The Lord Is My Shepherd as I Walk Through the Valley of the shadow of COVID-19
An airplane was going through very rough weather and great turbulence. The Flight Attendant instructed all the passengers to be careful and fasten their seat belts. The turbulence increased. The plane was shaking back and forth and up and down. People were shouting and crying. I’ve been on flights like that. A young boy was very cool and quite obviously not worried about the situation unlike everyone else on the flight. Finally, the plane made its way to a safe landing. Many people asked that boy why he was not afraid of the situation and so cool with the whole thing. He told them “The Pilot of this flight is my DAD”.
Abraham Lincoln read Psalm 23 to cure his blues, and President Bush read it publicly to calm our nation’s fears after 9-11. We could call it the psalm that calms the soul.
“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 paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even 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. 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 forever.”
In Israel, as in other ancient societies, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got this unpleasant assignment. Shepherds had to live with the sheep twenty-four hours a day, and the task of caring for them was unending. Day and night, summer and winter, in fair weather and bad weather.
When Jesus was ministering on earth, he said of himself, “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus put it this way in John 10: 1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers…. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (10:1-5; 11-16).
Sheep are apparently not very bright, and are tremendously needy and dependent upon the shepherd for their proper care. Unlike many other animals, they do not fend well for themselves. But the good shepherd takes such good care of his sheep that they lack nothing.
Sheep are timid and refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of the social behavior within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. Oil was also used to prevent injury to the rams when they butted heads in their battle to win the affection of the ewes. The shepherd would quickly smear this slippery substance on their heads so the gladiators would glide off each other rather than splitting their craniums open.
If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Sheep are really bothered by bugs because flies like to deposit their eggs into the tender membrane of their noses. When the eggs hatched, the maggots would drive the sheep mad, causing them to beat their heads against rocks and trees. The shepherd knows what flies can do so he covers their heads with an oil-like repellant. Sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.
We are like sheep. We too struggle with fears, friction among ourselves, torments from pests, and even lack of basic needs. We find ourselves restless and unable to rest. Our Good Shepherd has said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The shepherd has to lead the sheep to the good water because otherwise they will stop and drink from polluted puddles where they can pick up parasites. We’re a lot like that, aren’t we? God has provided so much for us and yet we often drink from places that will only harm us.
Because sheep are prone to wander, they can easily get lost. This may lead them to fall and then a predator could pounce on them. Sometimes they would simply tip over on the uneven ground, becoming “cast down.” This is a term for a sheep that is lying flat on its back, with its feet flailing in the air. In this precarious position, they would panic, causing gasses to build up in their body, cutting off circulation in their legs, leading to death in a matter of hours. When the shepherd finds the sheep, he rolls it over and lifts it to its feet. Then he straddles the panicked animal, holding it erect, rubbing its limbs to restore circulation, while talking to it gently.
What a picture of what God does for straying saints! He looks for us when we have wandered and picks us up when we are flat on our backs. He restores our soul.
After dusting us off, He sends us in the right direction: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The word used for “paths” refers to a “well-defined and well-worn trail.” Most of us know the right road we should take but our selfishness and sinfulness often lead us astray. We need the Shepherd to guide us in the right way because like sheep, we have no sense of direction on our own. If we don’t go His way, we will go astray.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The idea is we will go through valleys, like we are right now with the COVID-19. The picture here is of the shepherd leading his sheep through rocky ravines and narrow gorges where shadows dance across the trail, frightening the flock. The experienced shepherd knows this is where predators wait in ambush.
Note: We walk “through” the valley. We don’t have to stay there. But we must keep walking. Through the blackness there is brightness. Through the gloom there is glory. At times the shadow of something is more ominous than what it represents. On the other hand, the shadow of a dog cannot bite us, and the shadow of death cannot harm us if we stay close to the Shepherd. When there is a shadow there must be light somewhere.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The “rod” was used to protect the sheep. Shepherds were very skilled in their aim and would throw this club at attacking animals. The “staff” was a slender pole, with a little crook on the end. It could be hooked around the leg of a sheep to pull him from harm. It was also utilized to lift sheep out of crevices they had fallen into. Our Shepherd provides and He protects.
“My cup overflows”. A dinner host would serve drinks in cups and fill them to the brim. This was a way to tell guests that they could stay as long as they wanted. But when a cup sat empty, the host was hinting that it was time to leave. When the host really enjoyed the company of the guests, he filled their cups until the liquid ran over the edge of the cup and onto the floor.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The hired hand does not really care about the sheep because they do not belong to him. But, the Good Shepherd loves his sheep. He watches over them constantly to make sure that they are safe and protected and have all that they need. And the sheep sense the goodness and mercy from the shepherd.
My Good Shepherd loves me, and will do so all the days of my life.
He will bring us out of the shadow of death by his mighty power because of his mercy and compassion. Amos 5:8 tell us that he turns the shadow of death into the morning. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). “Then he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the world” Isaiah 25:7
PRAYER: Father, please lead us through this valley of COVID-19 with your mercy and compassion. Remove by your mighty power, the cloud of gloom and shadow of death hanging over the earth in Jesus name. Amen.