“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
“You’ve got cancer!” Wow, did I just get sucker-punched! The doctor was a nice guy, but the news just came across as callous to my ears. It got weird when he asked if I felt tired lately. My labs showed that I was in a state of chronic anemia. Still dazed, I could not tell him that I had just returned from the Gettysburg area filming the battle scene associated with the movie project I was working on at the time. Who wouldn’t be tired?
I portrayed a surgeon treating the wounded through the battle sequence while also directing the filming process. Surely the doctor must have gotten my lab results mixed up with someone else’s. This just could not be happening to me. Cancer!?
Life is full of the unexpected.
Life is full of the unexpected. We are either in one, coming out of one, or going into one distress after another. In my situation, family and friends were incredibly supportive, showing much love and support. However, the whole experience for me was a lesson from the Lord that my true source of comfort and refuge was to be found under the shadow of God’s wings.
The Bible uses many figurative phrases to convey a special emphasis in a message. Like the metaphor, when Jesus warned to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6), or like the hyperbole when Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” And, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (5:29, 30). There are many others, like similes; idioms; parables; and even proverbs, all designed to enhance understanding of the message.
A figure of speech that Israel was encouraged to daily seek was to be found in the often-repeated image “shadow of God’s wings.” It was the place of safety and comfort. This is demonstrated in a few scriptural medleys: “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore, the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures” (Psalm 36:7–8). “I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (61:4). “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (17:8).
We cannot rest in God until we nest in God.
I read once that the concept associated with seeking to abide in the tabernacle of God’s care is related to what Jesus said in John 15:4: “Abide in Me.” I understood it to mean to live continually in fellowship, communion, and obedience. It was the well-beloved American preacher, Vance Havner (1901—1986), who once commented, “‘He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty’ (Ps. 91:1). We cannot rest in God until we nest in God. To nest is to settle, to abide.”1
Devotionally, it was Psalm 91 that served as a personal source of great comfort. Reading and meditating on the safety of abiding in God’s shadow, I came to appreciate three precious assurances in facing difficult times.
“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name” (Psalm 91:14).
No matter what happens, we need not be afraid.
God protects us. It’s what gave hope and comfort to the Jewish people in Scripture. This is not to say we never will have sickness or problems. The focus is that no matter what happens, we need not be afraid. As the popular axiom states, “the trials of life may hurt us, but never harm us.” What is encouraged is to abide under the shadow of the almighty God, who does provide adequate protection.
The English Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662–1714) made this observation concerning the believer’s life on Earth:
“Whatever happens, nothing shall hurt the believer; though trouble and affliction befall, it shall come, not for his hurt, but for good, though for the present it be not joyous but grievous. Those who rightly know God, will set their love upon him. They by prayer constantly call upon him. His promise is, that he will in due time deliver the believer out of trouble, and in the meantime be with him in trouble. The Lord will manage all his worldly concerns, and preserve his life on earth, so long as it shall be good for him. For encouragement in this he looks unto Jesus. He shall live long enough; till he has done the work he was sent into this world for and is ready for heaven. Who would wish to live a day longer than God has some work to do, either by him or upon him? A man may die young yet be satisfied with living. But a wicked man is not satisfied even with long life. At length the believer’s conflict ends; he has done for ever with trouble, sin, and temptation.”2
“He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him” (Psalm 91:15).
The prophets and apostles, while in the will of God, all faced troubles. Yet the Lord was always with them. A familiar example is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. He was sold into slavery by his brothers before eventually becoming an official chief administrator of Egypt. No doubt, he had more troubles than we can ever imagine. Still, he may not have been aware during his trials, but the Lord was always with him throughout his ordeal. In the end, it all worked out in accordance with God’s plan. When God declares “I will be with him in trouble,” what can be more comforting?
Always make Jesus Christ the supreme object of your heart’s devotion.
Personally, I found these words to be very consoling. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). From my heart to yours, always make Jesus Christ the supreme object of your heart’s devotion. With the Lord’s ever presence, you will know of His refuge and rescue. As the Lord said of the faithful, “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name” (Psalm 91:14).
“With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:16).
A fitting closing challenge to fully appreciate the meaning of “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1) comes from the English Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon (1834—1892):
“The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to abide in Christ and Christ in them, become possessors of rare and special benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Into the secret place those only come who know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and those only dwell there to whom to live is Christ. To them the veil is rent, the mercy seat is revealed, the covering cherubs are manifest, and the awful glory of the Most High is apparent.”3
In my present 13th year with cancer, it’s solely by the grace of God that in times of trouble and despair, my refuge is under the shadow of His wings. You will always find refuge and perfect peace under the shadow of His wings.
Consider that Israel knew the most sacred and safest place in all the earth was the Ark of the Covenant in the holy of holies. For it was the physical representation of the presence of God in their midst. When Jesus died and rose again, the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This fact made it possible for all by faith to enter the very chamber of the holy of holies. Only there will we all find peace, resting in His protection, presence, and provision. As King David sang, “I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 61:4).
1 The Vance Havner Quotebook, comp. Dennis J. Hester, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986), “Rest,” Database © 2006 WORDsearch Corp.
2 Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Moody Press, Chicago) p. 423 (Psalm 91).
3 Psalm 91 Bible Commentary – Charles H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David (christianity.com).