More about the secret place. In studying the first two verses of Psalm 91, we learned that all the rich promises of this psalm are contingent upon our fulfilling the conditions in those first two verses, which are dwelling in “the secret place of the Most High” and trusting God, with confidence, to take care of us.
Surprised afresh by even more truth. I had my little outline ready for the next few verses of Psalm 91, intending to look at the “thens” or the effects of dwelling in the secret place, which we do by habitually loving, obeying Him, and trusting Him. But in getting my three Bibles opened to Psalm 91, in the NLT I saw something powerful: most of this psalm is simply reassurances of God’s love.
His promises make an outline. For me, this entire psalm is about God’s compassionate, merciful, Father heart. It is about His craving to help us know His Father heart better and– in the strength that comes from that knowledge–to live the abundant life, with the confidence and the constant comfort found in His presence. I say that because in this psalm, He is teaching us, in detail, how He will take care of us and He is promising. Notice how often He repeats “He will” and “I will”.
His promise to take care of us is the foundation of this psalm, the truth He keeps repeating in different ways. God’s promises are one way to outline this psalm, one way to structure our understanding of His central message here:
If we love and obey Him, He WILL take care of us.
Each verse (except 1, 2 and 9) describes what God will do for us. Verses 1 and 2 describe our part, but verses 3 through 16 describe what God will do in response. So, a simple outline is:
- 1-4 — Our obedience and God’s response (summarized)
- 5-8 — Details about how God will respond — the “He wills”
- 9-16 – A restatement of verses 1-2, the exploits we will achieve, and seven thundering “I will” promises.
Safe in God’s father arms. In these promises can’t you hear Him pleading to come into His arms, into the secret place of His presence? Can’t you hear Him promising and reassuring, like a parent reassures a frightened or fretful little child? “There, there now. Everything is all right. It is all okay. Daddy is right here. I will help you. You are safe. . .”
And all the while, that Daddy’s strong, father arms are holding that little child close to his chest, enveloping her in the warmth and strength of his own body. You cannot hold a child close without that child feeling comfort simply from contact with your body. The very essence of your physical presence, your strength and power and superior size, brings comfort, just as the warmth of a mother hen’s body, the softness of her feathers, and the soothing darkness under her wings comfort a little chick.
Why so many promises? God could have ended this psalm with verse 4, because verses 1 through 4 give the entire message. However, I believe He continued expounding upon His message because He knew hearing the details of how He will protect us would bring comfort. Father God knew how many millions of His children through the ages would need to hear each of these words. He knew we sometimes need to hear “You are safe” more than once and in more than one way.
To continue with the previous example, when you cradle a frightened or hurt child in your arms, you keep murmuring reassurances, over and over, you instinctively rock them back and forth, and you do all that until the child is calm and at rest in your arms. You do not just say “It is all right” once then put the child on his feet—because you know that child needs to hear your voice and your words until calm returns. You know that child needs time in a safe place, time for heart rate and breathing to slow, and time for human touch to perform its God-ordained work. Just like that child, we need to stay in His presence, quiet and still, for a while.
I believe (and this is a thought I approach with utmost reverence and respect) that somehow, in the spiritual realm, God comforts us when we are in His presence by giving us something of the essence of His Very Self. Somehow, when we come into contact with Him, our human spirit and our soul actually touch and are touched by Him and in that touching, He imparts part of Himself, a bit of the essence of Who He is, just as a loving human father imparts something of his physical being to the child he cradles in his arms. We receive that from Him when we stop what we are doing and focus our whole attention on Him.
NOTE: After I had written the first draft of this blog post, I found similar thoughts in “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ”, a book written by Jeanne Guyon in the latter part of the seventeenth century. How kind God is to us when we seek Him!
