It is written:
Psalm 91:5-6 (NKJV)-You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence (deber) that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction (qeteb) that lays waste at noonday.
Psalm 91:5-6 (The Passion Translation)-You will never worry about an attack of demonic forces at night nor have to fear a spirit of darkness coming against you. 6 Don’t fear a thing! Whether by night or by day, demonic danger (deber) will not trouble you, nor will the powers of evil (qeteb) launched against you….
In Psalm 91:6 of the New King James Version, the Hebrew words deber and qeteb are translated as “pestilence” and “destruction.” Yet in the Passion Translation, these same Hebrew words are translated as “demonic danger” and “powers of evil.”
Why do these translations render these terms in such different ways?
As it turns out, linguists have learned that the words deber and qeteb were actually the names of demonic spirits in the ancient world. Proper names carry meanings. For example, the word “Mark” in Ancient Greek meant “mighty warrior.” It is only through a study of context that a person could understand if an ancient text was trying to say “mighty warrior” or a specific person (i.e., Mark).
In the same way, students of the original languages of the Bible have long pointed out the significance of these words/names.
“Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 summarizes God’s battles on behalf of Israel, and the prophet refers to several rebellious “sons of God.” God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. (Habakkuk 3: 3–5; emphasis added) “Pestilence” (Deber) and “plague” (Resheph) were pagan deities in the days of the prophets. We should therefore assume that the prophets knew about them, too, as they obviously had contact with the people who lived around them. In the passage above, Habakkuk describes Deber and Resheph as subservient to Yahweh. They may even have been prisoners of war from an earlier conflict, as God marched off from Mount Sinai (“ Paran” is an alternate name for “Sinai”) to do battle against the gods of Canaan. Although Deber was a relatively minor character among the pagan gods of the ancient Near East, he is mentioned about fifty times in the Bible. However, his name is usually translated “pestilence” or “plague.” Only scholars who spend their lives studying this kind of thing have noticed it. The most obvious reference to Deber as an entity rather than a natural disaster is the Scripture above, but back in the third millennium BC, Deber was a big deal. At Ebla, an ancient city that was located near modern Aleppo, Deber was called dingir-eb-laki, the “god of Ebla.”[ 60] In other words, a demonic creature named Pestilence was the patron god of the earliest known political power in northern Syria. Why is this relevant? Because Habakkuk named the pestilence-god Deber as a colleague to Resheph, the plague-god, when he told the story of the Exodus and the attack on Canaan. And he described them as either servants or prisoners of Yahweh. How did God convince Pharaoh to let His people go? Yep. Plagues and pestilence. Before the showdown at the Red Sea, which was directed at Baal, the ruler of the Canaanite pantheon,[ 61] God subdued two other West Semitic deities: Deber and Resheph. He either compelled them to do His bidding, or He simply demonstrated that they were powerless to protect the people holding Israel captive. Now, what do we know about Resheph? Even though you may not have heard his name, Resheph was one of the most popular gods in the ancient Near East for about three thousand years. He was a warrior, a divine archer, who spread plague with his arrows. This is a description that fits well with the first rider of Revelation 6, whose bow is a toxon—a bow with poisoned arrows. At the Amorite kingdom of Ugarit, located on the Mediterranean coast of northwest Syria, Resheph served the sun-goddess Shapash as gatekeeper of the underworld. This is why Resheph is identified with the Babylonian god Nergal, who was likewise an archer, a plague-god, and the gatekeeper of the netherworld. As Nergal, the god was considered a fierce and terrible warrior. He was sometimes called Erra, who, in this guise, was an agent of chaos and destruction, responsible for political and social instability. He was a “warrior,” “lord of plague and carnage,” and “lord of affray and slaughter.”[ 62] Based on the great number of copies found by archaeologists, a poem called the “Epic of Erra” must have been one of the most popular pieces of literature in the ancient world, even though it’s not nearly as well known today as the Gilgamesh epic.