It was the Carnival weekend and our sons Daniel and Stephen and their two cousins had planned a "safari" up the hill behind our house near São Paulo, Brazil. Loaded with supplies, they trailblazed about a quarter of a mile until they found an interesting tree half-way down the hillside. Making his way through the brush, six-year-old Stephen suddenly felt "bugs" flying around his neck. Daniel, 9, came to the rescue, swatting away the bees that attacked his brother—and stepped in the middle of a ground hive. All four children scrambled down the hillside pursued by the furious swarm which stung them repeatedly. In their panic they lost shoes, binoculars, knives, and other paraphernalia as they tumbled over boulders and through six-foot undergrowth toward home. In their frantic rush to safety, their cries of pain mingled with shouted prayers for God's deliverance. Daniel, remembering African killer bees inhabited the area, felt certain they were going to die.
When the four arrived, screaming in pain and the onset of shock, my wife administered first aid. She discovered that the bees had left no fewer than 50 stingers in each child. Daniel had more than 70. He began to vomit continuously for four hours. But God heard his prayers. Although no pediatrician was on call at the hospital, three doctors and two registered nurses were in our neighborhood that afternoon. All quickly responded to the plea for help, administering antiallergy and other medicines. All the kids developed fevers, severe itching, and swelling. Yet by God's grace, they recovered quickly. Things could have been so much worse.
The "bee episode" reminds me of the psalmist's reflection on God's sovereign protection. So often we focus so much on the exceptions to the rule of God's providential care, that we fail to acknowledge the thousands of protections, both seen and unseen, that we do experience. While not ignoring the reality of suffering in a harsh world, the author portrays a loving, sovereign Creator who genuinely shelters his own: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence" (Ps. 91:1–3).
At times we see visible reminders of God's protection. But how many times has He spared us from unknown dangers crouching in the shadows, ready to pounce on hapless prey? These acts of salvation are truly without number (Ps. 71:15). How many of us have experienced an annoying delay, only to realize that, were it not for the delay, a tragic accident loomed ahead? Psalm 91 goes on to describe the wonderful security that the believer experiences in the face of dangers known and unknown: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart" (v. 4).
Probably all of us have experienced God's deliverance from potentially tragic circumstances…a burglar stalking in the yard… mechanical failure on a deserted stretch of highway…getting lost in the wrong part of town. The psalmist recognized the reality of such nightmares, but also sensed the security of God's presence: "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday" (vv. 5–6). God delivers us from "dangers in the night," terrors unknown that stalk us, only to be halted by the heavenly host.
"For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent" (vv. 11–13). From time to time I wonder about "the things that go 'bump' in the night." It's probably good that I don't know of the dangers which so often surround me. Were God to show a film of these lurking disasters, it would probably make a Steven Spielberg extravaganza seem like the adventures of Barney the Dinosaur in comparison. According to the psalmist, we should praise the Lord for His protection from both seen and unseen dangers.
The psalmist concludes, "'Because he loves me,' says the LORD, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation'" (vv. 14–16).
Each of us can probably recall some object or event from our own past which can likewise serve as a stimulus to praise. We can start to record the many occasions in which we experience God's providential care, whether in a family journal, a "memorial box" with concrete reminders of God's faithfulness (a dead bee?), or even filmed "eyewitness accounts." As we record more and more of these events we will find ourselves developing a "sixth sense," an awareness of God's protection. As a family we rejoice in God's protection from the bees. Even though our sons still flinch when they hear buzzing nearby, we have learned to use the sight and sound of bees as a reminder to worship God for His protection.
Dave Merkh (Th.M. 86), his wife Carol Sue, and their six children have been missionaries at Word of Life Seminary in São Paulo, Brazil, since 1987.