God could have made the Bible very short. He could have stated each command and principle one time and given only one brief illustration or story. But, no, like the Perfect Rabbi He is, He repeats things over and over and over, in a multitude of ways. He knows we sometimes need many words from our Heavenly Father, many reassurances, much cuddling, and much time in the secret place of His arms. So, He repeats truth by placing it in numerous places throughout the Bible and in some places, such as the psalms, He repeats a truth over and over, within just a few sentences, like in Psalm 91 when he repeats “I will. . . I will. . . I will. . . “.
Our seeking Him blesses Him. I personally believe that the main reason God tells us, repeatedly, to turn to Him and trust Him is because it benefits us and keeps us safe. Putting the other first is part of true love (I Corinthians 13) and sacrificial love is part of God’s nature (John 3:16).
I think it must also be that the act of giving us comfort and reassurances blesses God. It must be good and pleasant for God when we seek Him out for comfort, when He is the one we turn to when we hurt or are afraid or when a bully, like the enemy of our souls, has threatened harm. It must be a delight to His Father heart, like the surge of relief when you successfully kiss away the hurt of a boo-boo.
Because of the nature of love—and we know that God IS love—giving comfort blesses the One who gives it. God would never do anything from selfish motives but it is somehow built into the nature of things, the way that love works, that it is good for God when we turn to Him for our needs. Somehow, when we let God meet our needs, we do a good thing for Him. That is a jewel to ponder for the rest of this earthly life!
So, with that thought and keeping in mind what verses 1 and 2 teach, let’s examine verses 3 and 4.
Verse 3: “For [then] He will deliver you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.” (AMPC)
Notice the “For [then]” at the start of verse 3. To reiterate, all the promises in this psalm depend upon our doing our part, as God explains in verses 1 and 2.
“He will deliver you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.” God delivers us from the traps of the enemy in two ways: from getting caught in the trap and freeing us after we have stepped into it. I was blessed to see that this was part of the sermon outline Charles Spurgeon used on this verse (The Snare of the Fowler by C. H. Spurgeon (blueletterbible.org)) The seven insights below are from that sermon by Pastor Spurgeon. I urge you to look up the entire sermon at the link given above.
- In Psalm 91:3, Satan is depicted as attacking not with persecution and as a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8) but as a snake, an adder, . . . “creeping silently along the path, endeavoring to bite our heel with his poisoned fangs, and weaken the power of grace and ruin the life of godliness within us.”
- The fowler (Satan) has numerous kinds of snares, suited for each bird.
- The fowler carefully conceals his trap. The non-believer rushes into sin whereas believers are “taken by secrecy.” As Spurgeon says, if the devil knocked on our door “with his horns visible” we would not let him in, but we too often welcome him in when he comes dressed as a gentleman.
- “The fowler’s snare is frequently associated with pleasures, profit, and advantage.” Satan makes sin look like fun and look like it will be good for us.
- Sometimes the fowler uses the force of an example, a “decoy duck”. The enemy does not send an outright sinner to lead us astray. Rather he “. . . makes use of a man who is pretendedly religious, and who looks to be of the same quality as yourself, and therefore entices you astray. . .” Then if that man goes astray, I am easily trapped in the same snare. “Be careful of your companions. . . follow them no further than they follow Christ. Let your course be entirely independent of everyone else.”
- Also, Spurgeon notes that sometimes when the fowler cannot “take his bird by deceit and craft, he will send his hawk into the air to bring down his prey. He will go “a hawking after his prey.”
- Finally, sometimes the fowler uses all his tactics at once so that the “bird is beset on every side.”
And from the deadly pestilence (AMPC) or “deadly disease” (NIV). Even without being a historian, I know that in Bible times all types of disease, including many types of plagues, were more common. It is easy to see why Holy Spirit moved on the psalmist to include this promise, is it not? Even though we live in a fallen world, surrounded by temptations and sin, sickness, and death, as we seek God, He delivers us and gives us victory and the peace that comes from God and which is part of God Himself. Take heart, fellow pilgrim! In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)! His Word guides us into experiencing part of, while here on earth, the greatest blessing of eternal life—being in the presence of God Himself. Selah, oh, selah!
