How should we interpret promises in the Psalms that no harm will strike us?

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Some of those promises are reiterations of promises that the Lord made to David, which are not necessarily indicative of universal promises that apply to all Christians.

First of all, they’re poetic. The Psalms belong to that body of literature in the Old Testament called Wisdom Literature. Wisdom Literature, in the Proverbs, for example, says things like, “Don’t answer a fool according to his folly” (Prov. 26:4), and then the next verse says, “Answer a fool according to his folly” (Prov. 26:5). How in the world do you square that? It’s like in our own proverbial adages that we have, “Look before you leap,” and, “He who hesitates is lost.” If you look before you leap, you’re hesitating.

So what you have in proverbial wisdom and poetic wisdom are general truths, not absolute commands or guarantees. They are practical guides of wisdom. God’s normal, providential care is such that we take comfort that we live in the shadow of the Almighty, that we are under the cover of His wings, and all that the psalmist declares in Psalm 91. We don’t have to worry about the arrow that flies by day or the scourge that goes by night.

Now, that doesn’t mean that no Christian will ever suffer from cancer or be killed on a battlefield. The rest of the Scriptures make it clear that some of the great ones were martyred. Stephen was killed and he could’ve said, “Well, wait a minute, what about the ‘ten thousand at my right hand,’ and ‘naught shall come nigh thee’?” These are general guidelines, general principles of how the beneficence of God’s providence is poured out on a regular basis in the protection of His people.

This transcript is from an Ask R.C. Live event with R.C. Sproul and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.