Posted by: Billy Marsh | August 11, 2010

In the Shadow of the Almighty

A few weeks ago when I was in great need of a word of encouragement from the Lord, he answered me with Psalm 91:1-2:

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.”

This was one of those times when you just pop the Bible open and start reading and something knocks you off your feet like it was the first time you’d ever heard anything like it before. What caught my attention at first was a pattern I recognized. I’ve been reading through Job real slowly over the past several months, and there’s a pattern that occurs throughout the entire book, mainly in the speeches from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. It follows as such: In line 1 of a statement the name “God” will appear, and then on line 2, God will be referred to as “the Almighty”. For example,

L1) Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;

L2) therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty (Job 5:17).

L1) Can you find out the deep things of God?

L2) Can you find out the limit of the Almighty (Job 11:7)?

Even though the first verse of Psalm 91 doesn’t follow this pattern exactly, because God was referred to one way in line 1 and then as the Almighty in line 2, it jumped off the page at me whereas under other circumstances I wouldn’t have thought anything unique about its structure.

The second thing that grabbed me was the imagery. Here is the flow of Ps 91:1:

dwell→ shelter→ Most High

abide → shadow → the Almighty

To dwell in the shelter of the Most High meant to live in the shadow of the Almighty. I could understand what it was to dwell in the Most High’s shelter, but how was I to perceive abiding in the Almighty’s shadow differently without being redundant?

One way was to compare what “in the shadow of the Almighty” meant with a similar phrase in Psalms,  “in the shadow of your wings“. In passages such as Ps  57:1, “in the shadow of your wings” definitely stands as imagery for God as a refuge and protection. The bird-symbolism itself leads us to that type of interpretation. On the other hand, Ps 91:1 speaks of the Almighty’s shadow, not the shadow of his wings.  To me, these are two different things. However, we must take note that the “wings” imagery still appears in Ps 91:4.

Without making too much of something that maybe wasn’t intended, let me say that I do believe there is a nuance here, but not to the point that it is entirely dissimilar to the meaning of “in the shadow of your wings“. My main point goes back to the statement I made above, namely, that it is the Almighty’s shadow, not the shadow of his wings. Let me illustrate it this way. The scene happens in all kinds of different television shows, cartoons, and movies. It is where someone of a smaller and less intimidating stature is about to face off against an impossible foe, but all of a sudden, his enemy’s demeanor changes to one of extreme fear and fright, and the foe flees as fast as possible from the one he was so sure that he was going to dominate. The small and weak individual stands there thinking that he is responsible for the drastic change of his opponent’s attitude, but then he notices the much larger and overwhelming shadow that is cast in front of him and realizes that he was not to blame at all for his own deliverance. Rather, it was the might and strength of the one who stood over him and in whose shadow he was abiding that protected him from his certain calamity.

I see the above as the best way to understand living in the shadow of the Almighty. If you read Psalm 90 first, and then make your way to Psalm 91, you’ll notice the prevailing theme of the greatness and might of the Lord in both creation and salvation. Once Psalm 90 establishes the majesty of the Most High God, when you come to Ps 91:1, you have a better understanding of the might and power of the Lord, thus, knowing that when you make him your dwelling place, you are safe in his presence from any foe. God is depicted in such a way that everyone pales in comparison to his greatness and sovereignty (not just in terms of providence, but in terms of his kingly rule and reign). As you abide in his shadow, all others are infinitely dwarfed before him. God becomes “the terror of the night” for your enemies rather than vice versa (Ps 91:5). So long as the shadow of the Almighty towers over your soul, no one and no-thing can ever touch you or even come near you as Ps 91:7 says. Your foes will drop like flies before the Lord of Hosts as you dwell in his shelter and are covered by his mighty power. Have you made the Most High your dwelling place (Ps 90:1; 91:9)? If so, be comforted that the infinite God has cast his eternal shadow over your life, and that this is where you now daily live. Mountains melt like wax before him; Lighting bolts ask him where to go; the demons tremble at his very name; and he makes dead sinners new creatures in Christ. If the Almighty is for you, who could possibly be against you (Rom 8:31)?

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this great reflection, Billy.

    I like your illustration, and the way you connect Ps 90 & 91.

    It’s a great encouragement indeed to live in the shadow of the Almighty!

  2. My take on this is that when you dwell his shelter (house) then he dwells there also so you are automatically in his shadow. My first thought brought to mind the scene of a daughter having a boy come to the door and the daughter is standing in the doorway with the father behind her with a shotgun in his hands and a menacing look on his face. The daughter is afforded all of the things she needs in her fathers house…food, clothing, etc. and the protection of his shadow. But then maybe the word shelter here is not referring to a dwelling. Let me know.

  3. I think that based upon the context of statements like those in Ps 90:1 and Ps 91:9 that the “shelter” is the Lord himself. He is your dwelling place. The one who lives in the “shelter” of the Most High is the one who has made the Most High his dwelling place. “Shelter” as a spatial term, I believe, is best understood as referring to God himself. From Ps 91:2, one can see that it is God who is my refuge and my fortress. In this way, the Christian’s dependence upon God is deeply personal and forces him to seek the Lord for who he is in his nature.

  4. I figured that’s what you’d say!


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