A Psalm of David.
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.
5You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Lately I have been reading over Psalm 23 and 24, noticing the contrast between the two adjacent poems. It is a contrast which adds depth to what each is saying about God. On the one hand you have Psalm 23, one of the most beloved and beautiful passages in the entire Bible. The Psalm is almost tangibly full of the gentle peace of a life lived in the presence of God, a God who nurtures, cares for, protects and provides for us. One can almost picture David composing it, perhaps walking as king among the very landscape where as a young shepherd boy he first fell in love with the Lord. With each line David discovers the depth and unquenchable love of God for him. Each familiar stream, pasture and path reveals clues to the good and merciful God who chose David to be King over
Psalm 23 reveals a motherly aspect of God’s love. It has a quiet, almost maternal tone; like a mother, God protects and comforts, nurtures and provides for David, the psalm is similar in tone to Psalm 91 where God desires to bring David ‘under his wings’ as a hen would her chicks. The love of God for David and for us is eternal, never wavering, the fullness of what a mother’s love for her child in this world points too.
The Psalm also finds David connecting his past as a shepherd with the realization that God is the ultimate Shepherd. God leads to green pastures, to quiet streams, is a source of comfort through dangerous valleys and provides food and drink for those He guides. He knows his flock intimately and totally and seeks us when we are lost, something Jesus reminds us in Luke 15:1-7.
It is no wonder Psalm 23 has become one of the most cherished passages in all Scripture, for it taps into the basic human desire to be loved, cared for, protected and sheltered. As I read the Psalm, I become acutely aware that I am God’s child or lamb, that he is my caretaker, my nurturer, the source of my very life. He is the perfect shepherd, the perfect mother, the perfect source of unfaltering love. W.H. Auden once wrote:
Nothing can be loved too much,
But all things can be loved
In the wrong way.
Psalm 23 reminds us, or in some cases informs us for the first time, that God will never love us the wrong way, his love will always be perfect and we can never have too much of it.