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, where they may 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 warmth, comfort, 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, and is there for all who respond to the goodness of God with a heart of believing.
A Place for Growing
And yet in all 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.
But there are things that can never enter here: 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 the less palatable realities of God have been filtered out for us, leaving only the nice stuff, so that we can feel safe with Him. Or we could mistakenly assign this place under His wings 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, no division of maleness from femaleness. For our God is no 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 Song
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. David begins the frame with the reason why they put their trust there – that they know God for His excellent loving kindness. And for those who do, it’s the only way to live that makes sense. And then he completes it with the extraordinary blessings that are opened to them by having put their trust in this place.
These blessings are astonishing – first, being abundantly satisfied with the fatness of God’s house, with fatness speaking of provision and care; and second, the drinks of the river of God’s pleasures, which are to equip us for the journey and comfort us as we go.
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).
An internet search on chicken behavior led to a woman who cares for chickens. She wrote of 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 inescapable connection between the celebration of the excellent loving kindness of God and that special place for putting one’s trust in God – under the shadow of His wings.
At a burning bush in the desert, God introduced Himself to Moses, sharing with him His name, which means, I AM THAT I AM. For short, God is called I AM (Exodus 3:14).
The essence of His name is as it says, that He is exactly and only that which He Is. Thus all our wishes and imaginings, even our brilliant and wise reasonings, can never tell us who God Is. Only He can.
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. That description nicely reflects this place in King David’s song.
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).
So 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 under the shadow of God’s wings.
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 is 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, where we know He is good.
And third, we must believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him. This reflects the blessings that David promised for those who trust God from this place.
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 enter into this Kingdom of heaven while on the earth – to trust from under the shelter of God’s wings – 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.
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, celebrating God in the excellence of His loving kindness, and expecting blessings and help from their beloved God.
A Revelation of Jesus
There is One who has opened the way for us into the heart of God – who, through His sacrificial death, has paid in full our unpayable debt, so that we might receive the gift of being at peace with God.
Although Jesus fulfilled this for us when 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). For, as scriptures also tell us, this One, who came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth, has existed since the beginning – He was with God, and He was God (John 1:1-2). And for those who seek God, it is He who has always been the doorway in.
Long before Jesus lived it in human history, King David, through the Holy Spirit, saw this One, His sacrifice, and the kind benefits of God that He won for us. We see these revelations throughout his songs, including this portrayal of trusting in a God who is excellent in loving kindness.
All who earnestly seek this place under the shadow of God’s wings will find themselves on a journey into the goodness of God. And as they come to the door to this place, they will find themselves face to face and heart to heart with Jesus, the Christ – where they will echo the words of the Apostle Thomas when his eyes were at last opened (John 20:28), worshiping Jesus and saying, “My Lord and my God”.
Father God, we celebrate You for Your excellent loving kindness! Open the eyes of our hearts to Your goodness! Awaken a childlike heart in us, as we humble ourselves before You! Give us revelation of Jesus! The Name of Jesus!
* The Social Life of Chickens, Karen Davis, PhD.