This is everybody's Psalm. First, we are in the glen, then in the gorge, and finally, we are in the glory. The Psalm tells us about the fold, about the foe, and about the future. It gives us the threefold secret of happiness. It begins with the secret of a happy life. Our Shepherd takes care of all our needs. He takes care of all our secular needs. He leads us beside the still waters and into the green pastures. And He takes care of all our spiritual needs. He "restores or soul" and gives us needed righteousness. "He brings back my soul" is the way one translation renders it. And, at what cost! As the old hymn puts it,
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that
The Lord passed thro'
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
The psalm continues with the secret of a happy death. We come now in the psalm to the valley of the shadow of death. We notice at once that there is a dramatic change in the pronouns. Up to now the psalmist has been saying: "He! He! He!" He has been talking about the Shepherd. Now He says, "Thou! Thou! Thou!" As the dark valley looms, the Shepherd comes closer. Now the psalmist is no longer talking about Him but is talking to Him.
And, behold, the threatening valley turns out to be no more than the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of a dog cannot bite. The shadow of a sword cannot kill. The shadow of death cannot harm the child of God.
Where there is a shadow, however, there has to be a substance. We discover that the substance of death is very close by, right there in the previous psalm—"My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" That indeed, is the substance of death; to be forsaken by God forever.
But there is something else, too. Where there is a shadow, there also has to be a light. It is the light shining on the substance that casts the shadow.
Some years ago I heard a letter read in church. It had just been received from a beloved medical missionary, who was dying of leukemia. He wrote: "David, in Psalm 23, talks about the valley of the shadow of death. Fellow saints of God, I have come into the valley. But there is no shadow. On the contrary, I have found that 'the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day' (Prov. 4:18)." That is the secret of a happy death.
Finally, we have here the secret of a happy eternity. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." That is David's final offering.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, perhaps did more to strike the shackles off America's slaves than any other person. In one of many dramatic scenes, she shows us poor Uncle Tom in the merciless hands of the cruel Simon Legree. The malicious slave owner was determined to break the will of the kindly Uncle Tom. When he refused to be cruel to the other slaves, even when commanded to thrash them by Legree's direct command, Legree threatened him with torture. "How would you like to have a slow fire built around you, Tom?" he said. "I know you can do many cruel things, Master," said Uncle Tom. "You can even kill me. But there's all eternity to come after that." That was the heavenly vision that filled the soul of Uncle Tom with bliss and the soul of Simon Legree with terror.
F. W. Boreham reminds us of what old Rabbi Duncan used to say to his students at the turn of the year: "Gentlemen," he would say, "your friends will be wishing you a happy New Year. Your old Rabbi wishes you a happy eternity." Jesus does better than that. He assures us a happy eternity.