A Breakdown of Psalm 91:1
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1, KJV).
Insecurity and instability characterize the lives of many people today. They wander from place to place in search of a home, never feeling truly settled. This is especially true for refugees and homeless people. But God calls us to make Him our dwelling place, regardless of our circumstances. When we do, we can find security and stability in Him.
In the previous post, we explored the background and overview of Psalm 91. In this blog post, we will explore what it means to make God our dwelling and abiding place. We will share some thoughts on how we can connect with God in a way that provides us with stability and security during times of instability and insecurity.
The psalmist employs a figure that his audience is familiar with – the figure of a home or abode. Every human being, regardless of social class and education, can identify with a home.
Philip Moeller in his article, Why Our Homes Make Us Happy, underscores the importance of a home when he writes,
“Home provides security, control, belonging, identity, and privacy, among other things.”Philip Moeller
Home is a place where we can escape the never-ending cycle of work and duty. It is a place where we retreat to when we are exhausted.
Unfortunately, some of us are homeless and have a limited understanding of what it means to have a dwelling place.
We are not alone in this; even Moses, the Lord’s servant, experienced homelessness at one point. He wandered aimlessly through the wilderness of Midianite until God found him.
Moses found an abode and a dwelling place in God.
As we will see in this post, our palaces, huts, and shacks are not safe places to dwell, and they pale in comparison to what God gives us as a dwelling place. God is our abode.
Psalm 91 verse 1 begins with the self-evident declaration that God is our “secret place” and “shadow” where we can “dwell” and “abide.”
The term “to dwell” is derived from the Hebrew verb “yashab” which is translated as “to stay,” “to sit,” “to remain,” “to dwell,” or “to inhabit” in most Bibles
Also, the Hebrew verb luwn can mean to “abide” or “lodge.”
Thus, yashab and luwn both mean to dwell or live in a location. The two terms are used figuratively in this passage to refer to God as our refuge and our habitation.
If that is the case, then what does it mean to dwell in the secret place of the Most High? What does it mean to abide under the shadow of the Almighty?
To answer the above questions, we will first look for clues in Psalm 91 and then compare our findings to other psalmist writings.
The Secret Place of the Most High
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1, KJV).
What is the secret place of the Most High? Given that Psalm 91 takes place in the wilderness and is attributed to Moses, “the secret place of the Most High” most likely refers to the tabernacle or “tent of meeting.”
The references to the “shelter of the Most High” (Psalm 91:1) and the “shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1) alludes to Shekinah, the divine presence cloud that would descend and envelop the desert tabernacle.
This is not the first time the psalmist employs tabernacle imagery. Psalm 27:5 states,
“For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5, KJV).
The Holy Place and the Most Holy Place were separated in the tabernacle. The second compartment, known as the Most Holy Place, was thought to be God’s earthly dwelling place because it was where the presence of God (shekinah) appeared.
Only the high priest was allowed to enter “the Most Holy Place” once a year (Hebrews 9:7). It is against this backdrop that the psalmist most likely wrote about the secret place of the Most High.
Thus, the secret place of the Most High was probably the innermost chamber of the sanctuary. This psalm was most likely written by Moses to commemorate the completion of the desert tabernacle.
When we examine how the psalmist uses the secret place imagery poetically in Psalm 19 and other psalms, we discover the following:
The Psalmist Poetically Portrays God as a “Literal” Dwelling
In Psalm 90:1, the psalmist portrays God in a radical and literal way as “our dwelling place.” He states,
“Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1, KJV).
The Psalmist Poetically Portrays God as a “Literal” Habitation and Resort
In Psalm 71:3, the psalmist implores God to be his “strong habitation,” to which he can “continually resort.” As he writes:
“Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71:3,KJV).
The phrase “continually resort” conjures up images of daily dwelling. As a result, dwelling in the secret place of the Most High is a lifelong endeavor rather than a one-day affair.
The secret place of the Most High place is a place of permanent retreat and dwelling. It is a place of unwavering trust, a place where individuals who trust God can live in intimate proximity to Him.
From the above study, we can now answer the question: What does it mean to dwell in the secret place of the Most High?
Actually, Psalm 31:20 confirms the preceding conclusion that the secret place is synonymous with the “secret of thy presence.”
The secret place of God is a place that is free of “man’s pride” and “the strife of tongues.” We read:
“Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues” (Psalm 31:20, KJV)
As a result, dwelling in the Most High’s secret place entails being aware of God’s constant presence in our lives.
Abiding Under the Shadow of the Almighty
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1, KJV)
What does the shadow of the Almighty mean? The phrase “shadow of the Almighty” is a figure of speech that denotes divine protection and love. Like a bird’s shadow shielding its young from the blazing midday heat, God’s shadow shields and comforts His children.
Again, this is not the only instance in the Bible where God’s protection is depicted as a “shadow.” In Psalm 36:7, the psalmist invites us to seek refuge in the shadow of the Almighty:
"How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7, NIV)
According to the above verse, the “shadow of the Almighty” clearly represents God’s protection, care, and “unfailing love.” The psalmist refers to God as a “keeper” and “shade” who protects His people.
In Psalm 121:5 we read that:
“The LORD is thy keeper, and he is thy shade at thy right hand.” (Psalm 121:5 KJV)
Based on the above points, we can now answer the question, “What does it mean to abide under the shadow of the Almighty”? To abide under the shadow of the Almighty means to live with an ever-present consciousness of God’s presence, protection, and care in your life. Additionally, it means placing your trust in God’s power to lead, guide, and protect you in all circumstances. It is to unreservedly give God the throne of your heart.
In the Restoration Quarterly, Leonard C. Knight affirms that to abide under the shadow of the Almighty entails living with a consciousness of God’s presence in one’s life. He writes,
The psalmist’s theme is the intimate enjoyment of the presence of God… The comfortable use of the divine names emphasizes the protection and intimacy the supplicant feels in the presence of God… Under the “shadow of the Almighty” and in the “refuge and fortress of my God,” the speaker discovers security and significance that he cannot know away from the presence of God.Leonard C. Knight
How do we live under the shadow of the Almighty? By faith, we live in the shadow of the Almighty. We are accepted by God through the merits of Jesus who gives us access to God’s secret place.
When we accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness, we enjoy peace with God and enter into a real relationship with Him.
Those who take shelter in the Almighty will find rest and security. Those who seek refuge in the Almighty God will find rest and security.
It is a great comfort to know that no matter where we wander or what dangers we face, God is with us. He is our dwelling place and our hiding place, and nothing can separate us from His love.
Regardless of where we are or what we are going through, we can find refuge in God. He is always with us, providing us with a sense of security and stability.
No matter how uncertain or unstable our lives may seem, we can find rest in Him. The psalmist affirms,
“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27, ESV).
God’s presence brings us eternal comfort and hope. We are never alone when we make God our home. Praise be to God, who offers us comfort and security in the midst of our wanderings and homelessness.
No matter where we are in life, no matter how safe or seemingly hostile our circumstances may be, we can rest in the assurance that God is with us.
God has called us to Himself and invites us to make Him our dwelling place.
Let’s choose to abide under His shadow forever, knowing that His protection and care are always with us.
What does it look like for you to live constantly aware of God’s presence in your life?
Prayer for Protection Inspired by Psalm 91:1
Dear Jesus, Thank you for reminding me that my palace, hut, and shanty are not safe places to live. I accept You as my permanent abode and a dwelling place. I accept Your care and protection. Help me to live with an awareness that You are always with me. Amen.
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