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Why can’t believers ‘decree’ Psalm 91 as protection against coronavirus?

March 22nd, 2020 | 26 Comments | Posted in Decrees/ declarations

Why can’t believers ‘decree’ Psalm 91 as protection against coronavirus (as I stated in my latest blog post)? One of my readers asked this question. Here’s my answer.

Satan’s Misuse of Psalm 91

We can learn something from Jesus’ response to Satan when Satan tempted him to “claim” Psalm 91 by jumping off the temple (Matt. 4:5-6). Jesus didn’t deny that God promised protection. But he did point out that Satan was misusing Scripture by not taking all of it into account (Matt. 4:7). So, we must follow Jesus’ example and not claim isolated passages of Scripture for ourselves without taking into account what the Bible also teaches us in other places.

So, what do we see when we take all of Scripture into account? We see that God often does deliver his people (for example, Daniel in the lion’s den or the Israelites in the parting of the Red Sea). But we also see that bad things, including illness, still happen to his people (for example, the apostle Paul’s illness referenced in Galatians 4:13). Yet none of these bad things are outside of God’s control or purposes (Romans 8:18-39).

Jesus’ Example

Consider Jesus’ own life. He suffered. Yet in John 7:30 we see that, for a certain period of time, evil people were not allowed to lay a hand on him because he was under God’s supernatural protection. But the time did come when they were allowed to arrest and crucify him. Jesus did not want to suffer. Yet he wanted God’s will to be done above his own and was willing to suffer if that was what God willed (Matt. 26:39). God had larger purposes for Jesus’ suffering in mind.

The bottom line is that God is sovereign, and He often does protect his people. Ultimately, of course, he will always protect his people when we are with him in eternity. But even when he doesn’t spare us from present trials, it’s for his bigger purposes.

The Right Way to ‘Pray Psalm 91’

So, what is the takeaway for us? Should Christians “pray Psalm 91”? The answer depends on what you mean by “pray.”

The wrong way to “pray Psalm 91” is to “decree” or “declare” it in a name-it-and-claim-it, magical worldview type of way. To decree Psalm 91 seems like an attempt to manipulate God if someone thinks that, by speaking certain words, they are somehow guaranteed protection by God from troubles in this present life.

The right way to “pray Psalm 91” is to believe the words of the psalm and have a peaceful confidence in God, trusting him to protect us as we go about doing his will. But if we do get sick or experience some other type of trial, we still have peace and trust that he has greater purposes for the trial he has allowed us — in his love and wisdom — to endure.

Protection From God’s Judgments (But Not All Trials)

One more point worth mentioning is that the promises in Psalm 91 appear to be promises for protection of believers from the judgments of God sent against the wicked. The interpretive key seems to be Psalm 91:8. The terrible things mentioned in the psalm, including “plague” and “snakes,” were judgments God specifically sent against his enemies or against unfaithful Israelites (see Ex. 5:3; 9:15; Lev. 26:25; Deut. 32:24). This observation is noted in the ESV Study Bible in the comments on Psalm 91.

So, the promises are not promises that believers will never get sick or be killed. They’re promises that they won’t face God’s wrath. This is an example of how having a good study Bible can be very helpful.

About the author

Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

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26 Responses to “Why can’t believers ‘decree’ Psalm 91 as protection against coronavirus?”

  1. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Dear holly, If one considers that the present pandemic is a divine judgement of wickedness in our world, the it makes perfect biblical to believe in the protection provisions of Ps. 91. Repeating God’s words after does have real power when used in proper context. How about the baptisimal formulation of Matt 28:18-19?

  2. Holly Says:

    Tyrone, how would one know that the present pandemic is divine judgment? Also, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by your reference to Matt. 28:18-19. It says Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I do not see anything about the repetition of God’s words carrying inherent power in them.

  3. Poh Ann Lim Says:

    Holly, I agree with your stand on Psalm 91 that we should not use it like an amulet or formula to protect us from the dreaded virus. https://bit.ly/2UyhqX0

  4. Tom Campbell Says:

    Tyrone: My understanding of divine judgment is that it only takes place in the Tribulation period. Before that, the trials and difficulties people experience should be seen as the result of the Curse as detailed in Genesis 3:17-19. Until God’s wrath is revealed in the Tribulation, the results of the curse are intended to draw people to repentance and faith in Christ.

