In 1978 a book appeared called “The Upside Down Kingdom”, by Donald Kraybill. I’ll say now that I haven’t read it, but I heard of it years ago and the title has stuck with me ever since, because it seems so true of the King who wins by apparently losing and leads by serving. The Kingdom of God certainly turns the world’s wisdom upside down, and it has continued to turn the world upside down for the last 2,000 years. I used to be reminded of it often as I had a plain leather Bible cover with no marking to show the front of the back, and it seemed that every time I opened my Bible I opened it upside down. Maybe I needed a lot of reminding.
Going as lambs into the wolf-pack to take their territory is definitely an upside-down idea. However it’s no more upside down than the Israelite “grasshoppers” going into Canaan to defeat the giants, because it’s not the lambs who overcome the wolves any more than it was the puny Israelites who overcame the giants: in both cases, the battle is the Lord’s. And if the battle is to be His, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God,” (1 Cor 15:50) it is imperative that we do not attempt to fight the battle any other way: it is only as lambs that we will see the wolves defeated.
The key to our protection is of course the fact that God does not ask His lambs to go out alone. He is with us, and He is the only protection we need. Our first stop for a “protection” scripture has to be Psalm 91, and indeed we need to look no further if we want to discover exactly how the Shepherd has established protection for His lambs. The psalm is full of wonderful promises for protection, but they are summed up well in verses 9-10:
“Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;”
No evil. No plague. Thank you Lord; I’ll take that, particularly now! However there is a condition; a “because.” The condition is that we make the Most High our “dwelling place.” Our dwelling place is where we live; it’s our habitation, our home. It’s the place where we dwell intimately with our spouse and family. It’s the word used most frequently in the OT for the Lord’s “holy habitation,” whether on Earth, in His sanctuary, or in Heaven where He has His eternal home. The opening verse of the psalm says: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” These verses don’t mean that when we are threatened we run to him from wherever we have gone and remind Him of His promise by quoting verses of scripture in His face: they mean that if we dwell with Him and He is our home, we dwell under His protection, we abide in His shadow.
As parents we might play shadow games with our children: we walk around outside in the sunshine, and they have to stay in our shadow as we move. To stay in our shadow, they will have to stay close. To stay in God’s shadow, His Word says that we must dwell with Him. We stay close. We don’t go running to Him from the other end of the garden when next door’s big dog suddenly barks close by.
Jesus will have it no other way. Our protection is nothing other than His presence. Moses said to the Lord “Unless you go with us, I’m not going anywhere!” Jesus turns this round, and says: “Unless you go with me, you’re not going anywhere!” This isn’t just for our benefit, because our souls are fragile; it’s for the purpose of the Kingdom, in our lives and in the lives of those to whom we are sent, because it’s as we abide in His presence that we are also able to walk in His ways, “not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.“ (1 Pe 3:9) This is the way of the Lamb. It’s the way to bring His peace and righteousness into our world.
We know the Lord speaks to us through His word, and we know that there is power and authority in the word of God to perform His will. But He is drawing us closer into His presence in these days, and those verses from one of everyone’s favourite psalms are only part of the picture. Yes, they declare the Truth, and as it’s the Word of God this truth is “living and Active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Heb 4:12) However they also point us to a higher truth: just as God is with us, He desires passionately for us to be with Him, so that we can know the truth of the words He has given us in the fullest possible way.
A final thought. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was the final verbalisation of all the passion that Jesus carried in His heart. This is one of the things He prayed for you and me: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) If we stay close to the Lamb, not only does he protect us from the wolves, but we get to behold His glory. What more could we ask?