The secret place of the
most High -
A Sermon on PSALM 91 preached at Elijah in November 2007
Goodmorning brothers and sisters… welcome to Elijah this morning.
Shall we pray…
Father we come before you this morning and we give you thanks Lord for your Grace and your mercy. For the awesome blessing of Biblical truth, we give you praise. We thank you Lord for our leaders here at Elijah… and we pray that you would bless them Lord, ease their burdens, strengthen them, give them rest, grant them peace and restore their joy.
And as I minister your Word this morning, I pray that you would speak through me Lord and bless each and everyone here with what you would have them hear.
We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.
And so we come to the end of another long hard year, and praise the Lord we move one year closer to the return of our Lord Jesus. It’s also that time of year, where the sun shines brightly outside, everyone is sick and tired of work, in need of a rest and so we all prepare to shutdown for the Summer holidays. Many of us will be travelling over this period, and so I thought it would be appropriate to study Psalm 91… my favourite Psalm.
The title of today’s sermon is… The secret place of the most High.
Psalm 91 is the Psalm about refuge, about God’s protection and safety, which is something I pray that we all might have this holiday, wherever you may be...a refuge, a place of rest and God’s protection and safety.
Psalm 91 is a fascinating Psalm. It promises a number of awesome blessings in it, while at the same time it contrasts the huge difference between the permanence of God on one hand, and the absolute mortality and frailty of man, on the other.
Another really interesting thing about this Psalm is that it's the Psalm that Satan knew. Satan memorized it and quoted from it in a devious way during the temptation of Christ, which is spoken of in Matthew 4.
No-one knows for sure who wrote Psalm 91, but some believe it was Moses, because Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses directly preceding it. And because we don’t really know who wrote the Psalm and when it was written, no-one can be really sure of the historical context of it. Very often we find that if a Bible passage is undefined in terms of historical context, we can much more readily apply those same principles to our modern day lives. The same principles of danger written about in this Psalm, can be applied to the dangers and trials that we face today; and we can therefore in turn choose to abide in God, and to trust in God, just as these saints did, so many years ago.
But there is a real danger here in mis-interpreting this Psalm as so many of the Word Faith teachers do. They claim the passage to mean that Christians should never go through any trials or troubles, they should never get sick or face any danger. If you do face trials, it’s because of sin in your life… if you do get sick, it’s because don’t have enough faith.
But to interpret it this way would mean missing the entire point of this Psalm, and dare I say it, Christianity. The Psalm doesn’t say, nor does it mean that you will not go through trouble in your life –
In fact, Job actually says in Job 5:7 for just as the sparks fly upward, so is man born into trouble.
For sure, Job saw my life… right there…. As sure as flames rise, man will face trouble. I’m always in trouble… it’s just the level that varies!
But the basic theme of this Psalm is this:
That when we go through trouble, not if, but when we go through trouble, God is with us, if we abide in Him. Abide in God, dwell in God, dwell in the secret place of the most High, abide under His shadow, trust in God, live in God, make God your habitation and God will be with you.
- He is the safest place.
Lets read the whole Psalm…
Psalm 91:1 He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (2) I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!" (3) For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. (4) He will cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a rampart. (5) You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; (6) Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. (7) A thousand may fall at your side And ten thousand at your right hand, But it shall not approach you.
(8) You will only look on with your eyes And see the reward of the wicked. (9) For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
(10) No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. (11) For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. (12) They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone. (13) You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down. (14) "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. (15) "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. (16) "With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation."
What an amazing passage, filled with wonderful hope and promises…
But if you want the protection that is described in this Psalm, you need to know God, not just who He is, you need to know His name, so that you can call Him in v15. You need to have a relationship with Him, you need to know His character.
And if you look carefully in verses 1 to 3, you can find God's character is perfectly displayed in His names.
1. Verse 1: 'He that dwells in the secret place of the most High' -
in Hebrew, ‘most High’ is the word 'El-yon', meaning 'the Supreme one”, the owner of heaven and earth' - the God who is over and above all things that are. Elyon, the most High.
