The Valley of the Shadow of Death…
Thomas has been leading Sunday School at our church for the past few weeks. We have been working through I and II Samuel. We have just finished the chapter about Absolom’s death, and David’s reaction to the news that the son who betrayed him has been murdered against his orders by one of his top generals. In his grief, he mourns so loudly, that the very general who murdered his son rebukes the king, because the very warriors who risked their lives for David’s life (many of whom were not even Israelites), were now slinking back from their victory like cowards who had fled from battle. As King, David is responsible for giving thanks for the sacrifice and risk of those who love him and his kingdom. But, as a father, he mourns the death of his son.
As Thomas said, this is a very messy part of the story. He and I began discussing the passage. How does it show Christ? Such messiness, such betrayal from a son and a trusted general, such grief, such rebuke. It all came back to one thing: David’s sin. He had sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, and God has promised David through Nathan that the sword would never leave the king’s house, that what David had done in secret would be done in public to David by those closest to him. And, the child conceived of that sinful union would die, and would only be the first to die for David’s sin. That death is where the messiness begins. When that baby dies, David stops mourning. His servants, confused, ask him why his terrible grief ended so suddenly and easily with the very death of the child. His response is humbling.
“Why the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
David seems to recall this years later with the death of Absolom, because he ends his grief and goes to attend to the needs of his people and army.
Why is David’s grief so bizarrely timed?
In the Old Testament, heaven seems to be rarely mentioned as a promised status after death. But David seems to know about it. He doesn’t describe it in great detail, but his Psalms are filled with the faint promises of glorification.
No where is this more apparent than in Psalm 23. You can almost hear the grief wracking David’s body as he writes.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
We just found out that Baby Bear might be leaving us. Family has stepped forward to claim him. We don’t know anything more than that the homestudy process will begin this Tuesday. The pain required to echo David’s words right now is breaking my heart. Yes, the LORD is my shepherd, but I am an unwilling and WANTING sheep.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
Wherever He is taking me is better than where I am now, regardless of how little I want to believe it. That is not the hard part, however; I’m struggling to believe that God could have greener pastures for our Baby Bear than what we can give. But He will bring us to those pastures, willing or no.
He leads me beside still waters.
Baby Bear’s life has been turbulent. I like to think that we have provided a bit of calm for him in the first few months of his life. The little guy has brought such joy to our lives. Today, he hid behind our blanket holder and played peekaboo with me. He would poke his head out from behind the blankets with a grin, and then pull himself back into hiding, over and over again. He has learned to walk, grin, play, and even pray with us in the bits of quiet we have been able to provide. I hope it will be enough for whatever waters God has planned for him.
He restores my soul.
Can God really do this? Can He bring back a heart torn in two? The answer, of course, is yes. He tore His own heart in two, because he so loved little ones like Baby Bear, and even bigger sinners like myself. If God can love us so much, He can restore my soul. So, I pray that He will also fill up Baby Bear’s soul, so that whenever the day of goodbye comes, it will not be the final word between us.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Can you imagine what is going through David’s mind? I have sinned against God. I deserve every punishment for this sin. But God leads us, David and I, willingly and otherwise into righteousness. God’s name, His holiness, purity, and goodness will not allow His children’s sin (anger, mistrust, adultery, whatever sin we have) to defame His good name.
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.
This part truly amazes me. David knew that God was not simply there for this life. There was something MORE beyond the Valley, and it held the opposite of Shadow and Death. It must hold Light and Life, whenever it ended. God promised to lead David there, and He promises to do the same for me, even though I can’t see the way. I don’t need to be afraid of what can happen to my foster kids, my family, my husband, myself. Those evils exist, but lose all power outside this valley. And what provides the comfort? Not God’s promises of goodness, prosperity, or health. No, God’s rod and staff, the tools necessary to lead His children with gentle prodding and fierce hits to the side. We are, afterall, stubborn sheep, are we not? I know I sure I am.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Here is where God makes His promises. My enemies will not overcome me. David and I will not be condemned for our sins. We will be sanctified, redeemed. It will certainly come AFTER the rod and staff, but it is promised just as strongly as God’s name will be protected. My life will be filled with blessings, not monetary, not prosperity, not health, not even children. But He will bless me. He blessed David, throughout years of turmoil in his house. David could always hold on to God’s promise that a son of David would sit on the throne of Jerusalem. And I receive that same promise. Nothing, no mistake of mine or David’s, no betrayal of a dear son or decisions of a judge, no grief shame or sin can take away these promises.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
You can almost hear David’s breathing calm as he meditates on the promise of dwelling forever in the house of the LORD. I know, because mine has done the same.