Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
It’s a safe assumption that even the unchurched have heard the 23rd Psalm, given its connection to funerals or memorial services. It is a most comforting psalm, but we note the implications for the deceased are only found in the final verse, in which David confidently asserts that the righteous dead will dwell in the Lord’s House forever. Otherwise, the psalm depicts what the Good Shepherd does for His living sheep. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10.11,14).
In contrast to the 23rd Psalm, Jesus is the One walking not only in the shadow of the valley of death but into the grave itself, laying down His life for the sheep. However, this difference does not suggest that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, does not still provide the same blessings to God’s sheep living under the New Covenant. Indeed, John 10.10 tells us He gives us abundant life. So, the first Shepherd, the One with Whom we are most familiar, is the Shepherd Whose voice we must hear (John 10.3-5, 14-16).
But what of the other shepherd? For illustrative purposes, we will call him “Mammon.” In Psalm 49, the psalmist, presumably one of Korah’s sons, presents a didactic poem. Essentially, by calling it didactic, we are acknowledging that it is a poem that teaches an important lesson (or lessons). The instruction found in Psalm 49 is a warning against trusting in one’s riches. In Psalm 49.14, the psalmist says:
“They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions” (NASB1995).
Despite sounding like a 1980s hair metal band, the 49th Psalm teaches about the “Death Shepherd.” The “they” in the first part of verse 14 are those trusting in material wealth. The latter part of the verse reveals that death will separate them from their wealth. Note that the son of Korah provides a parenthetical contrast. The upright will prevail over them in the morning. Commentators acknowledge this is an understanding of a coming resurrection day, even if not explicitly stated. You can come away with no other interpretation, especially as you read the next verse.
“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49.15 NASB1995).
On the other hand, Mammon will prevent you from being able to serve God (Matthew 6.24). He fills one with anxiety and makes them forget the Providence of God (Matthew 6.25-34). The Death Shepherd is an enticing distraction, not unlike the storied Pied Piper of Hamelin, who led away the innocents with his magical piping. The Death Shepherd entrances the susceptible sheep with wealth but pastures them in destruction from which the sheep cannot escape. Both this son of Korah and Jesus, through His Parable of the Rich Fool, remind us that one’s riches end up the property of another after death (Psalm 49.10; Luke 12.16-21). Thus, one forfeits his or her immortal spirit for nothing worthwhile compared to the price he or she pays (Matthew 16.26).
Two voices are calling to the sheep today. One is the voice of the Good Shepherd. The other voice is the Death Shepherd. Endeavor to make sure you heed the correct One so that you end up in the correct sheepfold!