1You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need. 2 You let me rest in fields of green grass. You lead me to streams of peaceful water, 3 and you refresh my life. You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths. 4 I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe. 5 You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch. You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows. 6 Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, Lord.
The book of Psalms is the longest in the Bible, containing 150 chapters. Think of it as ancient Israel’s community hymnal – an anthology of sacred music used during times of worship. Like a modern hymnal, the book of Psalms contains a wide range of songs dealing with themes like praise, thanksgiving, grief, confession, injustice, trust, forgiveness, and others. Psalm 23 deals with the idea of providence.
“Providence” is a theological term for is something like God’s continuous upholding and care for the universe, including human beings. It is a key concept in the belief that God is good, loving, caring and benevolent toward creation. Psalm 23 depicts God as a shepherd (a common image of God in the Hebrew Bible) who provides the necessities for a flock of sheep – food, water, protection, and guidance.
By the early first century, Stoic philosophers used the word “providence” as a designation for the deity as a counter to the more fatalistic philosophical beliefs. Instead of being bound to a cruel and calculated fate, the universe is bound together by a benevolent deity that is involved in the wellbeing of all things. Later Christian and Muslim theologians would incorporate both Roman and Greek Stoic thought in their understanding of divine providence when attempting to describe God’s relationship to the world.
Psalm 23 is often read at funeral services because it speaks to the provision God provides in times of want. The one who has passed and those left grieving are not alone and not without divine comfort, compassion and tender care. “Valleys as dark as death” alludes to the fears we have about death. To consider that God is present, even in the darkest times gives us comfort, and perhaps more bandwidth of carrying on.
Today we pray for those who have lost their lives or lost family members to the Coronavirus outbreak, both in Vermont and around the world. We pray for their comfort and safety and that their grief may not overwhelm during this trying time. Blessings,