Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. — Psalm 23:4
At the start of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648, Martin Rinkart, the son of a poor coppersmith, was called to be a pastor in his hometown of Eilenburg, Germany. Because Eilenburg was a walled city, it became a refuge for political and military fugitives. As a result, it was terribly overcrowded, and the people suffered from famine and disease. In addition, armies overran the city three times, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
In 1637, a devastating plague swept through the area. Some eight thousand people died, including Martin Rinkart’s beloved wife. At that time he was the only minister in Eilenburg because the others had either perished or fled from their posts. Rinkart conducted the funeral services of 4,480 people that year, and sometimes as many as forty or fifty in a single day! By the end of the year, the dead had to be buried in trenches without services.
Rinkart brought some of the suffering individuals into his own home, even though he was often hard pressed to provide for his own family. One day, while surrounded by war and death, with cries of despair sounding just outside his dwelling, Rinkart sat down and wrote this table grace for his children. Now set to music, it remains an enduring testimony of gratitude and hope.
Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom His world rejoices.
Who, from our mothers’ arms,
Has blessed us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.(1)
Why were the pain and suffering which surrounded Rinkart not reflected in his hymn? Had the good pastor seen so much stark tragedy that he had become insensitive? No, the reason for his peace and gratitude was simple: like the psalmist who composed our focus verse, he believed that God’s providence is always good. He realized that the “paths of righteousness” will sometimes take us through the valley, but he was assured that God would walk with him even when darkness surrounded him and death hovered near.
In the hardest of all life’s difficult places, the Lord can give perfect comfort and security. Fear can be eclipsed by the presence of God. Both the psalmist David and Martin Rinkart grasped that truth, and so can we!
Psalm 22 was composed by David and addressed to the chief Musician “upon Aijeleth Shahar.” The precise meaning of this phrase is unknown, but it may have been the name of a melody to which the song was to be sung. The psalm combines personal lament, prayer, and thanksgiving, and possibly was composed to be used in worship as a liturgy for healing. Many commentators group this psalm with Psalms 23 and 24, viewing them as a trilogy depicting three roles of Jesus Christ: Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign.
This psalm has historically been classified as prophetic and Messianic, as its opening lines were spoken by Jesus on the Cross (see Mark 15:34), and it is quoted seven times in the New Testament in relation to Christ. Verses 12-21 include descriptions of experiences that clearly can be identified with Christ the Sin-bearer as He suffered upon the Cross: “all my bones are out of joint” (verse 14), “they pierced my hands and my feet” (verse 16), and “they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (verse 18). Since these descriptions were not part of David’s personal experience, scholars agree that the Spirit of God constrained David to write prophetically of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
Psalm 22 has two sections. The first (verses 1-21) centers on suffering: it portrays a sense of abandonment, along with the reality of physical abuse and emotional exhaustion. The second (verses 22-31) is a song of joy for deliverance: it reveals the victor’s public witness and his purpose to magnify the God who provided the deliverance.
The concluding verses depict the universality of Christ’s kingdom, and indicate that those yet unborn (the “seed,” or posterity) will also receive His work of salvation and will “declare his righteousness.”
Psalm 23 is frequently referred to as “The Shepherd Psalm,” and is one of the most well-known passages in all of Scripture. Authored by David, this psalm evidences both the psalmist’s vocation as a shepherd and his close personal relationship with God. Bible scholars classify this as a “psalm of confidence” and agree that its literary beauty and spiritual insight are unsurpassed.
One outstanding feature of this psalm is the skillful use of contrasted imagery. David’s words describe both pastoral peace and passage through peril, the potential of evil and the prospect of good. Seven activities of the Lord are described in verses 2-5: He makes a place of rest, He leads, He restores, He guides, He is present, He prepares a table, and He anoints. The sheep of the Lord’s pasture enjoy five freedoms: from want, depletion, fear of evil, fear of death, and desertion.
Through these six verses, the concept of the complete supply of every need is developed. In the first four verses, David wrote from personal experience of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. In verses 5-6, the comparison changes from shepherd to host, and from the fields to the home. The psalmist concludes his beautiful meditation with the thought that after a lifetime filled with goodness and mercy, he will dwell forever in the presence of God.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. Book I (1:1 — 41:13)
II. Book II (42:1 — 72:20)
III. Book III (73:1 — 89:52)
IV. Book IV (90:1 — 106:48)
V. Book V (107:1 — 150:6)
When our trust is anchored in God, we can face life’s greatest challenges with complete assurance that He will always be with us.
1. Martin Rinkart, Now Thank We All Our God, Public Domain.