"Under His wings" in "Loving kindness."

J. K.

Christian Friend, vol. 13, 1886, p. 298.

"He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler." - Ps. 91:4.

Much blessedness is evidently implied in this threefold assurance of protection. Our desire is to trace the bearings of the central figure alluded to, being not only striking in itself, but used so frequently as to become familiar to us all. It occurs many times throughout the Psalms in one form or another, and in various connections, and even in the New Testament. Thus the Lord, addressing Jerusalem, says, "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings." But He has to reproach them with their self-destroying indifference, if not wilful rejection of His grace. Before proceeding we trust this is not the case with our readers. We earnestly long that all would appreciate and yield to the entreating grace of Jesus.

"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" - manifesting Himself as capable in every way of meeting and satisfying every element of our need; more than satisfying it, blessed be His name, and as He alone could justly estimate it. This He did in no respect more truly than in awakening us from the stupor in which the need was unfelt, unrealized by ourselves. He would make us sensible of it, whether in heart or conscience, indeed in both; for it was only thus that we could ever know, ever be drawn to Him - the living Centre of God's moral universe. But, refused and rejected, His love told itself out in tears of pity over the despisers of His grace, as in Luke 19, when He contemplates the condition of those who did not, "would not,'' recognize Him, and the consequences which should follow their refusal of Him. Man in his lost state is an anomaly in God's creation, possessing cc will which impels him from his divinely-appointed Centre; but the day is coming when all shall own the earth-rejected Son of God. To Him "every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." What wisdom then it is to avail oneself of the shelter of His outstretched wings - now, in this "day of salvation," before the day of judgment flashes upon heedless thousands, and places them beyond hope!

Returning to the Old Testament, we find in Ruth a striking illustration of the wisdom just referred to. Though doubtless uninstructed as to the immensity of blessing treasured up in God's promises to Abraham concerning his seed, her faith discerned sufficient in Naomi's circumstances to form a link between her soul and him. Little hopeful that in poor Naomi's path lay any fair immediate prospect - nay, distinctly warned as to the futility of cherishing such a prospect - who can doubt that Ruth's earnest soul clung to her mother-in-law as to one representing divine things - the only measure of them her intelligence had as yet attained to, as she says, "Entreat me not to leave thee … whither thou goest, I will go … thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God"? We have here the most perfect expression of attachment one can well conceive, and (may we not add?) the basis of that attachment. God uses this providentially to lead her on; and are not souls often thus linked with divine things, unconsciously perhaps, in a measure of intelligence, at least, scarcely discernible? How blessed also to be in any measure, as was Naomi, an exponent of God's wonderful purposes, blessings, and grace! It is beautiful to notice how distinctly Ruth thus enters on the ideal pilgrim path, leaving country, kindred, and father's house (Gen. 12:1; Ps. 45:10); and how thoroughly she has learned the essential lesson for true pilgrimage, that of self-abasement! (Ruth 2:13.) Self-renunciation and devotedness are twin virtues, and more; for they are born together, and are mutually dependent. From Boaz Ruth learns she may reckon on the favour of the Lord God of Israel, "under whose wings" she has come to trust.

Thus blessed is it to trace the path which leads into the protection expressed in the figure before us, and the consciousness of that protection. It is more than entertaining, thank God, as indeed the revelation of His mind about things must be to us. For example, is it not sustaining to observe the zeal with which our God indicates the way-marks for our guidance and encouragement? And is it not by a similar path we have all reached the same goal?

The thought of protection involved in the expression "beneath His wings" sufficiently accounts for the frequency of reference to it in the Psalms. The godly are there seen, in God's dispensational ways, to be subjected to the oppression of enemies, in the midst of whom they are providentially preserved (Ps. 124), and from whom they are ultimately delivered. These are His means of dealing with His favoured earthly people, for their chastisement, exercise of soul, and restoration, as we read, "Deliver my soul from the wicked, thy sword; from men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world." (Ps. 17:13-14.) The effect of these dealings is presented in the foregoing verses (7-9). Deadly enemies compass the godly one about, and he is thus induced to seek the covert of Jehovah's wings. In that secure retreat the heart is free to rejoice, doubtless in God, known through the efficiency of the protection He affords. Thus, "Because thou hast been my help, therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." (Ps. 63:7.)

