1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.'
So begins Psalm 23, with images of compassion and peace so powerful that the Psalm is regularly used to comfort the dying and the bereaved.
However even here, the tranquillity that the Psalm promises carries with it a dark shadow, rarely commented upon. I don't mean verse 4, which provides one striking contrast to the peace that God gives: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."
Even more pointed than this is the fate of the Psalmist's foes:
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
The enemies of God are specifically excluded from the consolation the Psalmist enjoys. Wors: they are forced to watch while God's child is comforted. It occurs to me that the Psalm finds its fulfilment in the New Testament (where all Old Testament promises find their fulfilment), in the person of Lazarus. Can you see it?
I've blogged a similar idea concerning Psalm 21 over at the Sola Panel, in a post entitled Fiery and Sharp Images of Hell.