The peace of God is meant to be our kind, unremitting attendant throughout life. In the beautiful 23rd Psalm, David gives us these words: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” David lays out the peace-robbers quite nicely for us: death, evil, and enemies. He could well have mentioned; domestic troubles, insurrections, battle fatigue, guilt, grief, giants and what not – but we get the point. Death, evil and enemies are broad enough categories to encompass the breadth of our anxieties. Yet, none of these rattle David for the Shepherd is near.
It’s quite a turn-around image for David. As a young lad, his first high school job was that of shepherd. It was no burger-flipping assignment. When he is lobbying King Saul to have a go at the profane, Philistine giant by the name of Goliath, David boasts this bit of his resume: But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” I Samuel 17:34-37
In Psalm 23 David foregoes the role of shepherd and appears to insert himself among a helpless herd of sheep. He uses the familiarity of his own courage and fidelity in his role as a shepherd and projects it upon the Lord. In so many words he says: “If I loved these rather naïve, daft sheep enough to risk my life for them, how much more will God, the true shepherd, take care of me?” I’m glad David had those thoughts and made the effort to create of poem of it. The images have comforted both Hebrew and Christian for centuries. Throughout Scripture God bows low into human similes and metaphors. He is a shepherd, a builder, a comforter, a mothering fowl, a dad, a son, a brother. Each image closes the distance between a cold, distant God and a God who cares to mix it up on earth. Our peace rests upon the remembered knowledge that he transforms into a faithful shepherd. He knows the lay of the land before we do. He knows where the refreshing spring lies. He knows the sound of an approaching enemy. And in all of this, He calls us “professional worriers” to what seems a reckless rest. He takes David’s image and takes it as his own: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11 Jesus is Psalm 23.