A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
– Psalm 23
We shall suffer no want. Since it is the Lord, our beloved and faithful shepherd, Who has determined to withhold from us, we do not miss what we do not have and therefore, we do not feel its lack. Can He not also demonstrate His love and care for us by denying us the things we may desire? Who is rich? He who is content with what he has.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the quiet waters. For wherever He makes us to lie down, there the quiet waters will flow and there a pleasant pasture will flourish for us. We can therefore be confident that whatever God may decree for us is intended solely for our benefit and to do us good at our latter end.
He restores my soul. Any changes that God may determine to bring about in our lives is intended for our spiritual and moral welfare. If rest happens to be something that will prove harmful to us, He will orchestrate unrest and agitation in our lives. If restlessness and lack of peace should be harmful, on the other hand, then He will bring about peace and grant us rest once again.
“Lead me in paths . . .,” the idea in Hebrew is one of a “circuit” or a “path” i.e. the ways of life circumscribed by His Word, which keep within the bounds of law and order. Anything outside that “circle” is transgressing the bounds of righteousness. For His Name’s sake. This does not mean “in order to make Himself a name,” but rather, “in order to prove the ways of mercy which are expressed by His Name.” In other words, God deals kindly with us, not because of any merits or righteousness of our own, but because of His loving kindness and His mercies which are consistent with His nature.
The valley of the shadow of death. This describes a valley that is overshadowed by death in which all traces of life have completely vanished and where decay pervades absolutely everything. Everything recedes hopelessly into the blackest darkness of night that one can imagine. It is the gloomiest portrayal of disaster that can be expressed. And yet, David takes comfort in the knowledge that whatever he may receive from the Lord, be it chastisement (the rod) or support (the staff), is indeed the Lord’s and comes directly from His hand.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of all who oppress me. In the very midst of the darkest suffering, You give us peace that allows us to rejoice even within the brief moments of respite. In the midst of life’s direst circumstances, He will see to it that we find serenity and calm. Any situation, once we understand it and know how to use it as a means of drawing closer to God, will serve to bring us nothing but the profoundest sense of joy and reassurance.
The concepts of so-called ‘good fortune’ or ‘calamity’, therefore, recede into the background and cease to have any meaning for us, for the vicissitudes that we experience in this life can in no way disrupt or disturb the table of spiritual contentment that He has so graciously set before us, right in the very midst of our enemies and of those who oppress and seek to destroy us.
As long as we dwell on this earth and in the tent of this body, only goodness and mercy shall follow us, so long as our feet remain on the narrow path, pointed in the right direction, and we are headed to the house of the Lord. Wherever life may take us, no matter the tragic circumstances that may befall us on the way, may we learn to regard it all as a gift of His goodness and mercy. And once the days of our lives come to a close, may ‘dying’ to us be nothing more than a ‘return’ home to the house of the Lord forever.