Kanaph: WINGS of Refuge and Healing

WING, EDGE, CORNER: kanaph. Feminine noun. (Strong’s 3671).

Root: כָּנָף

Sounds like: kaw-nawf

One of the great pleasures of living in Prince Edward Island is the stunning wild life. Yesterday I saw two gold finches flutter playfully in the tree branches; on Friday I watched a Northern Flicker take a dust bath in the road behind our house; I’ve watched a snowy owl hop along the edge of the Northumberland Strait; I’ve observed Cedar Wax Wings dining at the feeder; I’ve seen Osprey in their nests with their young; And I watched 2 bald eagles fly in tandem over our heads while my husband and I lounged in the pool. There are so many amazing winged things soaring around our little Island, bringing song and dance to the skies!

On the wings of a bird

When you think of wings in the Bible, however, your first thought might go to angels, but a detailed study on angels show that they do not have wings. Your second thought might go to eagles wings, because… well because of verses like this:

Exodus 19:3-6

Moses went up to God, and YHWH called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings [kan’phe], and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

There are numerous references to eagle’s wings (including Deuteronomy 32:11, Jeremiah 48:40, Ezekiel 17:3). Most relay the idea that God is protective and powerful, like the wings of an eagle.

Photo by Naveen Chandra (unsplash.com)

The Hebrew people, rescued by God, metaphorically flew out of Egypt. In Proverbs, the strength of eagle’s wings show how swiftly wealth can fly away.

Proverbs 23:4-5

Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.

For wealth certainly makes itself wings [k’naphim] like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.

Biblically, wings are most commonly linked with eagles, but stork wings (Zechariah 5:9) and dove wings are also mentioned:

Psalm 68:13

When you lie down among the sheepfolds, you are like the wings [kan’pheh] of a dove covered with silver, and its pinions with glistening gold.

Interesting that Jesus didn’t compare himself to the strength of the eagle, the glistening wings of a dove or the long wings of a stork. Jesus, instead, compared himself to a hen:

Luke 13:30-35

Jesus: “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’ Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of YHWH!’”

Jesus wanted to protect them from the fox in the hen-house (Herod), but the people didn’t want protecting. The Jewish people weren’t looking for a mothering, compassionate, redeemer. They wanted a King who would come and destroy Herod and the Romans. They wanted the war talons of an eagle, not the simple, but protective, wing of a chicken.

Corners of the Earth

Although the word kanaph most commonly meant wing or extremity, it could also denoted the corner or edge of something:

Isaiah 11:12

And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth [kan’phot ha-aretz].

Occasionally this translated as ends of the earth, but that is probably not be the best choice of words. More commonly “the ends of the earth” is either q’tseh ha-aretz (which you can find in Isaiah 41:9, 49:6, Psalm 48:10, 65:5 etc) or ahf’seh aretz (which you find in Deuteronomy 33:17, 1 Samuel 2:10, Psalm 98:3 etc). A better translation for kan’phot ha-aretz might be corners of the earth or edge of the earth:

Job 38:12-13

YHWH to Job: “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the ends edge [b’kan’phot] of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?

Isaiah 24:16

From the ends corners [mi-k’naph] of the earth we hear songs, “Glory to the Righteous One,”

But I say, “Woe to me! Woe to me! Alas for me! The treacherous deal treacherously, and the treacherous deal very treacherously.”

This idea of the edge or corner of the earth was meant to make people think of garments. Yes, you heard that right. The edge of a skirt or the corner of cloak gives the mental picture that the author was trying to portray. After wings, the most common use of the word kanaph was to indicate the edge or corner of a garment.

Corners of a Garment

Numbers 15:37-39a

YHWH also spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners [kan’phe] of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel [tsit-tsit] of each corner [ha-kanaph] a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of YHWH…”

To this day the Jewish prayer shawl still has blue tsit-tsit [tassels] on each corner of the garment, as directed by this verse. In a way, they could be considered the wings of the shawl.

There’s an interesting story in the first book of Samuel where David, in conflict with King Saul, found Saul relieving himself in a cave. Secretly David snuck up behind him and, without Saul noticing, cut off the corner of his robe.

It seems like a strange thing to do, but essentially it was like symbolically clipping the wings of the King. David found himself feeling overwhelmingly guilty about his actions. This seems strange to us. It appeared to be a harmless prank, but here’s how David explained it:

1 Samuel 24:5-12

It came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge [kanaph] of Saul’s robe. So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of YHWH that I should do this thing to my lord, YHWH’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is YHWH’s anointed.” David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way.

Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, ‘Behold, David seeks to harm you’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen that YHWH had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the YHWH’s  anointed.’ Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge [k’naph] of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge [k’naph] of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. May YHWH judge between you and me, and may YHWH avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.”

David accepted that Saul was anointed by YHWH, and deserved respect. Secretly clipping the wings of the King was underhanded and dishonest and humiliating to Saul. For David, this was not the way to become the next King of Israel.

Psalm 57 was written with this moment in mind:

Psalm 57:1 (For the choirmaster. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul into the cave.) 

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings [k’napheka] I will take refuge until destruction passes by.

There was also a sense that the robe, like wings, was something that protected you. It covered you and kept you safe. David was protected by the wings of God, or the edge of YHWH’s garment. But cutting the corner of Saul’s cloak was metaphorically saying, you are losing your protection.

Wings of Refuge

In the shadow of YHWH’s wings, we are protected. Like an abandoned child, Israel, was alone on this planet. God chose them as His special people. He was the groomsman and they were His bride. It was from the Jewish people, and particularly the line of David, that God would bring the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would save humanity.

