I Want to Learn to Live off the Shelter
Psalm 91 flows out of the troubles, fears and uncertainties of life. It anticipates further problems on the horizon. Yet the psalm keeps turning our attention from the problems to the comfort of God’s provisions. The psalm cries out for a “shelter” and for a “refuge” to protect us amidst the storms of life. It speaks a “fortress” for us amidst the difficulties that accost us.
The psalm begins with a reference to living “in the shelter of the Most High” and of abiding “in the shadow of the Almighty.” The Hebrew word translated as “shelter” is sathar; it refers to a “cove” or a “secret hideaway.” When gale force winds blow across the sea, we long for the protective shelter of a cove. When enemies throw their spears at us, we long for the protection of a secret hideaway.
Verse 4 speaks of God covering us with his pinions, stressing that “under his wings you will find refuge.” About this metaphor, Linda Washington writes, “Bird feathers are an amazing example of God’s design. Feathers have a smooth part and a fluffy part. The smooth part of the feather has stiff barbs with tiny hooks that lock together like the prongs of a zipper. The fluffy part keeps a bird warm. Together both parts of the feather protect the bird from wind and rain. But many baby birds are covered in a fluffy down and their feathers haven’t fully developed. So a mother bird has to cover them in the nest with her own feathers to protect them from wind and rain.” When the storms of life come against us, we feel the need to be covered by the warm and protective wings of God.
Psalm 91 begins with an invitation and an encouragement to us to “live in the shelter of the Most High.” The verb used here is yashav; it means to “remain” or to “sit” or to “abide.” It does not imply a short visit to the “shelter of the Most High” but a taking up of our residence in God’s shelter. We are invited and encouraged to make our home in “the shelter of the Most High.”
What might it mean for us to live in—to make our home in—the shelter of the Most High?
When it is said that a person “lives off the land,” it means that the person has learned to live through what the land provides, to make a shelter for himself or herself through what the land provides, and to find one’s sustenance through gathering and hunting and growing.
The psalmist seems to have learned to live off this shelter, refuge and fortress that is God. I want to learn to do so as well. I want to learn how to find shelter—comfort, hope, protection, strength—in the presence of God and in God’s care. I want to find my sustenance in what I can hunt and gather of God’s wisdom, promises, encouragements and blessings. I want to learn how to sow faith and to reap God’s assurances, strength, hope and joy. I want to learn to live off the reality of God’s shelter as much as a resourceful person can live off the land.