There is an expression of great beauty also frequently found in the English version of the Psalms, and occasionally accompanying that now under review; viz., loving-kindness,* which, being an associated thought, indicates the spirit, the grace, in which our God accords His protection. The expressions are directly connected in Psalm 36:7: "How excellent is thy loving kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings." The tenderness of divine affection is involved in His care. for us. Comfort is ministered with the protection. Such favour meets us not only under circumstances of oppression from without, as in Psalm 17:, but in trial experienced within, should this even be the agony felt by those newly awakened (as Israel in the Psalms) to a sense of guilt under a broken law. Refuge is needed for an overwhelmed heart, as well as from the persecution of enemies. Both needs are linked together in Ps. 61:2-4; just as the means of comfort and protection are connected in Psalm 36 above noticed. In the great penitential psalm (Ps. 51.) God's loving-kindness is David's resource; and we may take him here to be representative of those truly exercised as to guilt before God. It is worthy of observation, that what leads us to trust Him resignedly, when subjected to outward trials, is the knowledge of His loving-kindness learned through deep-soul exercise. This primary, though unquestionably outward trial, is helpful and often necessary in preparing a soul for the ministration of grace (Job 33:14-33; and outward and inward trials simultaneously descending on Israel by-and-by, will be the furnace by which Jehovah will purge away its dross, and teach it to value the mercy which it now despises. How sweetly then will they who come forth purified sing of the mercy that "endureth for ever," as in the words of Psalms 107, 118 and 136.

(*It occurs at least twenty-three times, and six times elsewhere in the Old Testament. The same Hebrew word is also translated "mercy," and rendered in the Septuagint by that used in Heb. 4:16. Eph. 2:4, 1 Tim. 1:2, etc., where we read "mercy.")

God as Father is not revealed in the Psalms. Hence love in this relationship is not in view here. The love of God, as such moreover, may be contemplated in its blessed essence by those consciously reconciled, apart from the thought of mercy; though it was in mercy towards us, when guilty and dead in sins, that we first tasted His love. This is the fountain whence His mercy flows. And the two thoughts run side by side in Eph. 2:3-7. His loving-kindness (mercy) known through experienced need, however, is what is chiefly dwelt upon in the Psalms. Psalm 107 directly teaches this: "Whoso is wise, and will observe these things" (i.e. men delivered, as set forth in the Psalms, through crying to God when brought to "their wit's end" in trouble), "even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." The psalmist himself is full of this precious theme, and appeals to men to praise the Lord for it.* Psalm 106 illustrates the absolute need for mercy; and if the subject were doctrinally treated here, as in Eph. 2, this psalm would form the natural preliminary counterpart of 107. But the former completes book 4, and has its fitting place, while Ps. 107 is the beautiful introduction to book 5, which reviews God's dealings with Israel, its history, and attitude towards Him when restored.

(*The same Hebrew word in verses 1, 8, 15, 21, 31, 43 (plural in this last), variously translated mercy, goodness, loving-kindness.) It occurs in its several inflections frequently throughout the five books.

The place God has given Psalm 106 is to be seen thus: Psalm 104 celebrates God's "honour," "majesty," "riches," and "glory" in creation; Psalm 105 records His dealings in grace, to the glory of "His holy name;" and, lastly, the dark history of man's utter failure in the best possible circumstances is set forth in Psalm 106. What fits one for the contemplation of this, as well as the glories of God set forth in the preceding psalms, is the knowledge of God's mercy - His loving-kindness. And this is found in a deeper way in Psalm 103. than it could be learned even through the exercises of Psalm 107. It would be disastrous to limit our apprehension of God's mercy or of our need to that measure of it which is realized through afflictions. At the cross it is that man's need and God's love in meeting that need, according to the inexpressible exigencies of His own glory, are fully told out. Christ's death is in view in Psalm 102; not as sin-offering or burnt-offering in atonement certainly, but His cutting off, whose personal glory gave even the burnt-offering its inestimable value. In lowly association with Jehovah's servants (comp. Matt. 3:15) the Messiah takes pleasure in the ruins of Zion, and looks for its restoration. This, not for Zion's sake alone, but for the declaration of the name of the Lord therein. Then how about His cutting off? In reply, God reminds Him of the glories of His adorable person, and finds occasion to pass these glories in review before our souls. (See Heb. 1.) Though cut off in the midst of His years, He is the same whose "years are throughout all generations," who "of old laid the foundations of the earth," whose hands made the heavens. What an astonishment is the death of such an one! Is it any marvel, considering the love that brought Him to this, that Psalm 103 opens with, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"? Thus are also "benefits" to be recounted, forgiveness, healing, satisfaction, renewal and crowning with loving-kindness and tender mercies, all to be enjoyed as flowing from the cross of Jesus. In view of this also God's "mercy is from everlasting to everlasting." And as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy (loving-kindness) towards them that fear Him. Shall we not in all truth and earnestness re-echo, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"? J. K.

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It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of cultivating those holy affections which attach us to Christ, and cause us to know His love, as also to know Himself.