Please comment on Psalm 23:4. Does this verse refer to the time just before our physical death? Also, is it true that God dispenses a special grace upon believers for the time they have to die?
Whether the “valley of the shadow of death” mentioned in Psalm 23:4 refers to the hour of our death or to life’s uncertainty in general has been debated by Bible scholars. In reality, it would seem that both perspectives are correct. After all, we all walk in the shadow of death from the moment we are born. In a sense we all are terminally ill and only a heartbeat away from eternity. Since God takes care of us in everyday life, will He not take care of us as we face the ultimate hurdle—death? By the same token, if the passage does focus upon death and our enabling to fear no evil at that specific moment, certainly God is able to take care of us throughout our lives.
Whether the believer is on a deathbed or on the freeway, God gives him courage and comfort. God can protect us from death, or He can take us through death. Death can strike at any moment, but we need not fear. We are in God’s protective hands, and so is death. As His children, we win in either scenario—life or death (Phil. 1:20, 21).
Now let’s focus on the question of special grace, or “dying grace,” as it is often called, that believers receive to face death. Although the term is not found in the Bible, the truth is abundant throughout. One vivid passage that tends to support the truth of “dying grace” is Job, chapter 5.
As Job was suffering, his so-called friends tried to help him, but they caused more anguish than comfort. Yet certain statements they made were true. For example, Eliphaz said in verse 21, “Neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.” The word “destruction” includes death; thus we do not need to fear death. When our time comes, we will have inner peace.
Verse 22 continues, “At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh.” Death can be included here as well. But how can a person actually laugh at death? The word “laugh” conveys the idea of inner joy. I think of a chorus, “With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm.” The writer probably didn’t mean those words literally; only a fool would smile when a storm (physical or otherwise) is bearing down upon him. The words refer to an inner peace that will take us even through death. The verse in Job means we don’t have to succumb to a morbid preoccupation with death. How often do we think about dying? We can imagine the many ways to die and how awful they could be. At those times, fear can take over. Imagining death can be worse than dying.
None of us likes the thought of dying. God has given us the strong will to live. If that were not the case, we would all soon be gone, and God’s purposes for us here on earth would not be fulfilled.
Job 5:22 and 23 also point out another principle: Nothing can take your life until the Lord is ready to take you Home: “For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be in peace with thee.” In Job’s day huge, dangerous beasts roamed the earth. Today we have different dangers. For example, if you were called into a military conflict such as the war in Bosnia, as a believer you could have every confidence that death would not take you unless it was God’s will.
In verse 24, Eliphaz said, “And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation.” “Tabernacle” refers to a person’s body, and “habitation” depicts our eternal home. The truth is that the body will be at peace because the believer is going home. Students of human nature tell us that when calamity strikes, human beings want to be home. Perhaps that is why many people linger around their homes even after authorities have told them to evacuate an area. The believer need not fear death because he is about to go Home to be with Jesus!
Verse 25 reads, “Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth.” In principle, this verse shows us that dying grace can uphold our loved ones after we die. Life goes on after the death of even the most cherished loved one in spite of almost overwhelming grief. The ability to go on after grief is an extension of God’s marvelous grace.
Verse 26 points out that God’s timing is always right: “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season.” This verse does not mean that everyone will live to be a hundred; it means that when you complete the time God purposes for you, you will have the privilege of going to be with Him. Just a word of caution: be careful about suspecting those who die “young.” To be sure, there is a “sin unto death,” when disobedient people die (1 John 5:16). But God alone determines that. When God takes someone, regardless of age, it is His doing.
Death is sometimes described as a tunnel through which you have never passed. It is an unknown, and perhaps that is why people fear it. However, the believer has the promise that the Lord will always be with him (Ps. 23:4; Heb. 13:5, 6).
We must always remember that grace, including dying grace, is the work of God. He provides it on the basis of Who He is, not on what we are or deserve. When a believer goes to Heaven, it is God Who is taking him Home. His death is an act of grace. If other people, or even we ourselves, were responsible for death, it would be awful. Instead, for believers it is a loving act of God.
Psalm 116:15 reads, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Note that it isn’t just some believers; it is all His saints. We don’t have to be an apostle Paul or a D. L. Moody or some other “great” Christian to be considered precious.
First Corinthians 15:55–58 shows us that dying grace is a reality because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has taken the sting out of death through His death, burial, and resurrection.
Those who have witnessed the death of Christians have to agree to this truth: peace is the rule. On their deathbeds believers plainly demonstrate this message: “See how easy it is for a Christian to die.” Bible characters also defy us to find some hint that we should dread or fear death when it comes. Whether it be Moses or Stephen, Simeon or Anna, or numerous other believers, dying grace is evident. The apostle Paul was looking forward to the time of his death when he wrote, “Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). That’s because there is dying grace.
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