During our childhood, we recited Psalm 91 as part of the evening Family Prayer (Click Here to Read More about it). In those days I never realised the meaning of the words we recited and did not visualise that it would come handy in the future. During my first stint in the Kashmir Border, sleeping alone in my bunker, the very same words would ring in my ears. These words I realised helped me tide over the difficulties and uncertainties that lie ahead for any soldier in high-altitude terrain, mostly snow covered icy heights, prone to avalanches and blizzards and bone chilling cold. Hence I decided to recite Psalm 91 every evening, (in Malayalam, the language in which my father taught me the Psalm), before I retired to bed. Psalm 91 has for ever been one of my inspirations and a prayer.
There is a ‘story’ in circulation by the modern evangelists that during World War I, 91 Infantry Brigade of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was preparing to enter combat in Europe. Because their commander was a devout Christian, he assembled his men and gave each of them a little card on which was printed the Psalm 91, the same number Psalm as their brigade. They agreed to recite that Psalm daily. After they had begun praying the Psalm, 91 Brigade was engaged in three of the bloodiest battles of World War I – Chateau Thierry, Belle Wood and the Argonne. Other American units that fought in the same battles had up to 90 percent casualties, but 91 Brigade did not suffer a single combat-related casualty.
The truth about this ‘story’ of 91 Infantry Brigade and the Psalm 91 has been cleared By Mary Jane Holt in an article ‘The truth about the 91st Psalm’. The article refers to a communication the author received from Mike Hanlon, Research Editor of Relevance, the Quarterly Journal of The Great War Society: “There was no 91 Brigade with the AEF in World War I. The Brigades’ highest number was 84.” This story appears to have been churned out by an evangelist with a view to cash in on the sympathy the soldiers world over enjoy.
The Bible historians believe that Psalm 91 might have been written by Moses, even though most Psalms have been authored by King David. Moses would have written it to inspire the enslaved Israelite soldiers to fight against their Egyptian masters. Hence, Psalm 91 is known as the Soldiers’ Psalm and is also referred to as the Psalm of Protection.
There are many testimonies of NATO soldiers keeping a card size print of Psalm 91 in their pockets and also reciting it during their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Psalm as it is, would be applicable to all soldiers irrespective of their faith or religion.
The Psalm begins by stating that there is no need to fear because of who He is. Then is a more personal relationship to God as the Almighty is referred to as ‘My refuge, My fortress, My God in whom I trust’. Thus the personal relationship we have with our God enables us not to fear at all. It follows with an affirmation that He will come to your rescue in case of any difficulties and that He will protect you as He would cover you under His wings like a mother bird.
Then is the declaration of guarantee by God that He will protect you from all that a soldier may confront in a battlefield like ‘the terror of night’, ‘arrow that flies by day’, ‘the pestilence that stalks in the darkness’, and ‘the plague that destroys at midday’. He also provides you the protection while you rest that no disaster would come near your tent. The God vows to protect the soldier even though thousands may fall on either side. God has commanded the angels to guard you so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
The Psalm further says that you will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. This act can only be done by a soldier in a battlefield and the soldier has to move ahead facing the enemy’s bullets and nothing can stop him from carrying out his divine duty. For God’s sake, don’t even let the thought about these actions come to anyone else’s mind or even in the mind of a soldier in peacetime, as the wild life protection laws of no nation will ever spare you and please do not expect God to come to your rescue.
The Psalm concludes with a God’s promise to a soldier ‘He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him. With a long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold My salvation.’
In Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight by saying “O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination.” Here again the Lord guarantees a soldier the grand honour of the right to heaven.