Psalms 118:1 - 29
ESV - 1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever.
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To me, the cited verse ("The LORD is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do unto me?) is not a guarantee against all possibiliity of temporal harm inflicted by other people, but a statement of faith that whatever might befall the believer is not beyond God's ability to prevent, counteract, or make to work for the believer's greater, ultimate (that is, eternal) good. (Viewed from that perspective, God continues to perform the same functions for believers today.) Assuming the psalmist to be David, there were multiple occasions in his own life when -- his faith notwithstanding -- he acted out of justified fear, such as when he fled from Saul or Absalom, for example. (He gave voice to those fears in passages such as Psalm 22.)
The quoted verse declares a Spiritual Truth to apply to our own lives. We can claim it as a promise from God when, like the Psalmist, we find ourselves in a situation where we are powerless to protect ourselves from harm by others. Each phrase of this verse is affirmed many times as Spritual Truth in the New Testament. Here are a few expamples: "The Lord is With Me" Jesus said to his disciples "I will be with you always, even to the end of this age" "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you" "I will not be afraid" "Peter and John were not afraid when they were put in prison, when they were scourged with whips they counted it pure joy to share in Jesus sufferings" "Paul and Silas sang when they were in prison and the gates collapsed and chains fell off" "What can mere mortals do to me" "Jesus reminded his disciples, you don't have to be afraid of anything people can do to you, but you should fear (honour, respect, awe, reverance) God who has the power to throw you into hell. " Mark, at the end of his gospel says we will pick up snakes in our hands and drink deadly poison and it won't hurt us at all" [metaphors for natural calamities and human attacks that can't harm or stop us] When we cry out to God and claim his promise of protection, God hears our prayer, and answers our prayer in accordance with his good, pleasing and perfect will [not in accordance with our will]. When we are living in the centre of God's will, fulfilling the mission he gave us to do, nothing that this world can throw at us will be able to stop us from fulfilling what God has planned for us. In life threatening times, the Holy Spirit will give us the faith to claim this Spiritual Truth as our own personal promise from God, to cry out to God to protect and save us from our enemies. The bible is clear that Christians will still suffer persecution, abuse, trials, physical pain and suffering (certainly Jesus and Paul did many times) but nothing and no one can stop our mission until God has completed everything he has planned for our lives. That is great, good news.
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, one of the best one-volume commentaries on the Old Testament, says about Psalm 118:6, 7, "Men are helpless to hurt him if God is with him (Ps 56:9), and, if enemies, they will be vanquished (Ps 54:7)." Church history tells us of many persecutions against believers so divine protection is not guaranteed here vs. Any abuse. No matter what happens the psalmist believes God is still on His throne. He believes God is with him in it and through it. We should have that same confidence, even when things look bleak! QSB
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