Issues I’ve Discovered about Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in inexperienced pastures;
He leads me to water in locations of repose;
He renews my life;
He guides me in proper paths
as befits His identify.
Although I stroll via a valley of deepest darkness,
I worry no hurt, for You’re with me;
Your rod and Your employees—they consolation me.
You unfold a desk for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is ample.
Solely goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the times of my life,
and I shall dwell in the home of the Lord
for a lot of lengthy years. (NJPS)
• • •
For the final 14 half years in my work as a hospice chaplain, not often has a day passed by when I’ve not quoted, considered, or prayed Psalm 23. In my work, and in addition in my life now, I discover it to be just like the “Swiss Military Knife” of scriptures. And regardless that I’ve all the time beloved this psalm, and gone to it all through my grownup life and ministry, I’ve some remorse that there have been lengthy stretches of time earlier than I started to serve in hospice when it was a textual content that I type of ignored.
Acquainted scriptures may be like that, you already know? Familiarity doesn’t precisely breed contempt, however it may breed a type of taking without any consideration. Positive — Psalm 23 — the Lord is my shepherd — who doesn’t know that? It will get filed away and we pull it out once we assume we’d want it.
Let me inform you one other secret: a whole lot of pastors, preachers, and academics, frankly, assume it is very important transfer on from easy and primary texts like this. Of their view, they’ve develop into worn from use and have misplaced a little bit of their punch. We’re so enamored with discovering one thing new that may get individuals’s consideration, one thing that’s recent and novel, that we generally tend to look down on texts like Psalm 23. What can we discover new in an previous textual content like this?
Associates, I’m right here to inform you: I’m over all that. Perhaps I’m simply previous and drained, however the longer I’m on this journey, the extra I see how essential it’s to remain in very important contact with the essential truths of scripture, the basics of our religion, the texts and traditions that maintain us grounded and provides us a transparent path on which to stroll.
Many individuals I meet, younger and previous, who’re both within the ultimate season of life, or who’re caring for family members in that season — I discover that they need “Superb Grace” and “How Nice Thou Artwork” sung to them. They need me to cite Psalm 23. They need to hear phrases like: “Your sins are forgiven,” and “I’ll by no means depart you or forsake you.” They need to obtain reassurance that “nothing in all creation can ever separate [them] from God’s love in Christ.” They need me to wish the Lord’s Prayer with them. They need me handy them bread and wine and say: “Christ’s physique, given for you; Christ’s blood, shed for you.” They couldn’t care much less about an revolutionary worship service — they need to be with their household, they need associates to go to, they need to relive the story of their life, they need a pastor to take a seat with them and pray for them. They need assurance about “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the physique, and the life eternal.” They need to hear “Grace to you, and peace.”
So, virtually daily for me, I discover myself returning to texts like Psalm 23.
There’s one more reason the familiarity of a textual content like this could be a drawback: We’ve heard it for therefore lengthy that we expect we’ve mastered it. Nevertheless, I’m discovering on a regular basis that there’s extra to a textual content like this than meets the attention. I assumed I might share a number of of these issues that I’ve discovered as I’ve made this psalm part of my every day life over the previous 15 years or so. Maybe this well-known and well-loved scripture can come to us at this time in new and recent methods as nicely.
The very first thing I’ve discovered about Psalm 23 is that it’s a psalm about life, not about dying.
I don’t assume it’s fallacious to say that the majority of us affiliate Psalm 23 fairly strongly with funerals and with life-threatening conditions. I’ve already advised you that my work has led me to go to this psalm on an virtually day by day foundation. I exploit it at each funeral I officiate as properly.
There are a few causes for this. First, it’s a fantastic psalm for the troubled occasions of life. It emphasizes God’s complete look after us, and mentions particularly a few of the most annoying troubles we face. Certainly one of its most well-known strains is, “Yea although I stroll by means of the valley of the shadow of demise, I’ll worry no evil for thou artwork with me, thy rod and thy employees they consolation me.” One other of its strains says, “I’ll dwell in the home of the Lord perpetually,” which makes most of us consider heaven.
Truly, the primary line might be higher translated, “Despite the fact that I stroll by means of a valley of deepest darkness.” The image is of a shepherd main his flock to pasture and having to take them by means of shadowy, rugged ravines that have been scary as a result of they have been darkish, the footing was troublesome, and there have been pure hiding locations for predators.
As for the final verse, when it says, “I’ll dwell in the home of the Lord endlessly,” it’s a reference to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and must be understood as, “I’ll discover a residence in God’s temple for years and years to return.”
Nowhere on this psalm is the psalmist speaking about demise. He’s speaking about numerous seasons and circumstances of his life. He talks about his want for nourishment and refreshment. His have to be set proper when he falls down. His want for steerage alongside good paths. His want for consolation and reassurance at midnight and scary occasions of life. His want for God’s blessing and assist when he’s surrounded by his enemies. And so forth. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances, it doesn’t matter what season of life he finds himself in, he is aware of that his Shepherd is with him, offering for him, serving to him, directing him, strengthening him. God’s goodness and steadfast love pursue him each day of his life.
I feel it’s totally applicable to make use of this psalm on the time of dying and at funerals, however I need to encourage you primarily to see it as a psalm about life, about every single day of life, about each state of affairs in life, about each want in life. You and I will not be alone, and we don’t lack assets as we undergo totally different seasons and circumstances in our lives. It doesn’t matter what we encounter, we will profit from the life-giving, life-affirming, life-sustaining present of this psalm!
