Don’t panic. Stay calm. In times of trouble and in life and death situations, Jews and Christians find comfort in Psalm 23. Today with the Coronavirus, we face an invisible enemy that affects all our lives. In an effort to give you more insight on this Psalm, let me share with you my thoughts and how it helped me through some difficult times. Then and now I adapt Psalm 23 to my present situation. I make this psalm my own.
Psalm 23 uses shepherd and sheep imagery. God is the good shepherd that provides us, the sheep, with safety and sustenance. The first three verses of this psalm focus on God’s provisions given to us.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Lying down is a symbol for peace and tranquility. The still waters refresh us. So if we are part of God’s flock and let God govern our lives, we will be revived spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. And we will be content to go wherever God leads us.
Verse 4 challenges us in how to survive bad times. It reads:
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.
God’s “rod” is used against enemies and His “staff” is used to guide us.
In October 2019, I had to have an ablation done on my heart at Yale New Haven Hospital to stop the many extra beats my ventricular chambers were making. During the procedure, I was tightly strapped to the operating table. Because anesthesia gives me problems, I was allowed to be partially conscious and could watch the entire procedure on closed circuit TV. I repeatedly prayed Psalm 23 and put myself in God’s care and that of my cardio electrophysiologist. I was not fearful and trusted in them to deliver me from death’s door.
Verses 5 and 6 celebrate my recovery. They read:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 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.
For me, these verses celebrate my recovery and gratitude. My length of days will be determined by God.
Today we are confronted by a horrible natural evil—the Covid-19. It is our enemy that we must defeat. We are trying to defeat it so that it cannot be perpetuated. What we can control is our response to it. Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of The Lord is my Shepherd: Healing from the Twenty-Third Psalm, challenges us with these thoughts:
God teaches us to look at the world and see it as God would have us see it. If we are anxious, the psalm gives us courage and we overcome our fears. If we are grieving, it offers comfort and we find our way through the valley of the shadow. If our lives are embittered by unpleasant people, it teaches us how to deal with them. If the world threatens to wear us down, the psalm guides us to replenish our souls. If we are obsessed with what we lack, it teaches us gratitude for what we have. And most of all, if we feel alone and adrift in a friendless world, it offers us the priceless reassurance that God is with us.
Rabbi Kushner and most of us have suffered the loss of loved ones and have been wounded by life. Some of us currently live in the valley of the shadow of death and seem to have trouble getting out of that valley. Others live in error. Still others feel the effects of war, intimidation, depression, oppression, violence, and starvation. No matter what these enemies do to us, if we call upon God, Psalm 23, verse 4, asserts that God is with us and comforts us. No enemy can overcome or banish God’s presence and comfort towards us as God’s rod symbolically drives away enemies. God’s staff with its shepherd’s hook pulls us out of our dark valleys.
So pray Psalm 23 and make it your own.
Think About It:
- Do you find comfort in Psalm 23? How so?
- Who will go with you through your dark valley?
- Who are your enemies? And why are they your enemies?
- Why will God anoint you?
- Why are you confident or not confident that you dwell in the house of the Lord?