Last week, I wrote a post called How and Why Should I Study the Bible? In this post, I want to share a reading from the Bible, to demonstrate some of the suggestions from that previous post.
When we meditate on scripture, we are taking time to learn what’s on God’s heart and to spend time with Him. Some call this being in “the secret place.” What would make it that and what do those words even mean? Let’s find out by studying a scripture where the term is used. A good place to look is at the “secret place” in Psalm 91.
The opening lines of this psalm, verses 1 and 2, in the New King James Version (NKJV) say this:
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.”
There is much in this exquisite psalm about being kept safe, so we are right if we hear immediately in these first four lines that the secret place is a “hiding place,” a place of safety, but can we “fine tune” that and say more?
Remembering Some Secret Places from Childhood
When I was a little girl, I lived in a delightful house (especially for a child)! For one thing, I had a bedroom all to myself for a while! But, what was really memorable were all the hiding places I had where I could use my imagination.
For example, this house had two sundecks on top of it. To access one, you had to pass through my sister’s room. To access the other, you climbed up stairs to the very top of the house from the first sundeck. It was the “top of the world” for three children!
In the backyard was a small outbuilding for tools and such, but it was a great place, again, to hide. Finally, there was a large “island” in the backyard created by a circular wall. This was filled with dirt, a huge palm tree, and multiple other plants. It was my island in the sea as I imagined myself in far away places – perhaps far away from the “burdens” of a little girl – school work, peer pressure, parents’ scolding and so on. I often took my picnics there and hid in the shade of the tree.
When I think of these “retreat” places in this rambling old Californian home, this psalm comes alive for me. The Psalmist spoke of shelters and hiding places: the secret place (v.1), the shadow of the Almighty (v.1), God as refuge and fortress (v.2), being under God’s wings (v.4), and so on.
Hebrew Meaning of the ‘Secret Place’
When this psalm was first written, what did the writer mean to tell us about God when he spoke of the secret place? That’s an important part of Bible study – thinking about what the passage meant to its original writers and readers. And can we understand it better by looking at the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic words behind the English words we read now?
There are many articles about Psalm 91 and the secret place – in Bibles, on the internet, and so on. But I found one that particularly touched my heart – it stood out as being unique. This article, Hebrew Word Study – The Secret Place, was posted on Dec. 9, 2014 by “Chaim and Laura.” Their site is chaimbentorah.com and you can find the full article here.
A Different Take on the Secret Place
The authors wrote that the word for secret place is satar. Now you might go to a bible dictionary or concordance and see the word spelled this way “cether.” “What’s going on?” would be a very reasonable question. Is it satar or cether?
When a Hebrew word is spelled with English letters, the closest letter to create the Hebrew sound in English is what is chosen. So, you might see slightly different spellings from different resources.
But, let’s get down to the heart of the matter. What did the authors of this article say about the word “satar?” They said, “it is true that the word satar means shelter or secret place. It could also be rendered secret things.”
Studying the Hebrew Letters Reveals the Secret Place
The authors then said that the important thing is to study the Hebrew letters which are like pictures in order to gain a deeper understanding. “This word,” they said, “is spelled with the letters Samek, Taw, and Resh.”
“The Samek will tell us what this secret place is. If you look at the Samek, it is like a little rounded vessel with a flat roof or cover. The ancient sages picture this as a shelter. The little rounded vessel would represent the heart of God and when you crawl into His heart, he places a cover over it and you are protected. When the writer speaks of those who dwell in the satar of God he is referring, in a poetic sense, to those who find shelter in the heart of God.”
In speaking of the other two letters of this word satar, the authors said, the Taw “represents the truth or knowledge of God,” and the Resh “represents the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth and knowledge of God and [that] ultimately [leads us] to our restoration.”
It is a beautiful article on the Hebrew poetic sense of the original word that’s been translated as shelter and/or secret place.
How Do We Get to This Secret Place?
I have, unfortunately, heard people teach about this in a way that makes it sound like we earn the secret place and that it is reserved for those extra special, upper tier believers. But I do not hear this passage that way.
Let’s turn for a moment to the NIV translation, and let me point something out. The NIV doesn’t use the phrase “secret place.” It does translate satar as “shelter.”
But, read this:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91: 1 NIV)
That word implies this “crawling into God’s heart where He puts a cover over you and protects you” is available to anyone, everyone. The secret is to “dwell” in and on His heart, to so seek after Him with childlike trust that everything else is less compared to that. This includes doing things like Bible study, prayer, and worship. But, it is a lot about mindset.
I wrote a blog article called The Poor Man’s Praise about a recovering addict with no job and little money. He was struggling and found himself forgotten and mistreated as he tried to recover his life. But, when hurt by others, he just rested his mind on the heart and goodness of His Father in heaven. He was able to cope by thinking of the constant good character and the love of God.
You don’t have to be the top saint in the church, a theologian or a pastor who’s led for decades. To get to this secret spot, you just need to keep pulling your mind back to your Father, saying, “He is love.” Childlike trust is the way in to the satar.
Why is the Secret Place of Psalm 91 important?
Let’s just read some more of the Psalm. What happens when you dwell, abide in this closeness to God’s heart?
Here are verses 3-11 of Psalm 91. If you click on the image, you can print and save these verses and carry them with you, remembering these tremendous blessings that come from this close union with God.
Our simple, childlike, and constant trust causes us to be so watched over and protected by God and His angels. That’s the benefit of the secret place of trust. We gain knowledge of God’s heart and how to live like Him. And, we’re aided to receive these benefits by the Holy Spirit.
One last point about this incredible Psalm. In just the first two verses four names of our wonderful God who chooses to shelter us are given:
Most High – El Elyon
Almighty – El Shaddai
LORD – Yahweh
God – Elohim
All these words reflect the incredible power and strength of God, and yet He covers us with His wings like a mother bird.
The Final Verses: Psalm 91:12-16
“Grover Cleveland placed his hand on Psalm 91:12-16 as he took the presidential oath of office in 1893.” (from the American Patriot’s Bible, p. 663) So, what do these verses say, that he considered them so important?
In their hands [the angels] they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
‘Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble…deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation.’
God will take care of you. Only trust Him.
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