The second of three reflections on Psalm 23, considers verse 4.
The last line of verse 3 – “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake” – brings us to “walking the walk” in verse 4:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Are we surprised that righteousness has led us into a certain element of risk and danger? Confronting evil in the world has become difficult. 21st century consequences – that is, problematic and unexpected ones – are now multiplying. What seemed simple has become much more complicated, partly due to the sins and weaknesses of the Good Shepherd’s followers, and partly due to the moral shambles of modern civilization.
We are walking through the sinister valley of the “culture of death”! But God is with us – that changes everything! “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). So the Christian, that is, the follower of the Good Shepherd, should not be afraid. Just stay close to Him, don’t wander off…
King David, the author of this Psalm, was a shepherd and later a king. Christ the Lord is also both Shepherd and King. But when Christ was coming into the world it was an awesome fearsome thing. First, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the priest Zechariah. His first words were: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah…(Lk 1:13). Then Gabriel appeared to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!…Do not be afraid, Mary…(Lk 1:28,30). Later, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife…(Mt 1:20). And finally in the hills of Bethlehem an angel of the Lord came to the shepherds watching their flocks: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy…(Lk 2:10).
He is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Isa 7:14). So, as verse 4 tells us: “I will fear no evil: for (God) art with me”…God is with us.
“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. The shepherd’s rod and staff remind us of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs” (Gen 49:10). The rod (scepter-like) is for exercising power by striking an enemy, defending against evil. The staff is for steadying one on his journey, leaning upon it for comforting rest.
So the Messiah would be Emmanuel, “God with us”, a Shepherd King guiding and protecting us. His sign is a cross of two beams, much like a rod and staff intersecting and fastened together.With the cross He has already defeated death and evil. From our 21st century vantage point we look out to Nazareth and Bethlehem and we see Him coming: The Shepherd King of the Culture of Life.
See also: Another reflection on Psalm 23.
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