If you’re like me, you’ve read (and heard read) the 23rd Psalm countless times. Written by David, this “Shepherd’s Psalm” is one of the psalms I’ve quoted over & over since May 13th when my son, Jordan, met the Shepherd face to face.
To his seminary students, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (executed by Hitler’s SS in 1945), taught that the Word of God must be given the opportunity to “live in our midst.” In other words, we need to commit it to memory, contemplate it, mentally sort through it, and allow the Holy Spirit time to work the passage out in our mind. That said, as I’ve quoted the 23rd Psalm repeatedly these past weeks I noticed something I hadn’t ever noticed before. I knew this principle from other passages, but I had never noticed it here, in Psalm 23. In verse 3, David writes, “[God/my Shepherd] leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake [for His glory].” That verse is comforting. It’s the next sentence that threw me: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,…” It’s not WHAT David said in the next sentence that jolted me – it was WHERE it comes in the psalm…right on the heels of “He leads me in paths of righteousness…” Apparently, a “path of righteousness” isn’t always “warm & fuzzy.” In essence, David wrote, “A commitment to follow the Shepherd (Christ), at times, leads straight to paths that lead us through the terrifying & the painful.”
A fundamental discipline of interpreting God’s Word with accuracy is allowing “Scripture to interpret Scripture.” In other words, it’s always paramount that we make certain a particular passage (in this case, Psalm 23:3-4) is consistent with the rest of God’s Word. One can simply read the four Gospels and see from the life of Jesus that “valleys of shadows of death” in life are 100% consistent with living a godly life. Christ’s perfect life led Him to a bloody cross. Luke records that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” in the desert to be tempted by Satan. In Matthew 14:22, Matthew recorded, “Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side,”….where they were met by a violent storm that terrified these seasoned sailors. And, Paul wrote, “Suffer with me as a good solider in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3)
The sobering theological conclusion is clear: sometimes, God leads us STRAIGHT INTO the terrifying & the painful…..just as He led Christ. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example,” Peter wrote, “so that you might follow in his steps.” (2 Peter 2:21) But, we can’t stop with “the valley of the shadow of death.” There’s no hope in that isolated text. Fortunately, because of the cross & the empty tomb, the story doesn’t end there. David finished vs 4 by writing, “I will fear NO evil, for you are WITH ME;…”
Translation: The Shepherd is with us IN the terrifying & the painful! He’s not waiting on the other side where it’s “safe.” No matter how dark, how terrifying, how lonely…..our SHEPHERD is HERE. “You are with me,” David wrote. That’s my King. That’s your King. Praise His name. 🙂