Does the Bible promise that Jesus followers will be spared from any illness or plague? Or is that a misreading of Scripture?
There has been a lot of teaching lately saying that followers of Jesus can claim the promises of Psalm 91. These teachers claim that God will protect His children from Covid-19, as well as any other destructive disease or danger. Well, what does Psalm 91 actually say and what does it mean?
On the surface, Psalm 91 appears to make amazing promises. Listen to these excerpts:
1The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. 3 He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net, from the destructive plague. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, 6 the plague that stalks in darkness, or the pestilence that ravages at noon.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, the pestilence will not reach you.9 Because you have made the Lord—my refuge, the Most High—your dwelling place, 10 no harm will come to you; no plague will come near your tent.11 For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. 12 They will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 14 Because he is lovingly devoted to Me, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows My name.
We shouldn’t understand these verses to be saying that followers of Jesus will always be safe and never get sick. That’s simply untrue. It’s merely recognizing that nothing can happen to a believer apart from God’s loving plan. The Lord alone determines when we will die and when we will live. 1 Samuel 2:6 says, “The LORD brings death and gives life.” The psalmist says God planned every day of our lives (Psalm 139:16) and that He alone oversees our “escape from death” (Psalm 68:20). The apostle Paul said that God alone “gives everyone life and breath” (Acts 17:25). The point of Psalm 91 is not that we’ll never die by disease or danger, but rather that disease or danger cannot take us apart from God’s purpose and plan. Men and illness may attack but they won’t have any say over the span of my life until the time God allows me to enter His presence.
If we want to understand how to apply these verses, let’s see how they worked in the earthly life Jesus the Messiah. This is a good place to start because this is one of the Scriptures Satan quoted when tempting Jesus. The Adversary told the Lord to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, citing Psalm 91:11-12, that God’s angels would protect Him, so much so, that they would even keep Him from stubbing his toe. The Lord Jesus answered with Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not tempt the Lord your God.”
Jesus’ idea is that even with these verses, we must live in the fear of God. Even though the Lord Jesus would be safe until His appointed time of death (and he was appointed to die) , He wouldn’t tempt God by living recklessly. The same applies to us. Even though God has determined how long we’ll live and when we’ll die, we still should eat a healthy diet, exercise, use seatbelts, and, if necessary, shelter in place.
A second idea is that although the Lord Jesus would not deliberately put Himself in danger, he taught us we can live without fearing people or disease. Psalm 118:6 says, “The LORD is for me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Nothing could harm the Lord Jesus until the appointed time. Herod tried to take His life (Matt 2), the crowd tried to push Him over a cliff (Luke 4:29-30), and another crowd at the Temple tried to stone Him (John 8:59). But it was not His appointed time to die, so in each case, God protected and preserved Him. So, as we do all that we can to be safe and careful, we need not fear or fume. God is watching over us.
A third application from the life of Jesus is that when we’re appointed to die, we can face death with confidence. In Luke 9:51, it says the Lord was “determined to journey to Jerusalem.” He knew that crucifixion and death faced Him. Still, He accepted the plan of God and determined to go there. Similarly, the apostle Paul anticipated death and faced it with confidence and wrote “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8). If we love and trust in the Lord Jesus, we too can be confident. Nothing will harm us until the day He has set for us and when we do face death, we can be confident that we’ll be ushered into His presence.
John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, has this great reminder for us:
“Let us suppose the thing we are most afraid of actually happens. Can it come a moment sooner, or in any other way, than by His appointment? Is He not gracious, and faithful, to support us under the stroke? Is He not rich enough to give us something better than ever He will take away? Is not the light of His countenance better than life and all its most valued enjoyments?” Yes, Psalm 91 gives us the assurance of God’s sovereign protection over our lives. Nothing can ever happen to us unless and until God wills it and then He will bring us into His loving presence.