2. Then we read on: 'shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty' -
in Hebrew, ‘Almighty” is the name 'Shaddai', which, as a matter of interest, is actually pronounced Sha-dah-ee. This name means not only the Almighty great in strength, but the Almighty who is great in grace, the God who is bountiful in all our needs, that we shall not want or lack because of El-Shaddai. It's the name God used in Genesis 17:1 when He made His covenant with Abraham. God called Abraham out of his old land, and told him to separate from it and follow Him - he didn't know where he was going, he didn't know what he was going to do, but he trusted that God was going to provide – he was called out by the Almighty God, the God who would provide. El-Shaddai.
3. Verse 2: I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
We’ve been through this one before… whenever you find the word LORD in Capital letters, that is the name 'Yahweh'. In some translations it says Jehovah, but that name comes from the corruption of the Pharisees of old, who were too scared to say the actual name of God. LORD in capitals is YHWH, which is pronounced Yahweh. It means I AM that I AM – The eternal, the unchangeable, One. The covenant keeping God. The One who was, who is, and evermore shall be. Amen?
4. Then finally in verse 2: 'He is my fortress and my God' –
“my God” here is the word “Elohim” the plural term for deity, which also points to the Trinity of the Godhead. In the beginning God, Elohim, the Creator God, created the heavens and the earth.
So here we have a glimpse into the character of God, and if you're going to be protected in this life, you're going to have to dwell in this character–
· Elyon - the Most High God who is above all things,
· El-Shaddai - the Almighty God who is great in grace and will always provide our needs,
· Yahweh - the Lord, the eternal God, the covenant keeping God,
· Elohim – the infinite Creator God.
Now it’s all very well knowing the character of God, having the head knowledge… but the question for us this morning is… do we dwell in the character of God? Do we live what we believe?
Dwelling in the character of God is a life of communion with God, a life of security, peace, protection and satisfaction, all in God.
Are you dwelling in God?
Matthew Henry said: The person who dwells in God… this is the man who turns to God, who rests in God, who worships within the veil, who loves to be alone with God - and nothing, but nothing, comes between this man and God, but God will come between this man and danger.
Lets study this a little further…
Psalm 91:1 He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Now I want you to notice that this Psalm is not a carte blanche recipe for protection of all God's children - There are conditions to the blessings of this Psalm. It talks about Christians, but not all Christians. It talks about a distinct type of Christian… one that dwells in the secret place of the most High. It is conditional upon the abiding of the child of God, in God. If you don’t abide, you cannot expect protection.
But isn't it wonderful to know that, if we do abide, if we do dwell in the character of God, we can say that God is our refuge! We can hold on to the Almighty!
To understand this better, we need to find out exactly what the secret place of the most high is?
Keep a bookmark in Psalm 91 and turn to Ezekiel 7.
Here Ezekiel prophesies over the Temple.
Ezekiel 7:20 'They transformed the beauty of His ornaments into pride, and they made the images of their abominations and their detestable things with it; therefore I will make it an abhorrent thing to them. (21) 'I will give it into the hands of the foreigners as plunder and to the wicked of the earth as spoil, and they will profane it. (22) 'I will also turn My face from them, and they will profane My secret place; then robbers will enter and profane it.
Here Ezekiel is speaking of the temple and he prophecies that it will be profaned. And this happened several times in Bible history.
But here we learn that the Secret place of the Lord is in His temple. And this is confirmed in Psalm 27, which reads in verse 5...
Psalm 27:5 For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
In the wilderness, the secret place then, was the tabernacle, a portable version of the Temple – the place where God dwelt.
When God delivered Israel out of bondage in Egypt, they travelled in the Wilderness for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. During this time, they lived in tents as part of a large camp.
They camped in a circle around the Tabernacle. The tabernacle was surrounded by the 12 tribes of Israel, three tribes on each side, and was known in Hebrew as the Mishkan, which literally means to dwell and it was here where the God of Israel revealed Himself to the Israelites and dwelled among His people. The last half of Exodus describes the Tabernacle in great detail.
But to quickly summarize, the tabernacle was rectangular, 75 by 150 feet, and it was enclosed with a six-foot fence made out of cloth and poles. On one of the short sides was a gate, the entrance into the outer court.