  5. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Dear Holly, I think that your position of limiting the application of Ps. 91 to a time or incidence of divine wrath is very arbitrary and not at all proven by the text. Many churches within Christendom believe as a matter of faith in the words of institution used by Christ at the Lord’s supper and in baptism as having sacramental power when used as Cbrist intended. I don’t buy into decreeing scriptures to get what we want. That puts us on the throne instead of God.

  6. Tim Says:

    I agree with Holly completely . Rightly dividing the word of Truth and studying the word to be approved and equipped to exercise Gods word in the spirit or intent behind the letter of God’s word .

    The pandemic I see it’s nothing more than the fulfilling of Christ’s prophecy . He said pestilences will appear in the last days .

    This pestilence I have never seen before in my lifetime .

    The world is held in suspense , a quiet plague of sorts freezing life works wide . Clearly God is in it . So we watch as Jesus commanded and pray

    For that great verse if we we humble ourselves and pray , repent God will heal our land .
    But we wait for a greater land in Christ but the unsaved world waits in suspense of a great judgment coming in the near future

  7. Beth Joshua Says:

    Excellent exposition Holly.

  8. Gil Certo Says:

    It’s no surprise that Bethel applies meaning to Psalm 91 that isn’t suggested within the Psalm. Hermeneutics has never been one of their concerns. In her article, Holly points out the fact that scripture is to be studied and examined as a whole, not to “claim isolated passages.”

    This is Bethel’s big mistake. However, is it a mistake? Or is it deliberate on their part in order to try somehow to gain followers, grow powerful, and satisfy the flesh with all of its’ desires?

    Examining scripture requires from us honesty; a willingness to be proven wrong; a desire to conform to God’s revealed will, if we truly love Him. Finally, there will be a strong desire to follow after the Shepard (John 10:4), regardless of its consequences. His will, not our will, will compel us to follow Jesus wherever He goes. If it had been Bethel’s desire to conform to Jesus’ will as revealed in His word, then their organization would have more closely resembled Paul’s model which he passed on to Timothy and to Titus.

    Don’t be fooled by Bethel. Study scripture as a Berean, line by line, chapter by chapter, book by book. Study it in its’ context, as a whole, and read all of the word-New Testament and Old as well. Then, and only then, will you understand God’s word and escape the error of Bethel.

  9. Debby Topliff Says:

    Holly, this assessment of how to use Scripture as Jesus used it resounds with clarity. God’s ultimate promise of protection is from judgment and eternal separation from him, not from trials. As you say, and as we see even in Revelation, trials are meant to bring us to repentance and therefore protection from judgment. I am amazed how quick we are to link catastrophes of any type to the coming apocalypse. Every age is blinded by self-centeredness. I would have voted for Hitler as anti-christ had I been alive back then. I deeply appreciate your thorough searching of God’s Word.

  10. Bob Clarke Says:

    Tyrone: Your comment, “Many churches within Christendom believe as a matter of faith in the words of institution used by Christ at the Lord’s supper and in baptism as having sacramental power when used as Christ intended”, is incredibly vague and illogical. Just because some churches believe something does not mean it has met the requirements and intent of scripture.

  11. Rod Schorr Says:

    Wonderful job, Holly. Truly anointed.


  12. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Dear Bob, The conservative wing of the Lutheran church as well as that of the Anican communion wood take real issue with your statements. In 1Cor10:16-17 Paul taught that the cup that was blessed and the bread that was broken was a sharing or koinonia in the body and blood of Christ. Notice the word “blessed”. That word in the Greek is eulogeo, the same word that translates what Christ did when He blessed the bread and fishes that fed the five thousand in Luke9:16. The word means a blessing that causes to prosper and bestows blessings on. In other words, an effectual blessing with spiritual power behind it. There is nothing vague, magical or illogical about what the scripture teaches a about Christ’s words of institution. We’re getting off topic here, but large camps within the church have always believed these things. Holly knows that I agree with much of what she says about the NAR,but I want people to think a bit more about the issues of her post.

