I can’t think of a better psalm to consider in my 100th Post than Psalm 23. It is described as being, “next to the Lord’s Prayer…the most familiar passage of scripture” (Williams), “a favourite for many, largely because it reveals an intensely intimate relationship with the Lord” (Broyles), “a song of confidence or trust in the Lord…[which] opens with perhaps the most well-known and well-loved words in the book” (Longman) and “the best loved psalm in the book!” (Wilcock). In fact, Wilcock also writes, “Only a vandal, surely, would want to take to pieces” this beautiful psalm, although he does just that, but promising “to put it together again, having shown in the process that it is even more special than we thought.” As well as this Brueggemann adds, “it is almost pretentious to comment on this psalm. The grip it has on biblical spirituality is deep and genuine. It is such a simple statement that it can bear its own witness without comment.” He calls it a “psalm of confidence” and says that “It recounts in detail, by means of rich metaphors, a life lived in trustful receptivity of God’s gifts.” (see references #’s 38, 4, 30, 5 & 2)
So, if you have time right now, sit quietly, read this psalm and soak in the wonderful truths contained in these words of David, worshiping the Lord as you do.
A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
There is no doubt about it, God was very real to the psalmist. Is he this real to you?
Amongst my many books on the Psalms I have one called “God Alive – Studies on Psalms” by Rev Dr Theodore Williams (1936-2009), from South India, who was described as “a well- known Bible expositor and an experienced missionary statesman” in India. The book, he says, is “not a commentary” but is based on a series of sermons he preached on the Psalms at his church in Bangalore from January 1975 to August 1977. He has some very different and useful insights into the Psalms, not the least Psalm 23. Here are some to begin our study of this great Psalm.
Writing about the words of verse 1 he says: “The little girl who said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd and that is all I want’ has given us a good lesson.” He continues, with God caring for us we have nothing really to be worried about, in fact, “Do you know that the man [or woman] who worries himself sick over his personal necessities is a practical atheist. He behaves as though God does not exist.”
The author then suggests that verse 1 reminds us that we can trust God to meet all our needs. “This is God’s answer to anxiety. Our part is commitment.” He continues, “He is our Shepherd, and our dependence must be on him alone.”
On verses 2-3 he emphasizes God’s activity in our lives. Consider these truths:
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Williams says: “God restores and strengthens the inner man. This is his answer to inadequacy. [Our part] is acceptance of our needs and of God’s provision.”
On guidance, he writes concerning our “world of moral confusion” and certainly things have not improved since the 1970’s when he spoke on this psalm. He says, “We need wisdom. The good news is that God guides us in righteousness for His name’s sake…He leads us in right and straight paths…This is God’s answer to confusion. [Our part] is submission.”
Moving on to verse 4, we read about God’s protection even in the midst of “darkness” and he reminds us that “our security is not in our environment…but in our Shepherd…our confidence is in the fact that He is with us…This is God’s answer to fear. [Our part] is trust and obedience.”
And finally, verses 5-6 remind us of the hope that we have in God. He quotes “an old preacher [who] said, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd…and more than that, he has two fine sheep dogs, Goodness and Mercy. With him before and these behind, even poor sinners like you and me can hope to reach Home at last’…This is God’s answer to despair. [Our part] is confidence [in Him].”
So, in summary, the reason the little girl was able to say, The Lord is my shepherd and that is all I want, was because in Him, our Good Shepherd, as revealed to us in Psalm 23, we find the answer to our anxiety, inadequacy, confusion, fear and despair (and much more). What more do we need!
Father, this indeed is a remarkable psalm. Full of truths that inspire us to follow you closer, know you in a deeper way, love you with all our hearts, minds, and strength. Teach us to trust you in all the circumstances of our lives, as the psalmist did, and to no longer live as “practical atheists”! Amen