If one came through the gate, the first thing that you would see is the brazen altar. It was there where you brought your sacrifice, your burnt offering. You would give it to the priests, they would prepare it, put it on the altar, and they would sacrifice it for you.
Just past this Bronze altar, as you move towards the middle, there was what is known as the laver. It was a large bronze bowl on a base and it was filled with water. It was used for the cleansing and purification of the priests. They would wash their hands and feet in preparation for service in the Temple.
Now behind the laver, there was a curtain made out of skins stretched over a pole framework. Immediately inside this curtain, was the holy place, the Inner Sanctuary. Once inside the Inner sanctuary, to the left was the golden Menorah candlestick and to the right was the table of showbread. Directly in front was the altar, which always had incense burning on top of it.
Beyond that burning incense was the veil that separated this Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was a square cubicle, 15 by 15ft, and that's where the arc of the covenant was placed, and that was where God dwelt. This is the secret place of God as was talked about in verse 1.
As far as those ancient Israelites were concerned, they could sadly never go there, only the High priest went into this secret place once a year on the day of Atonement.
Another name for the Tabernacle was the Tent of meeting. Those who wanted to meet with God would come to the Tabernacle. So the person genuinely enquiring after God would enter through the gate and the first thing he'd be confronted with is his sin, he’d be immediately confronted with his sin and his need for salvation. And that’s what happens to all people who truly seek the Lord, even from afar.
Coming into the presence of a Holy and Almighty God, even from afar, they are immediately convicted of their sin and a choice needs to be made… And to those who acknowledge their guilt… and repent… a price needs to be paid as a penalty for their sin. So what does he find…?
An altar, the Bronze altar, on which a sacrifice needs to be made.
Now the Israelites of old could never pay the price themselves, they needed a priest or a High priest to sacrifice an offering for them.
And likewise, when a truly repentant person is confronted by his sin:
o he immediately realizes that he cannot pay the price himself,
o he understands that there is nothing he can do to save himself,
o so he realizes his desperate need for a Saviour.
o Someone who can sacrifice for him, who can pay the price for him…
And that’s where Jesus Christ comes to our rescue. Our Lord and Saviour pays the price for us, not by offering a burnt sacrifice, but by offering himself, paying for us with His own blood.
And when the sacrifice is made through the blood of Jesus, the sinner receives salvation... his price is paid in full and he can move on closer to God. This he does by moving on to the laver, in which he washes, and which speaks of the cleansing process of sanctification. This person has given his life to Christ; now starts the painful process of sanctification, purification and refinement.
Then, moving into the Inner sanctuary, the Christian now finds the candlesticks, the showbread and the incense. Many different interpretations are made for these objects in the Bible, but in short,
o the candlestick is identified as the church in the book of Revelation;
o the showbread often points to His word,
o and the incense represents the fragrant offering of prayer.
So we see in this picture of becoming a Christian, that coming closer to God includes:
· our participation in the church, in the body of Christ,
· it includes our love for the word of God,
· and it includes our commitment to prayer –
These are all integral parts of our Christian walk.
And then he moves us into that sacred chamber called the Holy of holies, where we can find the peace and satisfaction that only comes from commune and relationship with the Lord.
The peace that surpasses all understanding.
And the only way we can get to this point is by removing the veil, which separates us from God. And we all know that that veil was torn from top to bottom, the moment Jesus died. Jesus died in order that you and I can have commune with God, a personal relationship with the Lord God Almighty. The veil is gone, so that now we can dwell in the secret place of the most High.
So you have in that ancient place of worship, in a tent in the middle of the desert, in the tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness, a beautiful description of a Christian’s journey to God. And this beautiful picture is available to all those that truly believe, but what is so sad is that it is so rarely achieved in a Christian’s life.
What really happens is that the person seeking after God moves to the altar , gets saved, begins the cleansing process of sanctification, and sometimes even into the participation and service in the body of Christ, and the meaning of the Word and to prayer; but for many that's where the Christian journey stops. Few take their relationship with God into that inner chamber where God becomes everything to them, where the desire is for His presence, His fellowship, His Holiness. A place where God is…. everything.