  13. Peter Gomez Says:

    I respect everyone’s opinion but this is just mere words that someone has studied but there is no Power! 2 Tim.3
    But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

    I have EXPERIENCED and ENCOUNTERED THE RESURRECTION POWER OF GOD’S WORD! I know what it is to be in coma for 2 days and because of every Psalms that was read in prayer to my spirit here I am, and I resurrected on the 3rd day Holly. Romans 8:11 is what took place in my life so yes you can believe in the Word and pray in confidence and authority and it will MANIFEST!YES STUDY YOURSELF TO BE APPROVED BUT DON’T DENY IT’S POWER.

  14. John Says:

    Another really useful article. At this point, most biblical Christians know people who decree and declare (rather than pray)and this number is probably going to increase.

    I sent the article to the saints in my church, and see it is on a number of discernment sites.

    God bless you Holly. He is using you, and may you stay a humble and effective servant.

  15. Donald Bate Says:

    Thanks again Holly. I’m reminded of the deception in the teaching that speaking forth scripture attracts God’s blessing: for if that doctrine was true, then God would bless Satan! As Matthew 4:6 proves, the devil is perfectly capable of speaking forth scripture.
    “Ah but..”, the word-of-faith/NAR proponents will say, “..it has to be spoken by believers in faith”. My reply is the book of James, which specifically addresses such flawed thinking. As he says in 2:19, Satan is a believer too. Therefore the teaching that one need only believe, and speak out scripture to have God’s favour, is, quite literally, Satanic.
    The important difference is that TRUE believers consistently do obedient works of love to back up their words, something no devil ever does. Jesus clearly taught (eg Luke 10:25-37) that it is acts (“works”- same thing) of mercy which determine who will be saved and enter the Kingdom, and who will not. The “sheep” and the “goats” (Matt 25:31-46). Importantly then, it’s not just saying Jesus is Lord or speaking out his words, but actually putting His words into practice (Matt 7:21-27). Hence the teaching from NAR churches (and most others too, regrettably) that works are unnecessary for salvation, is a deceptive half-truth. Satan would rather have church-goers believe no works are needed at all.. just speak out scripture in a determined voice (like you have “authority”) and everything will be fine, supposedly with God’s approval. Jesus has final say, not NAR leaders or anyone else.

  16. Debby Topliff Says:

    Holly, your clarity of seeing God’s promises of protection ultimately meaning freedom from judgment and, I would add, the second death, continues to inform my reading of Scripture as a whole–which is how we must consider God’s Word. In my current study of John’s Gospel, this discussion helps me understand the outwardly paradoxical statements of Jesus in chapter 11, especially verses 25-26. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” The story of the raising of Lazarus is a good example of healing in the present and the ultimate resurrection. Jesus is manifesting his power, but the ultimate act of power has not yet come at that point.

    Also, John 5 is a good example of healing in the present that does not lead to repentance and worship, but to betrayal. Contrast the response of the healed invalid in ch 5 with the man born blind in ch 9. John’s gospel is a rich mine of examples of why Jesus did signs and wonders, how the crowds turned on him when they couldn’t make him king, etc. I could go on.

    I was scheduled to teach next week using slides from my paintings of John 1-11. Instead I am making the images into short videos with text and music. As I comb through John’s testimony over and over I am seeing the development of this thought as he moves from the magnificent prologue in chapter 1 to the unspeakable treasure of Holy Week. https://vimeo.com/399205499 This is a link to the first video, chapters 1 and 2, if you want or are allowed to share it.

  17. JG Brooks Says:

    Thank you Holly for this timely post. My heart goes out to so many people who are influenced by New Age teaching both in WOF/NAR churches and in “Progressive” churches who are being taught a variety of prayer methods which promise to deliver spiritual results of some kind or another. There is often an emotional catharsis which happens when people use these methods so they think that they are having a spiritual experience.

    When you wrote above, “The wrong way to “pray Psalm 91” is to “decree” or “declare” it in a name-it-and-claim-it, magical worldview type of way. To decree Psalm 91 seems like an attempt to manipulate God if someone thinks that, by speaking certain words, they are somehow guaranteed protection by God from troubles in this present life.” Your statement here, put me in mind of the very definition of magic and sorcery, which boils down to practicing spiritual methodology to manipulate powers or deities for some kind of spiritual result. For example: -Say certain things in certain ways, often using repetition or “power names”.
    -Eating certain foods or applying substances to the body.
    -Do a certain activity while you are praying, etc.

