I really like words. You might call me a sort of “word nerd.” My writing takes me longer than most because I’m always searching the proper word or phrase – probably at the expense of clearly expressing my original thought. So, typically my preaching places a lot of emphasis on the meaning of words and phrases. Usually these words are (at least to me) keywords that are important to the meaning of the biblical text.
Over the last few months I’ve been greatly comforted by the words and phrases of Psalm 23. I have been particularly blessed by thinking of the words: “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.” (Psalm 23:4, ESV)
With is very small word – in fact it is a preposition expressing relationship, in this case presence, accompaniment, participation or fellowship.
The biblical research software on my computer enables me to do a lot of helpful things – one of which is to determine the frequency of usage of words and phrases. So, I made a phrase search and found some interesting conclusions. The phrase “I am with you” or “I will be with you” is used 28 times in the ESV Bible. Only one of these times is spoken by a man – Jonathan’s armor bearer in 1 Kings 11.38 where he announces solidarity with Jonathan’s intention to go to battle. Every other time it is used by the LORD God (Old Testament) or Jesus Christ (New Testament) as a strong personal motivation and reassurance to follow his instructions. So, this phrase is always encouraging and edifying.
It is interesting to look at the list and see that the Lord God speaks this concept to Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Solomon, Jeremiah and the nation of Israel (through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Haggai) and then the Lord Jesus speaks as the risen Lord Jesus to apostle Paul. I’ve often thought of this as the promise of God’s presence, whereby he encourages and strengthens his people to faithful service by reaffirming his commitment to them.
It is striking that only King David takes this concept and internalizes it by applying it to himself. David is not afraid because the Lord is with him. Thus he declares to the Lord that he will fear no evil or harm because he is not alone because he (that is, the Lord) is with him.
This promise of God’s presence is both personal and powerful. It brings great comfort and strength to those who believe it. There have been several occasions in my life when I thought I was going to see Jesus face-to-face.
On one occasion immediately following the neck injury which caused my quadriplegia, I was fighting intense swelling and some severe infections. No doubt the drugs and medicine were clouding my thinking. I recall Judy and some friends who were attorneys trying to assist me in signing a will. There were some other medical issues going on same time. While I had the sensation of nearly “slipping over the edge”, I also felt (was certain of) the presence of the Lord Jesus, who was with me and caring for me. He was holding me as I was clinging to his promise that he would never leave me or for sake me. I consciously rested in him and his grace. So, I knew his great peace as I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I did not fear evil because Jesus was with me.
Can you recall finding comfort in this promise of God’s presence? I have and I hope you have benefited because I shared one instance with you.