If any single Psalm might be said to be most applicable to the hard years ahead, it might very well be Psalm 91. It begins with a promise in the very first verse (in NIV 1984): “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
He (or she) who dwells in God’s shelter, will rest. What a wonderful promise! Psalm 91 is the psalm of protection.
Reading this Psalm a couple weeks ago, a chiastic structure within the Psalm popped out at me. It shouldn’t be too surprising, as there are chiastic (echoing) literary structures all through the Bible. My book Chronicles studies those of Daniel, Revelation, Zechariah, and three chapters of Matthew only, which just scratches the surface.
An illustration of the Psalm 91 chiasmus I found is shown below.
After identifying the echoing markers (marker texts are italicized in the illustration, and they are numbered), two major new things come to light.
The Central Message
The first is the central message of Psalm 91. The chiasmus of almost any chapter or passage in the Bible will yield the central thought the reader should keep in mind while reading the overall passage text.
The central message here in Psalm 91 (making up panel D in bold text) looks like verses 8-10:
“You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling–even the LORD, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you . . .”
God’s wonderful promise to those who take refuge in Him is you will only watch as no harm befalls you.
The Amazing “Opera”
The second item is a back-and-forth conversation, or speaking and echoing between the believer (the psalmist) and God. Panels A and Aʹ (read as A-prime) in the illustration each contain eight markers that echo one another, in a parallel manner. In a way, all eight markers can be read as one giant echoing marker because the entire text (without exception) of verses 1–3 is an echo of the complete text of verses 14–16. I just broke up the text into eight parts as to highlight the incredible corresponding parallel parts of the conversation contained in these verses.
The believer speaks in verses 1–3. God speaks in verses 14–16. This back-and-forth conversation, one could even call a short opera, is shown in the second illustration below, which is downloadable.
Let’s look at all eight of these incredible marker pairs.
Marker one is verse 1 echoing the first phrase of verse 14. Now, dwelling in the shelter of the Most High is the equivalent of dwelling on His holy hill as in Psalm 15. But to dwell on His holy hill you are obeying His commands as the rest of Psalm 15 tells us. Jesus tells us in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” So God echoes, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High” as, “Because he loves me.” This is beautiful.
Marker two is the believer declaring he will say of the Lord, while in the echo, the Lord himself is quoted as saying, “says the Lord.”
Now this sets the stage for the remaining six marker sets.
In marker three, the believer says. “He is my refuge.” God echoes and clarifies this in verse 14 by saying, “I will rescue him.” A refuge rescues.
Marker four shows the believer saying of the Lord, “He is my fortress.” God echoes with, “I will protect him.” Indeed, a fortress protects.
Marker five continues with the very next words declared by the believer: “my God.” God responds with, “because he acknowledges my name.” This is amazing.
The very next words of the believer, continuing the thought in marker six, are “. . . in whom I trust.” What does a believer believe God will do for him if he trusts Him? God answers that in the echoing marker six: “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.”
In marker seven, the believer continues: “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare.” God confirms this with, “I will deliver him and honour him.”
Lastly, in marker eight, the believer finishes with, “. . . and from the deadly pestilence.” A pestilence is disease-giving, and tends to shorten lives. But God responds at the end with, “With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Not only does God give a longer life in this world, but also in eternity for that is what salvation allows.
In Psalm 91, the first three verses wonderfully echo the last three verses, with God echoing the believer.
Though one may be able to see this without chiastics, chiastics again has enabled us to see something we may not have been able to discover on our own.
Yet again, the Bible’s author is shown to be God himself.
And though Psalm 91 has been wonderful to me so far, seeing this echo takes Psalm 91 to the next level of wonder.