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November Pastoral Reflection on Psalm 23:4-6

Rev Kenneth I Macleod shares some more thoughts on Psalm 23 in this Pastoral Reflection for November.

Even 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 overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:4-6

Last month we reflected on verses one to three of not only the best-known psalm, but one of the best-known sections of the Bible. This Psalm has been an inspiration, encouragement and balm to many a soul over the years. Now verse 4 tells us that the shepherding work of our Lord, who is the Good Shepherd doesn’t stop as life draws to a close - the shepherding takes over even in death. Death is the enemy that comes closer every day. We are powerless in its face and alone in its presence, as it closes round us, unless….we have the Shepherd. That is what makes “the valley of the shadow of death” so different for the Christian, because the Shepherd is with us. When all human care and support can no longer do anything for us, yet the Shepherd is still there.

As has often been pointed out, the verse says, “Walk through,” which indicates that we are going to enter this valley and carry on right through. There is an end to the valley. It does not go on forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel - the light of God’s house where we are going to dwell forever. The death we dreaded as enter into it will not hold the terror we were afraid of, because we will simply be journeying through, to a place of light.

We of course see that it’s “the shadow of death.” A shadow can’t hurt. Spurgeon used to say, “The shadow of a dog cannot bite, the shadow of a sword cannot kill and the shadow of death cannot destroy.” As children, we were often frightened by shadows, but they never destroyed us. So it will be regarding death. A shadow needs light, and for the Christian, Christ is there as the light, and death, although doing its dirty work, ultimately is little more than a shadow, as it cannot claim the victory. No wonder Scripture says, “O death where is your sting and the grave your victory?” 1 Cor 15 (AV).

The rod and staff are mentioned. I believe that is the one stick - the shepherd’s crook, performing different functions. Often in our Christian walk we needed the prodding and pushing from the Shepherd’s rod as we so prone to wander and stray. However, the Shepherd’s crook is also used for drawing the sheep close to himself, as well as for leaning and resting on. As we go down into the valley we are supported and kept by the Shepherd all the way.

The beginning of the psalm talks about not wanting. We now have in verse 5 a picture of more than enough. The cup is overflowing and the table is set. There is the anointing with oil which happened to the priests and kings and we are told in the Bible we are made a kingdom of priests, or kings and priests. What a future. The table is set in the presence of the enemies. I mentioned before that this could be reference to our being taken up to glory to be with the Lord forever. However, as we are taken in triumph to glory, we pass through the realms where the spirit world is. Satan has been called ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Eph 2:2, AV). There are the enemies that have hated, tempted and tormented us in this world, but are now powerless to ever again hurt us. Yes - in the presence of our enemies, but we are now rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Verse 6 sums up our journey through this world and home eternally with the Lord. The Good Shepherd doesn’t finish with us in a shepherding role when we leave this world, but shepherds us forever and ever. Revelation speaks about being led to living fountains of waters, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water.” Rev 7:17.

The wonderful thing about our journey in this world is that God’s goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life. In all our summers and winters, our times of joy and of sorrow, God’s goodness and mercy follows. We can follow someone and be so far behind we completely lose sight of them. Well that is not how God follows. The word follow has the idea of pursuit with intent. God is always there, right up with you.

David has travelled in this psalm in the green pastures and beside still waters. He’s been through the dark valley with the shadow of death hanging over. He’s rejoiced at God’s overflowing table, but all the time and in all places - God’s goodness and mercy. What a privilege we have as Christians, because that is how it is for us as well. Maybe today it’s winter in your experience, and sorrows are entangled round you, but be persuaded - God’s goodness and mercy is still pursuing you with intent. I honestly cannot think of anything I would rather have in this world, to replace God’s goodness and mercy following every day. Nothing comes close. So, all days of our life - past, present and future, God’s goodness and mercy is following.

“and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” No more parting, leaving or losing what we have. In the heart of the Christian there is always a thought of the heavenly home. The psalms are full of expressions of desire for God’s house, and we can echo these desires. During these times of restrictions it is something that has really hurt- not being able to gather with God’s people in His house. In glory there will be no restrictions, but fullness of joy for ever. This world is not our home. We are passing through. In glory we will dwell there forever. I pray the blessings of this psalm will always be yours.

Love and prayers. Kenny