Be gracious to me, O God,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me. (Ps. 57:1-2)
What a comforting passage for the children of the Most High! Is the heat of trials in your life hot right now? If not, it will be sometime. Like David, you can take refuge in the shadow of God’s wing.
Being spirit, God casts no shadow. Nor does He have wings. So in what way could David claim to be in the shadow of God’s wings?
What is a shadow?
A shadow is a darkened surface area produced by the interposition of an object between the surface and rays of light directed at that surface. While there are several Hebrew words for “shadow,” the Hebrew word used in almost all of the verses in this discussion is the same, tsel. It may be used literally or metaphorically.
Shadows cast their figurative shadows throughout the English language. A disciple may shadow his teacher. We may believe something without a shadow of a doubt. “Our days on earth are like a shadow” (Job 8:9). Women apply eyeshadow over rather than under the eyes–go figure.
Shadows forewarn, as in the looming “shadow of war,” or “a shadow lay over his life,” or “the shadow of death” (Ps 107:10). They also foretell of coming blessings. For example, the rituals that God gave to Israel “are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:17).
God’s shadow shelters.
David wrote Psalm 57 while hiding from Saul’s army in the cave of Adullam. While hiding was a prudent act, David acknowledged that his own effort was no guarantee of safety. He credits God, not the cave, with his safety “until destruction passes by,” until Saul and his huntsmen leave the vicinity without discovering him. As Spurgeon observed, to David the impregnable rock of the cave was no refuge like that under the wing of the Most High.
Since birds rarely extend wings fully unless in flight, the shadow of wings may imply a bird in the sky. Even if not, the wing must be above to cast a shadow from the sun. David attributes the wing to God Most High. The title “Most High” (‘elyown) indicates God’s exalted rule over all creation and all rulers. No other has higher authority. In Psalm 91, the sheltering shadow is attributed to the Almighty who exercises absolute supremacy over all powers. No other has greater power. If this One on high spreads His wing over you, none can push it away, pierce through it, or sneak under it without His permission.
So also we need to not presume upon God’s protection but take prudent precautions just as God’s wisdom teaches (Prov. 22:3), and He may incorporate our prudence as part of His means of protecting us. However, we need also to remember that God is sovereign and may override those precautions to achieve His greater good. In any case, God is good, is sovereignly involved through providence, and is trustworthy. We must depend upon Him and not ourselves.
Who can shelter under His wing?
David found protection under God, but not everyone does. Unbelievers prefer to build their own shelters, like religion, good works, positive thinking, rationalism, medicine (prescribed, over-the-counter, illicit, alcohol, health food) and experiences (feelings, impressions, what worked for me was…). Some base their whole world view on science, and if it cannot be proven by science they discount an idea to the point of not even considering it. None of those shelters solve problems in living or save from sin’s penalty. Those not under His wing remain without refuge from the trials of life or consequences from sins and, ultimately, stand exposed in direct line of fire of the full heat of God’s eternal wrath against men for sins.
God sheltered David because he humbled himself to trust God by faith. David demonstrated his faith while being literally hunted by a hit squad. Even when capture seemed imminent, he committed to “take refuge” in God, to trust God rather than his own measures for safety.
Continuing in Psalm 57, David said that “God will send forth His lovingkindness and truth” to save David from death (57:3, emphasis added). Centuries later, God sent forth Jesus, full of grace and truth, to save sinners from eternal death (John 1:14). Israel, His people to whom He first spoke, should have followed David’s example. Instead, they rejected Him. At one point Jesus responded,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”
Like David, Jesus employed a bird wing metaphor, except that His portrayed a mothering hen rather than a mighty eagle on the wing. Both image shelter, but the hen infers tender, nurturing compassion. Jesus lovingly offered salvation, but only those who trust in Jesus to pay for their sins are covered, and they take refuge in Him only by God’s grace through faith, like David did (57:1).
For the believer submitted to the lordship of Christ and facing oppression, trials, hardships, grief and difficulties of any kind, the beautiful imagery of the shadow of God’s wings can comfort and encourage. How so? The answer is slated for next post.