[ 63] The “Epic of Erra” describes how Erra/ Nergal nearly wiped out humanity with plague after gaining temporary control of the world. The root word behind Resheph’s name appears to mean “flaming,” “burning,” or even “lightning”—possibly a metaphorical reference to the fever that accompanies plague. An intriguing biblical reference to Resheph comes from the Psalms, where God’s punishment of the Egyptians for their treatment of Israel is described. He gave over their cattle to the hail and their flocks to thunderbolts. He let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels. He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague. (Psalm 78: 48–50) “Plague” in verse 50 is actually the pestilence-god Deber, not Resheph. But here’s the interesting part: The “thunderbolts” in verse 48 are connected to Resheph rather than to the storm-god, Baal. Even more interesting, the verse literally reads, “He gave over their cattle to the hail and their flocks to the reshephim”—that is, “to the Reshephs.” Consider this: Since the root word behind the type of angelic beings called seraphim and saraph also means “burning,” thus making the seraphim “burning ones,” is it possible that the reshephim are another class of angel? It’s speculative but not impossible. An inscription from the Phoenician city of Sidon in the fifth century BC names one of the city’s quarters “Land of the Reshephs.”[ 64] The takeaway from Psalm 78 is that the judgments against Egypt were carried out by “a company of destroying angels,” which included Deber, Barad (“ hail”), and Resheph (or the “reshephs”). It would seem, then, that those destroying angels accompanied God when He led Moses and Israel to Canaan—and, in our view, these entities have been allowed to roam the earth in the years since. But the story of Exodus is even more amazing than we’ve been taught. The cult of Resheph extended south into Egypt, probably carried there by the Amorites, who took over Lower (northern) Egypt as the Hyksos kings in the seventeenth century BC, either around the time Joseph was brought there as a slave or shortly thereafter. Egyptians continued to worship Resheph for centuries, past the time of Ramesses the Great, who ruled Egypt about two hundred years after the Exodus.[ 65] A native Egyptian king in the fifteenth century BC adopted Resheph as one of his personal gods and his special protector in battle,[ 66] probably because of Resheph’s warrior aspect as a god of horses and chariots. That king was Amenophis II, also known as Amenhotep II.[ 67] Scholar Douglas Petrovich has made an excellent case that Amenhotep II, devotee of Resheph, was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[ 68] Think about that for a minute: The Pharaoh whose special supernatural protector was the plague-god, a divine warrior who was also a god of horses and chariots, was compelled to release the Israelites because his personal god couldn’t stop the devastating plagues sent by Yahweh—including the final plague that claimed the life of the pharaoh’s first-born son. And then, to top it off, Pharaoh’s elite chariot battalion was destroyed, drowned beneath the waves of the Red Sea.” (Sharon K. Gilbert & Derek P. Gilbert, Giants, Gods, and Dragons: Exposing the Fallen Realm and the Plot to Ignite the Final War of the Ages, 128-131 (Kindle Edition); Defender Publishing)
Notice how these passages demonstrate to us the power of the one true God (Yahweh) over the fallen gods of the world. Indeed, this is a common theme in this Psalm, which was long understood by the Jewish people as being a prayer of protection and victory over demonic powers!
“One specific Qumran text that ties the prevalent Solomonic exorcist tradition back to David is 11QPsa a ( 11Q5 ) : 2 [BLANK] And David, son of Jesse, was wise, and a light like the light of the sun, /and/ learned, 3 [BLANK] and perfect in all his paths before God and men. And 4 [BLANK] YHWH gave him a discerning and enlightened spirit. And he wrote psalms: 5 three thousand six hundred; and songs to be sung before the altar over the perpetual […] 9 And all the songs which he spoke were four hundred and forty-six. And songs 10 to perform over the possessed: four. The total was four thousand and fifty. 11 All these he spoke through (the spirit of) prophecy which had been given to him from before the Most High. ( 11Q5 27.2–5 , 9–11 ) 37 Lines 9–10 assert that David wrote psalms for “the possessed.” The Hebrew behind this translation reads hpgwʿym , a Qal passive participle of the lemma pgʿ (literally, “the assaulted”). This terminology was used in the rabbinic community of Psalm 91, considered “a song for the stricken” and “a song for demons.” Interestingly, a version of Psalm 91 curiously appears among the apocryphal psalms of Cave 11 , a collection of psalms whose “apparent purpose [is] the exorcism of demons.” 38 This is not an arbitrary judgment, for the rabbis considered Psalm 91 to be a “song referring to evil spirits” and a “song for demons.” 39 This should not be a surprise, given our study of the terminology for evil spirits in chapter 1 . The evil spirits deber (“pestilence”) and qeṭeb (“destruction”) are prominent in that psalm.” (Michael S. Heiser, Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness, 3655-3679 (Kindle Edition); Bellingham, WA; Lexham Press)
Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through His Son.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
Thanks so much for this commentary.
Thank you for reading and your kind words. God bless you!