    We are getting input left and right in popular Christian culture today, encouraging us to resort to exactly this kind of magical thinking. We are being taught pray in ways that get us to focus inward and empty thoughts in order “to hear God’s voice” or to walk labyrinths for effective communion with God. We simply need to pray the way God teaches us to pray in Scripture and believe He is who He says He is and that we are who he says we are—(the good the bad and the ugly!) We and our desires are not the center of the purpose of life—He is! I came across this passage which is repeated a few times in Scripture—it is humbling but also gives a victorious perspective that will not disappoint, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” I need to hold on to this truth.

  18. Gerard Says:

    John 3:36 (KJV)
    “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

    John the Baptist said that and is still true today.
    Psalms 7:11 (KJV) God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

    Psalm 103:1 (KJV) Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
    2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
    3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
    4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
    5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
    6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

    1 Peter 2:24 (KJV) “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

    ..so His stripes are insufficient huh?
    You want to beat yourself up by allowing sickness into your life, (It’s the cross I have to bear!!) knock yourself out! Does God make you sick? If not, where does it come from? There are only two possibilities the Lord IS NOT one of them! You want to keep calling God a liar! Jesus (the same God who is the same yesterday today and forever Heb 13:8) healed ALL that came to Him Matthew 12:15, Matthew 4:24, Matthew 12:22, Matthew 14:14, Matthew 15:30, Matthew 19:2, Matthew 21:14,Mark 1:34, and He still wants to heal today! Get on your knees with your KJV Bible (what else) open to these verses and Mark 16:14-20 and dare to ask the Lord WHAT HE THINKS. Ask Him about what He thinks about what Holly said and every other doubt about healing or anything, write it down, commit it to Him, get into His word and write down the answers you get! And see what happens!

    Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
    Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

  19. Steve Says:

    Perhaps it might help to read Ps. 91 in light of Luke 13:1-5.
    I do not have the fancy words to share. So I’ll point to another post you know: Dr. Heiser. Would Jesus say the Coronavirus is a deserved judgment on wicked people. Covers Luke 13:1-5. At drmsh.com

    We tend to forget in times of need, times of great need, Christians have an opportunity to show the love of Christ. To share, give, comfort and example our loyalty, more God’s loyalty to mankind. Isn’t that what Jesus did? So mankind, all that will, can come home again to the Father. The Great Commission is our job not judgement or condemnation.

    We all die, of this virus or the next, does your faith shaken that you might? It should not.

  20. Skopos Theou Says:

    When Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and assume the angels would uphold Him, the temptation was to act presumptuously. Jesus affirms that by quoting Deut. 6:16 “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” If it is freezing temperature and you fail to wear a coat when you have one on hand, you will catch a cold no matter how many scriptures you quote – you acted presumptuously. If you don’t have a coat but needed to go outside to rescue someone, God will protect you. Israel was commanded to go into the promised land and God promised to protect them. But they did not for fear of the inhabitants. Then they changed their minds but Moses told them not to go. However they presumed on God’s protection and were defeated. So it is with Psalm 91 or any of the promises of God. We need discernment when we are acting on them by faith or by presumption. Don’t go where the virus is present when you don’t have to but if you do have to go, use the protective measures available to you when you do.

  21. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    I agree with Theou about not being presumptuous in using Psalm 91 in putting the Lord to the test. This is exactly what satan did in quoting verses in the psalm as a pretext for Jesus into jump off the pinnacle of the temple to prove the power of God. Such a display would have been outside of the Father’s will and probably would have landed Jesus flat on the pavement.Psalm 91 cannot be used to take presumptuous risks and disregard common sense health safety in dealing with the Corona virus.Believers are not immune to sickness and Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus(2Tim4:20).Paul who moved on signs and wonders could not heal him at that time.Psalm 91 is for today and can provide encouragement and hope in the face of a pandemic.It cannot be used as an incantation to provide immunity to a virus.

