I sometimes wonder how many people actually think about the word “comfort,” especially as it is used in Psalm 23. I have gotten a lot of ideas from how people often use the word in everyday talk and thought. That is, they often seem to give the impression that “comfort” means something soft and warm and cuddly; but such an idea would not fit what King David was driving at in our reading. He was writing from the perspective of a shepherd out in the field with his flock. I suspect that he was writing about what he wanted but maybe didn’t have—a secure and safe place of refuge.
In fact, in verse one of our Psalm that is exactly what King David says! “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Freedom from want takes many forms: a full tummy, a quiet night’s rest, and safety to mention a few examples that could have occupied the mind of a young shepherd boy. These could certainly add to a person’s “comfort.”
There is more, though! The “comfort” King David wrote about is more clearly described in verse three: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” This gets pretty close to what I (at least) think of with the word comfort. I understand “comfort” as strength and resolve. I think back to my high school days, when I experienced a dislocated finger during a football game. I showed my coach/trainer my misdirected finger (it was pointing sideways) and he fixed it! He grabbed it by the end and simply pushed it straight! He fixed it! It hurt for a while, but I had no lasting ill effects.
I wouldn’t recommend such a treatment for anyone, but it worked for me.
The idea of true comfort, I think, is like this. We may not eliminate all the bad things, the hurt, the things that frighten us or dismay us, but we can learn to persevere and survive. We may even succeed!
The rod and staff King David mentioned in verse 4 are the Word of God and the holy sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. They defend us and strengthen us against the devil’s attacks, and they direct and encourage us to live as Christ Jesus’ followers. They enable us to serve Him.
This brings us to the payoff. Verse six says it all: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This is where we will find and experience true and lasting warmth, peace, joy, and freedom from want forever! All because Jesus went to the cross, the grave; and then rose from His grave to utterly defeat Satan and destroy his thrall over humankind.
We pray: Lord God Almighty, we give you thanks and praise your holy name for sending Jesus to be our Savior from sin and to destroy Satan. Amen.