Psalm 91 begins like this:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
יֹשֵׁב, בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן; בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי, יִתְלוֹנָן.
Dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, abiding in the shadow of the Almighty. The word “beseter” (בְּסֵתֶר) means in the secret place, His secret canopy… our hiding place. Dwelling and abiding… the idea of “living in God” is key to this famous psalm about the protection of God. There are several different Hebrew words to convey this idea, but it all really made me think of this passage about God being our dwelling place in Deuteronomy:
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
who rides across the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty.
The eternal God is your refuge [dwelling place],
and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
When it says the eternal God is our “refuge”or “dwelling place”, the word used is the same root word for the dormitories at university—מעונות / mayonot. God Himself not only provides shelter, but He IS our shelter. A safe place for us to live. He covers us with His wings, and underneath are the everlasting arms. We are safely tucked in from every direction!
This strong thought link between Psalm 91 and Deuteronomy 33 makes a lot of sense when we realize it’s by the same author—Moses.
Many psalms state at the start who wrote them, but Psalm 91 just launches right into the song. However, Jewish tradition has long since held that it was written by Moses, following Psalm 90 which gives Moses as the author. Hebrew manuscripts are silent on the matter but the Septuagint attributes Psalm 91 to Moses.1 And Moses knew a thing about moving around and not fitting in anywhere. He knew how to make God his home. In Psalm 90 he wrote,
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations”. (Psalm 90:1)
It’s that same word he used in Deuteronomy 33:27, מָעוֹן: dwelling place. Making our home in the secret place with God is finding a hiding place we can always go to, a secret place where we can rest in safety under the shadow of His wings. A place we can finally exhale and relax. Psalm 91:9 tells us that making God our refuge is something we can consciously decide to do, just as Moses did. How? We need to believe Jesus when He says He’s going to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house (John 14:1-3). We need to relinquish all hope of this world being our home. We find shelter and care in the arms of God. He is our protector and provider.
Moses and the Israelites had been on the move with no permanent place for decades. Everyone needs home and shelter. It’s a very basic human need. The Israelites lived in tents and had a form of home and shelter, but it’s not the same as a permanent place to rest. They had been promised a place, an amazing land of bounty and blessing, but it must have seemed like a mirage after a while. The longing to rest and put down roots is deep and primal, and it is well understood by the God of Jeshurun.
But the wanderings in the desert were an invitation, beckoning Israel to find their rest in God. He can capitalize on our cravings to draw us closer to Himself.
This call to the wild where intimacy with God can grow is a theme we see in other places too, such as Jeremiah 2 and Hosea 2… and Song of Songs gives the picture of the end result:
Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved? (Song of Songs 8:5)
Learning to lean into God in the wilderness gives us incredible freedom to weather whatever storms may come after that. It’s an uncomfortable process, but the result is priceless. Once we have learned how to find our home in Him, we find somewhere we can always go back to no matter what our situation. Like a rubber band we can return there over and over again, whenever we need refuge. When we find our home in God, we can never be homeless! He will be with us and we will be in Him no matter what may come. God is building in us a liberty that cannot be taken away.
Home is where we are loved unconditionally, where we are fed and comforted. Let God comfort you and forsake all other comforts. He’s much better at it anyway. Living under the shadow of His wings is a place of joy, acceptance, grace and forgiveness. Bury your head in the Bible and keep calling home. Stay in touch throughout the day. Call Him when hard things happen—or good things—or if you need advice. Making God your refuge liberates because you can be literally anywhere, and yet at home. Like Moses.
Tabernacling with God
Moses wrote Psalm 91 the day before the Tabernacle of God went up in the desert, when God’s tent was surrounded by the tents of His people encamped all around Him. The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, also speaks of this concept:
“You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43)
The last feast in God’s calendar is the Feast of Tabernacles where the people of Israel were to construct booths and spend time in them for a week to remember the way they had tabernacled with God for 40 years in the desert. Even today in Israel you see these sukkot, or tabernacles, popping up all over the place in the Jewish month of Tishri. Jewish people in Israel and abroad spend time in sukkot at this time of year, rejoicing and feasting with family, remembering the history of our people.
On one hand it reminds us of the fragility and temporal nature of this life, and on the other it reminds us of the precious time of fellowship where God was so close and evident every step of the way, dwelling in the midst of Israel with His tent in the middle of all the tribes of Israel.
Protection and provision
The people of Israel endured hunger, thirst, danger and trouble on the way to the Promised Land, but God provided and protected again and again with incredible miracles. This is true of all God’s people everywhere, both Jew and Gentile, on our way to be with God and to live with Him forever. There maybe trouble and difficulty along the way, but we can live with God, in God, under his shelter and care all the days of our life, till we reach our forever home with Him in eternity. And He will show us His salvation—His Yeshua.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91)
Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash
- The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures compiled by 70 Jewish Sages (hence the name Septuagint), compiled three centuries before the birth of Jesus.