Meaning of “Terror by Night” and “Arrow by Day” in Psalm 91:5

Image of a man standing on a cliff overlooking the sea
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; (Psalm 91:5, KJV)

Fear is a universal emotion that can have a significant impact on our lives. It can erode our faith, love, and trust in others, and can even damage our self-esteem. Psalm 91:5 offers a message of hope and comfort to those who feel afraid, reminding us that we don’t have to be afraid of the “terror by night” or the “arrow that flies by day.” 

In this article, we will examine the meaning and significance of Psalm 91:5, exploring how it can provide encouragement and comfort in the face of fear. We will also consider how we can apply this psalm to our own lives, finding strength and protection in the midst of uncertainty.

Psalm 91:5 mentions two potential threats that a person who trusts in God does not need to fear. These are the “terror of the night” and the “arrow that flies by day.” 

Now let’s consider the significance of each of these threats.

You Shall Not Be Afraid Not Afraid of Terror by Night

Psalm 91:5 was written during a time of great hostility, as evidenced by the preceding verses. The psalmist’s days were filled with war and his nights were filled with fear. 

The Hebrew word translated “terror” is pachad, which refers to an overwhelming fear that paralyzes a person to the point of impairing speech. Pachad is dreadful fear that grips a person with an intensity that leaves him or her speechless.

This is an intriguing discovery because nights are supposed to be restful and relaxing. However, the Bible and our human experiences show that nights can also be a time of dread and fear. Isaiah, the prophet, captures it this way:

My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me (Isaiah 21:4 KJV)

This statement by prophet Isaiah rings true of our lives. Many of our nights have been turned into fear.

In the ancient Near East, the night was associated with evil and danger. The book of Job records that thieves, murderers, and immoral people preferred to operate at night:

When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up, kills the poor and needy, and in the night steals forth like a thief. The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed. In the dark, thieves break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light (Job 24:14-16 NIV). (See alsoJeremiah 49:9 and Obadiah 1:5).

The “terror of the night” was also linked to demonic activity. 

In his book A Handbook of Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Near East, author Douglas R. Frayne writes: 

“The “terror of the night” (is) a demon whose name occurs once in the Hebrew Bible.” And this single occurrence of this name is only found in Psalm 91.”

Douglas R. Frayne

Gerrit C. Vreugdenhil is in agreement with this view that Psalm 91 has historically been associated with the demonic threat. In his book Psalm 91 and Demonic Menace he writes:

“The Jewish Talmud often calls Psalm 91 a ‘song for the possessed.’ The reciting of the psalm is recommended to ward off demons, who we are told are responsible for sickness and evil. Psalm 91 enjoyed great popularity as an anti-demonic psalm, especially as a text to recite at bedtime.” 

Gerrit C. Vreugdenhil

Marvin E. Tate in his Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 20 (Psalm 51-100, 455) agrees that demonic presence and possession were common in biblical times:

“There is no reason to doubt that the content of the psalm reflects a thought world in which the presence of demons, demonical possession, and malignant spirits and powers was considered  commonplace. The text of psalm reflects a sense of synergistic inner connection between the ordinary life and the sinister powers of the occult.

Marvin E. Tate

These views of demonic presence ruling the night are further affirmed rabbinical interpretation. According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jewish rabbis interpreted both the “walking” pestilence and the “terror of the night” as metaphors for demonic activities that haunted the night (see Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol.5, p. 1523).

The “walking” pestilence or plague was a metaphor of demonic activities. This is most likely because the plague fever grew stronger and spread faster at night.

It is clear from the foregoing that most people in ancient Mesopotamia believed that the nights were ruled by demons. This belief probably explains why battles in the ancient Near East rarely occurred at night. The armies rarely went to war at night because they feared the presence of evil spirits. Night times were fearful times.

Though it is not entirely true that people in ancient times never went to war at night. Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Moab seems to allude to nocturnal raids:

A prophecy against Moab: Ar in Moab is ruined, destroyed in a night! Kir in Moab is ruined, destroyed in a night! (Isaiah 15:1).

Thus, night attacks and battles cannot be entirely ruled out.

The night time was a fearful time for the ancient because of the presence of demons and the attacks of the invading armies. It is because of these inherent dangers that the ancients always kept weapons in their homes. King Solomon writes:

They all hold swords, being expert in war. Every man has his sword on his thigh because of fear in the night (Song of Solomon 3:8 NKJV).

In the New Testament, Christ uses the “night” or darkness as a metaphor for the final judgment of lost or unrepentant sinners. For example, He describes the fate of the unbelieving sons of the kingdom this way:

“But the sons of the kingdom will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12, KJV). 

Here, the night or darkness is compared to the final judgment that will take place at the end of time.

Apostle Paul also affirms the view that there is the existence of a dark world beyond the physical one we can see. According to Paul in Ephesians 6:12, this dark world is ruled by nefarious forces he refers to as “the rulers of darkness” in Ephesians 6:12:

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. (Ephesians 6:12, KJV)

We battle the principalities and powers of darkness through God’s grace and power. The blood’s power is ultimately what defeats the forces of darkness.

