“I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” – Psalm 16:8 (NASB)
By the time I post this, I will have attended, officiated over, or otherwise spoken at four funeral services in four of the last five weeks. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that there are more funerals in the month or so following the Advent season and the onset of a new year than at any other time of the year. This is a pattern I’ve noticed from my own experiences over the years, as well as a result of speaking with colleagues in pastoral ministry. I’ve never taken the time until recently to see if there is any statistical data that supports this; and it seems there is, with January being the highest month.1
Aside from the apparent statistical reliability of the data, this is a sad reality that is the cause of great loss and painful grief in the lives of our friends, loved ones, and sooner or later, us ourselves. The causes of death don’t seem to matter nearly as much as the reality of death, even when it is expected. It is an emotionally shattering event; you know this if you’ve experienced it.
I’m not a linguist, but I do think words are important. As a Bible student, this is important so as not to misunderstand important concepts and to avoid misleading others who may look to me for clarity about what Scripture says and means. In my past preaching ministry, and even now, I try to be intentional about the words I use (or don’t use). I try to take the time to study words. One that I have seen crop-up in various biblical texts is the word “shaken.” Some versions of the Bible substitute the word “moved.” One clear connotation for both words is the idea of being overthrown, that is, to be dislodged from a prior connection. If you’ve ever gone wild water rafting, it’s not uncommon for the rapids to be so strong that you get violently thrown out of the boat. That’s what the Bible means when these words are used.
When I was in high school, our basketball teams were consistently among the best, if not the best, in our conference. It was rare, in fact, that we weren’t ranked high among other teams in the state. Back in those stone-age days, the cheerleaders would lead the crowd in this chorus:
We shall not, we shall not be moved (2x)
Just like a tree planted by the water
We shall not be moved.2
I’m sure this isn’t what was intended by those who sang the chorus during Civil Rights rallies and marches in the 1960s, but it worked well to pump-up a crowd of people wanting to see their basketball team dominate opposing teams. We weren’t thinking at all about the chorus’ scriptural bases which are found in Psalm 1:3 and Jeremiah 17:8: deeply rooted trees planted near streams of water…and because of that they were able to withstand and prosper even in times of drought when others were wilting and dying.
David had the same idea when he declared that because GOD was continually before him, both in rank (He is Supreme) and in position (He was first in line, preceding David in battle against the enemy, whether against the flesh and blood or the spiritual kind). David had confidence that he would not be overthrown from where GOD had placed him. Because GOD was at his right hand (the right hand is a biblical symbol of strength), David would not be shaken and moved away from his deep connection to and trust in GOD. Life’s harsh rapids would not throw him out of the boat.
Death, particularly tragic death, will sometimes result in the overthrow of the survivors. It can be like being caught in a vortex of water rapids where all of a sudden the boat tries to catapult its passengers out. It’s at these times, which have come and are sure to come again, that we need to be able to say, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
The trick is to have this relationship in place and well entrenched before there is a desperate need to depend on it. Waiting for the overthrowing event to happen may be way too late to enable living in sustaining faith. To the prepared goes the victory.
I thank GOD for those who have shown me what it is to be prepared, to have the Lord continually before me; and I thank Him for those who, despite life’s sometimes hard circumstances, are like trees planted by the water. They bless others without knowing it.
- Bartol, Steve. “Yes, It’s True. More People Die in January,” Legacy.com. http://www.legacy.com/news/culture-and-trends/article/yes-its-true-more-people-die-in-january
2. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is derivative of a similar song sung by African-Americans during the time of slavery. It was commonly sung during the Civil Rights era by artists such as Pete Seeger and Mavis Staples. The lyrics of the chorus are in the public domain.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2019. All rights reserved for text content unless otherwise noted.