Friday, May 9, 2008

Psalm 23:4 The Assurance of the Sheep in the Face of Death

There are few things in this life that we can be sure about. The weather changes very frequently and the stock market is up and down like a roller coaster it seems. However, we know that there is one event every person will face in their lifetimes-death. The fact that our physical bodies do not and cannot live forever is one of the constant truths of our existence. It affirms the fact that we are created beings and that our existence on this earth is finite due to the effects of sin. In spite of this, the Christian has no reason to fear death or mourn for the dead as unbelievers do. We can be encouraged as we read this Psalm and reflect on the fact that our God is our Shepherd.

First of all, as we look at verse 4, we should remember that David was writing this Psalm under God’s inspiration from his perspective as a shepherd himself. During the spring/summer months, the shepherd would take the sheep from the ranch through the valley and into the mountain where it was cooler. Obviously, there was some danger involved in this trek. The flock was no longer in the controlled environment of the ranch. The shepherd did not have access to every resource in the field that he would have if he were at his home.

With this in mind, David writes “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Observe, first of all, the pace that David describes here. He says “I walk” (Hebrew-halak). This is not a hurried pace. David does not describe being driven furiously or running in fear. He is walking. The other day, a colleague of mine told me he had talked to one of the supervisors at work and she had mentioned to him that she had ran 4 miles that morning. He said to me “If you ever see me running 4 miles, you can be sure that someone behind me is chasing me with a gun AND that they know how to use it”. Running is for someone who, for whatever reason, is in a hurry. David doesn’t describe being in a hurry even though the environment he is in presents danger. Likewise, a Christian doesn’t have to fear death regardless of the circumstances.

David also recognizes that this is simply a journey, a transition from one place to another. He is walking “through the valley”. Now, we know that you can’t have a valley without mountains. In the same way, we can’t have physical life without physical death. It is simply a natural transition. He is moving from one place to another. In like manner, we as Christians will move from one place (here on this sinful earth) to another place (in heaven forever with our Lord and Savior).

Next, notice his perspective on the dangers he faces in this valley. He describes it as being “the shadow of death”. Shadows simply result from the blockage of light. They are not the object but simply indicate the presence of that object. As the author of Hebrews said, the things in the temple and the ordinances performed there were only a shadow of the real things in heaven and the spiritual truths they represented. In much the same way, death for a Christian is not the same thing as death for the lost man. As Isaiah wrote in the 8th verse of the 25th chapter of his prophecy, death and it’s power have been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. For a Christian, death is no real threat. It is only a shadow. The eternal sting of death is swallowed up in the overcoming work that Jesus finished. We don’t have to fear because we will never face the “real thing” but only the shadow.

Because of his perspective, David has peace. He says “I will fear no evil”. Because of the love of his wonderful, loving Shepherd, David is totally comfortable in this journey. He completely trusts God and knows without a doubt that anything that could happen will not cause him harm. This peace comes not because of blind faith or a warm, gooey feeling in his heart. He trusts God because of his relationship and because of the faithfulness that God has demonstrated. If God has been good to us before, and has kept His promises, it stands to reason that we can continue to rely on Him to be faithful and keep us safe just as He has promised.

In conclusion, David says he has this peace because “You are with me”. The presence of his Shepherd is a source of comfort for David as a sheep. The flock can relax in the valley just as they did on the ranch because of the loving, attentive care of their Shepherd. Likewise, when we or our loved ones face death, we can take comfort in the presence of God. We don’t have to fear because He will be with us.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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