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. (Psalm 23:4)
Psalm 23 was written by King David. He starts the Psalm with a metaphor: the image of a Shepherd and the sheep. The picture describes how God cares for his people. It is a description of sheep journeying with the guidance of the shepherd. At some point in this journey, the shepherd provides rest in green pastures, near quiet waters, giving restoration and strength. The shepherd also guides the sheep through paths of justice.
The journey, however, presents some setbacks. The sheep must cross the valley, a place surrounded by hills and mountains. The high hills and mountains, at some point in the journey, prevent the sunlight from shining over the path. There are, therefore, some dark spots and shadows throughout the valley and the sheep become vulnerable. The valley is a picture or a symbol of a difficult situation. There is anguish, suffering and loneliness; it is such a terrible place like death.
In life, we all go through the valley from time to time. Nobody is free from it. The only difference is in who walks along with us. David says that it is the Lord who is going with him. Because of that, it’s possible to have peace, to have hope and comfort in the middle of darkness. In addition to that, David declares that the Lord is not with him empty-handed. He carries the rod and the staff along with him to protect, guide and comfort. In other words, darkness will not be able to destroy those who walk in his company.
We learn in the Bible that Jesus Christ is the good shepherd; that He is God, who came to this world to bring the hope of a new life with him. He said about himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). This is what he did. The Bible also says that the Good Shepherd:
“was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.”; and “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep, before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:5 and 7).
The Bible also says that the good shepherd knows his sheep, indicating a personal knowledge (John 10:14).
So, back to Psalm 23, David said, “I shall not be in want”, why? Because “The Lord is [his] shepherd”. The point is that, before being a giver, he is the Lord, the owner. Once you follow the Lord, the good shepherd, you will have peace and strength to endure the problems of life. You will lack nothing. Every time you experience loss and sorrow, anguish, sadness and oppression, going through the dark valley, he will be there for you. And then you can say with confidence:
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Now I want to invite you to give yourself to this Lord, the Good Shepherd. Which means to trust the Lord all your life, everything you are and everything you have. How to do that? You can do that through prayer, making a commitment with Him. You can pray like this, “Lord, I want to give myself to you; I want to trust you and I want you to come and live in my heart. In Jesus name, amen.” Do it, sooner rather than later, and God will give you the peace that exceeds all understanding.
I would like to highlight this important theme: “God’s Knowledge”. It’s an essential and relevant theme for every Christian, especially for these times of pandemics and isolation.
J.I. Packer wrote a book called ‘Knowing God’. It became a best seller in the Christian world in the 1980s.
At some point in his book, Packer says that knowing God is really important, but more important than that is the fact that He knows me. The prophet Isaiah says that we are engraved on the palms of God’s hands (please read Isaiah 49:16). This is amazing, isn’t it? It means that we are never out of God’s mind. We may feel lonely, isolated anddepressed, but the reality is that he remembers his covenant with us every day. Packer then goes on to say that we know God because first, he revealed himself to us in his book, the Bible.
How does God know us? Well, he knows us as his friends, as his children and as his people. This love for us motivated God’s heart to send his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us (please read John 3:16). Packer says this, “There is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.” I consider this a privilege for us, Christians. How to explain his astounding love and grace? He watches over you and me for our good.
Please, reflect: What comfort do you take from knowing that your name is engraved on the hand of God?
I hope God will give you this hope, in that, despite all setbacks, difficulties and anguish, he is there for us, because he loves us.
May God, the Holy Spirit, fill your heart with joy and hope.
Under His Wings
A meditation on Psalm 91
God will keep you safe! That’s the promise. However, how should we understand that promise? What does it mean?
Psalm 91 is a well-known chapter in the Scriptures. Satan knows it quite well, and he uses it to try to persuade people to take wrong decisions.
How do I know it? He used this text with Jesus and brought him the wrong suggestion. See Luke 4:11-12: ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘“He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Some people are saying that “if God loves you, he won’t let you suffer.” Some people see Psalm 91 precisely that way. Is this true? This is what we are going to see.
If you are a Christian and if you believe that because you are a Christian, God will not let you suffer, then I must say you will be frustrated, and you will want to pull back from God. You will say, “the promises in Psalm 91 don’t work.” This is precisely what Satan wants you to think.
