8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent. 
91:8 Though the psalmist would be spared, he witnessed the Lord’s punishment (lit “repayment, retribution”) of the wicked. God executes judgment in proportion to the measure of evil.
91:9 On refuge, see notes at vv. 1, 4. The Hebrew word for dwelling place implies a remote, protected place (71:3; 90:1).
91:8 You will only look with your eyes, and see Indicates the faithful person only needs to look to understand why the wicked die. In Ps 91:16, God will show salvation to the faithful person.
the punishment of the wicked The death and destruction of the other people is attributed to God’s judgment on them.
|91:9–10 These verses offer a strong statement about the absolute nature of God’s protection.|
91:9 your dwelling place The term ma’on (“habitation” or “dwelling place”) suggests continual dependence on God.
91:7, 8 A thousand … ten thousand: Like the Israelites in Egypt who were spared the danger that touched their neighbors (Ex. 9:26; 10:23; 11:7), believers in the Lord are protected from any assault. look … and see: The punishment of the wicked is as sure as the deliverance of the righteous.
91:9, 10 In vv. 14–16, God describes directly the same person addressed by the psalmist in vv. 9–13. This person is the coming One. My refuge is the same word used in v. 2. Dwelling place is the same word used in 90:1. Most High: The psalmist indicates that the coming One’s faith in God is the same as the psalmist’s.
91:7, 8 Safety even in the midst of massacre. Even where there is slaughter on a wholesale basis, the Beloved of the Lord is absolutely safe. When the wicked are punished, He will be a spectator only, free from the possibility of harm.
91:9, 10 Insurance against calamity. Because the Savior made the Most High His refuge and His dwelling place, no disaster would strike Him, no calamity would get near Him.
91:7–8. The parallel numeric poetic construction of a thousand and ten thousand expressed security against outrageous odds: it shall not approach you.
91:9–10. The extent of the security afforded to the individual is rooted in making the Most High his dwelling place. The image of No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent (lit., “dwelling”), is a link back to the Lord’s protection of Israel during the plagues on the Egyptians at Passover (cf. Ex 11:6–12). This verse is not a universal promise of safety for all believers. It might be paraphrased, “No disaster or trouble will come upon a believer except if it is part of God’s loving plan.”
8. “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.” The sight shall reveal both the justice and the mercy of God; in them that perish the severity of God will be manifest, and in the believer’s escape the richness of divine goodness will be apparent. Joshua and Caleb verified this promise. The Puritan preachers during the plague of London must have been much impressed with this verse as they came out of their hiding-places to proclaim mercy and judgment to the dissolute age which was so sorely visited with the pest. The sight of God’s judgments softens the heart, excites a solemn awe, creates gratitude, and so stirs up the deepest kind of adoration. It is such a sight as none of us would wish to see, and yet if we did see it we might thus be lifted up to the very noblest style of manhood. Let us but watch providence, and we shall find ourselves living in a school where examples of the ultimate reward of sin are very plentiful. One case may not be judged alone lest we misjudge, but instances of divine visitation will be plentiful in the memory of any attentive observer of men and things; from all these put together we may fairly draw conclusions, and unless we shut our eyes to that which is self-evident, we shall soon perceive that there is after all a moral ruler over the sons of men, who sooner or later rewards the ungodly with due punishment.
9 Because thou hast made the Lord which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
9, 10. Before expounding these verses I cannot refrain from recording a personal incident illustrating their power to soothe the heart, when they are applied by the Holy Spirit. In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religious. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words:—“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvellous power I adore the Lord my God.
The Psalmist in these verses assures the man who dwells in God that he shall be secure. Though faith claims no merit of its own, yet the Lord rewards it wherever he sees it. He who makes God his refuge shall find him a refuge; he who dwells in God shall find his dwelling protected. We must make the Lord our habitation by choosing him for our trust and rest, and then we shall receive immunity from harm; no evil shall touch us personally, and no stroke of judgment shall assail our household. The dwelling here intended by the original was only a tent, yet the frail covering would prove to be a sufficient shelter from harm of all sorts. It matters little whether our abode be a gipsy’s hut or a monarch’s palace if the soul has made the Most High its habitation. Get into God and you dwell in all good, and ill is banished far away. It is not because we are perfect or highly esteemed among men that we can hope for shelter in the day of evil, but because our refuge is the Eternal God, and our faith has learned to hide beneath his sheltering wing.
“For this no ill thy cause shall daunt,
No scourge thy tabernacle haunt.”
It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward. Ill to him is no ill, but only good in a mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good. Happy is he who is in such a case. He is secure where others are in peril, he lives where others die.
Ver. 8. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.—The reward of the wicked:—
I. There is a difference between the sufferings of the righteous and the wicked. The same external afflictions and trials may befall them; but to the righteous they are educational, to the wicked they are punitive—“the reward,” etc.
