9. Because thou, Jehovah, art my protection; thou hast made the Most High thy refuge.1 10. There shall no evil befall thee, and no plague shall come nigh thy dwelling. 11. For he has given his angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. 12. They shall bear thee upon their hands, lest thou dash thy foot upon a stone,
9. Because thou, Jehovah, art my protection. He dwells at this length in commendation of the providence of God, as knowing how slow men naturally are to resort to God in a right manner; and how much they need to be stimulated to this duty, and to be driven from those false and worldly refuges in which they confide. There is a change of person frequently throughout this psalm: thus, in the first verse, he addresses God, and afterwards addresses himself. God he styles his protection, -- in this manner, by his own example, recommending others to have recourse to God as their help. So, afterwards, he addresses himself, that he may be the better persuaded of the sincerity of his inward affection. The true method of testing our faith is to turn our thoughts inward upon ourselves, and, when no human eye sees us, to search our own spirits. If, not content with having to do with God only, we turn our eyes to men, it is almost impossible to prevent pride from insinuating itself into the room of faith. He speaks of accounting God to be his house or refuge, because he defends us from every evil, as in Psalm 90:1. This verse may be considered as connected with that which follows, and as stating the cause or reason of what is there asserted; for it is added, There shall no evil befall thee. And how are coming evils averted, but just by our resting with confidence in the protection of God? Troubles, it is true, of various kinds assail the believer as well as others, but the Psalmist means that God stands between him and the violence of every assault, so as to preserve him from being overwhelmed. The Divine guardianship is represented as extending to the whole household of the righteous; and we know that God comprehends under his love the children of such as he has adopted into his fatherly favor. Or, perhaps, the term may be taken in its simpler sense, and nothing more be intended than that those who choose God for their refuge will dwell safely in their houses.
11. For he has given his angels charge concerning thee. This is added by the Psalmist expressly with the view of obviating any fears which might arise from our infirmity; so that we cannot fail to be struck with the benignant condescension of God in thus not only forgiving our diffidence, but proposing the means by which it may be best removed. Does he exhibit himself to us as a fortress and shield, proffer the shadow of his protection, make himself known to us as a habitation in which we may abide, and stretch out his wings for our defense -- surely we are chargeable with the worst ingratitude if we are not satisfied with promises so abundantly full and satisfactory? If we tremble to think of his majesty, he presents himself to us under the lowly figure of the hen: if we are terrified at the power of our enemies, and the multitude of dangers by which we are beset, he reminds us of his own invincible power, which extinguishes every opposing force. When even all these attempts to encourage us have been tried, and he finds that we still linger and hesitate to approach him, or cast ourselves upon his sole and exclusive protection, he next makes mention of the angels, and proffers them as guardians of our safety. As an additional illustration of his indulgent mercy, and compassion for our weakness, he represents those whom he has ready for our defense as being a numerous host; he does not assign one solitary angel to each saint, but commissions the whole armies of heaven to keep watch over every individual believer. It is the individual believer whom the Psalmist addresses, as we read also Psalm 34:7 -- that "angels encamp round about them that fear him." We may learn from this that there is no truth in the idea that each saint has his own peculiar guardian angel; and it is of no little consequence to consider, that as our enemies are numerous, so also are the friends to whom our defense is intrusted. It were something, no doubt, to know that even one angel was set over us with this commission, but it adds weight to the promise when we are informed that the charge of our safety is committed to a numerous host, as Elisha was enabled, by a like consideration, to despise the great army of adversaries which was arrayed against him, (2 Kings 6:16.) Nor is this inconsistent with passages of Scripture, which seem to speak as if a distinct angel were assigned to each individual. It is evident that God employs his angels in different ways, setting one angel over several whole nations, and again several angels over one man. There is no necessity that we should be nice and scrupulous in inquiring into the exact manner in which they minister together for our safety; it is enough that, knowing from the authority of an apostle the fact of their being appointed ministers to us, we should rest satisfied of their being always intent upon their commission. We read elsewhere of their readiness to obey and execute the commands of God; and this must go to strengthen our faith, since their exertions are made use of by God for our defense.
The Psalmist, in the passage now before us, speaks of members of the Church generally; and yet the devil did not wrest the words when, in his temptation in the wilderness, he applied them particularly to Christ. It is true that he is constantly seeking to pervert and corrupt the truth of God; but, so far as general principles are concerned, he can put a specious gloss upon things, and is a sufficiently acute theologian. It is to be considered that when our whole human family were banished from the Divine favor, we ceased to have anything in common with the angels, and they to have any communication with us. It was Christ, and he only, who, by removing the ground of separation, reconciled the angels to us; this being his proper office, as the apostle observes, (Ephesians 1:10,) to gather together in one what had been dispersed both in heaven and on earth. This was represented to the holy patriarch Jacob under the figure of a ladder, (Genesis 28:12;) and, in allusion to our being united into one collective body with the angels, Christ said,
"Afterwards ye shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending," (John 1:51.)
The Psalmist adds, all your ways in the plural number, to convey to us more distinctly that wherever we go we may expect that the angels shall always extend their guardianship to us. The course of our life is subject to many windings and changes, and who can tell all the storms by which we are liable to be tossed? It was necessary, therefore, to know that the angels preside over all our particular actions and purposes, and thus to be assured of their safe-conduct in whatever quarter we might be called to move. This expression, however, your ways, was, in all likelihood, intended to enjoin upon us a due consideration and modesty, to warn us against tempting God by any rash step, and admonish us to confine ourselves within the bounds of our proper calling. For should we commit ourselves recklessly, and attempt things which the promise of God does not warrant us to undertake, aspiring at what is presumptuous, and opposed to the Divine will, we are not to expect that the angels will become ministers and helps to our temerity. Satan would appear to have craftily omitted this clause when he tempted Christ rashly to throw himself down from the temple.
12. They shall bear thee upon their hands. He gives us a still higher idea of the guardianship of the angels, informing us, that they not only watch lest any evil should befall us, and are on the alert to extend assistance, but bear up our steps with their hands, so as to prevent us from stumbling in our course. Were we to judge indeed by mere appearances, the children of God are far from being thus borne up aloft in their career; often they labor and pant with exertion, occasionally they stagger and fall, and it is with a struggle that they advance in their course; but as in the midst of all this weakness it is only by the singular help of God that they are preserved every moment from falling and from being destroyed, we need not wonder that the Psalmist should speak in such exalted terms of the assistance which they receive through the ministrations of angels. Never, besides, could we surmount the serious obstacles which Satan opposes to our prayers, unless God should bear us up in the manner here described. Let any one combine together the two considerations which have been mentioned, -- our own utter weakness on the one hand, and on the other the roughness, the difficulties, the thorns which beset our way, the stupidity besides which characterises our hearts, and the subtlety of the evil one in laying snares for our destruction, -- and he will see that the language of the Psalmist is not that of hyperbole, that we could not proceed one step did not the angels bear us up in their hands in a manner beyond the ordinary course of nature. That we frequently stumble is owing to our own fault in departing from him who is our head and leader. And though God suffers us to stumble and fall in this manner that he may convince us how weak we are in ourselves, yet, inasmuch as he does not permit us to be crushed or altogether overwhelmed, it is virtually even then as if he put his hand under us and bore us up.
1 As a signal instance of this preservation, Bishop Horne adduces the well known and exemplary conduct of the good Bishop of Marseilles, who, during the plague in that city in 1720, When nature sickened, and each gale was death, though in constant attendance on the infected and dying thousands, entirely escaped the contagion.