“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
—Psalm 23:6 (NRSV).
It can happen any day. Fear grips us as we walk into a meeting, get ready for breakfast, or drive to work. Fear has a way of clouding our judgment and constraining our vision. It robs us of our hope and joy.
The truth is we walk many corridors of fear during our lifetimes; it’s not just in the realm of death—its traditional setting—that this particular psalm provides meditative benefit. As we progress through its six verses we read a sort of reflective benediction that echoes to us an eternal comfort.
A Prayer of Comfort in Culmination
Verse 1 commences in summative fashion. The Lord is the psalmist’s Shepherd—a supremely faithful Provider in times of dire want. It is the signature of trust that David, in this case, can say in times of fear, “I shall not want.”
Our Shepherd God is provider of those green pastures and the still waters of life and these are a bequest, again, waiting for a trusting heart. These images are metaphors for peace; the restoration of tired souls.
The name of the Lord is surety for the right path in verse 3. The ancient path of the Lord is light in darkness.
Verse 4 highlights the Presence of the Lord as light for the path that dims. Even when things, and circumstances in life, become as dark as pitch we can still note with assurance the rod and staff of God, reassuring and comforting us, as we traverse the dark way.
Ably assisting us in verse 5, all the accompaniments of the way are prepared for us by God in advance; we have this advantage over our enemies.
All the foregoing culminates in the final verse, profiled above—that quiet confidence of trust; that the goodness and mercy of God shall prevail, following the servant all the days of their life, as they continue to dwell in safety along the full journey of life’s path.
The contemporary significance of this prayer
Set in an eternal frame, but one always honouring momentary significance, this psalm supplies hope and reassurance in fleeting worry and genuine despair—and all between.
Perhaps this is the day—speaking in strictly 21st Century terms—where there are more concerns for our safety and longer-term wellbeing than ever before. Psalm 23, therefore, is ever pertinent today.
It reminds us the God is an eternal God, shielding us from the woes of our sin and from the terror of fear as it enfolds our minds and hearts, sometimes without reason or warning.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that the joy of the Lord is available almost continually, even when we may struggle with worry, sadness, loss, or be in despair.
In a day when worries are just as relevant as ever before, we can know the safety in God as we reflect over these words—the beautiful, majestic Psalm 23.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.