” He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall lodge under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1
EYERY creature is the product of a thought of God; hence all created things can serve as emblems of the Divine.
It is not of ourselves that in winged creatures we hail a figurative expression of the Divine life; but Scripture does it, and now, accustomed to it, every devout believer readily acknowledges that this imagery warms the heart and enriches the mind.
In what Jesus said of Jerusalem this comes within every one’s comprehension. The hen with her chickens is a figure of Divine compassion, which moves every one by its beauty and tenderness. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matt. 23:37).
Yet this word of Jesus has a far deeper meaning than he who merely admires it imagines. Truly it speaks of protection and compassion, for this is the purpose here of the gathering together. But there is more in it than this. It also implies that the chickens belong with the mother-hen; and that nothing else than return to her can render them safe against the dangers of cold, and prowling vermin. Yea, it also contains the striking figure that by nature the chickens are appointed a hiding place close by the mother-hen, and that they find shelter and protection of life only in the immediate nearness of the mother-life, under the outspread wings that will embrace and compass them.
Thus, this striking saying of Jesus is taken bodily from Old Testament imagery and in turn is explained by it.
When in Psalm 91 it is said. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall lodge under the shadow of the Almighty, ” we deal with the selfsame figurative representation.
It is the epitome of what the Psalmist elsewhere expresses (61: 4).. “I will make my refuge in the covert of thy wings.”
It is the same thought that was expressed by the wings of the cherubim over the mercy-seat of the ark of the Covenant.
It is ever the one idea: God created a fowl that gathers her brood under her wings and with these wings covers and cuddles them; and now this richly suggestive picture is held before us in order that our soul might seek refuge under the shadow of the Almighty and hide in the covert of His wings.
Not from what moves in the waters nor from what creeps or prowls on the ground and hardly ever from fourfooted beasts is this imagery borrowed; but, in the main, only from winged creatures that can lift themselves above the earth and, as it were, live between us and heaven.
Angels before God’s Throne are pictured with wings as Seraphs. With the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Son of man, there is mention of the form of a dove. That it might have wings to fly upward is the secret prayer of the soul that is bound to the dust. And so it conforms to the order of creation, it corresponds to the Divinely ordained state of things, and it therefore appeals to us as something that is entirely natural that in order to express the tenderest and most mystical kind of religion, the winged creature is held up to us as a symbol. and that boldest imagery serves to picture to us what it is “to be near unto God,” to make it, as it were, visible to our eyes and perceptible to our feelings.
But this symbolism must not be carried too far. Our heart must ever be on its guard against the danger of all sickly mysticism that interprets the holy things of God in a material way. God is a Spirit, and every effort that seeks contact, fellowship and touch with Him in any other than a purely spiritual way avenges itself.
This exaggerated symbolism leads to idolatry by which one makes a material image of God out of stone or precious metal; or makes one lose himself in pantheistic mud, mingling spirit and matter, and at length in sensual excesses, first defiling and then smothering what began spiritually.
But however necessary it is, for this reason, to keep fellowship with God purely spiritual, spirituality must not he confused with unreality, and this, alas! is the mistake of many a soul, in consequence of which it withers away.
For then we only see what is before our eyes; nature round about us; the blue heavens above, us; our own body with its powers; and all this is considered real; this has form, body and matter; this is tangible and has actual existence. And then, in addition to this is what we think, what we picture to ourselves, what we work out in our spirit; this is the abstract part of it, our world of thought; a world without reality; and the center of this unreal world is then our God. A God Who exists merely in our thought, in our spirit, in our idea, and with Whom fellowship is only possible through our processes of thought.
In this case there is no mysticism of the heart; no uniting of our heart to fear God’s name, (Psalm 86:11); no experience of the hidden walk with God; then God has no independent existence for us outside of our thought; and for this self-sufficient soul there is no “being near unto God” nor dwelling in His tent.
Against this danger, every deeply spiritual life in Holy Scripture protests, to wit, the lives of Psalmists and Prophets. They did not find God to be a product of their own thought. They found Him to be a real, living Gody Who drew near unto them, compassed them with the arms of His everlasting compassion; a God Whose holy glow they felt burn as a fire in the marrow of their bones, yea, a God with Whom they found peace, rest and cheer of soul, as they realized how wondrously they were privileged to hide in the covert of His wings, and to pass the night under the shadow of the Almighty.
