This is an excerpt continued from my Book, “Walking in Christ” and specifically the Chapter, “Walking In Peace and Security.” The Book is available in PDF form by clicking the link, Walking In Christ, or the picture of the Book to the right of this article. It is free for anyone who wants to read it. Again, the download is free. Part II concludes with verses 4-6.
Even though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
for Thou are with me; Thy rod and
Thy staff, they comfort me.
Hebrews 13:5-6 states, “’I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you; so that we may confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?’” Christ is a Shepherd who will always be at our side. We have no need to fear evil. Notice that the very word evil is the greater part of the devil; and Christ has defeated the devil, the author of evil. We can personally say as David said, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” What deeper valley in the lives of mankind could there be but death? Death without hope is the end-all of humanity, and yet notice that David is clear to say, “the shadow of death.” Death to those that have a personal commitment to the Good Shepherd, is just what David calls it, a shadow. There is no sting in a shadow, there can be no harm. A scorpion’s shadow can’t sting you, and a rattlesnake’s shadow can’t bite you. The sting of death was taken away at the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All that remains of death, to those that are in Christ, is shadow, and a shadow is all that is left of something after the light has shone upon it. When we die, we step from that shadow back into the light of Christ, and the shadow itself is just that, it has no effect on us.
What about the valley though, you might ask? The valley itself can be a dark place. We need to remember that when we enter that valley, we are not alone; Christ Himself will always be with us. Remember Hebrews 13:5, He will never leave us nor forsake us. It’s in the valley nestled between the mountaintops, where the most fertile ground is.
I was born and originally raised in a valley area of the Pacific Northwest. The area that I came from is responsible for the majority of apple production for the nation. It is a very fruitful place. You can look to the mountains and the hills round-about where I was raised and what you will see is barrenness. If you climb these mountains, as I did growing up, you can look all around you at some awe-inspiring sights. But the production is below you, in the valley. The mountain tops are a good place for rest and reflection, and even to gain perspective, but it is in the valley where growth takes place.
The same holds true with our spiritual valleys and mountains. As we walk hand in hand with our Lord, allowing Him to lead and guide us, we find our strength and productivity. His rod and staff are our comfort. Why? His rod provides direction and discipline; it keeps us going in the direction that He is leading. If we start to stray, He can gently guide us back with the hook. Shepherds also use the rod and staff to keep a solid footing. We can take confidence in the assurance that we are safe, because there is none more sure-footed than our Good Shepherd. His rod keeps us going through the valley to the most fertile pastures and quiet running water. His rod keeps us from evil as we sometimes wander. Sometimes the same rod is used for our correction, but never in a harmful or hurtful way. It is always used to maintain direction and always handled with love and care for the flock. The rod is the Shepherds sign of discipline. Hebrews 12:11 reads, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” If you look around you at the condition that the world is in today, you will easily see that the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” is somewhat lacking. I guarantee you that if you do not believe in loving discipline there is little peace in your home. We need to stand up for what is right and not allow the state or others dictate to us what is contrary to scripture concerning loving discipline. It is obvious that our nation is worse off due to the lack of it.
The rod and staff are also our protection against the enemy. In the hands of an expert, the staff can be a deadly weapon, allowing the wielder a victorious finish. We do not need to be afraid when it is wielded by the loving hands of the Good Shepherd. We only need to rest in His presence, take comfort in His love, and be assured that He has only our good in mind. He leads us; all we have to do is follow Him. I sometimes wonder why those that call themselves Christians struggle so hard and have such a hard time when all He asks of us is to follow Him. Just look up and keep your eyes on the Leader. When we were children we used to play a game called follow the leader and we always had fun; we could literally spend hours playing that game. When you’re a Christian it is no longer a game, but it really isn’t any harder either. We make a choice to allow Christ Jesus to be our “leader” and we only do and say what He tells us too.
Thou dost prepare a table before me in the
presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed
my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Look at this sentence that David writes and think of the overwhelming confidence of the Shepherd that he is portraying. Remember, David used to be a shepherd. He is not describing someone fearful or hesitant. The enemies of the flock are out there, the Shepherd knows that they are all around. He knows that they are continually circling the pasture, they’re watching from across the stream where the sheep are feeding and resting. Yet, in the midst of all this, the Shepherd is preparing a table in the midst of the sheep, in the presence of the sheep’s enemies.
Now I want you to understand something; this Shepherd is not blind, uncaring or arrogant. He is very much aware of what is going on around Him and His flock, but He is confident and secure in His ability to protect His flock. Why prepare a table in their midst, though? Because He loves the sheep. He enjoys being around them and them being around Him. He knows that when they are in His presence they sense and know security. When He is near they understand that they are where they should be. This Shepherd also knows how to rest in their presence; so they can take comfort in His presence. They would be able to sense uneasiness if the Shepherd was anxious, but this Shepherd radiates warmth and security. They have no need to worry. He sits down to a meal and probably talks with different ones; He knows how to commune with His flock. He knows they take comfort in the sound of His voice. He calls them by name, they hear His voice and they come when He calls.
Jesus said it well as recorded in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me.”—John 10:1-4, 14.