What exactly does “terror of the night” mean in Psalm 91:5? From the foregoing, “the terror of the night” referred to two things: the appearance of demons or evil forces at night, and the fever caused by plagues that grew stronger at night.

The word of God through the psalmist is, “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night.” In other words, those who abide in the shadow of the Almighty should not be afraid. They should not live in fear of the power of evil forces.

The Arrow That Flies by Day

The mere mention of the term “arrow” conjures up images of battle or open war. 

In ancient times, most armies on the battlefield lacked sophisticated artillery. The arrow was the main weapon of warfare and was widely used by armies to eliminate rival armies. Most of the battles would take place during the day and the warriors would fight under a hail of arrows. Thus, the warring clans and nations made significant investments in arrows. As a result, for many ancients, the arrow came to represent war and strife.

What exactly does “arrow that flies by day” mean in Psalm 91:5? The arrow that flies by day represents war, strife, and death.

The psalmist’s message through the arrow imagery is that God will protect those who trust Him from daylight threats. It was the most effective way of conveying God’s faithfulness in protecting His people.

The psalmist used imagery and metaphors that his intended audience would be able to relate to easily. The Oxford Bible Commentary comments on why the writer communicated in these metaphors:

“The assurance of divine protection is repeated and amplified in a series of poetic images, which are drawn from the Canaanite world of nature and warfare.”

Thus, the expressions “the terror of the night” and “the arrow that flies by day” are figurative expressions.

The ESV Reformation Bible Study comments concurs with this view, stating that:

“…the literal setting of battle can be taken figuratively for the struggles of life.” 

ESV Reformation Bible Study

It follows then that “the terror of the night” and “the arrow that flies by day” represent the daily struggles that rob us of our peace, whether at night or during the day. 

In his Life Principles Bible Notes, Charles F. Stanley echoes the preceding sentiments, writing: 

“Sometimes it may feel as if our nights are filled with terror and that we do have figurative arrows flying at us by day. Yet when we find our security in the Lord, they do not have to terrify or intimidate us; He is our safety, and in Him we find rest.”

Life Principles Bible Notes, Charles F. Stanley

The Message of Psalm 91:5

Psalm 91:5 makes a dual promise: it promises protection from both the fear of danger and the danger itself. It serves as a reminder that God protects us not only from night-time terrors, but also from daytime perils.

Psalm 91:5 does not promise that God will remove threats and dangers from our path. Absolutely not; there will always be some threat. Instead of promising immunity from harm, Psalm 91:5 exhorts us to act with bravery and confidence in God’s protection. The emphasis of Psalm 91 is on the believer’s attitude now that he or she is assured of God’s protection. God wants us to be courageous and victorious in our fight against evil because He is on our side.

Trust in God gives us the bravery to face our fears head-on. We gain the strength and calmness to face any threat with confidence when we spend time communing with God.

You are not afraid of the terrors of the night or the arrow that flies by day because God has promised to cover you with His wings (Psalm 91:4).

Karl Barth, a prominent theologian, commented on Psalm 91:5 in his Church Dogmatics, saying:

“This verse, which is the climax of the psalm, is so full of assurance that it is almost shameless. But it is shameless because it is true. The Lord will be the guard and the shield of all who trust in him, and they will be safe from all enemies and all dangers, even though the whole world should rise up against them.”

Church Dogmatics, p. 140 (Barth, 1953)

In summary, the message of Psalm 91:5 is: 

  • Do not fear the devil and his minions both night and day. 
  • Do not fear men or their words, no matter how piercing. 
  • Do not be afraid of gossip or hurtful talk; instead, stand firm in your faith.
  • Rely on God to protect you from both overt and covert threats


We live in a sinful world in which there is never a safe time. We are vulnerable at all times, whether it is day or night. The fear of intruders, thieves, storms, or the supernatural can keep us awake at night, even when we’re safe inside our own homes, lights on and locks securely fastened.. 

In his Life Principles Bible Notes, Charles F. Stanley commenting on Psalm 91:5 writes: 

“Sometimes it may feel as if our nights are filled with terror and that we do have figurative arrows flying at us by day. Yet when we find our security in the Lord, they do not have to terrify or intimidate us; He is our safety, and in Him we find rest.”

Psalm 91:5 gives us hope and comfort by reminding us that God is our refuge and protection. No matter what threats or dangers we may face, we can trust that God is with us and will cover us. This will bring us peace and assurance in the midst of uncertainty and fear.

Final Appeal

God desires that we approach Him in love, not fear, for:

 “...there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, KJ21). 

The good news is that the Psalmist invites us to make God our refuge from the terrors of the night and the arrow that flies by day. This is the key to living a fearless life.

Bible Verses to Help You Face Terror by Night and the Arrow by Day

From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. (Psalm 3:8 NIV)
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me (Psalm 3:5 KJV).
Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken (Proverbs 3:23-25 KJV).
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 KJV) 

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