For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:3-4)
Life is full of adversity. Our city of “brotherly love” has a very significant rise in murders and other crimes. I took our four foster kids to a nearby park, and found two different size bullet casings on the walkway, the same park where a few weeks before a youth was murdered. This week someone was arrested for attempting to steal the catalytic converter from under a car parked in front of my house. Last year we had rioting on two rounds, with stores boarded up all around us and helicopters hovering over our house as looting and destruction ran rampant. But we remember, the LORD is our shield, our protector against whatever may be against us. Since God is omnipresent, is knows our situation and he is there to deliver us “from the snare of the fowler.” A fowler is a trap for birds. As we see in Psalm 124, “Blessed be the LORD, / who has not given us / as prey to their teeth! / We have escaped like a bird / from the snare of the fowlers; / the snare is broken, / and we have escaped!” (Ps. 124:6-7).
“The snare of the fowler” is being used as a metaphor for any hidden plot against believers to endanger their lives. We see such plots being crafted by Muslims falsely accusing two Christian nurses in Pakistan of blasphemy by saying that they scrapped off an old sticker that had qur’anic verses from a medicine cabinet. Pakistani blasphemy laws can bring life imprisonment or a sentence of death. They are often used as a means of subversively destroying a Christian.
Also, today we are seeing the Chinese government as another “snare of the fowler” in using face recognition technology from securities cameras on every citizen to log against Christians unfavorable actions and associations on their social index score, such as meeting with other known Christians for worship or Bible study. Thus, they may be denied a bank loan, housing, or educational opportunities. Although the Chinese Christian’s permanent record may be damaged, the LORD cannot forget us, because he says, he “will have compassion on his afflicted.” Even as a nursing mother does not forget her child, so he cannot forget us. He declares, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:14-16). How? When Jesus’ hands were nail pierced for our sins to accomplish our salvation.
In verse 4 we see the psalmist describes God as a caring mother bird protecting her young chicks.
“He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge.”
To be covered with a bird’s pinions is to have the protection of the outer large feathers used for flight. David too cried in prayer to the LORD, “Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Psalm 61:4). Again, he prayed in Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Yet again in 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.” It is possible that symbolically the psalmist is making reference to the cherubim wings stretched out over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in the temple where God is present (Ex. 37:7-9). Only through God’s mercy can we have any hope in this world. That mercy is found in Jesus, who as our mediator, his blood as the Lamb of God was shed for our atonement.
Jesus took on the role of being our refuge for us as he lamented over Jerusalem, saying, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). As a prairie fire quickly burns across the wind swept plain, a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings for a shield of protection. After the fire, the hen will be burned to a crisp, but the chicks will all run out from under her protective wings. Are we willing to be gathered as our Lord’s children under his protection, or do we think we can go it alone, without his aid? Without his protection we are vulnerable to fear and destruction, as Jerusalem came to be destroyed in A.D. 70 in judgment. In Jesus we have his abiding presence and hope. As Jesus said to his disciples, “…in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
 Jordan Sekulow, “Two Christian Nurses Arrested for Blasphemy in Pakistan – Face Life in Prison Over a Sticker,” ACLJ; https://aclj.org/persecuted-church/two-christian-nurses-arrested-for-blasphemy-in-pakistan-face-life-in-prison-over-a-sticker?view=original (accessed 4/29/2021).
 Cole Richards, “Facial Recognition,” Voice of the Martyrs (May 2021), 3.
A Covenanted People
© Bruce A. McDowell
By faith our righteousness was sealed,
Abram the cov’nant sign received;
Redeemed by Christ the crucified,
Regenerated by his grace, so that…
We are God’s people and He is our God!
I am God’s child, and He is my God!
Created new in Jesus Christ,
Our sin was washed, by blood out-poured;
From guilt, shame, death we are redeemed,
No longer slaves, but free in Christ, so that…
United in his death, we rise,
We live with Christ, to sin have died;
The sign of life by faith received,
By water cleansed and Spirit sealed, so that…
Hinder not children from it seal,
To such belongs God’s Kingdom;
New birth, new life, and giv’n a name,
Adopted child to God’s household, so that…
In Him who called: Identity,
In His one Name we are baptized;
Diverse, and joined as family,
In Christ our Head we are received, so that…
Today there are 80 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, with 45.7 million being internally displaced, while 26.3 million being refugees that have fled to another country. The average time people spend in a refugee camp is 16 years. There are over 4.5 million that have fled Venezuela, with 3.6 million categorized as displaced. Some thousands of these have come to reside in the Dominican Republic. There are also almost two million undocumented Haitians in the D.R., which are needed for employment in agriculture, construction, and domestic help, but denied citizenship. The country also has an estimated over 200,000 stateless people, the children of undocumented immigrants from Haiti, born in the Dominican Republic. This means they have no country to which they belong, as they are not citizens of either the Dominican Republic or of Haiti. What should be the response of Christians to these people?
Throughout the Bible we see that the character of God as loving, just, merciful and compassionate is reflected in his laws. Among those laws, the greatest are, “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5); and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). These two greatest laws are a summary of the Ten Commandments. Flowing out of these moral commandments come more specific laws to the nation of Israel. One of the laws concerning social justice is: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21). The command is expanded slightly a bit further on, appealing to the heart, saying, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). Then in Leviticus the command is further developed: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:33-34). We see in the book of Ruth how Boaz fulfilled this law by welcoming Ruth, the Moabite widow, to glean from his fields and provided grain for her and her mother-in-law to live.