Verse 4. [Then] He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings shall you trust and find refuge; His truth and His faithfulness are a shield and a buckler.” (AMPC) (NIV says shield and rampart.)
Then He will cover you with His pinions.” The first four verses suggest a process, steps we can take with God. (1) We make God our home and (2) trust in Him with confidence, (3) then He delivers us from Satan’s snares, (4) then He “covers us with His pinions” . And, (5) from that place under His outstretched wings, we are empowered to truly trust and find refuge.
Notice that in Verse 2 we say “God is my refuge” and we trust in Him, but Verse 4 says then we shall trust and find refuge. To find refuge means we have to look for it. We have to take action. To put it another way. . .
I think it is like God, using the metaphor of a bird, stretches out His wings over us and the outermost edges of his wings, His pinions, overshadow us. Remember, verse one says we are under the shadow of the Almighty. Then, like a tiny chick snuggling in as close as possible to the mother hen’s body, once we are safe in the shadow of His presence, if we keep snuggling in closer to Him, then we will find the refuge we seek.
It is like a fuzzy little chick running to its mother when danger approaches. That chick is not safe until the running its little feet are doing positions it under her pinions—the feathers she is stretching out to protect him. And that chick is not truly safe until he snuggles in close to mother hen’s body where, even if the attacker continues to pursue, the chick will be safe while the mother hen defends against the attacker. I have never raised chickens but I am sure a mother hen will fight to her death to protect a chick under her wings.
In my opinion, because God is so merciful and compassionate and loving, He overshadows and protects us when we love and serve Him, but when we press in even closer, He gives us deeper trust and peace. A child who runs to her father when she is afraid benefits greatly just from his nearness but she benefits from the full measure of his love and fierce desire to comfort her only when she has flung herself on him and wound her arms around his neck.
“His truth and faithfulness are a shield and a buckler.” I believe this sentence suggests two ways that God shields us. (1) God protects us because of His nature—He is by nature faithful to His children and His covenant with them–and (2) He also protects us by giving us the ability to remember His nature.
When we have had experiences where God delivered us, we begin to understand His character, and then we can trust Him because He is always, always, always faithful. This is what Psalm 9:10 promises:
“And they who know Your name [who have experience and acquaintance with Your mercy] will lean on and confidently put their trust in You, for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek (inquire of and for) You [on the authority of God’s Word and the right of their necessity.] (AMPC)
A little girl playing in the back yard who has run into her father’s arms to get away from the over-excited puppy chasing her feels safe because her father has kept her safe before. She has known only love and comfort in His arms. I am sure beyond all doubt, dear friend, that you have found the same each and every time you have been aware of being in God’s presence, in His arms.
When I read the last half of verse four, another verse that talks about God shielding us comes to mind:
“The Lord is my Strength and my [impenetrable] Shield; my heart trusts in, relies on, and confidently leans on Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him.” (Psalm 28:7, AMPC)
Other verses that speak of God being our impenetrable shield include Psalm 19:14, 28:7, 29:11. 46:1, 62:7, and 68:28. Pondering these verses and their context is a comfort.
A shield is a piece of defensive armor, and a buckler, according to some sources, is a small shield carried in the left hand and used to deflect blows from an enemy. Other sources say a buckler was a shield that completely covered the body. Regardless, the truth is that God’s protection is complete. He is all-powerful. (Job 42:2, Luke 1:37, and Jeremiah 32:17). And Psalm125:2 encourages us “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people both now and forevermore.” (NIV)
When we exercise our faith in God, we are lifting up the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16) and it will “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (NIV).
Our heavenly Father is exceedingly loving and compassionate and “earnestly imprints on His heart” that we are frail, weak humans. (Psalm 103) We do not have to have perfect faith. We just have to try to trust and to run in His direction. If we do, then we will find His strong, loving arms outstretched to us, to scoop us close, and ever closer, under His feathers – until we can truly trust. May it ever be so, oh, our Father!