This post builds upon the previous, “In the Shadow of His Wings: Who is Sheltered There?” which introduced David’s metaphor, “in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge” (Ps. 57:1-2). David viewed God as a shelter from trouble. For whom? For those who take refuge in Him. In other words, God is not obligated to protect those who do not trust in Him, nor is it logical that they would expect it since they do not place themselves under His protection in submission to Him. The post ended with the question, how does the beautiful imagery of the shadow of God’s wings comfort and encourage a believer (one who takes refuge in God) in the midst of hardships, grief, and oppression? This post will begin the answer.
The imagery of sheltering under God’s wing seems to me to have been a Davidic family heirloom. The only person I could find not in the Davidic line who used wings as a sheltering imagery was Moses, who perhaps gained the idea from seeing the wings of the cherubim over the mercy seat. David’s great-great grandfather Boaz used the expression to describe the radical conversion of the impoverished, widowed Ruth. Seeing that she turned from her Moabite god to the true and living God, Boaz prayed that she would be rewarded by “the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge” (Ruth 2:12, emphasis added). Several generations later, Boaz’s descendant, David, used the metaphor in several psalms. Many generations further, Jesus the Son of David employed it to express His desire to care for His people “just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34, emphasis added).
David’s writings show strong evidence of the influence of Deuteronomy. So perhaps he, or Boaz before him, took the wing imagery from the song of Moses where Moses says of the people of Israel,
He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions. (Deut. 32:10-11)
In all cases, whether the imagery depicts a mothering hen or a bird on the wing, whether speaking of salvation or ongoing relationship, a position under God’s wing is a way of describing right relationship to God which places the person in a sphere of God’s special care and blessings.
Under God’s wing there is redemption. This is what makes all the other benefits possible. It is how one gains the shelter of God’s wing. Redemption puts a person in right relationship to God and provides refuge from eternal punishment for sins. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Christ shades the soul from God’s scorching wrath. Those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ alone have been redeemed (ransomed from slavery to sin). Sins forgiven, they are reconciled to God and clothed in the protective righteousness of Christ. In Christ, they are blessed with all spiritual blessings under His special care (Col. 1:13-14, 21-22; Eph. 1).
Salvation is only by God’s grace. Turning from self, the repentant person claims no merit of his own. For example, Ruth came to God with no merit. She was not Israelite and had no acceptable religion, no acceptable family, no husband to provide and protect, with only a widowed mother-in-law as helplessly impoverished as herself. She was an unknown alien in the land with no money. She was totally dependent on His merciful grace.
David provides another example. By the time of Psalm 57, David had sinned by lying to the high priest, Ahimelech. Having broken the Law, he had no right to plead for protection. So he appealed to God’s mercy: “Be gracious to me, O God…in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge” (57:1). So also, sinners are saved only by God’s merciful grace. Redemption is all God’s work.
Under God’s wing is a sphere of grace. Saved by grace, believers are also positioned permanently in grace. The grace of Christ refreshes, comforts, and strengthens. Those in Christ can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace…to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Tit. 3:5-7; Rom. 5:1-2; Heb. 4:16).
Under God’s wing there is intimacy with the loving God. In Psalm 61:4 David wrote,
Let me dwell in Your tent forever;
Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.
God’s tent/tabernacle was the place of sacrifices and worship, so it was a place to meet with God in intimate fellowship. David loved to behold God’s beauty in the tabernacle and find spiritual safety there. He correlated refuge under God’s wing to dwelling with God.
The imagery of God spreading His wings over someone implies placing that person into intimate, caring fellowship within His tender, protective love. While the Most High is transcendent, He is not an impersonal observer. God is intimately involved in the life of the one under His wing, sending forth His lovingkindness and truth to that one (57:2, 3). God’s Word is truth, so in it we hear Him speak to us; in prayer we speak to Him. There is a close tender care and intimate communion.
Under God’s wing there is refuge. In Psalm 17:8, David prayed,
Keep me as the apple of the eye;
Hide me in the shadow of Your wings.
What we call the apple of the eye is, in Hebrew, the pupil of the eye. The pupil is one of the parts of our bodies that we most protect. The Hebrew parallelism compares “pupil of the eye” to “shadow of Your wings.” In other words, God is intensely protective of those who take refuge in the shadow of His wings. For example,
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…
…He will cover you with His pinions [outer feathers, used for soaring],
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (Ps 91:1, 4)
Direct sunlight in a desert like where David often roamed can be dangerous. In a shadow, the heat may still be strong, but is more endurable. So also God’s wing shields His own from the worst of the burning heat of trials. This does not mean that no trials occur. David endured a lifetime of trials, many of them extreme. But taking refuge under God’s wing, he was often saved from harm and was comforted by God’s intensely watchful, protective presence. He was sustained and found joy.
The blessings of taking refuge in the shadow of His wings will be continued in the next post.