I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul…
These are famous words. Psalm 23. David’s song about the Good Shepherd. We know the words that come after these:
“… 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…”
Powerful words. Descriptive words. Real life words. We have hidden these after-words in our hearts. That’s good! We should have these embedded into our souls. But have we ever considered the words that come just before these words? As I grow older… and as I watch my own kids grow older… and as I consider the mountains and valleys of life, the words that precede Psalm 23 are beginning to mean just as much as the words that make up Psalm 23:
“Future generations will also serve him;
our children will hear about the wonders of the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness to those yet unborn –
they will hear about everything he has done.”
If we were to start reading passages of Scripture together rather than in segregation, these are the words we would read as a segway into Psalm 23. They are from the last verses of Psalm 22. Interestingly, the 22nd Psalm is nearly as famous as the 23rd… but for a disorienting reason rather than an encouraging one. Psalm 22 begins with this well-known line:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the cry of King David during a period of time when he was actually shrouded in the shadow of death. In that moment, when enemies overwhelmed him, when friends abandoned him, when fear oppressed him, he felt cut off from God. David wrote Psalm 22 while living through the dark valley of the shadow of death that David so eloquently depicts in Psalm 23.
These words of forsakenness are also the words that Jesus cries from the cross. The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 himself chooses to cry aloud the dark shadow of Psalm 22. In other words, we identify with the shadows in one psalm and in the witness of life in the other psalm. The Good News is that the Good Shepherd does too.
[Psalm 22 ] Forsakenness and the Shadow of Death
[Psalm 23] Comfort With God and the Witness of Life
This is such a profound movement that the words of transition between these two psalms, therefore, catch my breath. In the transition there is affirmation that each generation will champion the reality of the Good Shepherd who walks alongside people in the valley. As one generation learns to walk with God from the shadows-to-life, they share it with their children, who in turn learn the same shadows-to-life truth and pass it on to their children… Etc.
The Good News is that no matter what a young person experiences, no matter how far removed she may feel from God, no matter how dismal the circumstances, she has a Good Shepherd who chooses to walk with her, to cry with her, to embrace the pain and despair and anxieties. The Good Shepherd puts himself in the shoes of his sheep (so to speak). And as a person learns to see Jesus alongside her, she will come to know the comforting presence of God. And as she learns the presence of God who is with her even in the shadows of death, she will begin to serve and declare the wonders of the Lord. And as she learns to declare the wonders of the Lord, future generations will come to learn the same truth.
God, the Good Shepherd, identifies in our darkest hour, and leads us to comfort. He knows the knots… and annoints our heads with blessing… and pursues us with goodness and unfailing love. And it is the generations that will witness to this truth: One generation proclaiming to the next (and the next and the next…) about the God who identifies and comforts.
May we always remember the transition verses of Psalm 22 and Psalm 23— Verses of Generational Transference residing in the heart of Gospel.
Ps 22:30-31—- “Future generations will also serve him. Our children will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those yet unborn. They will hear about everything he has done.”