Today, I was reading the 23rd Psalm. Most of us know it by heart and can quote it’s comforting verses easily. However, I wanted something new but was still drawn to this passage. I was reminded that David was a poet and poets love to contrast so you feel the difference, experience it so to speak, as they pen the words. David speaks of God’s constant provision and bounty of green pastures. Beautiful, calm bodies of water and abundant peace. The flock has abundance of food and plenty of water. He then contrasts these lovely locations with the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. David was a shepherd and the connotation of a shepherd’s life is laced throughout the verses. One of the great perils in that area of Palestine was fraught with deep, dark ravines. Mountains and ravines with very limited flat-lands. If one of the flock wandered or fell into one of these places the shepherd would go down to rescue them. He had a responsibility to the flock and to each individual animal, therefore….
David contrasts the life of ease with the life of distress. Traversing the walls of these ravines was dangerous. The shepherd might survive the descent only to find the animal had not. Or the shepherd could lose his own life and then the entire flock would be in danger. But for the shepherd with a heart for those in his care, he has no choice but to go after the ONE. The poet speaks of these deep valleys as being in the shadow of death. For most of us, death is the darkest experience we could ever imagine. It is sad and depressing. It overwhelms us with grief when one whom we have loved passes away. The darkness of the hour of death can make even the most devout Christian feel some fear of that journey. Just as the shepherd may fear the descent to rescue or recover, we fear the journey into the unknown, unless….
We must understand what David means by the “shadow of death”. He is not speaking of death itself. He is referring to the dark, dank, gloomy ravines or valleys, as being comparable to the shadow, or possibility of death. David was not about to die. He was not speaking as though he were constantly walking a fine line where he could die at any moment, although we know none of us are assured of the next moment. He was speaking of a place so dark and shadowed, that you had to depend on something other than light of day to get you safely to the bottom. He was so assured of God’s presence in his life that he wrote of walking ‘through’ the valley of the shadow of death and safely back up the other side to the verdant terraces in the side of the mountain.
He was assured of safe passage because the rod and the staff comforted him. The staff was used for rescue and the rod for discipline. No matter where we are in life we can be certain that God will save us and he will protect us. There may be no light, no path, no clear way for passage, but God! No reason to fear what you cannot see, because FAITH in God is belief in things you cannot see, so even when you are blinded by the vicissitudes of life, HE is not!
Then the poet has the temerity to speak of feasting in the presence of his enemies. Seriously? That certainly is not at all appealing to me. I like to relax and enjoy fellowship during a meal. I don’t want to have to keep looking over my shoulder to see if someone is sneaking up on me. Why would David propose such a thing? He has transitioned from a place of almost certain death and then considers HIS God to amply provide sustenance once more and of all places? Smack dab in the midst of danger? The poet is once again contrasting two unlikely scenarios. He wants us to understand that he has enemies. But he also wants us to understand that God does not hide HIS blessings on our lives from anyone. Those who despise will still see and understand that while their lives are void of God’s blessings, they cannot ignore what they see in the life of those who are loved and protected by the Shepherd. The oil which ran over his head was a symbol of God’s riches in his life.
He closes his poem with praise to God for HIS mercy and HIS goodness which covered his life and vows to dwell in the presence of the Lord forever. No matter what you ponder as you read this chapter, one thing is perfectly clear. David trusts his Shepherd. He gives HIM glory for all provision. As Christians, we know the still waters as the Holy Spirit, or Living water. The great Fountain of Life for us to stay refreshed. His Word is our bread of life. The green pastures are those times of peace and joy in our journey with the Lord. And yes, there are those times of peril.
You may be going through a time of financial famine, great physical affliction, or spiritual drought. It matters not the ravine or the lack of sight for the future. Trusting the Shepherd is the only way THROUGH the valley. Trust him to keep you close, to protect you from any harm, and grant you safe passage. Whether it is a journey to another season or your walk into HIS presence from this life as you live it, we are all safe in HIS Everlasting Arms. HIS blessings are constant in the fact that mercy and grace are perched on our 6 every single moment. We need not fear the valley nor our enemies nor any lack when we are under the protection of the Great Shepherd.
I am going through the valley of the shadow of death as I write these blogs. I see no clear path. I am losing constantly on man’s chart of the perfect life. But I know the Good Shepherd is with me. I know HE grants me comfort when I most need it. I know HE is protecting me when I am lost and confused. I know HE gives me moments of clarity through the fog of Early-onset Alzheimer’s so I can catch my breath before going under once more. I know HIS mercies are new every day.
Side Bar moment: I wrote this in less than 30 minutes. Most blogs take a minimum of 2-3 days living in my new normal. So errors may be abundant, but I am not going to edit. Hope this blesses you in some small way.