Difficult Bible Passages: Psalm 91:10

Does this verse mean Christians are exempt from Coronavirus?

With everyone talking about the Coronavirus, many Christians have been appealing to this particular passage. In some translations it says that ‘no plague will come near you’. Are they right to basically ‘name and claim’ this passage? Does this verse promise all Christians today that they will not get the Coronavirus – or any other plague for that matter?

First let me offer the verse in various English translations, including the preceding verse to make it a complete sentence. Here is how four different versions run with it:

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent. (ESV)

Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. (KJV)

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. (NIV)

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent. (RSV)

As can be seen, the Hebrew word in question can be translated in different ways. Other renderings of the Hebrew term include “hurt” or “affliction” or “destruction”. So the term may be broader than just referring to illness and the like. But even if that is the primary meaning here, more needs to be said.

With many believers posting this verse on the social media with the implication that they will be protected from this new virus, we need to do a bit of biblical spade work, beginning with the context. While the 16-verse psalm speaks much of God’s provision and protection, it is conditioned on the opening verses.

These promises are for those who ‘dwell in the shelter of the Most High’ (v. 1) and for those who say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress’ (v. 2). Thus these promises are not for everyone; and not even for all who claim to be believers, but for those who fully trust in and rely upon the Lord.

But all of Scripture is the context for any individual text. The promises made here go right back to the covenant Yahweh made between Israel and himself. We find this spelled out in detail in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Have a look at each chapter: note how verses on the blessings for obedience are far fewer than the verses on curses for disobedience.

While both chapters talk about general protections from God for an obedient people, protection from plagues or diseases is not particularly mentioned. However, we do read about these things in terms of disobedience. Deuteronomy 28:20-22 for example says this:

The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.

Or as we read in Leviticus 26:23-25:

If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.

Several things can be said about these passages. First, while plenty of Christians are quite happy to claim the promises about blessings, I seldom see any of them claim the promises about curses. But it is a package deal. If we want to appropriate the covenant conditions God made with ancient Israel, we must appropriate them all, and not be selective.

And that leads to my second point: this was indeed a covenant made with Israel. If you read them you will see how closely they are all connected with the land. Obedience will bring safety in the land, protection from enemies, good crops, large herds, and so on.

Disobedience will bring the opposite. In other words, it is all tied in with the promised land God wanted to give to Israel. Christians today are not connected to any piece of geography in the Middle East, and Paul says our blessings are in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3).

I realise that those into the Health and Wealth Gospel are quite keen to latch onto these blessing verses of the Old Testament chapters, but they are mistaken for various reasons, including what I just mentioned. But for much more detail on all this, see this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/03/misappropriating-old-testament-blessings-and-curses/

The last two paragraphs of that article are worth offering again here:

New Testament believers therefore need to be careful in how they appropriate Old Testament covenant theology. While some, like dispensationalists, may go too far in making a clear distinction between Israel and the church, we need to nonetheless remember the unique role and calling of Israel.

The very material and earthly set of rewards and punishments for Israel seem to find little resonance in the New Testament. Indeed, given that the majority of consequences for covenantal obedience and disobedience seem to revolve around the land, we can hardly expect to see them in the New Testament, which makes almost no mention of the land.

And for those who will want to insist that full and complete physical healing for believers today is found in the atonement, see this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/29/is-physical-healing-in-the-atonement/

Much more can be said about all this. This article is in fact my 84th discussion on the HWG and related matters. Those wanting to see more on these issues are invited to check them out here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/

The truth is, we are living between the ages. While we can experience partial healing and partial prosperity now, we await the Lord’s return to get the full blessings of God. In this life we will sometimes get sick, sometimes get infected with a virus, and sometimes die of some disease: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/01/28/living-between-the-ages/

Sure, we can and should pray for God’s protection and for God’s healing, but perfect health is not guaranteed in the New Testament. Both in Scripture and in church history we read about many great saints of God who were ill, who suffered various infirmities and sicknesses, and who may have even died quite young because of their illnesses.

Most of them certainly were not living in sin or lacking in faith as the HWG folks would have us believe, but were living in a fallen world and subject to the same realities that this brings as anyone else. Yes, by all means we can pray and seek God and ask him to protect us from things like the Coronavirus.

But at the same time, we must take wise and sensible steps and precautions to help ensure that we do not come into contact with it. Believers are not to be reckless, foolish or presumptuous. We are to use God-given common sense, as well as exercise our faith and trust in God.