  22. Gerard Says:

    Scripture out of context is a pretext!
    Timothy 4:20 Context

    17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
    18 And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
    So here we have (in context) a really powerful testimony from the apostle Paul and the deliverance of the Lord:
    1) the Lord stood with me
    2) and strengthened me
    3) that by me the preaching might be fully known
    4) and that all the Gentiles might hear
    5) and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
    6) 18 And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work,
    7) and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom:
    8) to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

    The Holy Spirit gives us 8 reasons to focus in on the victory we have in Christ… and people zero in on Verse 20?

    Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.
    Unbelievable unbelief!
    Why was Trophimas sick? Was it unbelief in his life? Possibly!
    Was it because he had tried to keep up with Paul or hadn’t eaten or slept properly and burnt himself out? Maybe!
    How about; he had unconfessed sin and the Lord was allowing Satan to take him ‘to the woodshed’? 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Timothy 5:15, 2 Corinthians 2:11 (Maybe Satan got an advantage over him?), 1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

    Jesus defeated the Devil’s ‘scripture’ (pretext) with scripture (all in context)!
    Don’t let the Devil outdo you (defraud you)!
    Stand up, be Berean (Acts 17:11) and FIGHT back!

    FIRST: Put on all the defensive Armour:
    Ephesians 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
    11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
    12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
    13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
    14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
    15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

    SECOND:Use the sword the Lord has given you and ATTACK! We are in a battle for peoples’ eternal Souls!
    Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

  23. Rusty Says:

    @Gerard, we are not commanded to attack the enemy but rather to stand our ground. Eph. 6:11-14a (ESV):

    “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to *STAND* against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to *WITHSTAND* in the evil day, and having done all, to *STAND* firm. *STAND* therefore …”

  24. JoDee Reeves Says:

    In response to the post of Donald Bate, I disagree with his statement, “The teaching that one need only believe and speak out scripture to have God’s favor, is quite literally Satanic.” I take offense to that way of thinking, sir, because God says in His Word that “He exalts His Word even above His name.” In the Old Testament, it says, Put me in remembrance of my Word. It also says “He watches over His Word to perform it.”So, as a Christian, I do that by praying His Word… and yes indeed, I have seen His favor in my life for well over 39 years, and not only in my life but in the lives of my children when I pray scripture for them.
    I am not a WOF or NAR follower. I hate what they are doing in the churches to deceive people and lead them astray. But somewhere in Matthew, it says “The Kingdom of God suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.” I agree with both Rusty and Gerard. WE have to put on the whole armor of God. WE have to stand against the wiles of the devil. WE have to withstand the habit of sitting back and letting others take away our freedoms. WE have to be proactive in making decisions about our own health. Christians are far too apathetic and casual about what has resulted from this “epidemic”, which is not any worse of an epidemic than the flu is or the H1N1 virus was or the SARS virus was. Jesus said He gave us all things that pertain to LIFE and GODLINESS. He said that in His name we would drive out demons and we would lay hands on the sick and they will recover. He said If He is for us, who can be against us? Those words to me are authoritative and there is nothing wrong with us knowing who we are in Christ and living a victorious life. He promised us that He came to give us LIFE and LIFE more ABUNDANTLY.

  25. Timothy I Scarbrough Says:

    I wrote a blog on this topic, which deals primarily with the whole “I decree” topic.


  26. Debby Topliff Says:

    I totally agree with Timothy. In terms of the NAR heresy, I’m beginning to see that many in the church have abandoned the hard sayings (core sayings) of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and instead turn their allegiance to a spirit they confuse with Jesus’ Spirit. A former Facebook friend recently posted her interpretation of 666 in Revelation 13 to mean don’t wear a mask.

    As for Psalm 91, here is my paraphrase: I’ve noticed many religious people use the promises in Psalm 91 that God will protect his people from pestilence as justification for large gatherings and not wearing masks. But look at how Jesus himself handled that portion of Scriputre: Matthew 4:5-7
    [5] Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. [6] “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” [7] Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

    I would paraphrase:
    [5] Then the devil took him to church and had him stand in the midst of a large crowd. [6] “If you belong to God,” he said, “take off your mask, mingle and sing. For it is written: ” ‘He will protect you from any pestilence.’ ” [7] Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “

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