An additional law was that the tithe of the Israelite was to go “to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deut. 26:12). So, helping the poor, needy, and foreigner was an important part of worship to God. Thus, Paul admonished the churches of Macedonia, Achaia, and Galatia to help the poor and destitute from famine in Jerusalem by making a collection for them each Sunday (1 Cor. 16:1-3).
Fasting, too, was meaningless for seeking the LORD if one sought one’s “own pleasure and oppressed all your workers” (not paying a fair wage for being an undocumented alien), and did not “share your bread with the hungry / and bring the homeless poor into your house; / when you see the naked, to cover him.” But “if you pour yourself out for the hungry / and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, / then shall your light rise in the darkness / and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isa. 58:3, 7, 10).
Further application of this law regarding the sojourner is applied to worship in Numbers. “And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD, he shall do as you do. For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the LORD. One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you” (Num. 15:14-15). So, we alike come before the LORD in the same way, because he does not make a distinction between us. We are all made in his image, and we all are sinners who need redemption through the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
When we come to the New Testament, we see that even Jesus, likely a toddler at the time, became a sojourner, or refugee, in Egypt with his parents (Matthew 2:13-15). They fled from the sword of King Herod who wanted to kill any potential competition to his throne, as the magi had come to him looking to worship the king whose star they followed. This is an example of how Jesus identified with us in our human experience and sufferings, going to Egypt where Israel suffered in slavery. Jesus became the new Israel, fulfilling what the nation had failed to keep.
Jesus reiterated the commands to love God and our neighbor as fulfillment of the law. He then further elaborated what we must do to keep this commandment with his parable of the King who judges the nations as one judges like a shepherd by separating the sheep and goats. Those on his right will inherit the kingdom. The King will say, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me…” (Matt. 25:32-36).
Of course, newly arrived refugees are the strangers among us. We have an obligation to welcome them and help provide for their needs. They arrive with many disadvantages which we can help alleviate. And in doing so, we demonstrate love. As Jesus told his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Finally, in Hebrews we have the Lord’s admonishment, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb.13:2). Abraham was one who had invited in for a meal three strangers, who turned out to be angels, one likely a theophany of pre-incarnate Jesus (Gen. 18:1-8). That was followed by Lot inviting the two angels for hospitality into his home (Gen. 19:1-3). As Abraham had shown hospitality to Jesus, we too show hospitality to Jesus by inviting in or welcoming the stranger. As Jesus said in his parable of the King, “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matt. 25:40).
So as we consider our response to the immigrant, the refugee, the undocumented, and the stateless people around us, we can only respond in love, compassion, and with justice towards those who have suffered oppression, violence, discrimination, and lack of equal rights. What the state is obligated to do according to their laws is not the same as what we as individuals and the church are called to do. Although Christians may be polarized by politics, we should be united in caring for the world by not becoming like the world.
We need to remember, as King David prayed, “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding” (1 Chronicles 29:15). Rather than being focused on our citizenship in a nation-state, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Therefore, we must act according to love, justice, and equality. We must preach the gospel to the sojourner in word and deed. For as Paul preached concerning all peoples, “on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). So wherever someone lives as God has determined, may we help them find God as we show them mercy.
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God..." (Romans 8:14-16).
This week I was again at a familiar small business in my neighborhood. It is owned by a Mauritanian (West Africa) businessman. I decided it was time to engage in conversation with the young man attending the register, especially as there were no other customers in the store. On another occasion I had asked him where he was from, to which he responded, "Mauritania." This is one of the least reached with the gospel countries in the world! He came to Philadelphia at age 16.
So I asked, "What is your name?"
He said, "Abdullah."
I responded, "Oh, you're a Muslim."
He said, "Yes, I grew up a Muslim."
I asked, Have you ever learned about another religion?"
He answered, "No, I've never had the opportunity to. All I have known since growing up from small is Islam."
"Do you attend one of the mosques in this area?"
"No, I go to one at 57th and Baltimore."
I inquired, "Why don't you go to one nearby here?"
"I go to the one near my house. I live over there," he responded.
"Oh, I thought you were the son of the owner."
With a bit of a pause he responded, "No, he is a relative, my cousin."
I asked, "Are you in school?"
"No, but I want to attend the CCP (Community College of Philadelphia)."
"What do you want to study?"
"Medical science. But if that doesn't work out, I want to study to be a pilot."
"Nice. Sounds great. I hope it works out for you."
Now I took my opportunity to bear witness. "Abdullah means 'slave of Allah,' right?"
He nodded his head in agreement.
"You know that you can be set free from being a slave of Allah to being his adopted son instead? You can actually be a friend of God, just like Abraham was 'the friend of God.' You can have a close relationship with God."
He looked a bit surprised, but interested.
I continued, "We are all sinners, slaves of sin, Satan, and fear of death. Our sin separates us from God."
Abdullah responded, "Yes, 'Isa was a perfect man, with no sin."
"Right. No one else in the world has been without sin. But through 'Isa al-Masih (Jesus Christ) we can be set free. We can become sons of God, having a close relationship with God. Through faith in the death and resurrection of 'Isa al-Masih we can have new life and be born again."
He looked curious. So I went on, "Have you ever read the Bible, the Taurat (Torah), Injil (Gospel)?"
He replied, "Yes, I have started to. I listen to it."
I was encouraged. "Great. Keep doing that. I encourage you to read one of the Gospels about the life and teaching, death and resurrection of 'Isa."
Signing off I said, "Nice talking to you. See you again soon. I'll be praying for you."
Will you pray for Abdullah, too? I am hoping to be able to continue the conversation....