The Ninety-First

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Today we continue our ongoing series of Psalms Greatest Hits, with a look at the Ninety-First Psalm. Most Psalms are the songs, poetry, and soul emptying or soul filling contemplations and prayers of King Solomon or his father King David. However, today’s Psalm, according to Midrash (ancient commentary of Hebrew Scripture), the Ninety-First psalm is attributed to Moses after the construction of the Tabernacle. Rather than limiting this text to only those Hebrew sojourners in the desert, this Psalm is a portal through which the audience becomes global, without regard to time, geography, or tribal distinctions.

It is a Psalm for each of us.

The Biblical story tells us that the plans and design of the Tabernacle were given to Moses by God (Exodus 26) following the covenant that was made between God and Moses with the gift of the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 24). The people were displaced and nomadic because they were liberated from they tyranny and slavery of Egypt. As they found themselves in the desert alone, they bobbled between faith in God and memory loss or doubt. The Tabernacle was to be a Holy place where God himself would dwell (although separated by chambers which would provide complete darkness) and where the people would be reminded of God’s proximity and their need to stay in covenant with God for survival. The metaphor for the human experience is not incidental.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Scripture describes Moses as one of the few people who spoke to God face to face. As such, Moses is seen by all Monotheistic religions as a mouthpiece for the “One True God.” This Psalm is thus written from this unique perspective as one who knows the true nature of God and who can speak for Him. The tabernacle was symbolic of the dwelling place of God, it is the penultimate place of safety, not because of the tent’s structure, but because of it’s contents. It is literally the shadow of the Almighty. To have God on one’s side is to dwell in perfect safety, and to live in an impenetrable fortress. This Psalm camps on this theme because it’s vital to understanding the psychological, social, and spiritual benefit of safety, acceptance, and security. This is what the bible refers to as “Salvation.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
  and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Consider how the greatest joys and the greatest pains of life surround our need for safety, acceptance, security and validation. If at any point in the human experience, any of us finds ourselves without these deep, soul-level, experiences of connection, belonging, and confidence, then some form of pathology, violence, or destructive force will inevitably erode the joy of life. The Tabernacle represents the integration of the unseen and the seen world, the spiritual, psychological and the physical convergence of Spirit and Body, God and humanity. This is why the New Testament tells us that our bodies are the new temple, the dwelling place of God.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”  (1 Corinthians 6:18)

“For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16)

We must keep in mind that the Jewish religion did not exist quite yet and the Levitical law was not yet established. The covenant, was simply that of the commandments written on tablets and within the hearts of the people. The faith of someone back then was simply that Something More” was powerful and present in the camp. This benevolent force would protect and guide this lost people so long as they remained faithful. This is exactly the same kind of faith that Abraham had, namely, that this “Something More” was calling him out of his tribe and into a land not his own. This is precisely the point of the author of Hebrews in the eleventh chapter when he mentions both Abraham and Moses as the founders of faith. This means the scripture is relating to all people, of all times, in all places who have sense of this “Something More.” To possess this sense and to live in covenant with it, is precisely what it means to abide in the Shadow of the Almighty. It is the very definition of Salvation. It is to dwell within the spiritual tabernacle, it is to know one’s soul.

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

The above verses are perhaps the most familiar of this chapter because these are the verses quoted by Satan to Jesus during his trial in the desert. Why would Jesus’ adversary pick this verse to try and get Jesus to demonstrate his power and proximity to God. In the desert, Jesus was not only hungry and exposed like his Hebrew people, but he represented them from within this “Spiritual” place as Jesus communed with God within his own tabernacle of his body. Jesus, in perfect step with the faith of Abraham and Moses is about to enter his ministry where he deconstructs the religious containers in order to bring healing and restore people back to the contents of faith. Personally, I believe Jesus, perceiving Satan during his temptations, was thinking of this next verse and that is why Satan used these against him.

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfo

If my assumption is correct, then this connects Jesus’ moment of temptation, not only to Moses and Abraham, but all the way back to the Garden where the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and in essence Jesus is fulfilling the curse to the serpent promised by God in the Garden.

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Genesis 3:14-15)

This kind of alignment is not incidental, nor concocted by any measure of my own cleverness. I believe it is there to point the way to a much bigger awareness, namely, that of the salvation of the entire world, which is the Good News of the Gospel. This news is so big, so pervasive, so powerful, and so beyond any single religion that none of them can possess it, yet somehow, the human story is such that it has always known or at least has been able to perceive the love of God, our Maker, despite religious frameworks. That is the essence of faith. That is the essence of the experience of Moses and why he can conclude this chapter speaking for God to all people, even to all of us…

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

May we find ourselves written into a new understanding of salvation as we emerge between the lines of these verses. Like Moses understood, salvation is not going to Heaven one day, it is the satisfaction of finding Heaven here within the tabernacle of our hearts. If we cannot find Heaven (The Dwelling Place of God) here and now, why would anyone believe they will possess it someday after they die?