We are almost ready to turn another calendar page and face the heat of July. It is the middle of summer and it feels like it! Everyone is looking for a place to cool off and get comfortable. Sometimes I think about what it was like for people in the Bible when July rolled around. It is important to read the Bible in its proper context. During biblical times when a person was suffering in the heat, he didn’t turn the A/C down; he found a shadow.
We were privileged to spend some time recently with our granddaughter while her mom and dad enjoyed a few well-deserved days of vacation. It seems like she was just born, and now she is talking, doing puzzles, and drawing pictures that could hang in a modern art museum. She recently discovered the wonder of shadows and had fun running and chasing them with her grandpa. I am smiling as I think about that sweet laugh as she tried to catch her grandpa’s shadow and stay inside its shade. It was a warm evening, but she was safe from the sun inside that shadow. What she didn’t understand was this: Grandpa was using his shadow to guide her back home. When they opened the front door, she stepped out of the shadow and into the rush of cool air.
Asaph is credited as the author of Psalm 91. Psalm 91 has been called the psalm of protection. It is the perfect passage to describe God’s protection for us on earth. The psalm begins: “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” (vv 1–2).
I think people who lived in biblical times knew a lot more about trusting God than people in today’s culture. If they had a long journey to make in July, they needed to trust God to provide for them along the way. The Lord was their shelter and their stronghold, and they took to the road trusting God would protect and provide for them as they went. The shadow of a tree could mean safety and comfort from the dangerous heat of the day.
People today visit the ATM, program the GPS, make reservations at a hotel, so arrival at their destination is rarely in question. God’s shadow isn’t necessary when we can simply turn on the A/C. How can we trust in God, when we have so many others things to trust instead? When is God our refuge and our fortress?
The psalmist answers the question this way: “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” (vv 9–11). So the answer would seem to be that God is our refuge and our fortress when we trust in him. But is that always true? I understand why it can be hard to trust our Bibles at times. Sometimes it seems like God’s word contains empty promises.
I read a wonderful article on this psalm, written by a man who had just lost his wife to cancer. He made an important point that I took some time to ponder. Psalm 91 is the Scripture Satan used with Jesus when he tried to tempt him in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Satan suggested Jesus throw himself off the temple, and therefore prove to everyone watching that He was the Messiah. Satan used Psalm 91 to try to convince Jesus that God had promised to deliver him. But Jesus knew that Psalm 91 had not been given so that we could test God’s will; that passage had been given so we could trust God.
The man who wrote the article had struggled with this passage, until he realized the full meaning of the psalm. The man’s wife was a believer, and together they claimed the verse that promised “no harm will overtake you; no illness will come near your home.” They trusted God, throughout her long, difficult illness, knowing their loving Father was capable of healing. When his wife passed away, the man continued to trust God because he accepted the full truth of the psalm. God had completely healed his wife, and he would see her again, in heaven.
Psalm 91 ends saying, “The Lord says, “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” (vv 14–16).
God’s salvation is the shadow we all need to chase in this lifetime. Sometimes He stops and allows us to rest in the coolness and comfort of his protection. But the shadow will continue to move and we will need to stay close in order to keep within its shade. The joy is this: we know that God’s guiding shadow wasn’t just intended for keeping us protected on earth. God’s shadow is to keep us safe, until he knows it is time for us to go home.
Imagine walking through the gates of heaven, feeling the rush of the cool air and knowing all is well. That is the joy of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty”. . . keep chasing God’s shadow. July will end, and before long it will be time to turn off the A/C altogether. And one day, we won’t ever need it again.
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