John G. Paton is one of my favorite missionaries. Paton was a Scottish missionary who died at the age of 83 in Australia after serving the people of the islands of New Hebrides for approximately 40 years. Maybe Paton is best known by his nickname which was given to him by Charles Spurgeon; Spurgeon called him “the king of the cannibals.” He was given this nickname because the New Hebrides islands were primarily populated by an unreached group of rivaling cannibalistic tribes and it was this rough bunch Paton felt called to preach the Gospel to.
In the early days and weeks of the Paton family living there, he got used to many tense nights as these tribal peoples would visit the area around the home to investigate and other times just to try to scare them away.
Paton writes in his diary of one particular evening when he was convinced they were going to burn their newly built home down to the ground with him and his family in it. Paton and his wife prayed God would deliver them. When daylight came, they were amazed to see that their attackers had left.
1 year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. And remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief’s response was a question: “Who were all those men with you there?” Paton knew no men were present and told the chief so, but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the home. They were afraid to enter this house – not because they feared the Patons – but they feared this place where the Most High was protecting.
Psalm 91:1-2 reads, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
God is a refuge. If He wasn’t, then the psalmist wouldn’t “abide under the shadow” of His God.
In the Ancient Near East, a house was more than a place to “hang your hat.” Homes were places of protection for the benefit of guests at no cost to them and at great cost to the homeowner. The home was a place of safety, not just for the family, but for any who needed a place to flee their enemies or to escape the weather or a predator. A home was a metaphor for protection.
Also, in this area of the world, there is little shade and the sun can be dangerous and oppressive. So, shadows also become metaphors for care and protection. The figures of “the secret place” and “shadow” depict protection and security. God Himself protects those who trust Him. God is a home for His people.
You know, many talk of the omnipresence of God or the protection of God. Many people understand theologically that He is a refuge. Others know what it means to run to God when they are in trouble. They know what it means to see Him as a refuge when they are in danger to.
But not enough people live under His protection. Some people look to God as a refuge, others run to it; but few live there. Not enough people live there and too many think they know what it means or just simply look for His protection when there is danger.
This psalmist lives “under the shadow” like a baby bird does it’s mother. God is the One to whom one must flee for refuge in dangerous and insecure circumstances. He will never cast his confidence to another.