Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I 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 have anointed my head with oil
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”
In my life, I have literally and figuratively walked through valleys of deathly shadows. One particular long season of grief and suffering, I recall reading Psalm 23. I was struggling, wrestling with why: Why so long? Why so much? Why so hard? Why again?
As I read
“even though…(insert worse case scenario here)… I will fear no evil”
Why shouldn’t I fear?
Because: “You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
A rod and staff are tools used by shepherds to train and guide their sheep. They are used to rescue sheep from danger. They are used to gently tap on their backs to communicate the direction the shepherd wants the sheep to go. If one goes that direction, the flock follows. So, the “rod and staff” not only mean the best for the individual, but also for the whole flock.
I imagined I was a scared little sheep. What would I do? Would I lean into my shepherd like my goats lean into my legs as I walk them to pasture?
One time, I left a young buck in a neighbor’s pen. She was considering keeping him to breed her does. Overnight, she changed her mind and decided to go with a different breed. The morning I went to get him, she was at work. Her large Anatolian dog was very aggressive to my poor buck. He was chasing him around the pen mercilessly. The young buck had never been chased by a dog before. He was terrified, crying, and bleating…he could not escape that dog.
I ran to the pen and let my buck out. I positioned myself between him and the rowdy dog. The dog, knowing me, gave up his game. My buck leaned his side hard into the side of my calf. We walked the entire length of the country drive, through the front gate, and to my vehicle. He never was not leaning into my leg. The dog trotted happily on the other side, understanding I no longer needed him to herd my goat. I tenderly pick my goat up, checked his ears and legs for scratches and loaded him up.
Twix the goat and I bonded that day. I couldn’t bring myself to sell him, so I had him wethered (a story for another time). To this day, he is the first of my herd to greet me. He is the only goat I have easily trained on a halter because he demonstrates affectionate loyalty towards me.
I want to demonstrate affectionate loyalty toward God like that. He is my Shepherd. Even when I suffer and struggle, He is with me. He is LORD over it. I need to lean into Him. I don’t need to know how long the road is. That doesn’t matter. I just need to trust that He’s got me right where I need to be, for my good and His glory.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;”
People are watching. This reminds me to “pray for those who persecute (me)” (Matt. 5:43-48). The Anatolian dog who chased my goat; he didn’t know any better. He wasn’t trained or disciplined not to do that. My goat couldn’t get him to stop, but I could. Therefore, don’t worry if you are powerless to stop others who harm you. God can and He says He will. Trust Him and His timing. Remember, it might not be the rescue we think we need. So we surrender our will and our expectations over to His sovereignty.
“You have anointed my head with oil”
In ancient times, the “chosen ones” like kings, were anointed with oil by a prophet or high priest as a sign to the people the individual was set apart. Oil was also used in the anointing of wounds. Even today, oil has several medicinal uses.
Not only are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ set apart as children of God, sons and daughters of the true KING, but also our wounds can heal because of what He did, He does, and He will do. There is suffering in this lifetime, but we have hope and faith that our suffering will not only end, but also be of use (James 1:2-4).
“My cup overflows, surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”