This article was rewritten and updated online on October 26, 2018.
What is this place under the shadow of God’s wings?
And what does it mean to put our trust there?
Under the Shadow of God’s Wings
There is a place in God that He has reserved for those who celebrate His excellent loving kindness. It is a special place where they put their trust in Him. Here are love relationships with God that lead to abundant provision and care, with refreshment from the river of God’s pleasures.
This is a place of mercy, where trust knows that God is good, where His people live at peace with Him, where He surrounds them with comforting, warmth, and the feel of His heart beating in loving kindness. Here they stay close by His side for the sheer joy of His nearness, and thus are protected, shadowed by the wings of God.
In this place, one’s trust is safe, sufficient for the need. For here, nothing that is confusing about God matters. What matters to those who dwell here is loving Him back because of His love, seeing by faith that He is the good God He says He is – a pure expression of love, and greater than we could ever imagine.
King David sang of this place. It has existed from the beginning. It draws all who have a heart of believing in the loving kindness of God.
A Place for Growing
And yet in its loveliness, this is no place of ease and ideals. This is not shelter from weakness and failure, sorrow and loss, suffering and persecution, for Jesus promised tribulation, and tribulation is no light thing.
But those in this place won’t face these alone. As they walk through them, even if through the valley of the shadow of death, God will be caring for them. And on the journey, those who trust from this place can grow up in Christ to be resilient people of faith and love, being formed by God into the image of Jesus Christ.
Some of our struggles, however, run counter to this place, closing it off from us: hard questions of why, judgments of God and His ways, offenses against Him from the past and the present, fears of the future. For how could trust withstand such imaginings, grievances, and perceived betrayals?
Misperceptions of God
It would be easy for us, in our immature or even corrupt view of God, to see this place under His wings as one where less palatable realities of God have been filtered out, leaving only the nice stuff, so that we can feel safe with Him. Or we could mistakenly assign this place to some maternal side – the fabled mother heart of God – a side that would contrast with His less-feeling and less-welcoming ways.
But these would simply be us projecting our own broken humanity onto an entirely lovely God – a God who is One, who in truth has no inner conflict and no division of maleness from femaleness. Neither is our God a God of yin and yang, of forces that must be balanced one against the other. All this is of human perception, human invention, and demonic slander – slights of hand by which our very good God, who is far, far beyond our comprehension, is made to seem diminished.
King David’s Revelation
Looking at the evidence for this place, there is no better scripture to illuminate it than a portion of one of King David’s songs:
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God!
therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house;
And thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
These verses are a finely-crafted frame that King David has fit around his poetic expression of people putting their trust under the shadow of God’s wings, surrounding it with both the grounds for it and the fruit of it. David begins the frame with the grounds, the reason why they put their trust there: that they know God for His excellent loving kindness. And for those who do, trusting Him from this place is the only way to live that makes sense. Then he completes it with the fruit: the extraordinary blessings that are opened to them by having put their trust in this place.
The reason why – what we believe about God in who He is for us – is at the heart of all this. Here the names of God come into play, starting with the name He spoke to Moses. This name is translated: I AM THAT I AM. For short, God called Himself I AM (Exodus 3:14).
One implication of His name is as it says, that He is exactly and only that which He Is. Thus all our wishes and imaginings, our intuitions, even our brilliant and wise reasonings, can never tell us who God Is. Only He can.
Other names of God are revealed in scripture – descriptive names that are extensions of His I AM name. These give us more insight into Him, such as names that tell us He is Our Shepherd, Our Provider, Our Healer, Our Righteousness. When Jesus came He gave names for Himself, once again starting with “I am”. For example, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door, the Bread of Life.
Every one of these names, and more, reveals who God is for us, the kind of relationship He wants to have with us, the things He want to do and be for us. And out of His identity come His blessings for us.
The blessings David sang of are astonishing. These are the fruit of trusting in our loving and kind God – first, being abundantly satisfied with the fatness of God’s house. This depicts the provision and care we find in God’s welcoming, generous, and richly-provisioned dwelling, here under the shadow of His wings. And second, the drinks of the river of God’s pleasures, which are to reveal God to us, to express in us the nature of Jesus, and to comfort us in our troubles.
These are such broad and substantial blessings – a true feast of the Kingdom of heaven on the earth – that it seems wise to take extra heed to the if that would unlock this richness of God for us: putting our trust under the shadow of His wings. This calls for a look at other scriptures that would cast light here.
When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, he referred briefly to this place, saying, “How often I would have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).
From here, an internet search on chicken behavior led to a woman who wrote about the social lives of chickens. She described this place under the hen’s wings as being one of warmth and comfort for the chicks.* Imagine being a chick nestled close, intimately feeling the heartbeat of its mother in the coziness of that warm and downy place. And too, the wings provide a place where her chicks are hidden and protected from harm, with those wings ready to chase off any predator, while blocking her young ones from the threat.
And then back to scripture. When the nation of Israel was traversing the desert toward the promised land, they built a tabernacle – a portable tent – for a meeting place with God. God had specified its design, and every bit of it told a story. In an inner room were images of two mighty cherubim, hammered out of pure gold, whose great wings were outstretched, covering what was called the mercy seat of God. And there, in that place between the covering wings and the seat of mercy, God would come to commune with Moses. (Exodus 25:20-22).