A second factor I’ve discovered about Psalm 23 is that I’ve tended to view this psalm as serene and comforting, however I missed the rugged nature of its imagery.
Perhaps it’s the inexperienced pastures and nonetheless waters, however I feel most individuals hear Psalm 23 they usually get a way of peace, consolation, quiet, serenity. It’s pastoral. It’s soothing. In some instances, we’d even consider it as tender and nostalgic.
Let me ask you a query: Have you ever ever met a shepherd? A rancher? A cowboy? A farmer? Somebody who works with animals, tends them, builds fences for them, clears land for them, fights away predators, leads them up mountains and down by means of valleys to protected pasture? Even when you haven’t, are you able to think about what such an individual is like? I doubt the phrases “gentle and nostalgic” come instantly to thoughts.
From my earliest days as a pastor, I’ve had assignments in rural congregations full of individuals like this. And I’ll inform you what: I dreaded shaking arms after Sunday morning worship! One man I used to know frequently teased me about my delicate “pastor’s palms,” as his large, calloused paws swallowed mine when he left church.
If Psalm 23 provides us peace, it’s solely as a result of its most important character is a robust, rugged, wind and sun-weathered, hard-working Shepherd who doesn’t take holidays and infrequently even takes a break as a result of he has animals to look after, a flock that is determined by him for each want. Once I officiate a funeral now for one among these sorts of parents, I converse on Psalm 23 and categorical appreciation for individuals who work arduous and lay down their lives to offer for his or her households, their property, and their flocks and herds. They’ve adopted the instance of the Shepherd.
So, as you consider Psalm 23, let it lead you to understand the power and rugged love that retains us fed, retains us going, retains us protected, and retains us in the best way of Christ.
A 3rd factor I’ve discovered about Psalm 23 is that I’ve typically missed the Jewish and royal nature of this psalm.
The ultimate product of what we name the Previous Testomony befell throughout and after the Babylonian Exile, when God’s individuals watched their very own homeland devastated after which have been taken forcibly to a different land to stay in captivity. I doubt that few of us can actually perceive the impression of that on the Jewish individuals for generations. That’s when synagogues have been born, and that’s once they started amassing and dealing on placing collectively their sacred scriptures.
When this psalm was learn through the Exile, I might think about that its second half turned much more essential to these captives. Have you ever ever observed how the imagery modifications in verse 5?The psalm goes from being a few Shepherd guiding his flock to being a few Host offering a banquet. This matches the setting of captivity that the individuals have been in. Not have been the individuals of Israel being led and offered for in their very own land, in their very own houses. Now they have been dwelling within the presence of their enemies.
However even there, Psalm 23 says, within the presence of my enemies, God spreads a desk for me, God honors me as his visitor by anointing my head with oil, God sees to it that my cup is stored crammed to overflowing. Even in exile, even in captivity, the Jewish individuals who learn these phrases have been reassured of God’s presence and care.
The psalm additionally has unappreciated royal imagery. The time period “shepherd” was what Israel referred to as their king. When Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd,” it’s confessing that Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who led them out of Egypt, the God who raised up David and Solomon and the prophets, this God is my King. The nation of Judah had seen the downfall of their human kings within the Exile. However they nonetheless had a King.
Additionally, when it says “I’ll dwell in the home of the Lord for a lot of days” on the finish of the psalm, it’s speaking concerning the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed and leveled within the Babylonian invasion. The phrase “temple” means “palace” in Hebrew — it was the place the King lived and dominated. The ultimate line of Psalm 23 was a assured assertion of hope that God’s palace can be restored, that God would as soon as once more rule as King in Jerusalem, and that God’s individuals can be with him there.
Understanding this stuff provides me a background and life context for Psalm 23. It helps me perceive how actual individuals of religion in actual circumstances gained consolation and power from this psalm. It additionally helps me recognize much more what Jesus meant when he got here alongside in John 10 and stated, “I’m the great shepherd. The great shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” When Jesus stated these phrases, he was not simply utilizing a well-known metaphor, he was claiming to be the promised King of Israel, who would shepherd his individuals out of exile and restore their life by means of his personal dying and resurrection.
In that very same passage, he says, “I’ve different sheep that don’t belong to this fold. I need to deliver them additionally, and they’ll take heed to my voice. So there will probably be one flock, one shepherd.” That appears ahead to the inclusion of the Gentiles, individuals such as you and me. The Lord is our Shepherd-King as nicely, and he has introduced us out of the captivity of our sins.
Let me share one ultimate factor I’ve discovered about Psalm 23 — I’ve discovered to understand the shift from third individual to 1st individual on this psalm.
The psalm begins within the third individual: The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me lie down. He leads me. He restores my life. And so forth.
However there’s a level within the psalm the place this modifications. And I feel it’s vital. Proper the place the psalmist begins to speak about going via the valley of deepest darkness, it’s as if it’s not enough for him to speak concerning the Lord within the third individual. As an alternative he begins to deal with the Lord within the 1st individual. “Although I stroll by means of a valley of deepest darkness, I worry no hurt, for You’re with me; Your rod and Your employees—they consolation me.” From that time on, the one that had been speaking about his Shepherd, now talks to his Shepherd. At that second, a press release of religion is reworked right into a prayer of belief.
And that I feel, my pals, is the best lesson of all that I’ve discovered from Psalm 23.
Don’t simply acknowledge the Shepherd who cares in your life.
Speak to him, look to him, belief him.