For you are with me – Psalm 23, Part 2

He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

– Psalm 23

“Heads against the headrest!” my dad called back to us from the driver seat. His voice was calm but direct as he repeated, “heads against the headrest!”

Snow was falling, roads were icing, and the semi-truck ahead of us had started to jack-knife. I held my breath as my dad somehow maneuvered us into another lane and around the chaos. 

Angels. God’s gracious hand of protection over us.  

From icy roads to roller coaster rides, my dad was always the one to stay calm and steady. And it left me more calm and steady. I might feel afraid, but as long as I was with my dad, I knew everything would turn out okay. He’d take care of me.

I wonder if this is similar to what David was thinking when writing these verses. David knew what it was like to be in dark and evil circumstances. But he also knew what it was like to have his dad with him, his heavenly father. David knew everything would turn out okay. He’d take care of him.

In our own lives, I think most of us tend to be on board quite quickly when God is leading us to green pastures, still waters, and even paths of righteousness. But what about dark valleys? 

Jesus warned we would have troubles, that people would hate us on account of him. Still, sometimes I think we confuse the righteous path with the smooth path. If I obey God, it will go well. But sometimes the dark valleys are a direct result of obedience. David seemed to expect it. Maybe because he experienced that as a shepherd. Maybe he had taken his sheep through dark and scary places, because he knew it was the only way to keep his sheep alive, the only way to a better or safe location. 

But I bet David also saw times when his sheep would wander off. When they would put themselves in dangerous, life-threatening situations because of their own foolish and ignorant choices. 

Yet regardless of why they’re in a metaphorical or literal dark valley, the shepherd would be right there. Close as ever. Because no good shepherd abandons his sheep in the dark.

Hear that – whether we are in hard times because of our sin or obedience, God is with us. He is Immanuel, and he will not forsake his name. We disrupt communion with God when we sin, but we can never sever the union when we are in Christ.

So maybe that’s why we see a tremendous shift here as David switches from talking about God to talking to God: “He leads” to “you are with me”. It’s as if the psalm becomes so personal as David recounts the confidence he has in the presence of the Lord. He doesn’t fear, because God is with him. And in God’s presence is power

He uses a rod and the staff – a weapon against danger and an aid for correction. The Shepherd’s protection and guidance bring comfort, not condemnation, as we walk along His paths. 

Jesus walked a righteous path that included dark valleys. Most notably, he walked up a hill carrying a cross to be executed upon. Except here, Jesus didn’t have the comfort of his dad. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried out into the heavy darkness. “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And… (the centurion) said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:34-39).

Don’t you see what happened here? Jesus was forsaken so we could be brought near. Permanently. The Son of God, the Shepherd, in our place. The curtain that separated the common from the holy was ripped, from the Holy One down to the rebellious. And through the resurrection of his son, God fulfilled his promise to bring his people back. He exchanged our rebellion for his righteousness as he welcomed us into his family. Into his presence

My dad didn’t have to risk his life that snowy day to protect his family, but he would have without a second thought because he is a good dad. He would do anything to save his kids.

Our Good Shepherd is the perfect Father. He did everything to save his kids, so we have confidence to walk wherever he leads. We do not fear, because He is with us. And we find comfort in his protection and correction, because he has proved his ultimate power over death and has no more punishment left for us. 

We can know that everything will turn out okay because death has been defeated. Because the darkness has not overcome the light. Our Father has taken care of us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?… even the darkness is not dark to you. – Psalm 139:7, 12

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. – Mark 6:34

Study: This series of 4 posts is based on a deep dive of Psalm 23, using the Abide Method – Observe, Interpret, Apply. Spend some time in these verses, and feel free to use the prompts and additional scripture references below.

He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

-Psalm 23

Observe – What does it say? 
How would you summarize the text?
How does the shepherd’s leading compare to verse 2?
For whose name’s sake? (vs 3)
Where does the psalmist walk? 
Who is in the valley with the psalmist?
What do the rod and staff bring? 
How do you tend to view discipline/correction? How does God see it? (Hebrews 12:6-7, 10-11)

Interpret – What does it mean? 
What does it look like to walk in paths of righteousness?
Will Christians face hard times? (Job 1:7-12, Isaiah 43:1-3, John 16:33)
What is a shadow?
How do you act when you’re afraid of something? When you’re not afraid?
What does it mean to not fear evil? (Psalm 1:4-6, Ephesians 6:12-13, Revelation 21:3-4)

Apply – What does it teach us about God? 
How does this point to God as Master? Whose name is the leading for? (vs 3) (Revelation 4:8-11)
What do we believe about God that makes it hard to bow down to him as master?
How does it point to the Gospel? 
If we need to be led in the path of righteousness, what does it suggest about our natural choices?
Who is with the psalmist?
Where did the Word go? (John 1:14)
What does Jesus promise after his resurrection? (Matthew 28:19-20)
How can the rod and staff bring comfort? (John 3:18, Romans 8:1)
How does it apply to your life?
Is there anything God is calling you to do?

Related: Did I Just Mess Up My Life?
The God Who Is With Us Always

Rods and Staffs
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

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