteers who keep and feed refugees till they find footing in their new residence. The only condition: they have to learn the language to dwell in the shelter and shadow of their protectors. Have you ever thought of yourself as a vulnerable, spiritual refugee? How about moving from seeking asylum to residing in God’s preserve?
The Enfolding I: You Are Covered! (vv. 3-8)
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
Rampant inflation; pandemic threats; formula, food, and fuel shortages; and national tragedies of war and killings dominate the headlines. We are all vulnerable. So, let’s bite into the sandwich to move beyond abstraction to application—the following two sections of God’s preservation of believers in two cheese slices. In prevention, you are covered. In protection, you are carried.
“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence” (v.3). Like a majestic bird covers its young, the Lord will be your shield and a rampart (v. 4). “Rampart” communicates prevention from sudden, deadly attacks and continuous attacks, whether at night or day (vv. 5-6). These attacks may fall a multitude, but you will be prevented from coming close (v. 7). Though unable to defend yourself, you will still get to see attackers meet their fate (v. 8).
God’s “preventive” mercies alert us to how much we don’t know. In heaven, we will find out how often and close we were to danger and destruction. At present, we know partly and see darkly. When we see the Lord face-to-face and know fully, our words will simply be “I see” (I Cor. 13:12).
Until then, here are four features of God’s promises in verses 3-8 of preventive covering:
In time. Whether you are awake or asleep, no part of day or night weakens God’s attention.
In scope. The covering listed in verse 3-8 and verses 10-12 is parallel to the attacks from human enemies or supernatural forces, be they
physical or verbal
visible or invisible
private or public
sudden or ongoing
For God’s purposes. Nothing is random or accidental. He works all things for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). He even turns evil into good (Gen. 50:20).
In intensity. Truly nothing can “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
At our cozy neighbourhood church, we often recite Romans 8:28-39. Write out the last couple of verses, and match the Psalmist with the apostle Paul in content, intent, and extent.
God’s “preventive” mercies alert us to how much we don’t know. In heaven we will find out how often and close we were to danger and destruction.
The Enfolder, Enfolded, & Enfolding (vv. 9-10)
If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
Thick bacon pieces bridge the early and latter parts of the prayer by texturing the entire Psalm with a proprietary secret sauce. It, too, begins with “because” (in the original).
If [because] you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent (vv. 9-10)
Intentional connections between verse 9 and verses 1 and 2 include words and phrases like LORD, refuge, Most High, and dwelling. Other concepts like “coming near your tent” (v. 10b) reflect YHWH’s bastion of prevention. The verse sets us up for God’s protective action in verses 11-13: “no harm will overtake you” (v. 10a).
All leaders, when planning, give thought to assessing and managing risks. “Near your tent” comforted itinerant workers and traveling warriors, who set up temporary tents while on assignment. Their environments were unsafe in design and behavior. Both accidental and intentional disasters were likely common.
Construction workers on the Golden Gate suspension bridge3 who concentrated more on not falling to their deaths than on their work could not give their best. However, a giant safety net was placed to catch accidental falls. Not only were lives saved, but the workers performed more than 20% better. The safer they were, the better their performance.
Construction worker with safety net.
The Enfolding II:You Are Carried!(vv. 11-13)
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
Several psychological typologies establish safety and security as basic human needs. Once safe, we must be secure. You are covered by God’s safety net under you. You will also be carried to secure places above you.
When potential risks become realities, God moves from preventive cover methods into a protective carry mode. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (v. 11). Supernatural angelic assistance (v. 12) is provided to counter and conquer supernatural demonic attacks (vv. 3-6).
Angelic ministry to those under God’s charge is assumed in the Old and New Testaments. Angels strengthen Daniel (Dan. 10:10- 21), Jesus (Matt. 4:11), and Paul (Acts 27:23) and minister to all believers (Heb. 1:14). God sends them as divine security guards to personally whisk His people away “in their hands” from injury. They will conquer obvious lion-like (visible, public) terror and private serpent-like (obscure, invisible) strikes.
Evil is currently contained by God’s common mercies. It is yet to be defeated. Thus anyone anywhere at any time can be afflicted by disease and death. This is why the “whoever” (v. 1) is more than a principle. This Psalm is an invitation to take refuge in the divine quadrangle of safety: shelter, shadow, sanctuary, and stronghold for prevention and protection.
If these verses are taken to guarantee a pain-free life, we would have to discount all the Psalms where believers cry out to God in unbearable trouble. An unconditional guarantee of a grief-free life does not fit the realities of a fallen world. If there were one who could legitimately name and claim a blameless, pain-free life, it would be the Lord Jesus. Yet He wept at his friend’s death and winced at human suffering; He did not shun Gethsemane and Golgotha. He lived His entire Incarnation in voluntary limitation.