This line wasn’t purely Jewish, however. David’s great grandmother, Ruth, a Moabite woman, left her homeland and came, with her mother-in-law, to seek refuge with family in Bethlehem.

Boaz, their kinsman, recognized the valour of Ruth and prayed for her safety under the protective wings of YHWH:

Ruth 2:11-12

Boaz replied to her [Ruth], “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May YHWH reward your work, and your wages be full from YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings [k’naw’phah] you have come to seek refuge.”

YHWH did reward her. She would marry Boaz and become the distinguished ancestor of the Messiah.

Large wings, casting shadows, poetically represented God’s refuge. It was where people could feel safe, hidden and protected. In the Psalms this theme showed up repeatedly:

Psalm 61:1-4

Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy. Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings [k’napheka] .

Psalm 91:1-4

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to YHWH, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!”

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings [k’naphah] you may seek refugeHis faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

God is not just our refuge, a place to hide in times of trouble, He is also our great Healer. Hiding is a bandage until we can be fully healed. When people started to recognized Yeshua (Jesus) as a great healer and miracle maker, they felt that their safety and health was also connected to Him. All they had to do was touch His cloak and they would be healed:

Matt 14:34-36

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him [Jesus], they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.

The wings, or fringe, of Yeshua’s cloak wasn’t just a place of refuge, it was a place of healing.

There’s a wonderful story found in Luke (and Matthew 9) where Jesus was walking through a crowd and felt someone purposefully tugging at his garment.

Luke 8:43-46

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.”

This woman dared to go into the personal space of the Messiah… She touched the wing/edge/corner of Jesus garment because she knew that was all she has to do. It was a moment of great fatih:

Luke 8:47-48

When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Unfortunately we don’t get to hear the explanation she gave as to why she touched him, but I suspect she understood the concept of the Messiah having healing in his wings (or the edge of his robe). Just touching the tassel on his shawl would be enough to experience the healing through his garment.

Malachi 4:1-2

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says YHWH of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings [bik’naphe’ha]; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.”

There will be a time when we no longer have to hide in the shadow of God’s wings… we will be healed from the mortality of this life and live fully and freely in God’s kingdom… like happy, skipping, calves freed from the fences that hold us in.

Wings of the Wind

Our God is in control of everything. He is the Great Creator. He created us, gave us freedom, and watched us fall. But He did not give up on us. He sent a Saviour to redeem us. Psalm 104 is rich with garment and wing imagery:

Psalm 104:1-5

Bless YHWH, O my soul!

O YHWH my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendour and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings [kan’pheh] of the wind;

He makes the winds [spirits] His messengers, flaming fire His ministers. He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever.

Edges and garments and corners of foundations are all interconnected to the word kanaph. God was clothed with splendour and a covered in light. He walked on the edge of the wind… and the wind (a word which also means spirit, and breath), became the messengers of God. YHWH established the edges of the earth so that they would remain stable and firm forever and ever.

In life we don’t always have to hide in the shadow of God’s wings. Sometimes we can shine like the light, and walk along the edge, and be YHWH’s messengers!

At all times, however, it’s important to acknowledge that we need YHWH’s help, and under His protective covering we can experience joy to the fullest.

Psalm 63:7

For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings [k’napheka] I sing for joy.

The wings of YHWH aren’t only for protection. Sometimes, under God’s wings, we can soar!

Next week: create/Creator

6 thoughts on “Kanaph: WINGS of Refuge and Healing”

  1. I don’t believe it was all the Jewish people, after all they were the ones that for the most part (except Luke) gave us the New Testament and the Messiah. The Messiah, a practicing Jew, never quit being a Jew and never quit doing His Father’s Commandments. If he did not totally adhere to His Father’s commands He could not be the Messiah according to Deuteronomy 13. And we are to mimic what he did. He went and taught in the Synagogues. Not just anybody could do that. He did not come to create a new religion, but a restoration to the Father’s Torah which mankind broke. The Torah points us to the Messiah and the Messiah points us to the Torah. We are restored to that which we originally broke ties with. Torah equals Messiah and Messiah equals Torah. The WORD made flesh and dwelt among us. John chapter 1. If you study the origin of the word Law , logos in the New Testament, it will mention the Law of Moses. We are to do what those in the seat of Moses ( the Law Giver) tells us to do but not do as they do, according to Matthew 23:1-3 it is talking about the scribes and Pharisees. Revelations states that the patience of the saints are those who have the testimony of the Messiah and who keep the Father’s commandments. In acts it talks about the four things required for new believers and follows up by saying for they have those who teach about Moses on the Sabbaths. Be Blessed Dear Brethren!


  2. Interesting that this is Hebrew word lessons and yet you use the 400-year-old “Jesus” mangled transliteration of Yahshua (which means “Yah’s salvation).

    Let me reflect on the woman who touched Yahshua’s tzitziot (“tassles”–except they were more like an edging; tassels would not be practical for farmers, fisherman, and builders, and relief carvings from the period of the exile show them as edging): She had had to be separated from her family for 12 years (and that’s not just a coincidence that He was gong to the home of a 12-year-old girl!) in her compliance with the Torah. The “tassels” were commanded as a way to remember the commandments. So she, in essence, reached to touch a symbol of the very Torah that had kept her at great distance from family, friends, and her baby daughter (the dying 12-year-old). She was so committed to the Torah as life that even in her distress at the burden of it with this disease (she would make anything she touched unclean), she symbolically was saying that she had faith in it. Because, like the disciples said, He was being jostled and touched by many of the crowd. If she had thought a touch would do it, she wouldn’t not have bowed down and touched the VERY symbol of her trouble–to be free. I want to meet this woman!



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