II. The Divine rule in this world is righteous. Under it the godly are protected by God, while the wicked are punished.
III. The righteousness of the Divine rule is not always manifest in this world.
IV. The righteousness of the Divine rule will ultimately be clearly manifest to all. The godly with their eyes “shall see the reward of the wicked.” There is a state where all the apparent inequalities of the moral government of our world will be clearly rectified (Isa. 3:11).
V. The weak and fearful believer, notwithstanding his fears, shall not perish with the wicked. “Only with his eyes shall he see the reward of the wicked,” while he himself shall enjoy the glorious inheritance of the good.
Ver. 10. Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.—Immunity from disease:—
That wealthy promise has not become exhausted by the lapse of time. Rather has the promise acquired a new and deeper significance, and it now embraces in its generous charge the interests of the soul. We move amid moral pestilences. Plague-stricken people are all about us—men and women afflicted with moral and spiritual diseases which carry the germs of perilous contagion. How are we to escape them? The Maser went into the very precincts of the plague, and yet was immune in the foul contagion. Disease demands prepared conditions. If the conditions are absent the contagion is impotent. What, then, was our Lord’s condition when he entered into fellowship with men and women who were smitten by the plague of sin? “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” How different it all was in the life of Judas Iscariot! “The devil put it into the heart of Judas!” The germs fell in the prepared conditions; they found a congenial lodgment, and they bore their issues in an evil life.
1. One of the primary pre-disposing conditions of disease is physical exhaustion. The natural forces are reduced. The energy is spent. The army is driven away from the walls, the gates are left undefended, and the enemy has an open way. Our physical defences are found in the natural resistances of the body. Let these be impoverished, and our security is gone. Let me change the analogy. In the life of the body we are only safe when our income exceeds our expenditure. How is it with the soul? The strength of the soul depends upon the quality of its resistances. If the soul is strong and powerful, the Pharisaic germ of hypocrisy or the microbe of actual vice will gain no foothold. But the soul can become faint. Its defences can be straitened, and the stronghold may then be easily taken at the first besiegement of sin. Now, how does a soul become exhausted? We can use our previous figure: the expenditure has exceeded the income. We have broken correspondencies with our resources. We have ignored the land of rest. Men easily capitulate to the evil one when, by neglect of prayer, they have reduced themselves to spiritual exhaustion.
2. Another of the predisposing conditions to disease is bad food. Diet is not altogether a matter of indifference when we are considering the advance of disease. Some foods are the friends of hostile microbes; they are the forerunners of disease; they prepare the way, arranging congenial conditions. How is it with the soul? Is diet of any moment? With what kind of food are we feeding the mind? Is it a food which predisposes the mind to offer hospitality to the foe? How about our reading? Let us subject ourselves to a rigorous self-investigation. Can we honestly expect our minds to be healthy with the kind of food we give them? Thoughts are foodstuff. Where, then, shall we gather them? “He gave them bread from heaven to eat!” The Lord’s bread will make us immune against disease. “This is the bread, of which, if a man eat, he shall not die.”
3. Another predisposing condition to disease is undisciplined emotion. The bacteriologist has told us that excessive grief and fretfulness open the doors to the invading army of disease. It is not so much some commanding emotional passion which exhausts the body; little frets can do it. We can lose a pound quite as effectually by dropping two hundred and forty pennies as by losing a sovereign. The great point to remember is, that all these dispositions lower the strength and quality of our physical defences. How is it with the soul? Undisciplined emotion is a condition against which we must be on our guard. How easily some people can be stirred into violent emotion! Now, all unharnessed emotion impoverishes the spiritual defences. The devil likes nothing better than to get our emotions well stirred, to make us satisfied with these pleasurable feelings, and then behind our satisfaction to carry on his nefarious work. Emotionalism is the forerunner of evil contagion, and provides conditions for the microbe which will end at last in the bondage of an eradical disease. Let me mention one other predisposing condition of moral and spiritual disease.
