Reflections on the Psalms: 23rd Psalm

slide-02The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3 (KJV)

This is probably the most well known chapter in the Bible.  John 3:16 takes the prize for the most well known verse, but when you are talking about a whole chapter, almost everyone is familiar with Psalms 23.  Even in scary movies, they will quote it: yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…

I love that this chapter has troubles and goodness in the same passage.

Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust and confidence.

The LORD is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 echoes the story of YHWH who led Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and who led the Israelites out of Egypt (the Exodus- the great event of the Old Testament).  The words for green pastures and quiet waters correspond to the dwelling and the rest to which God was leading the Israelites through the desert and into the promised land.  Sinai was where YHWH made his name known.  The wilderness was the land of the shadow of death.  It was there that God spread a table for them.  From the Exodus onwards, shepherd-language was used to describe many of their leaders, including David himself.

In other words, the confidence of David, the author of Psalm 23, is that of one who is steeped in the theology of those earlier days, when God mad his covenant with his people.  David, the author, knows that God. That God- who was faithful to his people and who will continue to be faithful to his people.

The LORD (YHWY), as often in the Psalms, occupies here the first and most important place in this song of David.  The word “my” reveals a covenant relationship which dares to link the LORD (YHWH) and his follower. Everything in the Psalm flows from that.

David exclaims Yahweh is my shepherd with the emphasis on “my.” The temptation in ancient Israel was to speak only about “our” God in forgetfulness that the God of Israel is also the God of individuals.

By using the word shepherd, David uses the most comprehensive and intimate metaphor yet encountered in the Psalms.  Contrast the idea of a shepherd with the more common metaphors: the distant king or deliverer or the impersonal rock or shield. The shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to it: guide, physician, protector.  

Do I really believe it?

Its so easy for me to think of God in terms of my creator or savior. To think of him as all powerful, but perhaps a little distant from my daily walk.  To be honest- I struggle to remember that God is my Shepherd: that he is near and he leads, guides, and protects me. I come back to this Psalm again and again, to remind myself that the LORD is MY Shepherd.  That Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for this flock and who pursues us when we stray from the fold of God.

What about you? Do you truly believe that the LORD is YOUR Shepherd? That Jesus cares for you the way a shepherd cares for his flock? Whatever it is you are facing- job change, needing to find a new place to live, the daily grind of parenting- God is near and you can trust that He cares so much for you and for everything that you are facing today.

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