Back to devotions

The Lord is my shepherd, Part Three

For the last couple of months, we’ve been looking at Psalm 23 through a fresh lens, aided by Ashley LeRoy Wilkerson’s book Psalm 23: Lessons From the Desert.

We’ve reflected on this song with David the former shepherd boy in mind, emphasising the importance of a relationship with God and experiencing His presence.

We looked at life in the desert, explored the phrases ‘quiet waters’ and ‘righteous paths’ and considered what they probably meant to the original readers. Lastly, we considered the importance of the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice and how this relates to us today.

This month, we’ll conclude our exploration by examining what David may have meant when he spoke about the valley of death, preparing a table for us, and the significance of his head being anointed with oil.

‘Though I walk through the darkest valley…’

Valleys are part of life’s journey. Ashley suggests that what people often refer to as the ‘shadow of death’ represents hard times — the deepest and darkest parts of our journey.

Interestingly, David isn’t actually speaking about death — the word he actually uses is ‘shadow’.

Shadows are of course caused by something coming between an object and a source of light. Reassuringly, Ashley reminds us that the worst the enemy can do is to try to convince you that death and a shadow are synonymous. Satan might seek to cast a shadow over your life but he cannot separate you from Christ (Romans 8:35).

Remember, Jesus is our good shepherd (John 10:14); the source of light (8:12) and life (14:6). Through Jesus, death — despite the pain it inevitably causes — is but a gateway to eternal life!

Psalm 23 affirms that He is with us as we walk through the valley. The valley is neither our destination nor a place to set up tent, it is something to pass through.

When the dark times come, it’s easy to become spiritually or emotionally paralysed and stop moving forward in our journey with the Lord. Taking the next step is, however, part of ‘walking through’.

Although it’s natural to want God to protect us from dark times, our experiences can, however, become ‘beauty from ashes’ (Isaiah 61:3) when we entrust everything to Him.

Our scars take on meaning and purpose. Think about the scars Jesus carried beyond the grave — a testimony to Thomas and a sign of His overcoming!

‘You prepare a table before me…’

This is another verse we possibly misunderstand. It’s easy to imagine a banquet table, piled high with the most exquisite foods. But when was the last time you saw a sheep sitting at a table and eating?

Instead, David is referring to something shepherds call a ‘plateau’ — one of the most desirable places for sheep to graze in the Middle East. Although it’s an area of plenty, it’s also a place where danger lurks as predators roam about, looking for prey. Roaring lions indeed!

In David’s time, shepherds went before the sheep to prepare the area — filling in holes and scattering danger. Because another word for plateau is ‘table’, David is explaining that God — our shepherd — prepares level places for us before allowing us to graze there, and that He does so in the presence of our enemies.

‘You anoint my head with oil…’

Anointing in Scripture often indicates the beginning of the next assignment the Lord has for those receiving the anointing. (We see this in 1 Samuel 16 when Samuel anoints David as king.) Shepherds in David’s day would have used a combination of olive oil and linseed oil on their sheep to drive away pests and heal any diseases they caused.

The oil was applied continuously, starting with the sheep’s head. It’s an excellent picture of how God heals us — starting with the way we think about who God is, how He sees us, and our realisation of all He has for us.

As we read God’s Word, we also see oil being used as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit — something we believers need in terms of anointing, healing and guiding.

‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me…’

In the original Hebrew, the word ‘surely’ literally means ‘I am certain’. I love the way David speaks to his soul in times of trouble and anxiety. Psalm 86 is a good example of this.

David does the same here in Psalm 23:6 — proclaiming his certainty in God’s goodness and faithfulness, regardless of how he might feel about what’s going on in his life. Such certainty is something from which we could all benefit.

In a world that feels so uncertain, I find it both powerful and comforting to be reminded of our need to fix our eyes upon Jesus — the Good Shepherd — and proclaim the timeless truths of God’s unchanging Word.