In addition, the prophet Malachi foretold of the Messiah, saying there would be “healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). And then back to our song from King David, where we find the celebration of the excellent loving kindness of God that leads to this place under the shadow of His wings – a direct and inescapable connection.
This Is the Life of Faith
The Epistle to the Hebrews tells stories of people of great faith, and describes a faith that pleases God.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
If we take this New Testament portrait of faith and hold it up to King David’s beautifully framed trust, it matches perfectly. First, we need faith in order to please God. This is the trust David wrote of that we might put into this place in God.
Second, we must believe that He is. This holds a sense of the I AM Name of God, which calls us not just to believe that this God exists, but to see Him rightly for who He Is. This corresponds to David’s celebration of God for His excellent loving kindness, the key that gives our trust entry into that place under the shadow of His wings.
And third, we must believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him. This reflects the blessings that David described, that those who trust God from this place in Him are to expect.
When we dwell under the shadow of God’s wings, we are entering into the life of faith in God that Jesus taught of. Faith in God flourishes in the celebration of His goodness. And it finds a resting place in what we find under God’s wings – mercy, comforting, shelter, protection…
Faith and Forgiveness
But faith without love is nothing (I Corinthians, 13:2). Because this is a place of faith, we can only be here if we have forgiven others, giving mercy rather than judgment. Jesus warned of this as He closed a teaching on faith with the mandate to forgive.
Have faith in God… And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that Your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses (Mark 11: 22, 25-26).
If God were not forgiving us because we were not forgiving our fellow human beings, we would never have access to this sheltered place. For we would instead be living under the hand of the tormentor (Matthew 18:23-35).
Becoming As Little Children
Jesus taught us, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). To trust from under the shelter of God’s wings – just as to enter into the Kingdom of heaven while on the earth – we must leave behind our big and serious selves, our scholarly analysis of God and His ways, our sophisticated thoughts about Him, our offenses and judgments against Him and others.
For we must humble ourselves into the way of little children – children who don’t expect to understand things too great for them, but who might simply walk in trust. As little children would, we are to celebrate God in the excellence of His loving kindness, expecting blessings and help from our beloved God. And, akin to early childhood lessons on sharing, we are called to kindly share with others from what we have freely received from God, giving forgiveness and mercy even to those who may never deserve it.
What Trusting in God Looks Like
After all this talk about putting our trust into this place in God, we need to pause and ask what trusting in God from here looks like. In its simplest state, we trust in God when we have need or vulnerability, and then, because God is excellent in loving kindness, turn to Him with our need.
And from there, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow into an ever richer trust in God. Not with our hands clenched around a what-and-how plan for Him to fulfill for us – but with hands clinging to Him in His loving kindness. For trust knows that He is working to bring good for us, making a way through, and preparing and positioning us for the fulfillment of fruitfulness.
God desires us to live here with Him always. But that doesn’t mean that trusting in God is a static state – the flavor of our trust will change with our mood and our circumstances. Whether our trust on any day feels snuggly or lively, gentle or intense, hopeful or fulfilled, distressed or comforted, it can, with care, hold us in this dwelling place, and never give us need to ever again venture out on our own.
And in this safe place we learn to do the work of trust. We wait on Him, and we hope in Him. We listen for His still small voice and respond to the Spirit’s leading. We ask Him for wisdom and strategy. We lean on scripture promises that the Holy Spirit quickens to our hearts. We boldly seek mercy and grace for our need, assured of a plenteous supply for us to find. And we rejoice – tenderly, fiercely, peacefully, exultantly, even desperately – in God’s excellent loving kindness. For rejoicing led us to this place, and is the crowning capstone that holds it together.
And all of this is within a love relationship, heart to heart, with God. For how could we trust in God if He were not close to our hearts and we to His?
A Revelation of Jesus
This place under the shadow of God’s wings is there for us only because of the One who opened for us the way into the heart of God. Through His sacrificial death, this One paid in full our unpayable debt, so that, through believing, we receive His gift of being set at peace with God.
This has always been so, whether hidden in the shadows or displayed out in the open. For although Jesus did not fulfill this sacrifice until He was crucified in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago, the scriptures say that He was slain from the foundation of the earth (I Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8). Scriptures also tell us that this One who was Jesus of Nazareth has existed since the beginning – He was with God, and He was God (John 1:1-2). And so for those who seek God, it is He who has always been the door in.
King David knew this when he wrote of this place. Long before Jesus lived it in human history, David, through the Holy Spirit, saw this One, His sufferings, and the kind benefits of God that He would give us. We see these things throughout his songs.
All who earnestly seek this place under the shadow of God’s wings will find themselves on a life-changing journey into the loving kindness of God. But there’s more here, for this journey also becomes a journey into the revelation of Jesus and His kind benefits for us.
Thus, when we come at last to the door to this place, we will find ourselves face to face and heart to heart with Jesus, the Christ. And as those before us, we will say to Him in awe, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Father God, we celebrate You for Your excellent loving kindness! Open the eyes of our hearts to Your goodness! Awaken in us a childlike heart, as we humble ourselves before You! Give us revelation of Jesus! The Name of Jesus!
* The Social Life of Chickens, Karen Davis, PhD.