February 18, 2010

Feb. 18: The Lenten ‘Rule of Eight’ (corrected version)


By Jim Brenneman, president
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

Editor’s note: Apologies for when this was first posted there was an additional paragraph included in error. It has been corrected.


The Lenten season is that period in the church year when we symbolically walk the last mile with Christ to his execution on the cross. It is a 40-day affair. Indeed, it parallels the first 40 days of Jesus’ ministry, as well, when he fasted and prayed in the desert only to be sorely tempted by the devil to throw in the towel, to quit, to stop before he even got started. Truth be told, all of us can identify with some of Christ’s agonies and temptations. We know what it’s like to walk through valleys of death, disappointment, discouragement and destruction. We know the temptation to give in and give up. In Psalm 91, the Psalmist relates. He writes (v. 3-7) of night terrors, traps being set, deadly pestilence, a murderous barrage of arrows, calamities striking like earthquakes at midday, tens of thousands dying all around.

The Psalmist couches his list of agonies within hopeful first lines (v. 1-2) and a closing oracle of assurance (v. 14-16), as if to say, our fears are not the alpha and omega of our lives. Whatever terrors we may encounter, the Psalmist contains them by his rule of eight. At the outset four metaphors of protection under the auspices of four divine names provide eight layers of protection: the shelter, the shadow, the fortress and refuge of the Most High, the Almighty, Lord, and God. If that’s not enough, the Psalmist binds our fears from behind with an eightfold blessing (v. 14-16): I will deliver, I will protect, I will answer, I will be with, I will rescue, I will honor, I will satisfy, I will show them my salvation!

We know that sometimes we will be tempted to use this rule of eight as a form of magic protection slung around our necks as an amulet against evil, just as Jesus was wont to do when the devil came to him in the desert. Like him, however, we say no, to such formulaic use. With Christ, and the Psalmist’s rule of 8, we instead know the intimacy of God with us, we know the power of overcoming of our fears and we will experience protection against ultimate calamity. Christ’s resurrection at the end of his Lenten experiences invites us to let go of our fears whatever they may be and hold on to the promise of God’s salvation.


SCRIPTURE: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 (NRSV)

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,*
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honour them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.



Comments (11)

  1. This is an excellent devotion that brings out a very interesting pattern or “rule of eights”. I had not seen this before in Psalm 91. The only negative comment I have is that the last paragraph in teh commentary belongs with Christmas not Easter or Lent.

    Jenny Vander Haeghen February 18, 2010 |
  2. I also appreciated the devotional. The last paragraph does not belong with this devotional.

    Pat Gerber-Pauls February 18, 2010 |
  3. The error in the original publishing of this devotional by President Brenneman was an error on the part of the editors here, not the president’s. Our apologies for the confusion and thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Devotions admin February 18, 2010 |
  4. Thank you for your devotion. I resonanted with the line about fears not being the alpha and omega of our lives. I work in a nursing home and sometimes fears do have the upper hand. What an honor to share the Living Word from a loving and living God who says “I will be with you in times of trouble…” Praise be to God. Amen.

    Vicki Marthaler February 18, 2010 |
  5. This is not a comment but a request. Is there a place to click and then print out a devotion? I want to send one printed copy to my friend, and don’t see where that is possible with the screen setup now of these messages of devotion.
    Thank you.

    wandalee February 18, 2010 |
  6. Wandalee, You should have the option at the bottom of the devotion and Scripture to “Print this article.” Let us know if you need anything else.


    Devotions admin February 18, 2010 |
  7. Jim, thanks for this message that we all need to hear. Blessings to you and your family.

    Bryan Hollon February 19, 2010 |
  8. Good Morning!
    As I practiced Lectio Divina with this verse, the words that stood out for me were, “refuge” adn “dwelling place”. I really felt the love and fierce protection that dwelling in the shadow of the Lord provides. I felt I could lay down all my burdens, cares, defenses. However I felt I needed to take responsibilty as well; for actively seeking the Lord, fro desiring to dwell within the Lords’ protective shadow.

    Beth February 20, 2010 |
  9. What a comforting Psalm! Three days ago I learned that cancer has returned to my body. This is just what I need! I, too, will print it!

    Mary February 22, 2010 |
  10. This text was in our children’s curriculum last fall, and I was frustrated trying to teach it to 5th graders. How helpful to see this Psalm as a frame providing containment for our fears rather than a series of magical assurances proved false by life. I really like the line, “…our fears are not the alpha and omega of our lives.”

    Jennifer Schrock February 23, 2010 |
  11. Thank you, Jim. A single blessing from the LORD is undeserved love, and an eightfold blessing is wonderfully overwhelming!

    Gregg Thaller February 24, 2010 |