This article was originally written for Christ Hold Fast.
The life of King David is one of the more fascinating narratives in the entire Bible. If you think about it, we know more about David than probably any other figure in Scripture. We know about his early years. About the times he saved his sheep from being ambushed. About his extraordinary anointing. About his infamous fight with the Philistine giant, Goliath. About his subsequent life on the run from King Saul. About his eventual ascension to the throne of Israel and the countless conquests through which he led them. About his terrible sin against Bathsheba and Uriah — and all the horrible consequences that came with that as a result.
Even still, David remains, perhaps, the most famous character in Scripture. Notwithstanding the scandal which checkered his past, or the ups and downs which riddled his entire life, David is remembered favorably as “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22) This is primarily due, in large respects, because David was never one to disguise his emotions, especially with God. He was never pretentious in his prayers. His was an honest, vulnerable, even authentic (if I can use that word) faith. What makes David a perennial figure for biblical study is his humanness. There is no more relatable person in Scripture from which to find resonant words for your present circumstance.
In Psalm 57, David is fleeing for his life and he confesses that his only refuge is “in the shadow of God’s wings.” “Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,” David cries, “for I take refuge in you. I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings until danger passes.” (Ps 57:1) Using the evocative imagery of an avian God, David distills precisely what God is like. The “shadow of God’s wings” is picturesque of the consummate care and comfort he gives to his children. It’s an image which appears regularly throughout the Psalter. (Pss 17:8; 36:7; 63:7; 91:1–4; 121:5) For David, there existed no other place of reprieve from life’s stresses and struggles than his Lord’s shadow. And the blessings afforded to those who abide in God’s shadowy presence are like no other.
In God’s shadow, you’re free to cry.
We can empathize with David’s distress, even though his circumstances are entirely foreign to our modern context. No one I know is running for their life from their best friend’s dad, who also happens to be their nation’s preeminent leader, whose position they have been prophesied to one day occupy. Such was David’s circumstance, though, as he ran for his life from King Saul. The future king of Israel is now Israel’s fugitive, fleeing from “devouring lions . . . whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” (Ps 57:4) Saul’s jealous rage had boiled over and spilled onto David. In his sprint to save his own skin from the ravenous pursuit of all the king’s men, he finds shelter among the rocks of the Judean countryside. Despite being prophesied to sit on a throne, David finds himself trying to sleep on the cold, dark floor of a cave. Such is the sanctuary which reverberated David’s prayer. (Ps 57:1–5)
He is free to cry, though, because he knows who is listening. He had the ear of the “God Most High,” the One who “fulfills his purpose” for him. (Ps 57:3) David’s willingness and boldness to bear his emotions to God stems from the knowledge of the type of God he had. A God who doesn’t stop his ears to cries of distress. A God who isn’t aloof to the afflictions of his children. Like David, we are encouraged to grieve and mourn and voice our distress because we do so in the assurance that there’s One listening who’s none other than the Most High God. (Ps 66:19–20) The seasons of devastation are not God’s indifference; they are where he is found walking with us. (Ps 23:4)
In God’s shadow, you’re free to rest.
The freedom to rest from all of life’s trials and troubles doesn’t come from pretending the trials and troubles don’t exist. It doesn’t mean you close your eyes and stop your ears and hope the pains and problems just go away. Jesus’s followers aren’t ostriches who bury their heads in the sand. That’s not helpful or hopeful for anyone. Indeed, rather, resting from life’s trials and troubles comes in the remembrance of the One who is with you in the middle of all of them. David readily admitted the reality of the incredible anxiety and anguish he was enduring. Like hapless prey, he was being hunted. (Ps 57:4) But, even still, he was free to rest because he knew the One who was with him in all of his calamity was the God who “reaches down from heaven” to save those he loves. David’s faith was sure that when he cried, God would answer. That his Avian Lord would fulfill his purposes, surrounding him in mercy and truth, “challenging the one who tramples” him. (Ps 57:2–3)
David’s running finds him exhausted and exasperated. But he rests in God’s shadow because accompanied with the nearness of God is the nearness of God’s might and mercy. Might and mercy that’s extended and exercised for his glory and his children’s good. Like David, we are invited to rest in God’s shadowy presence, which promises that, notwithstanding our present pains and difficulties and anxieties and worries and fears, he abides with us even still. The persistent promise of Scripture is not escape from disaster and distress but providential presence in and through it. However grim, dark, or troublesome life’s season, God still “sends his faithful love and truth” on your behalf. (Ps 57:3) Your present suffering is not stronger than the shadow of God’s nearness.
In God’s shadow, you’re free to rejoice.
David’s crying and resting results in rejoicing. (Ps 57:7–11) The desperation which filled his mouth has given way to praise. “My heart is confident,” he shouts, “God, my heart is confident. I will sing; I will sing praises.” (Ps 57:7) God’s unfathomable love and faithfulness for him awakens his confidence. (Ps 57:10) David learned firsthand the blessing of God’s shadow is the faithful love that’s found there — love that’s even better than life itself. (Ps 63:3, 6–8) The penultimate blessing of God’s shadow, though, comes when you realize in whose shadow you stand. That is, the shadow that provided David refuge in the caves is the same shadow that purchased your pardon from condemnation. St. Paul’s affecting words bring this to the fore in vivid relief:
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1–4)
God’s shadowy presence is the presence of Jesus himself. The life of faith is the one that is lived in the shadow of the One took all your sin and felt all your suffering in his own body on Golgotha’s tree. “The God who took pity upon us in our sins, and freely forgave them all,” declares Horatius Bonar, “is the God under the shadow of whose wing we shall rest forever.”1 The eminent preacher Charles Spurgeon echoes that sentiment when he writes, “No seat is so pleasant as that which is beneath the shadow of Jesus.”2 In the passion and death of Christ, therefore, the fugitives are safe. The mourners can cry. The grieved find repose. The broken are made whole. And sinners become saints. Octavius Winslow, a contemporary of Spurgeon, writes to that effect when he says:
Christ Jesus is our sanctuary, beneath whose shadow we are safe. Christ Jesus is our strong tower, within whose embattlements no avenger can threaten. Christ Jesus is our hiding-place from the wind, and covert from the tempest; and not one drop of “the wrath to come” can fall upon the soul that is in him. O how completely accepted, and how perfectly secure, the sinner who is in Christ Jesus!3
God’s shadow means we have a Friend who is near to us in life’s hardest, most harrowing storms. He is a Friend like no other. (Prv 18:24) He is the “God Most High,” the Maker and Master of all things, who is also the Friend of Sinners who dies in the stead of his friends. He is a Companion who comes close to your pain, to your worst predicament, and covers you in the shadow of his redeeming presence.
Horatius Bonar, The Eternal Day (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1854), 53–54.
Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour: The Progress of the Soul the Knowledge of Jesus (Houston: Christian Focus, 1989), 208.
Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), 11.