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Martinsville, Indiana 46151
Psalm 91:1-6 (NRSV)
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,*
2 will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
On Monday, March 23 Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued an order to “shelter in place” in order to minimize the spread of the current pestilence, the coronavirus. I won’t go into detail what that means—you already know that. But what does it mean to shelter in place in a spiritual sense? Psalm 91 gives us the answer. It’s kind of eerie, isn’t it, when you first read it—how it coincides with our present situation?
We, who are God’s adopted children, and brother and sisters of Jesus Christ, reside in the “shelter of the Most High.” And so we can say with confidence, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” But what are we sheltered from and what does it mean?
Psalm 91, like the Psalm before it, is traditionally thought to be a prayer of Moses. Moses, who witnessed God’s wrath in the form of plagues on the Egyptians, knew all about pestilence, didn’t he? But what is the “snare of the fowler?” A fowler was a professional bird catcher. In those early days, young birds such as partridges and quails were captured with nets or snares spread on the ground. These young birds were lured from their nest and confined in hidden cages so that their voices would call other adult birds to the spot and they could be killed by arrows of concealed bowmen—hence, “the arrow that flies by day.”
These two historic threats—the plague or pestilence and the bird hunter—were metaphors well known to the schooled rabbi who read and instructed from the Psalms. These rabbis taught that the Lord God, represented by the eagle, rescues his people from deadly plagues and the arrows of Israel’s enemies by covering them in God’s impenetrable pinions.
So what does that mean for us 21st Century Christians who are potential victims of various viruses and other dangers? What it doesn’t mean is that we are immune to such threats. We should not foolishly flaunt COVID19 by ignoring the strong advice of the experts to “shelter in place.” We should not intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way except for those extraordinary situations in which we are suddenly called to save another life (Thank God for those health professionals who are risking disease and death to help those who are afflicted with COVID-19).
As we approach Holy Week and Easter, we are reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made to ultimately defeat sin and death. This means that although we may face various “toils and snares” in this life, God through Christ has destined for us the ultimate victory of eternal life with him. Thanks be to the Most High God who shelters us in the Presence!