A trouble-free life would be a trust-free life. A problem-free life would be a prayer-free life. Then the Psalm would not be necessary! It affirms the realities of danger and distress and expects the believer to call on God, who will be with him in trouble (v. 15).
A presumptuous guarantee of permanent safety was the kind of misuse of the Psalm that Jesus did not accept from Satan (Luke 4:9-11). Our Lord countered Satan’s misapplication of Psalm 91 (Matt. 4:6-7; Luke 4:10-12). Presuming God’s purposes and forcing God’s timing would be putting God to the test (cf. Deut. 6:16). Indeed, Satan left out the qualifying phrase “in all your ways” to make Scripture suit his purposes.
When Jesus could have called on His Father to deploy twelve legions of angels to keep Him from suffering, He did not, since God’s purposes as written in the Scriptures would not have been fulfilled (Matt. 26:53-54). Do we tempt the God who can’t be tempted (James 1:13) to perform on our behalf? No, but we trust the God who can’t be tested to help us triumph through our trials.
So what really is the use of this Psalm as a promise?
A trouble-free life would be a trust-free life. A problem-free life would be a prayer-free life.
The norm in Psalm 91 is God’s prevention and protection of those who love, know, and trust Him. Even our houses are not safe, as people in war zones have found out. Many times, Bonnie has sent me to places affected by war, violence, persecution, and upheaval with a simple assurance: “You are safest in obedience to God’s Will.”
I find it helpful to distinguish between a guarantee and a warranty. In business, the former pertains to the manufacturer’s integrity; the latter relates to the product’s quality to assure the buyer.
I was given an unbelievable gift, a new Toyota, 17 years ago. I wanted to protect this gift for a long time and bought an extended warranty for the car. Sadly, the warranty company went out of business. I should have purchased a guarantee of the warranty!
However, a manufacturer of integrity can warranty a product with a lifetime assurance of replacement. Recently, our handyman neighbour looked at our leaky kitchen faucet, identified the worn-out part, and assured us of the integrity of the manufacturer whom we called. To our surprise, the manufacturer received our inquiry and replaced the part. They even covered shipping costs!
Less reliable manufacturers would have tried to find a way out of their commitment by claiming a new business owner does not honor the former owner’s commitments. Or that the warranty is not transferable. The most meaningless warranties apply to the “lifetime of the product!”
Which defect, of course, is what we are trying to cover! Devious, slippery, wily.
In the believer’s life
God is your total, final, personal guarantor and warrantor. No one will pay a better price for your salvation.
The lifetime of the salvation product is forever. Eternal life begins now and lasts forever. God has made a full advance payment for you. You are never at risk of losing salvation in the short or the long term.
Your warranty lasts as long as you live. The matters of transferability and expiration date are moot. You can’t transfer your product to anyone else. Others can directly have the free product from the same Guarantor and a life-long warranty.
Lack of maintenance does not void a warranty. However, product function deteriorates because of the lack of care.Routine maintenance enables and enhances the enjoyment of its benefits.
Hence the promises of God do not promote carelessness, for that would be lacking maintenance for optimum application. It does not encourage presumption, for you can’t trust a God you can tempt into action. It promotes God-confidence during the lifetime of the believer, not just of the product but the manufacturer’s lifetime—God Himself, and the quality and integrity of the product’s lifetime in itself—salvation. Forever.
How do we enjoy the benefits of this Psalm today? Count on the known as the norm. Pray toward it. Trust in the unknown as the exception; pray for prevention from and protection in them. We can’t live free of tears, but we can live free of fears.
The Enfolded (vv. 14-16)
Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
The grand finale, the bottom chicken layer, of this great Psalm of comfort and counsel is a direct visit between God and any believer. In verses 14-16, The Enfolded Psalmist meets three spiritual conditions (bolded), and The Enfolder makes several personal commitments (numbered in blue).4
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, (1) “I will rescue him; (2) I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and (3) I will answer him; (4) I will be with him in trouble, (5) I will deliver him and (6) honor him. With long life (7) I will satisfy him and (8) show him my salvation.”
Many times, Bonnie has sent me to places affected by war, violence persecution, and upheaval with a simple assurance: “You are safest in obedience to God’s Will.”
We trust the known promises of God; if any of His promises do not seem to be “working,” we trust God’s unknown purposes. Since there is a pattern in a mutual relationship of variables between our part and God’s part, we trust the all-good, all-able, all-right Enfolder to enfold us.
