I Never Noticed This in Psalm 91
By Jason Soroski
Psalm 91:1-2 has become one of my favorite passages of Scripture:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust." (emphasis mine)
When life is draining and there seems to be no time or place to rest, these words are reassuring, comforting and encouraging. When things appear to be their worst, I tend to get a bit negative, and most of us are like that. Our natural tendency is to get down and miss out on what God may be doing in our situation.
When I find myself in these negative places, my goal becomes reprogramming my mind to fend off the negative, and say of the Lord that He is my God in whom I trust, just as the writer of this Psalm did.
But there is also a deeper meaning in this passage, hidden in plain sight. In these verses there are four names for God: the Most High, the Almighty, the Lord, my God. Why does the writer use four different names in two verses, and what is significant about it?
The first name, the Most High, is the Hebrew word Elyon. It suggests a Supreme monarch, one who is elevated above all things. The name signifies God's majesty, sovereignty, and pre-eminence. It carries a connotation of a Davidic king that reigns above all other kings, and is first used in Scripture in Genesis 14:18, describing Abraham's encounter with the priest/king Melchizedek, "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High." Melchizedek gives us a picture of Christ in several ways, and it is fitting that this story contains the first use of this name of God in Scripture. Verse 1 speaks to the protection of one who 'dwells in the shelter of the Most High,' and it causes us to ask where it is that we dwell. Do we dwell in our own self-doubt? Do we dwell in anger? Do we dwell in what could be or what could have been? Or do we dwell in the shelter of the Most High God, the Holy king of heaven who promises to protect and keep us?
The second name, the Almighty, is translated from the word Shaddai (If you are thinking of the Amy Grant song right now, I assure you you are not alone). Shaddai has many meanings, but it as you may imagine, it primarily suggests a mighty, powerful God who is strong beyond our imagination and is more than capable to supply our every need. He is the God who parted the sea and controls all of creation. In His name and in His power, there is no need that cannot be met, and no circumstance he cannot overcome.
The third name, the LORD, is the personal name for God, revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 6:2). This personal name for God was considered so sacred in Judaism, that the original pronunciation is uncertain, only that it contained the letters YHWH, (JHVH in Latin). It has been translated as Yahweh, Jehovah, and more often as the LORD (in all caps). The significance of this name is that it represents a relatable God who seeks for us to know Him on a deep, personal level. The God who is the all-powerful, Divine ruler of all things is also the God who knows every hair on our heads, every joy and fear in our hearts, and desires us to know Him as intimately as a friend. This God who created the universe and all it contains is not just some far-off unknowable being, but a Father, redeemer and friend.
The fourth name, my God, comes from the Hebrew Elohim. This name first appears at the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." When Elohim occurs in Scripture, it is typically translated as "God." In Greek, it is translated as Theos, which is where we get our word theology. It means the one who is first, or the creator, and is technically a plural word. So it is fitting that this is how God is referenced in Genesis 1:1; as a creator who is one, yet plural (Father, Son, Spirit). The Psalmist is proclaiming that the God in whom he trusts is the same God who created all things, the first and the last, and the God who is forever faithful to His creation.
In the span of just two verses we see the beauty of God: His ways are higher than our ways, yet we can speak to Him as a friend. What a takeaway! God is at the same time unsearchable yet so very near to us. In His shadow and in His shelter, we find strength, comfort, and rest for our souls.
As a writer and musician, Jason Soroski strives to communicate in a way that is insightful, meaningful, relevant, and mindful of the small things that we may otherwise overlook in our everyday lives. He effectively taps into his experiences as a worship pastor, classroom teacher, husband, and homeschooling father of five to relate poignant stories from real-life experiences. Jason holds an M.Ed. from Missouri Baptist University, has been featured in various print and web publications, and currently resides in Houston, TX. Read more from Jason at his blog The Way I See It.
Have you listened to our newest podcast, The Bible Never Said That? In it, we unpack some of the most popular "spiritual statements" that have made their way into popular culture and the church, even though they are not theologically sound. Check it out and let us know what you think!