What does it mean to "take refuge under his wings" (Psalm 91:4)?

Psalm 91:4 says, "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler." Taking someone "under your wings" is a metaphor that is often used today to mean guiding and protecting someone, and this verse uses this metaphor similarly. The entirety of this psalm describes the protection of God from disease and various enemies and describes God as a refuge and source of victory.

The original Jewish audience would have a specific image come to mind when hearing the phrase "under his wings". The picture of being under God's wings would bring to mind the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant sat inside the Holy of Holies, where only the high priests were allowed to enter. Constructed on the lid of the ark were two cherubim with their wings outstretched towards each other over the lid of the ark. The space under the wings and on top of the ark was called the mercy seat of God. The mercy seat was where God's presence symbolically rested, where He met with His people and talked with His people (Exodus 25:22). This was also where the high priests would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice once a year on the Day of Atonement, symbolizing that the sins of the people were covered by the mercy of God. In this sense, finding refuge under the wings of God means resting in the place of His presence and mercy.

Today the role of the mercy seat has been fulfilled by Christ. The word for "mercy seat" in Hebrews 9:5 is a derivative of a word that means "propitiation" or "an expiatory," and Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. God sent Him "as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:25). Through His sacrifice Jesus has made it possible for us to receive the mercy of God and have access to His presence (Hebrews 10:19–23). We take refuge under the wings of God by abiding in Christ, the propitiation and atonement for our sins. We no longer have to wait for the Day of Atonement to receive mercy for our sins to be covered because Christ's death and resurrection has already covered them (Ephesians 1:7–14; 1 Corinthians 6:11), and God's mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23). We no longer have to go the mercy seat to meet with God because if we are in Christ, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13–14). We can commune with God at any time. Hebrews 4:14–16 encourages, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." We can rest under God's wings by abiding in Christ where we obtain His mercy and are able to have fellowship with God.

Just as it is not by our works that we obtain salvation in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–10), in Psalm 91 it is God who stretches His wings over us. It is not our work that brings us under His wings, but it is Him stretching Himself out for us for protection. Christ stretched Himself out on the cross for us like a bird stretching out His wings, and it is at the foot of that cross that we find salvation, joy, peace, and everlasting life. Christ has done all of the work on the cross, and we need only say to Him, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Psalm 91:2). "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

Related Truth:

What does it mean God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1)?

What does it mean that my help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:2)?

What does it mean to have peace with God?

In John 14:1, what does it mean to 'let not your hearts be troubled'?

What does it mean to 'let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts' (Colossians 3:15)?

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