Shadow is a metaphor for protection in many verses of the Bible. As I have mused on these verses, it is God who is doing the protecting and His people are what is being protected. Shadow and shade are not the only ideas we need to look at for the area of protecting someone. We will add the words pillar and cloud to expand the study.
Pillar of Cloud and Clouds
Okay, I will touch on these as two different things, but the cloud will not just produce shade but protect you from the glory of God. Wait a minute, shadows are produced by solid objects, and clouds are not solid! This is true, the blocking ability of clouds is in the billions of waterdrops that scatter the light rays from being able to get through them in a straight line. The darker the appearance of the cloud is due to how dense the droplets are in it. “Silver-linings” are from this light-scattering property.
Many references to clouds are part of a story where the glory of God is involved. From Exodus 13 through Deuteronomy 31 “a cloud” and the “pillar of cloud” are usually the same thing if they are talking about God interacting with people. In Samuel, just a cloud is covering things or hiding the glory. The “pillar” that led the Children is not mentioned past Deuteronomy except in Nehemiah 9 when he is used it to show the faithfulness of God. Did the pillar of cloud go past the Jordan? Isaiah 4:5-6 does describe what my paradigm of the pillar of cloud did for those forty years. In Psalm 99:7, a function of the pillar is told of how and when Moses spoke with God.
What did the cloud by day and the fire by night look like? I recently saw a drawing where the “pillar” was a narrow thing that only stood over the Tent that housed the Ark. Many of the references in Exodus may lend weight to this idea. I always had the idea that the “cloud” provided shade for the camp during the day and light and warmth at night. I had hoped that Balaam (Numbers 23) or Rahab (Joshua 2) said something about the pillar and cloud, but they did not, so for now I will hold on to both of those ideas.
In the NIV “shadow of” followed by “His wings, His hand, and the Almighty” is found in seven verses. His hand is found in Isaiah 49:2 and 51:16. God’s hand was protecting Isaiah as part of him doing his ministry. I believe the other five have a connection to the Exodus.
The “shadow of His wings” puzzled me. I just never thought of the Father as having or needing wings. More metaphors, possibly? In studying the Ark, the Mercy Seat or lid to the box offered a better picture. The two angels that are part of the lid were made to spread their wings over the Mercy Seat, which was sprinkled with blood and where God talked to Moses from. Being in the shadow of those wings would put you at the mercy of God. The shadow would be greater if the wings spread out horizontally and not vertically (Exodus 25:17-22). A Google search of the Mercy Seat shows the artist making the wings in both directions. I like that picture of being in the shadow protected while resting on His mercy.
I believe Moses wrote Psalm 91 as a singing lesson to teach the Children in the wilderness. Verse one is the first visual as they lived under the cloud of the Almighty. The rest of that psalm could be connected with many of the things that happened as Israel left Egypt.
Study work-connect the verses of Psalm 91 to events in the Exodus.