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17 & 18 December 2022 (Pastoral Page) PSALM 23


By Asst Ps Gift Daniel

The Psalms have always held a special place in the history of Israel. The people of God rejoiced and lamented together by singing the Psalms. According to the church history, the Psalms have played a significant role in the life of the early saints as they went through challenges and persecution. A psalm was the expression of joy uttered by Augustine at his conversion and a psalm was the consolation on his lips as he lay upon his death bed. John Hus had a psalm on his lips as he was burned at the stake. Reciting a psalm, Martin Luther entered the Diet of Worms. Likewise, Psalms have helped many to find comfort and assurance in God particularly during challenging and uncertain times.

Today, let us reflect on one of the most familiar and favoured poems in the entire book of Psalms, Psalm 23. This psalm has probably been used more frequently than any other psalm in seasons of sorrow and in periods of uncertainty. Often, we claim its promises as the very structural support of our faith and life. Sometimes because of the familiarity of this psalm, it prevents us from taking a fresh look at it. Psalm 23, at its heart, is an expression of confidence in the protective love and care of God. The beauty of this psalm is that it permits each believer to take its words on our lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the promises of God’s covenant love and care is ours personally as we journey through uncertain times.

Psalm 23 depicts God as the Great Shepherd who loves His sheep. I want to highlight two assurances that we can glean from this psalm. When the Lord is our Shepherd, first we will live a day at a time. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”. It talks about all the days of our lives, and they are lived one day at a time when the Lord is our Shepherd. God shepherds us throughout each day. God wants us to live one day at a time experiencing His presence throughout each day, each moment. When we try to live two or three days at a time, we cannot enjoy today. Someone said that the average person is being crucified between two thieves - the regrets of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow. Consequently, a person can't enjoy today. One of the practices we need to cultivate during times of uncertainty is to learn to live a day at a time. Looking at the future, it may appear bleak, uncertain, and foggy. Nevertheless, living one day at a time allows us to trust God's love and experience His care each day.

The second assurance is God’s love and comforting presence with us at the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death in v.4 probably refers to the shadow that death casts. Perhaps it comes from the idea that in a valley in the desert in Judah, one can encounter deep shadows and cannot know for sure what animals or flash floods are lurking in them. The darkness of the wadis represents the uncertainties of life. The straight paths at times need to go through the wadis, but God is still present. God knows what lies ahead. Even in such periods of suspense and danger, God’s children will find assurance that God is their shepherd and thus they need not fear.

His unfailing presence through the dark valleys comes with the instruments carried by every shepherd. “Your rod and your staff comfort me”. The rod is an instrument used by the shepherds to count, guide, rescue and protect the sheep. The rod has usually a short, rod-like handle with a heavy striking knob at the end. It is used as a striking weapon for raining heavy blows against an enemy or attacking beast. By contrast, the staff frequently suggests a longer, supporting staff and is associated on occasion with the support of the sick or elderly. The comfort these instruments provides is the reassurances of guidance in correct paths and of protection by the shepherd from the dangers encountered.

As Christians, we have a personal relationship with the shepherd. May we experience His unconditional love and unfailing presence with us as we live one day at a time. May the words of this psalm be on our lips always as an expression of our confidence in His love and care as we go through times of uncertainties.

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