The place of divine satisfaction.
That's the secret place.
Have you experienced this divine satisfaction?
Do you dwell in the secret place of the most High?
In the presence of Almighty God?
Turn with me to Hebrews 9.
Hebrews 9:1 Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. (2) For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred showbread; this is called the holy place. (3) Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, (4) having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; (5) and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (6) Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, (7) but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. (8) The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, (9) which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered, which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, (10) since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (11) But, when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (12) and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (13) For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, (14) how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (15) For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal life.
He that dwells in the secret place. ..
Go back to Psalm 91….
He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Now have a look what the psalmist says, he says he that dwells in the secret place…. it doesn't say… he that visits….
Dwell in the Hebrew is the word for inhabit, abide or live. That man who lives in the secret place, who lives with a desire for God's presence and His fellowship -- he lives there. He lives with God.
But what’s critical to understand, brothers and sisters, is that this…
is not a place, it’s not a site you can go to, or a church you can visit, it’s not a place you can walk to or travel to, it’s not even a location; it’s….
an attitude of the heart. It takes place right here.
A Yearning after God; wanting to be with Him always, wanting to truly know Him, wanting to please Him in everything you do. Doing everything as if you were doing it for the Lord.
That is the person who dwells in the secret place.
The person who lives in the secret place of the most High, He says,
Verse 2 I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!"
You see, when we live with God as the central focus of our life, something very personal happens with our Christian faith:
o He's no longer just God, He's my God.
o He's no longer just the shepherd, He's my shepherd.
o He's no longer just the heavenly Father, He's my heavenly Father.
o He's no longer just the saviour of the world, He's my saviour.
Only when faith becomes personal, does it become meaningful. It becomes very, very precious to the person who possesses such faith. That man who yearns for God will know Him and will begin to experience how deep and magnificent the love of God really is.
Verse 3: For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. (4) He will cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.
In verse 1 it talks about the Shadow of the Almighty and here in verse 4 we learn that that shadow is a reference to the shadow under His wings….
Psa 17:8 Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings
Psa 36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
Psa 57:1 Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
In the shadow of His wings we find refuge…. And we’d expect the wings of God to be like the wings of a mighty eagle wouldn’t we? But Jesus saw these wings as something quite different…
Turn with me to Matthew 23.
In Matthew 23:37 Jesus said "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.
Jesus Himself describes His wings of protection as those of a mother hen, so instead of the mighty and proud eagle, He is yet again, the perfect example of the humble and suffering servant.
An article in National Geographic several years ago provided a most amazing story.
After a devastating forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched like a statue on the ground at the base of a tree.
A little sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked the bird over with a stick, and as it fell over, three tiny chicks ran out from under their dead mother's wings.
The loving mother, aware of impending disaster, had gathered her offspring under her wings at the base of a tree, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise and kill them. She could have flown to safety… but refused to abandon her babies who couldn’t fly. When the blaze came, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.
And this is perfectly true about being in the shadow of the Almighty, under His wings we find refuge, we find protection and we actually find life…
Psalm 91:5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; (6) Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
Life is a dangerous journey and you never know what's going to happen tomorrow. Even in the middle of the day, at noon, destructions come. And if you live in Gauteng Province, you know just how true those words are. Do you know what the GP means on your car’s numberplate? It really means Gangsta’s Paradise! Life in SA is not for sissies. So life is a dangerous journey and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but he that dwells in the secret place will be protected.
During our dangerous journey here on earth, He's promised never to leave us, nor forsake us. He'll always be there with us. You see, we as Christians are not immune to life's problems, but my goodness, have we got a marvellous refuge! Amen?
It is a Biblical fact that all true Christians will suffer trials and tribulations. Jesus said, pick up your cross and follow me, He never said, Christianity would be easy.
And that’s what this Psalm is about… it’s about deliverance out of trouble… it’s not about not ever having trouble. It’s about finding a refuge in times of trouble, finding a solace and a comforter, in the midst of your troubles.
Have a look at verse 15…. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in….. trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him.
And when your life becomes filled with trials and troubles, what keeps you? When unpredictable things happen to you, when the very thing that you thought would never happen to you, happens, what keeps you?
