Under the Shelter of His Wings
“You’ve got cancer.”
The doctor’s words felt like a sucker punch. Surely he must have gotten my lab results mixed up with someone else’s. How could I have cancer? This simply could not be happening to me, I thought.
Life is full of unexpected moments. We are either in, coming out of, or entering one distressing situation after another. My battle with cancer was a lesson from the Lord that taught me my true source of comfort and refuge was to be found under the shadow of God’s wings.
The Bible contains many figurative phrases to convey a special emphasis in a message. Jesus often used metaphors, as when He warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6), and hyperbole, as when He told His listeners, “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). Similarly, similes, idioms, parables, and proverbs in Scripture are all designed to enhance our understanding of God’s message.
Imagery used to encourage Israel to seek the Lord daily is found in the often-repeated phrase the shelter or shadow of God’s wings. It symbolizes a place of safety and comfort.
The Psalms feature this phrase in a few instances:
“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (17:8).
“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” (36:7–8).
“I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings” (61:4).
The concept associated with seeking to abide in the tabernacle of God’s care is related to Jesus’ command in John 15:4: “Abide in Me.” To abide in Christ means to live continually in fellowship and communion with Him and obedience to Him.
Psalm 91:1 speaks of abiding in the Lord: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” American preacher Vance Havner remarked on this verse, “We cannot rest in God until we nest in God. To nest is to settle, to abide.”1
This psalm served as a personal source of great comfort during my struggle with cancer. Reading and meditating on the safety of abiding in God’s shadow, I came to appreciate three precious assurances when facing difficult times.
God protects us. This fundamental truth gave hope and comfort to the Jewish people in Scripture. God told His people, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6).
Enjoying God’s protection does not mean we will never suffer from illness or other issues. The focus is that no matter what happens, we need not be afraid. Though the trials of life may afflict us, they can never harm us. We should abide under the shadow of the almighty God, who provides all the protection we need.
The English Bible commentator Matthew Henry made this observation concerning the believer’s life on Earth:
Whatever happens, nothing shall hurt the believer; though trouble and affliction befal [sic], 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
The prophets and apostles, while in the will of God, all faced troubles. Yet the Lord was always with them. Consider the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and later imprisoned for two years under a false accusation. No doubt, he had more troubles than we can ever imagine.
But the Lord was always with Joseph throughout his ordeal. In the end, everything worked out in accordance with God’s plan. He became a chief administrator of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. He reconciled with his brothers and saved their lives and countless others through his God-ordained interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and his own faithful obedience. When we consider God’s declaration, “I will be with him in trouble” (Ps. 91:15), Joseph comes to mind.
In my illness, I found these words personally consoling, as well as His command, “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” (Isa. 41:10).
Always make Jesus Christ the supreme object of your heart’s devotion. With the Lord’s constant presence, you will experience the depth 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” (Ps. 91:14).
A fitting challenge to fully appreciate the meaning of the truth “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (v. 1) comes from the English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon:
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
The Israelites knew the safest and most sacred place in all the earth was the Ark of the Covenant in the holy of holies. The Ark was the physical representation of the presence of God in their midst. Only the high priest could enter the holy of holies and stand in the presence of God in this way, and he could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement.
When Jesus died and rose again, the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom, leaving nothing between the holy of holies and the rest of the Temple. The torn veil demonstrated that it was now possible for all by faith to enter the holy of holies, where the presence of God dwelt.
Only in His presence will you 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” (61:4).
Now, in my 15th year with cancer, it’s solely by the grace of God that in times of trouble and despair, my refuge is under the shelter of His wings. You, too, can always find refuge and perfect peace under the shelter of the Almighty.
- The Vance Havner Quotebook, comp. Dennis J. Hester (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986), “Rest,” Database © 2006 WORDsearch Corp.
- “Psalm 91,” Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1706), 423.
- “Psalm 91 Bible Commentary–Charles H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David” (tinyurl.com/Psalm91Spurgeon).