Christ, Our Only Defense (Psalm 91:4)

Christ, Our Only Defense (Psalm 91:4)

Psalm 91:4 “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

The two metaphors in this verse—wings and shield—underscore the certainty, power and loving promise of God’s protection. He will cover, He shall cover, those who trust in Him. It is fixed and cannot be moved. The truth of His promises, the reliability of His Word, the immutability of His faithfulness provides the protective covering that is powerful beyond comprehension. First, to keep things that come against us away. Second, to give us courage in the face of our temptation to unbelief and hopelessness.

The first metaphor is a bird spreading it’s wing to protect. The fowler or bird-hunter of verse 3 cannot touch the chicks of the mother-bird. God delights to describe His care for His people with the metaphor of the mother hen protecting her young:

Deuteronomy 32:9-11 “But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions.”

Psalm 17:8 “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalm 36:7 “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalm 57:1 “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”

Psalm 61:4 “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah”

Psalm 63:7 “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”

Matthew Henry writes on the mother hen’s protective wing, “By natural instinct she not only protects them, but calls them under that protection when she sees them in danger, not only keeps them safe, but cherishes them and keeps them warm. To this the great God is pleased to compare his care of his people, who are helpless as the chickens, and easily made a prey of, but are invited to trust under the shadow of the wings of the divine promise and providence, which is the periphrasis of a proselyte to the true religion, that he has come to trust under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12).” (1)

The second metaphor is a shield and buckler. Some translations have “buckler” as “rampart” or “bulwark”. Its likely, though, that buckler is simply another description or aspect of a shield in the same way that pinion and wing are two aspects of the same thing.
The wing and shield are two ways of talking about the same thing (synonymous-parallelism). In the first phrase “He”, God, is the one who protects with his wing. But the second phrase describes particularly what God’s wing is, His faithfulness. Some translations have this as His truth. David Dickson writes, “That which we must oppose to all perils is the word of God; so long as we keep that, and ward off darts and swords by that means, we shall not be overcome.” (2) God alone protects, and God alone gets the glory. But the means by which he protects is his faithfulness to His promises, the truth of His Word.

Jesus Christ is the perfect fulfillment of God’s wing of protection and faithfulness acting as a shield. Jesus has overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, He has conquered death in His death and resurrection, and He has covered over His people to bear the unmitigated eternal wrath of God they deserve. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God’s wing is the truth of His faithfulness. Jesus Christ is the truth, the proof of God’s faithfulness, and it’s the truth of Jesus Christ that protects His people. Jesus is the protective wing of God. The fact that Jerusalem rejected God’s faithfulness and the fulfillment of truth of all of His promises in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20) led to Jesus’ lament in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The only place we can find peace in the face of attack and trial in this world is in God’s faithfulness to give us protection from our greatest danger, justice for our sins, in Jesus Christ. Philippians 4:6-7, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Place your trust in God’s faithfulness that He certainly will give us refuge under His wings. Christ alone can shield us and bring us safely home though we face enemies, suffering and death in the howling waste of the wilderness of this world. God has pledged and promised to protect His people, He has bound Himself and obliged Himself to accomplish our salvation. He will surely do it. The only defense from all the dangers we face is in Christ alone.

1. Henry, Matthew Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. 3 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 480. 
2. David Dickson Psalms (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959), 143.