As most people know, the words to this very familiar passage read as follows:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:1-6, KJV)
Known as the Shepherd’s Psalm, the many aspects of this beautiful song of praise are noteworthy. In fact, Phillip Keller has written a book wherein he explores the statements in this passage in great detail. First published by Zondervan way back in 1970, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 has now sold over 1,000,000 copies. It is well worth the reading.
For me, the passage has its greatest meaning in how it addresses the power that death holds over believers. The Psalmist presents the notion of death as merely that of a shadow passing over us. Even as a young Pastor, having utilized this passage of scripture in numerous funerals myself, I never really understood the impact of those words until I came across the following story about the acclaimed preacher, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was widowed at a fairly young age. The story goes that...
The death of Dr. Barnhouse's wife left him and a six-year-old daughter in the home. He had real difficulty working through his own grief, but the hardest part was to comfort and explain the death to his daughter. He later recalled that all of his education and theological training left him at a loss.
One day he and the little girl were standing on a busy corner at a downtown intersection waiting for a light to change. Suddenly a very large truck sped by the corner, briefly blocking out the sun and frightening the Iittle girl.
To comfort her, Dr. Barnhouse picked her up, and in a moment, the wisdom of God broke through and he was able to explain to his daughter: "When you saw the truck pass it scared you, but let me ask you, had you rather be struck by the truck or the shadow of the truck?" She replied, "Of course, the shadow."
He went on to explain that when "your mother died, she was only hit by the shadow of death because Jesus was hit by the truck (death)."
I praise God for what His Son endured on an old rugged cross in order that all who believe on His name can overcome death and experience glorious eternal life. As the Apostle Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians (15: 50-57),
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
SOURCE: Donald Grey Barnhouse, Th.D, was a preacher, evangelist, theologian, radio pioneer, and published author. He served as the longtime Pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1927 until his death in 1960.
This particular story has been used by numerous authors down through the years, including Erwin Lutzer (One Minute After You Die, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997, p. 61) and Max Lucado (Traveling Light, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001, p. 122).
It is also available widely on the internet. See, the following examples: http://biblestudyplanet.com/run-over-by-shadows-2/; http://www.christianity
today.com/moi/2001/001/january/taking-hit.html; and https://bible.org/illu
Another site (http://www.family-times.net/illustration/Troubled/200318) includes the testimony of one Lou Nicholes, missionary and author, who says he actually heard Dr. Barnhouse share this story personally:
I remember hearing Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, relate about his first wife’s death. He, with his children, had been to the funeral service, and as he was driving home, Dr. Barnhouse said that he was trying to think of some words of comfort that he could give them. Just then a huge moving van passed them.
As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car, and as the truck pulled out in front of them, an inspiration came to Dr. Barnhouse. He said, “Children, would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?” The children said, “Well, of course Dad, we’d much rather be run over by the shadow! That can’t hurt us at all.” Dr. Barnhouse said, “Did you know that two thousand years ago the truck of death ran over the Lord Jesus in order that only its shadow might run over us?”
Nicholes' missionary credentials and endeavors can be found on his own author's bio page: at Xulon Press: http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bo
There are also several sites that have audio recordings of Dr. Barnhouse preaching. Cf.: http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/dr-barnhouse-and-the-bible/player/death-where-is-your-sting-181403.html.
I find these latter references especially interesting in light of certain internet discussion threads on sites purporting to vet the history of such items, but which so often only prove to serve as formats for the posting of derogatory comments about the worth of the story and/or the value of its contents. Cf.: http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=15;t=0
My own immediate source for this story is: James Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited: A Topical Collection of Hundreds of Stories, Quotations, and Humor for Speakers, Wriers, Pastors, and Teachers (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), p. 148. Dr. Hewett was for years the Senior Pastor of Presbyterian churches in Walnut Creek, California, and Saratoga, California. He was also formerly the editor and publisher of Parables Etc. and The Pastors Story File, two monthly newsletters of illustrations for speakers. (See my earlier blog entry of 12/20/2102.)