The concept of taking a person “under one’s wing” is familiar to us today. When an individual is alone, in a new position, or needing special guidance, another, more experienced person may offer to take the other “under his wing” to care for, teach, and guide. In Scripture, under His wings is a metaphor for the protective refuge of God’s presence. The imagery alludes to a mother bird taking her vulnerable hatchlings under her wings to nurture, train, shelter, guide, and protect.
Jesus applied the phrase to His concern for Israel: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, CSB; see also Luke 13:34).
Boaz recognized that Ruth, a Moabite foreigner, had sought refuge under the God of Israel’s wings (Ruth 2:10–12). “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings,” says Psalm 36:7. The psalmist seeks refuge and shelter “under His wings” (Psalm 57:1; 61:4) and even sings for joy “in the shadow of His wings” (Psalm 63:7, ESV).
But there is a richer, fuller application for under His wings that emerges in Psalm 91. In the first verse, the same idea of God as a sheltering refuge is established: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). In God’s presence are security, guidance, protection, and care.
Some Bible versions replace “the shelter of the Most High” with “the secret place of the Most High.” In the Old Testament, the Jewish people associated God’s presence with a specific place—the Holy of Holies. Inside the wilderness tabernacle and then, later, in the temple was a secret, innermost chamber where only the high priest could enter once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people (Exodus 28; Hebrews 9:7). This sacred place of worship contained the ark of the covenant covered by the mercy seat where God was enthroned, and His holy presence dwelled among His people (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89).
Upon the mercy seat sat two hammered gold cherubim, or angels, with their wings overshadowing the ark: “The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it” (Exodus 25:20, NLT).
The one who “dwells in the secret place of the Most High” and “abides in the shadow of the Almighty” is the one whose sins have been atoned for and who stands clean and forgiven. Only then can one say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2). The psalmist continues: “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:3–4).
Those who are protected by the salvation of the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ will dwell forever in God’s presence. They will escape death and the snare of the devil (Hebrews 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:24). They can now enter the secret place—the holy of holies (Hebrews 10:19–22). They can boldly approach God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) anytime, not just once a year, because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His shed blood, which opened up a new and living way.
From the days of the wilderness wanderings, the people of God have taken refuge under His wings: “He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them. . . . Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions. The LORD alone guided them” (Deuteronomy 32:10–12, NLT). Whenever the children of Israel needed help, they prayed, “Hide me under the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8). And now, because of Jesus Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, we can forever abide under His wings in the protected shelter of His presence.