For he shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways: They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against stone (Psalm 91: 11–12 DBY).
There can be no question of the messianic pedigree of Psalm 91. It was, as we will see, quoted by the devil himself, in an aborted attempt to derail the Son of God. Satan knew that Psalm 91 was messianic, even if he did twist its meaning through misquoting or partially quoting it. Christians have recognized its messianic character down through the ages. The more it is studied and meditated upon, the more amazing its prophetic character becomes.
The Wilderness Book
There is an interesting correlation between Psalm 91 and Psalm 90. Both of these psalms are found in the Book 4 of the Psalms, with Psalm 90 being the first psalm in that Book.1 This fact is important to consider when looking at Psalm 91. We had noted in the introduction to this study of the messianic psalms, that the Psalms are comprised of five distinct books: Book 1 – Psalm 1–41; Book 2 – Psalm 42–72; Book 3 – Psalm 73–89; Book 4 – Psalm 90–106; Book 5 – Psalm 107–150. The fact that there are five books constitutes the Psalms as a Pentateuch just like the first five books of the Old Testament. Indeed each of the five books of the Psalms have theme threads that are similar to the themes running through the five books of Moses.2 Thus Book 4 of the Psalms, has a similar theme as Book 4 of the Pentateuch, the Book of Numbers: the test of the Israelites during their wilderness journeys. Similarly, many of the psalms found in Book 4 deal with the Israelites’ wilderness experience! (See especially Psalms 105–108).
With this in mind we note that the opening psalm of Book 4 (Ps. 90) deals with the weakness of man, the brevity of his existence. This is in keeping with the theme of trial or testing, man is frail, his life is brief, essentially that man is mortal (vv. 3–12). Man’s days are few, and he is subject to death.
In Psalm 91 we also see man under test, but there it is Messiah the dependent Man, not subject to death3 but upheld and preserved by God. What a contrast seen in the connection between these two psalms!
The Second Man
Thus, in considering what we have seen above, Psalm 90 presents the “first man” Adam who was out of the earth while Psalm 91 brings before us the Last Adam, the “Second Man” out of heaven.4
In Psalm 91 Messiah is presented as the perfect, dependent Man, the only one who truly dwelt “in the secret place of the Most High or who abode “under the shadow of the Almighty” (v. 1). We see Christ delivered from the enemy and preserved by God in His pathway on earth (vv. 2–10), “There shall no evil befall You, neither shall any plague come near Your dwelling” (v. 10).
F. W. Grant’s words here are helpful:
We learn here of a Second Man—not called so, indeed, but most evidently in opposition to the universal condition of men as shown us in the preceding psalm,5 and designedly set before us in this character. It is One who has “made Jehovah, even the Most High, His habitation,” and who can claim rightly all the consequences of this. No plague can come near Him; no power of the enemy prevail against him; heaven provides Him with a watchful and powerful escort; all nature is in agreement with Him: thus there is a Man who is entitled indeed to be called a “Second Man,” though but a part of the truth about Him has yet been told.6
It is interesting to note the subtitle FWG has given to Book 4 of the Psalms: The failed first man replaced by the Second, and the world established under His hand. A study of Psalms 90–106 inclusive will confirm this very thing. The Second Man Who was victorious under trial will reign.
The Temptation in the Wilderness
The Gospels7 record three temptations of the Lord Jesus in the wilderness. One of those is when the devil tempted Him to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. The devil quoted the promise to Messiah from Psalm 91, “For He shall give His angels charge over You, to keep You in all Your ways. In their hands they shall bear You up, lest You dash your foot against a stone” (vv. 11–12). Obviously this shows that Satan believed Psalm 91 to be a messianic prophecy, but on close examination we find that he actually misquoted it. He had taken the Lord to the edge of the temple and said, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down” (Mt. 4:6) for it is written that God’s angels would protect Messiah. Then the devil quotes verses 11–12 of Psalm 91, but omitting this part of verse 11: “to keep You in all Your ways.” A significant omission! The promise of angelic protection for Messiah would be in connection with His obedience and dependence upon God. He was to be preserved as He walked in His “ways.” The Lord Jesus always walked in the will of God; Satan endeavored to have Him step out of those ways, to act in independence of God. Notice the wiles and craft of the devil, he used the Bible, quoted it, but omitted a very important detail.
Satan also omitted another verse of this psalm which immediately follows the verse quoted to Christ: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder (cobra); the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample underfoot” (v. 13 DBY). This is significant because these creatures all figuratively represent Satan. Obviously the devil didn’t want to quote a verse that predicts Messiah trampling him “underfoot.”8 The four depictions of Satan in this psalm are instructive: as the lion he is a destroying power (1 Pet. 5:8), as the adder he comes as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), as the young lion it is his energy in opposing the things of God (Job 1:7), and as the dragon he is a persecutor and murderer (Rev. 12:4–13). In the temptation in the wilderness he comes to the Lord as the “angel of light” using craft in quoting the Scripture (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3, 14).
However, Satan’s defeat is certain. Indeed the Lord’s victory in the wilderness was a harbinger and herald of the enemy’s final defeat at the cross. The “first man” was defeated by Satan, not in a wilderness, but in Paradise, but the Second Man accomplished God’s will in perfect dependence, and in an inhospitable scene.
Psalm 91 concludes with the exaltation of Messiah, “I will set him on high” (v. 14). This is because Messiah loved God, and in His holy Manhood He perfectly expressed dependence and obedience to God (vv. 14–16).
It is our privilege to follow in “His steps” and trust God for His preservation spiritually while we pass through this wilderness world.
1. Psalm 90 is the oldest of the Psalms, it was written by Moses.
2. For more on this see F. W. Grant’s Numerical Bible Vol. 1, Numerical Structure. A striking example of similarity of themes with the Pentateuch of the Psalms and the Pentateuch of Moses and is seen with Book 3 of the Psalms. The majority of the psalms in Book 3 were written by the priestly family: Asaph and the sons of Korah. Compare this to the third book of Moses: Leviticus, which is the priestly book of the Pentateuch. This could not be coincidental but surely it is the result of divine design.
3. Christ was able to die, we know that because He did die. But that is different from being subject to death—which He was not. Death had no claim upon Him; He entered into it voluntarily on our behalf (Heb. 2:9, 14).
4. 1 Corinthians 15:45–49.
5. Psalm 90.
6. F. W. Grant, Numerical Bible, Vol. 3, The Psalms, 350.
7. Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13.
8. Cf. Genesis 3:15.