Ep.201: Psalm 91: The COVID Psalm.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 91 is the only psalm that directly mentions a plague or pandemic. It talks about God’s protection:  
    You will not fear the terror of night,
      nor the arrow that flies by day,
    nor the disease that stalks in the darkness
      nor the pandemic that destroys at noon.
    A thousand may die at your side,
      ten thousand at your right hand,
      but it will not come near you (vv. 5-7). 

First, some notes from the Bible about disease. 

The Old Testament’s plagues and epidemics were one way in which God punished evil and corrected bad behavior. God sent plagues against Egypt to change Pharaoh’s mind about freeing the Israelite slaves (Exodus 7-12), though only one plague, the plague of boils, was a human medical condition. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God sent at least  five plagues in response to their sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and unfaithfulness (Exo. 32:35, Num. 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-49; 25:8-9).

The law in Leviticus treats infectious skin diseases, probably including leprosy, with strict rules for social distancing and cleaning infected articles (Lev. 13), rather like today’s handwashing and social distancing. 

About 500 years after Christ, bubonic plague killed 30-50 million people in Europe, about a third to half of the population at the time. More recently, the 1918-1920 Spanish flu in killed 50 million people, 3-5% of the world population (Wikipedia; List of Epidemics). To date, we’ve seen over 1.3 million COVID-19 deaths, and probably that many more that are wrongly attributed to other causes.

Psalm 91 points to God’s protection, promising that among other dangers, he will spare you from the deadly plague (v. 3), the disease that stalks at night (v. 6) and the epidemic that destroys at noon (v. 6). Sounds like COVID, doesn’t it?

Psalm 91 also has the rare distinction that it is a favorite with both Satan and me. Satan quoted this psalm to suggest that Jesus take a leap of faith from the temple. He said to Jesus:

   It is written:
        God will command his angels
              to lift you up in their hands,
              so you will not strike your foot against a stone (Mat 4:6). 

This introduces a long history of how to understand, interpret, and apply God’s promises. Satan liked the simple, literal interpretation: “Just do it, and trust God to protect you.” Instead of jumping, Jesus suggested a more nuanced approach. He pointed out that Scripture also says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Mat 4:7).

Jesus’ point was that the promises must be claimed by a pure heart, in good faith; not by someone who wants God to put on a show for human benefit. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we have read news of churches that trusted you to protect them from COVID, but their meetings became superspreader events. Here, as in much of life, we walk an ambiguous path between faith in your protection, and taking reasonable protective measures.

Give us discernment, we pray, to walk wisely in this world. Help us to live by faith, trusting your promises. Help us to live responsibly, taking science seriously. Protect us, O Lord, not because we are right, but because you are faithful.


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.