Characteristics Of The Enfolded
1. They love God. The Enfolded put the First Commandment into operation. Love is the foundational core of our relationship with God. This foundational core of a love-relationship with God expands around the four nouns of Hebrew anthropology—first-love of their heart, real-love of their soul, truth-love in their mind, and full-love in their strength.5
2. They know God’s name. Hebrew naming practices capture character. The Psalmist is immersed in the Only One who occupies the supreme position, possesses the absolute ability, exhibits steadfast love, and displays original activity. The Psalmist and his people experienced attacks of diseases and death. Still, those circumstances did not make them flinch concerning the good character, full abilities, and right purposes of their God. The dweller abides in His known promises of a protected long life even if the exceptional circumstance of terminal disease and premature death is experienced in the unknown purposes of an all-good, all-able, all-right God. “Acknowledgment” is not only believing in God’s name; it is making God’s name known through public confession.
3. They call on God. Beyond confession, The Enfolded call on God in intercession. They petition God’s protection and preservation. This third characteristic becomes concrete in the unequivocal offer of our Lord, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full” (John 16:23-24). Jesus’s invitation to use His name in prayer with God is unique among religious claims. Can you believe you know God’s name? Has anyone else given you the privilege of using his name to gain access to God and His action? Call on God in Jesus’s name!
Commitments Of The Enfolder
God’s commitments are so resolute, definite, and tenacious that we can hardly believe them. As a mnemonic help, I’ve developed an acronym to reside in the preserve of the Sovereign. He DRAPES us. He wraps and covers us in His Deliverance, Rescue, Answers, Presence, Elevation, and Salvation. These are simultaneous, not sequential. All of them are always true. The Enfolder drapes us with His enfolding, whether we face general difficulty, specific disease, ongoing distress, or impending death.
How do we apply these promises? We always live by what is known—His revealed promises, and trust in what is unknown—His unrevealed purposes. One day there will be a perfect understanding of how His revealed promises and undisclosed purposes converged. One of the reasons we need a long life! The longer we live, we begin to see the outlines of His mysterious moves. As salvation is experienced in eternity, our understanding and acceptance will become clearer that God did not renege on His promises at all. Our knowing was off at the moment of His unknown (to us) purposes.
The week before I went into treatment, I wrote in my notebook on April Fool’s Day 2022: “God, You won’t make us fools for believing in You, though we will make ourselves fools for obeying You.” The day after my six weeks of daily weekday treatment, I wrote: “My security is in You; my stability is in You; my strength is in You; my strategies and successes are in You. Praise God; my salvation is in You.”
And then I did something I hadn’t done since childhood, I wrote an ode, a personal second verse to the doxology oft sung around the world. Sing with me:
Praise God by whom all healing comes (cf. from whom all blessings flow) Praise Him on earth for what He’s done (cf. Him all creatures here below) Praise Him you daughters and you sons (cf. Him above ye heavenly hosts) Praise Savior, Shepherd, Sovereign One. (cf. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.)
Living As The Enfolded
Now to my family’s favorite tactic for personal assurance in the face of chaos, opposition, volatility, isolation, and distress. My grandmother received the idea from her parent; my father read every third person pronoun with my name! I have shared the idea with my kids and do so with our grandkids. Try placing your name in the blanks below. The grand finale of this amazing Psalm will make your soul soar.
We are enfolded, encircled, and enclosed on all sides entirely in our quadrangle of safety. We anticipate security from God. We trust Him for His action toward us and His judgment of the opposition. Be encouraged to live by His known promises without distrusting His unknown purposes. Reside in the preserve of the Sovereign: Your Savior secures your well-being, life-long and beyond.
Place your name in each blank, and read this portion of Psalm 91 aloud
“Because ________ loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue ________; I will protect ________, for ________ acknowledges my name. ________ will call on me, and I will answer ________; I will be with _________ in trouble, I will deliver ________ and honor ________. With long life I will satisfy ________ and show my salvation.”
Ramesh Richard, Ph.D., Th.D.
A theologian-evangelist, philosopher-expositor, educator and author, Dr. Richard holds a Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from the University of Delhi. In addition to serving as president of RREACH, he also serves as Professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.
RREACH is a global proclamation ministry. Dr. Richard travels throughout the world clarifying the message of the Bible through lectures and preaching. His audiences range from pre-Christian opinion leaders in professional settings to poor pastoral leaders in rural areas, from gatherings of a few to crowds of a hundred thousand. Through RREACH, he has trained thousands of church leaders in about 100 countries to preach, live and think biblically
1 The lovely Spanish term envolver, “to wrap, carry” seems like a cognate and a homophone to the English word chosen here: enfold|er|d|ing!
2 See description at https://www.trendhunter.com/trends/edible-wrapper.
3 One source on how psychological safety increases productivity can be found at https://www.forconstructionpros.com/business/arti- cle/20866480/provide-a-safety-net-to-achieve-greater-productivity-in-construction.
4 Depending on translation preferences, these divine commitments may be as few as six or as many as eight, counting the “I wills of God” (merged with verbs in Hebrew) or counting the promises separately or synonymously.
5 My book-length treatment of the foundational commandment, Soul Passion: Establishing Your Life’s Strategic Direction, can be procured by con-tacting .