Dear Friends in Christ,
The reading from the psalter for March 26 is Psalm 23. Most people in the United States would probably say that they are familiar with this psalm. This was the first psalm that I memorized as a small boy. For many people it is the only psalm that they ever memorize.
Today, as I look out at our society and hear the various commentaries on our nation’s economic and social condition, I am struck by the seemingly pervasive mood of fear and distrust that has seized us. This fear and distrust is not limited to just our secular world. In many ways, it has seized the church. It is often displayed in terms of worry about the shrinking number of people on our church rolls, worry about the financial challenges that some of our congregations face, and distrust of denominational structures and oversight. These fears and distrusts are then expressed in cognitive ruminations that cage the church in terms of us and them relationships (failing to see that they are us). Then, we are surprised to see our children do the same thing: forsaking the local church as a failed structure concerned only with its own financial survival and trying to impose arcane and arbitrary rules upon their lives. Sometimes they even say it out loud, “They just want to control us and take our money.” I thought that it might be helpful to take a closer look at Psalm 23.
Psalm 23 (KJV)
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
(Psalm 23:1) If we took seriously the first declaration of this psalm, we would be freed from this spiritual prison of fear. “You, LORD, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.” (CEV) If this is true, we don’t have anything to worry about. The question is, “Do we really believe this?” Or more importantly, “How can we come to believe this?”
(Psalm 23:2) It is here that we see the Psalmist expanding the picture of the Lord as shepherd. He is causing his sheep to lie down where they can be feed on tender grass and drink from the life giving pool of water. What better description could we have of the church. That place where God calls us to come to for the spiritual food of Scripture and to drink from the Word as it is preached. He calls out, “Rest and be at peace for I will care for you.”
(Psalm 23:3) It is here that we, as Christians, begin to interpret this psalm in a unique way. We see God restoring our souls through spiritual rebirth as the Holy Spirit moves in our lives. It is through God’s guidance, by the Holy Spirit, that we are lead from the pain of our sin into a righteousness that consists of “paths of pleasantness and peace” (see Proverbs 3:17) It is through this that he shows himself to be a gracious and merciful God (Exodus 34:5).
(Psalm 23:4) It is here that we are told that no matter how bad it gets, God will always be with us. Even in the face of death we do not have to fear. Of course some of us do but it is unnecessary. We do not have to fear death because Jesus has conquered death for us in his Resurrection. God’s presence gives us the confidence to carry on no matter where we find ourselves. It is also important to remember that we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death and not setting up camp there. We are comforted because it is God’s rod and staff, the emblems of his sovereignty and gracious care, that governs and rules, us and the church, his flock. As Christians we see Jesus as the rod of Jesse, that sovereign of our souls.
(Psalm 23:5) It is here that we can find one of the greatest promises in Scripture. God tells us that he has set a table for us and that it holds more than we need or could ever want. It is here that we find that our enemies shall be relegated to the peripheries of this scene and forced to watch and not allowed to participate as everything unfolds. We also hear from the King James Version, “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over. ” which echoes Psalm 45:7(b), “God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows”. This entire verse foreshadows Luke 12:37 “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:37).
(Psalm 23:6) I love that there is no ambiguity in this verse. It does not say that goodness and mercy might follow us. It says goodness and mercy will follow us for our entire lives. This sounds similar to what Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 (ESV), “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It doesn’t say that only good things will happen to us or that we will never have to suffer from the consequences of our sins or of those sins of other people. It says that goodness and mercy will be a part of our lives.
“I will dwell in the house, ושבתי veshabti, “and I shall Return to the house of the Lord,” for ever, ימים לארך leorech yamim, “for length of days.” During the rest of my life, I shall not be separated from God’s house, nor from God’s ordinances; and shall at last dwell with him in glory.”1 Dwelling in the house of the Lord begins now as we live out and into God’s kingdom. Jesus spoke of it in the following way, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b (ESV) It is fulfilled in the coming resurrection and judgement. This “for ever” is spoken of in John 17:3 (ESV) “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Yours in Christ,
1 Clarke, Adam. “Commentary on Psalms 23:6”. “The Adam Clarke Commentary“. //www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/psalms/23.html. 1832