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Meditations on the 23rd Psalm

The 23rd Psalm is quite possibly the most beloved passage in the Bible, and certainly the most well known.  I found great comfort in this chapter of the Psalms in those first horrific months after my son was killed, and still recite it to myself when nothing else will bring the peace and consolation my soul craves.  I know it in the King James’ version, so it has been many decades ago that I memorized it, as I have not read the KJV Bible since I was a child.  As I meditate on its meaning today I realize that most of what I know of it is felt in my heart, rather than known in my head, revealing the depth of its comfort to me, and many others, I’m sure.

This precious passage of scripture has more meaning than I’ve ever spent the time to unearth.  It is full of wonderfully worded phrases and uniquely beautiful analogies that bring comfort and peace to us in difficult times.  Sometimes, not very often, but sometimes I get the urge to take apart a well-known passage, like mining for gold in your own familiar backyard; turning over soil you’ve tread upon time after time, looking for that nugget your heart tells you is there, though you’ve looked for it in that spot many times before.  Maybe today I’ll find that sought after nugget that will give my soul the refreshment I so long for.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In this first sentence of this beloved Psalm, I find myself wanting to jump right to the word “shepherd”.  I love the picturesque image that word alone invokes – a handsome, scruffy young man standing on the side of a beautifully lush hill, staff in hand, gazing across the field dotted with sheep at the gloriously setting sun, a look of longing in his eyes; perhaps a dream of building a house on the side of that hill someday.  Ok, that last part comes from being married to a carpenter for 36 years.  But, doesn’t the word “shepherd” make you imagine something like that bucolic description? 

Yet as I consider jumping to the word I like best in that sentence, I’m caught by the word – “Lord”, and my heart is convicted.  I use this word a lot.  I call God/Jesus this when I talk to Him.  I say it sometimes when I am put out or exasperated – “O, Lord”.  I say it in frustration when I want an immediate response or answer.  But do I mean what it really represents when I say it?  Is Jesus really my Lord?  According to a lord is: someone or something having power, authority, or influence; a master or ruler.  That is who Jesus is, and that is who He wants to be in my life.  But is that who I allow Him to be?  Certainly a question I need to meditate on more frequently.

” He makes me to lie down in green pastures

I am a rather stubborn, strong-willed person, and resist anyone “making” me do anything.  But, I love that the Lord “makes me to lie down in green pastures”.   I have to ask myself, do I allow Him to “make me to lie down in green pastures”?  Maybe the Lord knows that “making” us to “lie down in green pastures” is the only way some of us would actually rest in Him.  To me, this phrase also speaks not only of resting, but of feeding.  I don’t know for sure, but I imagine sheep would enjoy grazing in green pastures.  This makes me think that God not only wants us to allow Him to lead us to the green pastures and to lie down in the green pastures, but maybe He is wanting us to partake of Him and the rest He offers while we are lying in the green pastures.  IE:  listen to His still, small voice speaking rest, reassurance, comfort and peace to our thirsty souls.

“He leads me beside the still waters”

Our pastor once said that God has put still waters in my husband.  All I can say to that is “amen”.  I often feel as though I’ve been led beside the still waters after a time of fellowshipping with my man.  This is a gift from God, and lets me know He loves me.  He loves us all with a love we cannot comprehend, so oftentimes we don’t believe it.  But it is true; He loves us.  And He leads us beside the still waters.  He urges us to lie down and drink from those still waters He leads us to.  Why do we resist?  Why do we think we can take care of ourselves, we can find those still waters for ourselves?  It is imperative that we allow Him to lead us to the still waters.

He restores my soul” 

My, oh my what a statement that is to me, to us, after what we’ve been living through for the past 23 months.  One of the first things I can remember my hubby saying after all the busyness of visitors and funeral planning and attending was settled down was, “I need God to restore my soul”.   What an injury to our souls losing a child has been.  Only God can restore our souls.  And I believe He will.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.”

I think it absolutely wonderful that we can rely on the truth of the first half of this sentence – that He will lead us in the paths of righteousness.  But we often forget why He leads us in the paths of righteousness.  It for His name’s sake.  Not ours.  How often I forget this truth.

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

I have remembered the first phrase of this verse many times over the past 23 months, but I still don’t think I can comprehend its meaning.  What does it mean to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”?  What is the “shadow of death”?  Is it different from death itself?  Is the psalmist referring to the death a believer in Christ experiences – one that is like shedding your outer garment and stepping into your eternal home?  Is that what makes it like walking “through the valley of the shadow of death”?  Whatever it is referring to, I’m glad that the Lord is with us when we walk through the torturous times of trial in our lives.  Nothing is more comforting than to know He is with us always, His rod and staff comforting us.  The Hebrew word for rod translates to mean “stick”, and was used to count the sheep, or in other words, keep track of them-not lose a single one, and to protect the sheep from predators.  The Hebrew word for staff translates to mean “something to lean on”, “trust”, or “support”.  The Lord is our shepherd, always leading us in the paths of righteousness, always supporting us and protecting us.

Another interesting thing about this section of this Psalm is that here, in this verse, the writing changes from 3rd person writing to 1st person writing.  In the first half of the Psalm, the author, King David speaks about the Lord, but in this verse He begins to speak to the Lord.  It makes me ponder my own prayer life.  How often do I speak of the Lord when I am actually trying to speak to Him.  When His presence comes, though, I can no longer just speak of Him, as my heart melts and I can’t help but speak to Him.

” You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.”

What a glorious word picture this verse paints – He “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies”.   In my mind, this verse harkens back to the verse about making me “to lie down in green pastures”.  In the midst of a battle, He prepares a table before me.  In other words, the battle belongs to the Lord.  How I fight, though.  I’ve been fighting an unwinnable battle for the past 2 years now; trying my best to make what happened to my son not happen.  It isn’t working; I’m not winning.  And, God tells me He prepares a table before me, and beckons me to come lie down in green pastures as He watches over me, and restores my soul.  So, why do I continue to fight?  Only He knows.  And only He can help me to stop fighting, follow Him to green pastures, lie down and rest in Him.

Anointing a head with oil was an eastern custom that served as a means of “freshening up” before a meal.  I suppose if He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, I should expect to sit down and eat…….after being freshened up, of course.  Only the Lord can cleanse us.  And we must ask Him for that cleansing.  1 John 1:9, tells us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Praise God for that truth!

“My cup runs over” is a phrase we are all familiar with, and we mean we are more than blessed when we say it.  My cup truly runs over; I have been blessed by God.  Even in this tragedy we have been living with for the past almost 2 years, I am still so aware of God’s hand in our lives, His blessing in our lives, and His presence comforting, leading, and sustaining us through it all.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Wow!  What a way to end this beautiful psalm of assurance that the Lord is our gentle and kind shepherd, drawing us and leading us to follow Him, comforting and protecting us, cleansing us and providing for us, and blessing us beyond measure.

“Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”.  Is that how our lives are supposed to be?  Goodness and mercy following us?  That is certainly something to ponder.  I know that is my desire – that goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life.

But, more importantly, and the reason we can rejoice and be glad, and give thanks in every circumstance is the next half of that sentence – “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.  If you have put your faith in the sacrifice Jesus made for you on the cross 2000 years ago, your eternal home is a secure and certain destiny.  If you haven’t, I urge you to do so today.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  John 10:14

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