However, this is not at all what the Psalm is saying. See, for example, Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
See the word “together”: It’s a combination of good, not so good and bad events and circumstances that “together” will help you to figure out God’s purposes for your life. So in the long run, all things will have moved in the direction of God’s glory and our good.
There’s another interesting passage, Luke 21:16-18. Jesus tells his disciples that they will be persecuted and bad things will happen to them. It shows that, yes, even good people suffer, but this is all part of a purpose. It’s just a small part of a big plan, God’s plan.
What Psalm 91 is teaching us is that God will keep us safe through trouble, not from all trouble. It means that from time to time, we have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but there’s nothing to fear because he is with you. God will make you safer through trouble.
How to be sure of that? How to be sure that God is not going to punish me? In verse 4 he says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” It’s the image of a mother bird covering her children to protect them. Jesus used the same picture. See Matthew 23: “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” It means the mother bird is a substitute. When the heat comes down from the sun, the mother gets the heat, not the babies. The same with rain and cold. When a predator comes, it eats the mother, not the children.
This is not just protection but also sacrifice. Jesus Christ on the cross took what you and I deserve for our sin. So you can know that we will not be punished because of our sins. We are kept safe. Romans 8:1 says, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.” We are kept safe, no matter what happens.
Finally, God says in the Psalm, “Because he loves me, I will rescue him, I will protect him.” Do you love God? Do you want to love God? You can trust God. He will cover you; he will protect you. In him, you will find refuge.
From Fear to Faith
The message of the prophet Habakkuk
600 BC — During this time in history, Judah, the southern Kingdom of the nation of Israel, had just experienced a time of peace and prosperity, a time of reform and restoration during the reign of King Josiah.
There was economic prosperity, social stability and spiritual revival.
Josiah reigned for 31 years. But after his death, he was succeeded by his sons. It turns out that there was a shift in the government. Judah was no longer a prosperous country. There was no more peace within the nation, and people have turned to violence and injustice against one another.
Corruption and evil practices started to take place in the land.
And in the midst of this chaotic situation, we find the prophet Habakkuk. He saw injustice and violence around him.
He prayed to God; he made his complaining very clear. And when Habakkuk spoke to God, God talked to him, and he answered the prayer, he revealed himself to the prophet. That experience was a turning point for Habakkuk. No quick solution, but hope; no fear, but faith.
- Faith is not the end of the problems, but the awareness that God is there.
- He is with us even if we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death… He is there, and there is no fear.
- Habakkuk wasn’t a prophet speaking truth to the king, preaching the gospel against a nation. He instead had a dialogue with God.
- A frank dialogue by the way. He questioned God. Why do you allow these things? Why?
God reveals his plan for a new Kingdom.
- God’s answer was not in the past (‘I did it because…’) his answer points to the future, to what he was about to do, the end of injustice, the start of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven … this is a message of hope. It’s not punishment, it’s not some sort of curse, but it’s about God’s Kingdom.
- We are living a situation these days where, it seems, the powerful became almost powerless. It looks like we are all in the same boat. The virus doesn’t choose the poor instead of the rich, the powerful instead of the powerless, and so on. So many things in life these days are now meaningless. But God is still on his throne. Faith, hope, love and relationships are so important.
- God points Habakkuk to a new era. He points to Jesus Christ, the initiator of a new creation.
- Hab 2:4 – The turning point.
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.”
Important things to consider:
– He had an honest dialogue with God.
– He had to wait and seek the signs of the Kingdom.
– He had to grow and get stronger.
– He had to accept the fact that – the just will live by faith – This is the turning point.
“Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to tread on the heights.”
There is a shift in these verses. After God’s revelation: the just will live by faith…
- There are no more questions.
- He says he rejoices in the Lord.
- The prophet has moved from a place of anger to a sense of awe; from perplexity to praise; from confusion to confidence in God; from worry to worship.
Habakkuk exchanged his fear for faith. He stopped feeling like a victim and
started a process of renewal; he got stronger, his joy lifted, and faith increased.
Habakkuk shows us how to have faith in God despite how we feel at the moment; he explains that during difficult times faith in God will sustain.
Not only does the book of Habakkuk show us how to have faith in God despite how we feel in the face of problems, but it reveals the very character of God himself. He is sovereign and in control of the world. He also is a God who listens and responds to his people.
May God bless you. Wherever you might be, your situation or even who you are. Amen.