Verse 4(NIV): “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
I always find it so much better to have someone with me when I am going through something hard, don’t you? Long ago when I was just a college freshman, I was given a little book that had these words written inside on a beautifully illustrated page: “The test of friendship is when you can spend one hour in the presence of another, without either of you saying a single word, and not be bored.” It is not necessarily what a person says that makes you feel good! Sometimes, in fact, we just want someone there with us when there is simply nothing at all that can be said! I remember the second day of my blindness, my colleague came in and sat on the edge of my bed. No words were spoken by either of us. I just sat up and we cried together for awhile. There never was a word spoken; yet, it was clear what was being said, “I’m with you and I know it is hard.”
Maybe you are thinking, “Nice for you, Sojourner, but my colleagues would just stay away from me. I don’t have anyone who would walk through the valley with me.” Oh, dear Reader, but you do! David is telling us that we don’t need to be afraid because the Shepherd is walking with us through that dark valley; we are never alone!
The sheep know that the Shepherd carries his rod and his staff with Him and that is a great comfort to the sheep. He carries them when they are going through dark valleys and he carries them when they are walking through green pastures; the rod and staff are always with Him just as His eyes are always on us. They represent weapons to protect the sheep, as well as instruments to discipline the sheep if the Shepherd sees that they are going in the wrong direction. The sheep are not afraid of the rod and staff; in fact, they find them a comfort! Are we finding it a comfort to know that God is always with us, whether we are doing something that will honor His name or something that will bring tears to His eyes? I know that, for me, the awareness that “God was watching” has kept me from doing some things I was tempted to do! That knowledge is a comfort to me… God will never leave you nor forsake you, the Bible says; and, never means never.
Verse 5 (NIV): “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
The sheep know that their shepherd sees to their needs all the time, even when things are stressful and it seems that enemies are all around. My, I don’t think I would want to eat under those circumstances but it is a sign that the sheep are not afraid. If the Shepherd is preparing the table for them, it is safe to eat no matter what the sheep may think about things. I can see that this would indicate a serious trust of their Shepherd and certainly does speak of a profoundly close relationship with Him! Hmmm, maybe I need to take another look at just why I can’t eat in the middle of a trial? Do I really trust the Shepherd?
The Shepherd anoints the heads of the sheep. Have you ever had something on your scalp that made it itch like crazy? I know that when we made a trip into the deep wilderness area of the country where we serve as missionaries, there were tiny flies that burrowed down each shaft of the hair. Once they reached the scalp, it itched until I thought I would go nuts! Well, the sheep have mite-like critters that do the same to them. To help the sheep get rid of these pests, the Shepherd anoints their heads with oil/ pours oil over their heads. What a relief that was when the critters were gone so it must be a real comfort to the sheep that the Shepherd cares about this irritant bothering them. He sees that it is taken care of, though it does not affect his own head. He cares! And, in fact, it is a blessing as Sheep David writes, “My cup overflows with blessings.” (NLT)
Verse 6(NIV): “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
The NLT records the first line as, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me…”, though, perhaps, we are more familiar with the version that says “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me….” Whether the ”mercy” should be translated “love” or “unfailing love”; whether it “follows me” or “pursues me” is a non-issue to me. The point is this: Our wonderful understanding God is there! He will see that we have what we need to live here on this planet, He will protect us and direct us and, yes, even discipline us so that we are children whose behavior brings honor to His name. And, when our sojourn is finished, we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever! No more pesky beasts irritating our scalp; no more worrying about this or that; no more dropping into a crevasse and needing the Shepherds staff to loop around and bring me out of the trouble… no more! Nothing! Nada (Spanish)! Rien (French)! Nichts (German)! Nothing! It is finished at that point and, if we have accepted His forgiveness and His Lordship over us, then, we will just enjoy a full and wonderful, trouble-free life in the House of the Lord forever… and forever is forever! Amen!
****A Special Thanksgiving… Coming Monday