Friday, June 06, 2008

The 23rd Psalm

As we come to “Week 23” (in our “one Psalm per week” study) we come to Psalms 23… What more can one say of the Twenty-Third Psalm…? It is probably the very first scripture many of you memorized. Even if we haven’t “formally” memorized it, still many know it by heart - having heard it so many times.

Psalm 23 A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The 23rd Psalm is probably the most paraphrased scripture of all - seems like everyone wants to write their own version of it (and I am no exception…
We’ve heard it as prayers, hymns, and sermons. (I’ve even read an Indian version of it.) Truly, what more can be said…

The commentators are in disagreement as to whether David wrote this while hiding from Saul, or running from Absalom, or as an aged King looking back over his life, reminiscing of when he was a young shepherd-boy.

However, as I've spent more time studying this Psalm, I began to learn more about (or maybe imagine) David's “mind-set” as he came to write this Psalm.

Who of us has not said, “Lord! Why do I have to go through ‘this’? Why can’t I just ‘do what I do?’” This particular week's study came after a difficult week for me, as I found myself saying, “Lord! Why can't I just go cane my chairs, and frame my pictures? Why do I have to go through all ‘this’?”

And I could just see David, sitting alone on the side of a hill, with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands saying, “Lord! How I wish I could just go back and tend sheep! I don't want to be king anymore. I just want to mind my own business. I just want to be a nice, quiet, simple shepherd...”

And knowing how the mind works and how God directs (well, directs my mind, anyway) I could see David’s mind coming around from “I just wish I could be a shepherd again...” to the realization of, “You know... The Lord is my Shepherd... I shall not want…” Or as the NLT puts it, “The LORD is my shepherd I have all that I need…”

As the Psalm continues, if we sit in such a place, or allow ourselves to sit with David in the midst of a very frustrating time, we can follow his “train of thought” as he remembers his days as a young shepherd-boy, and watch as his mind begins to “connect the dots.”

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” David says as he remembers directing the sheep to the places where the grass was tender and sweet. “He leads me beside the still waters” as he visualizes the very streams he used to frequent.

I think it is at this time that the “light bulb” comes on and David begins to see the link between “here” and “there.” As he remembers the quiet times of being a shepherd, he can’t forget the difficult times, either. He reflects on the fact that even such an “idyllic” life was filled with hardship and dangers.

We have such a tendency to think back on “the good old days” and never remember the hardships - but now, David does - and he truly makes the connection.

“He restores my soul” Not only does He meet my physical needs; He is concerned about my soul. We oftentimes think God is only concerned about our souls and not our physical needs - but God, Who made us, knows our every need - and meets every one of them.

He “restores” my soul. In the mist of my depression or despair, He brings back to me, my joy, and encourages me.

David, now “gaining steam” in his revelation, sees that not only does God “bring back” to me my joy, but “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.”

The word “restore” tends to remind us of something from the past, while “leads me” turns our eyes to the present and the future.

David seems to realize that (doggone it) the things that he is doing are “right”. This “path of righteousness” may be difficult - but it is the “right” thing to do.

How many times have we “done what is right” and been criticized for it? No, the “path of righteousness” is not easy, but God leads us there “for His Name’s sake” - for the very witness of His Holy Name.

However, one translation puts it this way: “You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.”

Whether God does it “because of” who He is (it is His “nature” to be “right”) or does it “to show” who He is (as a “witness” to His Name) still He is the One doing the leading. We may never really know “why” things happen - but as long as we stand for what we believe to be right - I believe - God will use it to Glorify Himself!

In my mind’s eye, as I am watching David’s faith being restored, and his heart quickening with understanding, I imagine him leaping to his feet with arms uplifted as this personal affirmation of faith now becomes a prayer to God!

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

“It doesn’t matter what I’m going through,” he says. “I can be in the deepest, darkest pit of my soul (internally) or be in fear for my life (externally); still I will not be afraid of the outcome, because I know - YOU are with me!”

“I know,” he continues, “that You have all the ‘equipment’ needed to take care of me.”

David remembers how he carried both a rod and a staff when caring for the sheep. The rod is used both for discipline and for protection. It can be used when “stronger” direction or discipline is needed, and to ward off predators. The staff, on the other hand is used when just a “gentle” nudge is needed to correct the course.

And both of these should bring us great comfort as well. There are times when God needs to discipline us with a “stronger” hand. And there are times when a “gentle nudge” is all we need. Our comfort comes in the fact that He is God. As the song says, “When through firey trials thy pathways shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine…”

Then, I think, David looks around at his circumstances, spreads his arms and says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.”

He says in essence, “Here I am in the midst of all these trials, and yet, You had Samuel anoint me king. I’ll admit, it may not look like it just now, but I will be king. You said it would happen, and I believe it will. I am just so blessed!”

And we must look around us and say the same thing. “Here I am in the midst of all these ‘enemies’ and yet, Christ died for me and has promised me life with Him eternally, and “anointed” me with His Spirit. It may not look it just now, but I AM a child of the King; and I DO reign with Him. I am SO blessed - “exceeding, abundantly, above, all I can ever ask for, or even dream up!”

By now, David’s heart is bursting with fullness and joy (and I imagine, tears streaming down his face) and his prayer climaxes with clenched fists lifted heavenward in victory as he shouts, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

He knows that no matter what happens; no matter what he has to go through to get from “here” to “there”, God, and all of God’s goodness, will be with him. He knows that, as another song puts it, God will “Hold me close, till the storm passes by…”

“And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Whether in the “physical” house, or the “metaphorical” house, he knows that he shall “dwell” there… forever!

One meaning of the word “dwell” is “to settle down and be at home” - or as someone put it, “to be comfortable.” But the Hebrew of the word has a much broader meaning as well. It means “there you are” in other words - wherever you find yourself - there you are!

And no matter where we find ourselves (as David says in another place, “Where can I go from Your Spirit, where can I flee from Your presence?”) no matter where we are, God’s “house”; God’s “dwelling-place”; God’s “family” is there. (Remember, Jesus was of the “house” of David.)

And, in God’s Grace, we shall “dwell in the house of the LORD forever” as well!

In Jesus’ Holy Name - Amen.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a Blessing and in total agreement with what the Lord is saying to me this morning. I have been reciting the 23rd Psalm for comfort almost daily since July 25, 2008. Preparing to face a formidable foe in a few hours, I began reciting and meditating this Psalm. Thank you so much.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Betty Newman said...

Thank you for your comment, and, should you ever visit this post again, know this - you have been prayed for in your struggle.

May God lead you through this today, and through other struggles as they arise.

Thank you also because as I read your comment, I came back and read this post myself... and today, that was just what I needed to hear as well.


9:33 AM  

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