Psalm 23 verse 5 and 6 has stimulated a lot of commentary as to what these verses can mean; some of which strays from the context of the Good Shepherd and takes us into other areas of relationship with the Lord. But I feel this way; David was a shepherd; his heart was always seeking after the Lord, and he was a shepherd who had shown no fear while he was watching his father’s flock. I believe David was correlating his experience with his father’s sheep to the coming Messiah’s relationship with the Heavenly Father’s sheep. I believe David wrote under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Spirit, and that he didn’t change the context in mid-stream. I still see Christ’s role as a loving Shepherd in verses 5 and 6. We have no need to fear our enemies while we are in His presence. In John 10:27-29, Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” We can rest in His confidence and authority. Psalm 37 goes hand in hand with Psalm 23:5. Read it over and over when you feel like the enemy is surrounding you. When he is, look for the presence of God waiting to commune with you in their presence.
The next part of verse 5 is interesting; but when you view it in relation to the geography and customs of David’s time, you will see just how fitting it is in regards to our relationship today with our Good Shepherd. “He has anointed my head with oil.” Now picture this; you have been led through the valley, which is lush and fertile, but which also has it’s thorns and brambles. Maybe you have strayed a bit and you got tangled in some thicket. You got your eyes off of the Shepherd for just a moment and finally realized you had lost sight of Him. One moment you’re walking along safe and secure, the next your caught up in the cares of the world. Sound familiar? The next moment you feel His rod gently tugging you back to the path that He is leading you down. You finally reach that quiet stream and those cool pastures. But you’ve been hurt and scratched; He calls to you and you rush to Him ready for His outstretched arms. He looks you over and notices the scratches and cuts that you picked up from straying. He gently takes you in His arms and anoints your head with oil, a healing balm. Immediately you feel the effect of the soothing oil. It was common practice for shepherds to care for cuts and scratches, their own as well as the sheep, with oil, and why would the Good Shepherd be any different? The oil stands for anointing, and in the hands of Christ-the Anointed One, our spirit is invigorated, our body and soul is refreshed, allowing peaceful communion, sheep to Shepherd. The overwhelming sense of His love floods our being; this is what it means to be in the hands of the Good Shepherd.
“My cup overflows,” as it always will in the hands of the One whose love is beyond our imagination or total comprehension. Yet, when you are held in His arms, and when you are thoroughly aware of His presence, the love that you feel flowing from Him is almost more that we can bear. When you look back and reflect on all the blessings that being with the Good Shepherd provides; rest, refreshment, comfort, protection, peace, joy, anointing and health, etc., etc., surely you would agree with the Psalmist when he says, “my cup overflows.” It is more than one can contain within themselves, and just as love needs to be shared for it to actually be love, our cup of blessing needs to overflow to others. How long has it been since you have truly reflected on the benefits of serving our Lord and Shepherd? Have you considered all that He has done and provided to you? Can you, like David, praise Him for what He offers to you?
We have gone through the valley, fruit has been produced, but for more fruit to be produced we need to spread the seed of that fruit around to others. In John 15:9, Jesus said, “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” This is the fruit that needs to be produced. As your cup overflows, you need to let others benefit. A cup that is only filled and allowed to sit, stagnates; but a cup that is continually overflowing will always produce that which is life sustaining.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow
me all the days of my life, and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 25:10 states, “All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth—.” Since we have already established the fact that our paths are prepared and made right by the Lord, Psalm 37, and that as a Shepherd He leads and guides us, it only follows reason that goodness and lovingkindness will be an attribute “all the days of my life.” Remember that the one who follows God’s prepared paths has favor with Him already. Both these attributes usually refer to covenant benefits. The rest of Psalm 25:10 says, “To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.” His covenant is the agreement that has been ratified by His blood for our sakes; it’s His promises to us, if, we accept Him. His testimony is the affirmation of His truth. We publicly affirm the truth of all that He says and does, but we don’t just do that by what we say but by how we apply those truths to our lifestyles. Christianity is not just a set of verbal beliefs, but a set of beliefs put into practice with the goal of changing our lives to become more like Christ. The power and authority behind what we say is only there if it is evident in our lifestyles first. Anybody can speak the words of life, but only a Spirit led life can walk the walk. Those that attain that lifestyle have goodness and lovingkindness, as well as the other fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The Hebrew word for forever implies; throughout the years. We have an eternal hope that after this life on earth is finished, we will inhabit our Father’s house, where Jesus said are many mansions. But following the leading of the Good Shepherd has also allowed us access to the Lord’s dwelling from the moment of our commitment on.
The Lord has set up His throne in an “earthly temple not made with hands.” Paul said in I Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” The writer also exhorts his readers to, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”—Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV). We can enter into the Father’s presence at all times, boldly; the New American Standard says, “with confidence;” because He has established His presence in our hearts! David knew this when he wrote, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” David knew the Lord’s holy temple would one day be in our hearts. I believe that is why God was looking for a “man after His own heart.” What love, what peace and contentment, what joy to know that He is with me always and “will never leave me nor forsake me.” Proverbs 18:24 ends by saying, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” What greater blessing could mankind ask for? The Good Shepherd abiding in us and we in Him. The only way that we as sheep could ever get lost, would be for us to take our eyes from off Him and not acknowledge His presence in our lives. Even then, as a Good Shepherd, He will always leave the others to go and seek out the one that was lost, until found, Luke 15:4.