I remember back at seminary one of our professors telling us to be extremely careful when using the 23rd Psalm for a hospital setting. He said make sure that you know that that person is on their deathbed or else don’t use it at all. Because Psalm 23 is associated with death and dying. When you start using that Psalm people will think they’re dying whether or not they actually are.
And why is this? Why do we associate Psalm 23 with death and dying? I think it’s really from verse 4 that says this
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. (Psalm 23:4)
A number of years ago I took a trip to the Holy Land and I remember touring a place known as the Wadi Qelt. It’s a deep dark valley that runs from Jerusalem down to Jericho and our guide told us that that valley is thought to be the scene for Jesus most famous parable, or one of his more famous parables, that of the Good Samaritan, but also the scene for Psalm 23. That perhaps David was thinking about the Wadi Qelt when he wrote these words.
It’s easy to see. Walking through that valley there’s massive shadows that are cast over the path, incredible amount of darkness even in the middle of the day, but also with its twists and turns, so many places that bandits could hide behind. Certainly one traveling along that route by himself might have reason to fear. And yet what does David say? Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. And why? Because God is with him. God is with us.
We think about those times, even as we come close to death in our own lives, that there is really no reason to be afraid. No evil that we need to fear. Why? Because God has taken care of our greatest evil already through Jesus. He has taken care of it through his suffering and death on the cross. He has taken care of the power of the devil and of our sin and even death itself. Jesus is our Shepherd we truly find comfort and peace in him whether in the midst of our life or even on our deathbed. To know that he is with us and he is bringing us home to be with him forever in heaven. Amen.