You can not analyze this thrice blessed state of mind. You must experience it. You must enjoy it. Having it, you must watch lest it slip away from you again or be interrupted, but analyze it, dissect or explain it, you can not. This would allow the wedge of your critical judgment to enter in, which would chill the glow that comforts you.
The way to obtain it is to learn that your self-sufficiency deceives; that highminded self-sufficiency is the canker that gnaws at the root of all religion. It is the futile dream of a small insignificant world, of which our little self is the great person, whose mind understands everything, whose will disposes everything, whose money governs everything and whose power carries everything before it. Thus your own self becomes a miniature god in a diminutive temple, and then in your sinful isolation, of course, you are deathly cold – frozen – away from the living God; and all passing of the night under the shadow, of God’s wings is impossible.
If you can truly say: “such is not my case, I realize that I am powerless, forsaken and in need of help,” then the way to fellowship with God is to learn that to lean upon people for support is sinful. Not by any means all leaning upon your fellowmen. The faith of others is a prop to your own faith; the courage of others shames your cowardice; the example of another may double your own strength. By nature we are disposed to be gregarious in matters of life and belief. But what you must rise above is the sinful leaning on others; and sinful in character is the kind of leaning on people that sees in them something else than an instrument for our help, appointed of God, for as long as He allows it. Never should it be a leaning upon man as long as one possibly can, without seeking help from God until all human help fails. From God must be our help at all times, whether power to save springs up from within ourselves, or comes to us from others. Even when at length all human succor fails us, we have yet lost nothing whatsoever, because our God is the Unchangeable One, and unchangeably remains the same.
And in this confidence of faith you will stand, provided you are continually bent upon eradicating, root and branch, the doubt, which gloomily makes you ask, whether in very deed there is support and help, whether there is deliverance and salvation, for you. This doubt, allowed but for a moment, unnerves you altogether. Then you are as the little chick that anxiously looks around and nowhere sees the mother-hen and now helplessly flies hither and thither, until the hawk observes it and snatches the lost fledgeling away. Then all your feeling of lofty assurance is gone – gone your perception of your calling in life, gone your faith that God has hitherto led you and shall lead you further still. Then all your strength fails you. The prophecy in your heart is dumb.
And at length your fellowship with Satan becomes more intimate than your hidden walk with God.
Notice carefully that the Psalmist does not merely glory that he rests in the shadow of his God, but that he hides in the shadow of the Almighty. This must needs be added. The symbolism of the helpless chick that the mother-hen protects from the hawk – even to the extent of flying at it and chasing it away – is the image of a power that makes us think of the Almightiness of God.
Otherwise your resting on the Father-heart of your God avails you nothing. He who rests under the shadow of God’s wings but does not trust, puts his God to shame. For what else is it than to entertain the fear that one mightier than God will snatch you away from under the Divine protection?
Unbelief, when you are far distant from your God, can be atoned for, insofar as you fly to Him; but still to harbor it in the heart after you have sought refuge with God, is a fatal wrong, which profanes the love for which God looks to you.
Hence blessed peace, hallowed rest, quiet and childlike confidence, such as even in seasons of bitterest trial God’s elect have enjoyed, is not the result of reasoning, not the effect of deliverance, but solely and alone the sweet returns of taking refuge in the covert of the Most Highest, of holding close to the Almighty, of the knowledge and enjoyment of being near unto God.
Do not imagine therefore, if thus far you have been a stranger to this fellowship with your God, that when danger comes and storm gathers over your head and all human help fails you, you shall at once he able to find your hiding-place under the shadow of the Almighty. In the hour of calamity and dismay this has been tried by those of a transient faith, but they have never succeeded.
The way to find it is the reverse of this. Not in the hour of need, as a means of deliverance, does one find the secret walk with God as it were ready at hand, but he who in happier days has practised it knows the wings under which deliverance can he found, and when snares are laid for his soul finds rest and safety under the wings of His God.
It is not a mother-hen with no brood of her own, that spreads her wings for whatever will seek refuge beneath them, but it is her own chicks,which she herself has hatched, whom she knows, and for whom she will risk her life, that will find help and protection with her.
And such is the case with this shadow under the wings of the Almighty. They are his own whom He calls and awaits, they that are known of Him He will cover with His everlasting love.
He who is at home under the wings of God, shall in the time of danger pass the night under the shadow of the Almighty.
Under The Shadow Of The Almighty
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)