4. Our bacteriologists tell us that one of the greatest discoveries of the last generation has been the absolute necessity of scrupulous cleanliness in all surgical work. Our doctors are now vigilant to the last degree in closing every door against the entrance of dirt. Operations are performed with sterilized instruments under the most exacting conditions of cleanliness. The smallest remnant of uncleanliness affords a foothold for disease. How is it with the soul? Is there any need of the same scrupulousness? Are we as vigilant in maintaining the purity of our spirits as the surgeon is in maintaining the cleanliness of His work? Do we not rather treat small scruples lightly, and do we not laugh at the morally painstaking, and label them faddy or puritanical? We retain a dirty little prejudice, or some spirit of undue severity, or some little policy which we persuade ourselves cannot be called wrong, but only expedient; and these retained uncleannesses afford the occasion an opportunity to the enemy of our souls; and through the entrance thus obtained he leads all the forces of darkness and the strong black battalions of hell. If we are to defeat him we shall have to attend to the scruple. One grain of dirt can afford sustenance to a host of microbes. Now, let me recall the glorious promise with which I began. “Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” It is possible for us to be in the world and yet not of it, to mix with sinners and yet be separate from them, to be perfectly pure and yet to go and be their minister and guest. Our only security is in God. In Him we have all-sufficient defences. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)
Safety from disease:—
In 1854, when Mr. Spurgeon had scarcely been twelve months in London, there was raging there a fearful epidemic of Asiatic cholera. With all his youthful ardour he plunged at once into the work of relieving the sick and the suffering and the dying, and of burying the dead. Weary and worn with much work, he one day came back from a funeral service feeling as though he himself were a prey to the awful judgment and scourge of God. He was passing along a certain street, and he observed in the window of a shoemaker’s shop a paper wafered to a pane of glass, and on which were inscribed in large characters the 9th and 10th verses of the 91st psalm—“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” Mr. Spurgeon said, “That was God’s message to me. I at once took heart, and from that moment I neither felt any fear of the cholera myself nor did I suffer any harm from repeated ministries upon the sick and the dying.”
7–10. Individual protection. You is emphatic: ‘to you it will not draw near’. This is, of course, a statement of exact, minute providence, not a charm against adversity. The no less sweeping promise of Romans 8:28 (‘… everything … for good with those who love him’) does not exclude ‘nakedness, or peril, or sword’ (8:35); cf. again the paradox of Luke 21:16, 18. What it does assure us is that nothing can touch God’s servant but by God’s leave; equally (8) that no rebel can escape his retribution.
Ver. 8.—Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward (or, “the recompense”) of the wicked; i.e. without suffering anything thyself, thou shalt look on, and see the punishment of the ungodly. So Israel in the land of Goshen “looked on,” and saw the calamities of the Egyptians.
Ver. 9.—Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my Refuge, even the Most High, thy Habitation; literally, for thou, O Lord, art my Refuge; thou hast made the Most High thy Dwelling-place, which can scarcely be made to yield a tolerable sense. It is supposed that a word—אָמַרְתָּ—has dropped out, and that the verse originally ran thus; “Because thou hast said, Jehovah is my Refuge, and hast made the Most High thy Dwelling-place” (comp. vers. 1, 2). The second speaker for a second time addresses the first.
91:8 only observe with your eyes. That is, you will be a spectator, not a victim.
91:9–10 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge.” The Hebrew word ki in verse 9 begins a new section of the psalm (see “Outline/Structure”); the NIV translators did not translate the word, but it should be translated “because” (see ESV, NRSV). The NIV’s “if you say” is not in the Hebrew text but is intended as a connective. The problem in verse 9 is that the subject of the first clause is “you” (the Lord): “Because you, Lord, are my refuge.” Then in the second clause the subject changes to the person the psalmist is addressing, represented by the “you” of verses 3–8. So the NIV has essentially made “you” (the addressee of the psalmist) the subject of both halves of the verse. Thus verses 9 and 10 would read
Because [you say,] You, Lord, are my refuge,
[and because] you have made the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you, nor plague come near your tent. (author’s translation)
This preserves the integrity of the text, making sure the strophe marker ki of the three strophes (vv. 3, 9, and 14) is not lost, and, further, it recognizes that the psalmist is engaged in reassuring his audience of Yahweh’s protection.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked (vv. 7–8). The use of a thousand and ten thousand in parallel phrases is typical of Hebrew poetry (Judg. 20:10; 1 Sam. 18:7; Ps. 144:13). The combined phrase points to a great magnitude without precise definition of the exact number. No matter how many fall to enemy attacks or to disease, yet the speaker assures his listeners that God will keep them safe. They will be spectators of God’s judgments on the wicked, rather than being themselves participants.
If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent (vv. 9–10). These verses form a parallel with verses 1–2, and so form a frame around verses 3–8. The use of ‘dwelling’ (mâʿôn) links up also with the opening verse of Psalm 90. Verse 9 is difficult to translate and interpret mainly because of the shift in persons: ‘you’ (m.s.), ‘my refuge’, ‘you make’ (lit. ‘set’), ‘your dwelling’. The niv rendering follows a long history of English translation, but taking the first phrase in Hebrew as a parenthesis (‘even the Lord, who is my refuge’) forms a very harsh construction. The problem is that the reader expects ‘your refuge’ to correspond to ‘your dwelling’, not ‘my refuge’. Without emending the Hebrew text, which many want to do, the best solution is to begin with a declaration: ‘Indeed, you are my refuge’.7 Probably the reb translation is the best: ‘Surely you are my refuge. You have made the Most High your dwelling place; no disaster will befall you, no calamity touch your home.’ Anyone who could say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ has found a place of safety, and can rest in the thought that nothing happens outside his will. God knows all the circumstances of his children and directs them for their good.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 690). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.