The meaning of Psalm 91:1 has to do with trusting God and his protective power. This trust is built on a close, intimate relationship with God.
The element of trust in the Psalm is critical because this trust is being activated in the presence of clear and sometimes unseen and uncertain danger.
The Psalmist expresses great confidence in God in verse one of Psalm 91. He specifically points out two attributes of God in this verse by using two names of God.
In this post we will examine the power of these names which will help us understand the verse.
What is the deeper meaning of Psalm 91?
Although Psalm 91 is commonly used to talk about God’s protection over his own, that is not the real burden of this Psalm.
The deeper meaning of Psalm 91 has to do with trusting God. Through the entire Psalm, the writer highlights a number of different threats and challenges that an individual can face in life.
But, the Psalmist focuses on the idea that in spite of all those problems, he can still trust God. God has actively demonstrated His trustworthiness through His protective care.
What does Psalm 91 verse 1 mean?
Psalm 91:1 is an expression of assurance that God will protect those who are intentional and deliberate about living in close fellowship with Him.
Psalm 91:1 is like a summary statement for the entire Psalm. The benefit of protection described this Psalm rides on a relationship with God.
This fellowship-filled relationship is what will fuel utter and complete trust in God, even in the midst of peril.
For us to understand this verse, we need to dive deep into the meaning of the words in it.
Let’s begin with “secret place”
What is the secret place of the most high God?
If you read this verse from different translations (I recommend that you do this), you will notice that two words are used for the phrase secret place (as rendered in the NIV).
These two words clues us in on what the secret place might be, but the picture is still not totally clear.
You are most likely still asking “Where is the secret place of God”?
Let’s dig into the original word from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Secret place Hebrew meaning
The Hebrew word for secret place is sēṯer. It means covering or cover. The word carries the idea of a highly private, covert, secret, hidden place.
As you read through the Psalm, you realize that the writer lives in a place where danger is constantly present.
A place of hiding is necessary if they are to escape with their life. For them, it is likely a literal place like a cave, for example.
But the Psalmist uses the idea of a secret place in a figurative sense. What does it mean for the believer?
What is the secret place in Psalm 91?
What is the secret place with God? Where do we find this secret place?
To answer this question, we will turn to Scripture itself.
Psalm 31:20 (NIV) says In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues.
God’s presence is the secret place of Psalm 91.
It is God’s desire that we constantly live in his presence. (More on this later)
What is to dwell in the secret place of the most high?
If God’s secret place is His presence, what does it mean to dwell there?
The Hebrew word for dwell is yāšaḇ. It means to sit down, to remain, to abide, to inhabit, to live.
I hope that list of words painted a picture in your mind. To dwell in God’s presence is the idea of moving in, settling down, and putting down roots.
God’s secret place (His presence) is not a weekend getaway or vacation visit. It’s a permanent home. It is an everyday affair and a lifelong commitment.
The Most High meaning
The Psalmist specifies living in the secret place of The Most High. Why does he use this name for God?
Psalm 91 uses multiple names of God. In Psalm 91:1 two of those names are used. Each name is very significant.
The Hebrew word for Most High is Elyon.
This name of God carries the idea of being elevated to the highest possible place. It points to the immeasurable power of God that allows Him to occupy the highest status in the universe.
Elyon was also used in Hebrew as another term for king.
God Most High is supreme above every being and every other god. He is THE King of all kings.
There is no higher authority than God. He has no supervisor. The buck starts and stops with Him. He reports to no one.
As we seek to dwell in the secret place of God’s presence, we should be empowered knowing we are in the company of the One who is exalted and all powerful, holding this entire universe in his palm.
What a blessed thought!
Abide under the shadow of the Almighty meaning
The Psalmist highlights one of the first benefits of dwelling in the secret place of the Most High.
He says those who decide to live in the presence of the Exalted One will get to abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
The Hebrew word for abide is lûn. It means to rest, to lodge, to tarry, to dwell, to remain.
This word carries the idea of a traveler who needs to stop overnight and so passes the night at a place of lodging that is most comfortable and refreshing.
The word is being used figuratively to paint the picture of a permanent place of rest and refreshment for those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
What is the shadow of the Almighty God?
In the Bible, the idea of shadow is used to mean “under the protection or security” of an individual.
For example, if you are a parent, your children are under your shadow. I hope you get the idea.
Depending on the translation you are using, you might also see the word shade instead of shadow. It carries the same idea.
It is a metaphoric expression that sometimes goes with the word wings, to communicate the same meaning of protection and keeping safe from danger.
In other places in the Psalms, this idea is used to express confidence in God’s protective care. Here are two examples:
Psalm 121:5 (NIV): The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
Psalm 36:7 (NIV): How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
What does rest in the shadow of the Almighty mean?
Remember earlier I said that two names of God are used in this one verse? Let’s look at the other.
The Hebrew word for Almighty is Shaddai. It means Almighty. This name for God describes His full and complete self-sufficient nature.
He holds and has all the power there is to have. He is the power generator of the universe!
