by Lois Tverberg
How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalms 36:7)
Often in the Scriptures we hear God being given physical attributes. We hear about the “arm of the Lord” and we pray that “his face will shine upon us.” It’s important to understand that these are not an actual physical image of God. Because the Hebrew language does not contain many abstractions, the Israelites were expressing ideas about God’s nature by using physical terminology.
One picture that we often read about God is the idea of finding “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.” This comes from the picture of eagles and other birds who spread their wings over their nests to protect their chicks from the hot sun, rain and predators. Birds are known to be extremely protective of their young, even sacrificing their own lives. We can see this as a picture of God’s powerful love, as relayed in the following story…
A great spiritual leader of the last century, Sundar Singh came upon forest fire. Most everyone was frantically trying to fight the fire, but he noticed a group of men standing and looking up into a tree that was about to go up in flames. He asked them what they were looking at; they pointed up at a nest full of young birds. Above it, the mother bird was circling wildly in the air and calling out warnings to her young ones. There was nothing she or the men could do, and soon the flames started climbing up the branches.
As the nest caught fire, they were all amazed to see how the mother bird reacted. Instead of flying away from the flames, she flew down and settled on the nest, covering her little ones with her wings. The next moment, she and her nestlings were burned to ashes. No one could believe their eyes. They stood in stunned silence.
Finally Sundar turned to those standing by and said: “We have witnessed a truly marvelous thing. God created that bird with such love and devotion, that she gave her life trying to protect her young. If her small heart was so full of love, how unfathomable must be the love of her Creator. That is the love that brought him down from heaven to become man. That is the love that made him suffer a painful death for our sake.” As quoted by Penny Newall in Pacifica, California in the Plough Reader from Sadhu
See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.
For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).