by Ed Horstmann
These are the opening words to the Twenty-third Psalm. It could be described as the heart of the Book of Psalms: a collection of 150 songs and poems that lies roughly at the geographical heart of the Bible. Though many of those psalms are no longer widely known, the Twenty-third Psalm continues to exert a quiet influence. When I preside at memorial services and graveside burials, it is almost always included as one the readings that people choose for comfort and consolation. It is sometimes a source of inspiration for popular songs, and if children are invited to memorize a few Biblical passages as part of their church school curriculum, the Twenty-third Psalm is certain to be included among them.
I suspect the enduring popularity of this one psalm has to do with its remarkable affirmation of life, condensed into a handful of memorable phrases. God is portrayed as giver of peace, companion through struggle, and provider of goodness through all the seasons of life. Through references to death and enemies there is an admission in these ancient words that life comes with challenges, and ultimately comes to an end. Yet “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
So I give you the Twenty-third psalm: words of encouragement for people of faith who are also prisoners of hope. An ancient poem that opens a clear channel between us and God, whose power can soothe our jittery nerves and prepare us to face the future with humility and defiance.
“Psalm 23 is . . . the most familiar and most loved of all the Psalms. It is a psalm of trust that voices full confidence in the steadfast presence of God as the defining reality of life.”
– Walter Brueggemann From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms
“If any psalm provides a little tabernacle of grace, this is it. Its pastoral images put you in a cool, lush, quiet, meadow spot, some echo of an original Garden, a reminder that God’s first encounters with the creatures of the earth were in the great outdoors, in the cool of the evening.”
– Ray Waddle A Turbulent Peace: The Psalms for Our Time