No enemy can stand against Him and win!
To rest in the shadow of the Almighty is to be comfortable and undisturbed even in the face of danger because of the confidence we have in our Almighty God.
It is to know that no matter how dreadful a situation looks, you don’t have to get carried away with what it looks like in your own eyes.
Because you are under the protective care of God Almighty, the one who can destroy with a sentence from His lips and create by the words of His mouth.
Now, this is not to say that temptation and danger will not come. But despite all those not-so-good circumstances, God will keep you covered.
But don’t forget that this promise has a condition:
The promise is for “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High…”.
How do you become this person?
Psalm 91:1 meaning in everyday life
Now that we have dug into the words and phrases of Psalm 91:1, let’s bring it home a little closer.
How do we make Psalm 91:1 real to us as we live in the 21st century?
How to access the secret place of the most High
If the promise of Psalm 91:1 is for those who dwell in the secret place of God’s presence, how do we enter the secret place?
In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to build for Him a sanctuary so that He could dwell among them (Exodus 25:8).
When people wanted to be close to God, they would go to the sanctuary. Since Jesus came and died, we no longer have to go anywhere to access the presence of God.
At least, we do not need to go to a physical place. But we do need to go to a spiritual place.
Hebrews 4:14, 16 (NIV) says
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess… Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
To access that secret place, you only need to lift your mind and heart to heaven, or bow your head and close your eyes and begin talking to God in prayer.
God’s presence is everywhere.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. Psalm 139:7-8
Not everyone recognizes that God is everywhere. But the moment you decide to shut down your heart and mind to outside distractions and focus your mind heavenward, you have stepped into communion with God, regardless of where you are physically.
But that’s just the beginning…
How do you dwell in the secret place of the Most high?
Remember when I said earlier that Psalm 91:1 is all about relationship? Dwelling is about remaining in close spiritual proximity to God. It’s about intimacy with God.
How do you do this?
Here are three quick tips…
Bible reading and Bible study
Consistent time in the Word is one of the very best ways to be in the presence of God. Whether you are reading the Bible in a year plan or engaging in more focused Bible study, you are in communion with God.
Through engaging with the Scriptures, you learn what His voice sounds like, what is in His heart for you, and what His desires are for your life.
As you grow in your knowledge of Him and begin to align your life with His will, that’s where His protective shadow is activated.
Prayer goes with Bible study in sustaining a “secret place” relationship with God. A prayer life is not just an exercise you perform in the morning, at night, and over meals.
Prayer is a lifestyle. It is making everything something to talk to God about. It is maintaining an open line of communication between you and God.
Being Holy Spirit led
As you spend time in Scripture and be deliberate about having a life of prayer, you will find that the Holy Spirit will show up more regularly in your experiences.
Let Him in. Allow yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit.
As you make decisions about what to do with that unpleasant cashier at the grocery store or that person whose terrible driving is threatening your life or that friend or family member whose only goal is to tick you off, remember the enemy’s goal is to get you on dangerous ground.
Listen for the Holy Spirit. Allow Him to guide you. Follow the Holy Spirit.
As I said, we are always in God’s presence. But it is up to us to be in constant awareness of Him.
Draw close to God and He will draw close to you (James 4:8).
Benefits of dwelling in the secret place of the most high
There are a number of benefits of dwelling in the secret place of God’s presence, too many to list in this post.
But here are four (4) to consider.
Peace of mind
Isaiah 26:3 (NIV) says
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
Those who are in God’s presence have peace. Now, please understand that this peace is not because of favorable circumstances. This is peace despite unfavorable situations.
The whole of Psalm 91 describes a wide variety of perils. In the middle of all that, we can trust God. And because we trust Him, we have peace.
Revelation and joy
Psalm 16:11 (NIV) says
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence…
From this verse we see that in God’s presence, there is joy. The Psalmist is experiencing joy because of God’s revelation about the future.
As we dwell in God’s presence, He will open spiritual windows so that we can take a peek. He will reveal important things about our future to us. (Read Jeremiah 33:3)
Guidance and sustenance
Psalm 139: 9-10 (NIV) says
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
God is in the business of providing guidance to those who trust Him. Wherever we find ourselves, if we are willing, He will be the light that we look to for direction and guidance.
In God’s presence, we are also sustained to fight the fight and live the life that is ours.
We cannot forget the most critical aspect of Psalm 91. One of the biggest benefits of being in God’s presence is His protection.
In the rest of the Psalm, it goes on to say those who are in God’s presence are protected from seen and unseen danger, sickness, death, disaster, trouble by day and trouble by.
In fact, such a person gets to enjoy a long and satisfying life (Psalm 91:16).
Conclusion to Psalm 91:1 meaning
Psalm 91:1 is such a powerful portion of Scripture. It forms the foundation for the rest of the Psalm.
Having studied this Psalm we can come away with the assurance that our God is more than able to deliver on His word.
But we also realize that we have a part to play by ensuring that we are ever in God’s secret place, His presence.
I pray you will be gifted by God with His presence and protection.