We should all praise God that he is a healer. But we should also praise God that he is sovereign, and that we can trust him for whatever he allows us to go through and experience.

[1296 words]

11 Replies to “Difficult Bible Passages: Psalm 91:10”

  1. A very balanced biblical article Bill. Those who hold to the HWG have real problems with their faith when they or other Christians have sickness and accidents. Then of course there is the persecution of faithful believers in the N.T., throughout Church history and even today. They were strengthened in their ordeals by God and became mighty saints.

  2. And if we continue to read further, God brought famine, pestilence or war upon His chosen people if they did not repent of their evil ways. Instead of panic buying toilet paper, don’t you think it would be more profitable if we considered how we’ve brought these things upon ourselves and pray for forgiveness with genuine repentance in our hearts?

  3. What is very interesting is when you compare statistical analysis of Christian cultures, how Christians tend to live longer than others and have better mental health etc., and then compare this to the health and well-being of people like Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins etc.

    If we were perfect Temples of God’s Holy Spirit then I have little doubt we would be invincible, as far as fighting off disease is concerned, but it is quite obvious that none of us are yet perfect. When The Hebrews relied on God’s Spirit moving through the Ark or the Covenant, then they gained miraculous victories. When they decided of their own volition to take the Ark into battle they suffered a stunning loss and even had the Ark taken from them.

    I have little doubt that when we fight diseases the basic principles are much the same. Just as in battle there are things we do and things God can and does do but, just as God allowed the Jews to be overtaken by the Babylonians or to be defeated by the Philistines (1 Sam 4), we can’t just assume that we will get the victory. We can’t just take our Ark into battle, on our own volition, and assume that this will deliver the victory.

  4. Does that mean we can’t claim the promises of God in this Psalm for ourselves? I realise that God gave these promises to Israel and I realise also that I am not Israel, but as a person they calm my spirit and soul knowing that God, who is my refuge, is aware of my ‘fears’ and ‘anxieties’, if not for myself but for others who don’t have that comfort. Can’t I then invite them into the security and safety of God’s comfort?
    I think I will continue to read my personal comfort from that Psalm. I don’t think God minds.

  5. Thanks Gerredina. Yes we can take plenty of comfort and encouragement from such passages. No probs with that. But as I said, if we are going to specifically insist on claiming certain blessings on offer to Israel conditional on their obedience, we must also be willing to claim the curses on offer to Israel conditional on their disobedience!

  6. True no-one wants to be cursed just blessed. If you want the old system you can have it but you have to take ALL of it! You can’t mix the two systems either you take law the WHOLE law or grace but not both.

    Another problem with this H&W gospel is it is just a step away from purposely putting oneself at risk to prove your devoutness similar to snake handlers a and poison drinkers. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord they God!

  7. Hi Bill, I get your point, but I believe as a Christian we can’t only claim the good without also believing that we are due the bad if we don’t follow the laws/commands laid out in the Bible. Yes if I take the comfort from these passages I am aware that I also open myself to the curses on offer due to disobedience. Nothing has changed. Jesus said in Matthew 5.18 that He did not do away with the old and bring in new rules, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”.
    I believe that also answers your question Paul Wilson, if there is one thing I stay far away from, it is the H&W gospel.

  8. Hi Bill – Many thanks for a very thought provoking site which I have just come across this morning.

    Many Religious Books and Commentaries on the Psalms that I read inform me that their contents are just as applicable to TODAY’S world as the day they were written. Bearing this in mind, we are as Gentiles all members of God’s Family,

    In the The New Testament GOD called Paul to bring the Good News to The Gentiles. I feel that, as a Companion of the Society o f St Francis, my thoughts on the value of Psalm 91 in Today’s World are not out of context with everything that I study in the Bible both New and Old Testaments and especially anything to do with the Prophets especially. The 8th Century BC Prophets – Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah. As such the warnings of the Prophets of Old still apply to us today and just like God’s Chosen race we are still unwilling to heed them.

    Although we do not hear anything in the Main News or even from God’s Church itself I sincerely believe that Covid-19 is a “WAKE UP CALL” from God for us Humans to stop destroying his Creation which he will not allow and neither will he allow us to go back to what the World calls Normal Times to continue our Destruction. For God is with us Yesterday, Today and Always.
    Once again, Many Thanks. Any comments in reply would be most welcome.

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