It should be your faith that keeps you. Your confidence that the promises of God are true. And in this Psalm there are many amazing promises made.
I wonder how many times each one of us have been protected and sheltered from disease, or delivered from death’s door, that we don’t even know about? Those times when we were delayed because we forgot something, turned around and went to fetch it, then got in the car and came across a horrific accident that happened just minutes earlier. It could have been you…
Could this be luck? Or coincidence? No. It’s the Providence of God. The promises of God are true. All through the mercy of God –
Romans 8: says in v28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.
We don’t know why some good people suffer so… but what we do know, is that this life is but a vapour, and to true Christians, it’s not important what happens to our mortal bodies in this lifetime. What is important, is to keep perspective on eternity. Keep your eyes and your focus on Jesus, because He is coming back soon… Amen?
If you walk in faith like this, it doesn’t matter what you face because God is with us! He is in control. If God is with us, and God is for us, and God is in us, what and who can be against us?
From verse 5 right through to verse 13, there is a mighty list of things that we will be protected from. Look at some of them, verse 5 and 6:
(5) You will not be afraid of the terror by night, Or of the arrow that flies by day; (6) Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
And here’s the crux. It doesn’t say there won’t be terrors by night, it says you just won’t be afraid of them. It doesn’t say there won’t be war or arrows that fly, or there won’t be disease and destruction – it doesn’t say that. It just says that you won’t be afraid of them. It actually says, by inference, that there will be terrors by night, there will be wars and arrows, there will be disease stalking everywhere and destruction when you least expect it… these WILL happen regardless. The point is that Christians will not be afraid. It's not about completely avoiding trouble or hardship, it's about deliverance in the midst of our troubles and hardship.
Do you see the eternal perspective? The point is to look at eternity - and the psalm says that the worst thing that can ever happen to me… can never, ever destroy my soul.
That is why our Lord said in Mat 10:28 "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Though cancer may eat your flesh, it cannot eat your soul. Though Alzheimer's may make you forget, God will never forget you. Isn't that the point? It’s not running around healing everybody with miracle crusades and pools of bethesda sprouting up all over the place, that's not what it’s about - What it is about is eternity.
Psalm 91:7 A thousand will fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Just imagine the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, they're going through the middle of the parted sea…. the Egyptians in their chariots are gaining fast and they fear for their lives. Then as they reach the other side, God closes the sea and drowns the entire Egyptian army! 'A thousand shall fall at thy side, but it will not come nigh thee', verse 8, ' Only with your eyes will you see the reward of the wicked.
The righteous are saved out of disaster, and made to be only spectators, they're made to see their deliverance in the midst of a situation. Your own safety, your own complete security, the perfect justice of God in the very midst of a terrible situation, that enables you not to fear.
Then the Psalmist reminds us again, just as if to make sure, that in the midst of all these promises of how God will protect you, right in the middle of trouble, just in case you forget… that there is a condition.
That condition of all these promises is made in verse 1, and he reminds us again in Verse: 9 Because you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
Interesting here in v 10 it says that no evil shall befall thee. Disease and afflictions can hurt the flesh, arrows can pierce the heart, but it is evil that touches the spirit. And the promise here is that your Spirit will remain untouched!
And why is that?…. and here is my favourite part of this psalm, one of my favourite passages in the entire Bible…
(11) For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
We tend to get a little materialistic in our world, but the Bible teaches us very, very clearly that those who live close to the heart of God will have divine protection. And I believe, brothers and sisters, that when we get to heaven we're going to be amazed when we realize how many times the angels intervened and took care of us.
In closing, we read:
v(14) "Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. (15) "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. (16) "With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation."
If you stay close to the heart of God, He'll bless your life and protect you. You will enjoy long life, and angels will escort you around. Isn't that incredible?
And it’s promises like these that allow the Christian to stand firm when the rest of the world goes to pieces.
Martin Luther once wrote: 'Though they kill, God's truth still abides, His kingdom is forever'. Forever is a long time.
Today I challenge you to live like that… to dwell in the secret place of the most High and to really live in the light of eternity.