I’ve been more blessed than I can describe by Psalm 23 for the past month. I didn’t set out on a program to repeat Psalm 23 numerous times each day or to think about it first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, but that is how it has been. The shepherd psalm has been functioning as a stress reliever and source of inspiration for me.
In reality, Psalm 23 is no easy poem. Just because everyone in the Western world has heard it repeatedly doesn’t mean it is the easiest of the psalms to understand.
As you prepare for Shabbat (or if you don’t observe Shabbat, perhaps this could just be for the weekend), I hope this meditation will bless you.
The key to understanding Psalm 23 is that this is David’s experience.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
This is a remarkable statement for two reasons: (1) David was a shepherd and (2) David led a hard life. As for the first, David knew the work of shepherding in the rough Judean hills. Most of the year it is blazing hot and dry, since Israel nearly a desert (and some parts are). As for the second, that David could say God never left him wanting is amazing. David experienced years of hiding from Saul and, after his great sin, saw his own family try to end his life and steal his throne. Yet, through it all, he knew God was with him.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.
This is what the shepherd does for the sheep. Southern Israel is not exactly green Ireland. The shepherd leads the flock to find enough grass to survive on. And water is not abundant, but the shepherd knows the sources in the Judean hills. David saw that, despite all his troubles, God brought him back to life and peace.
He restores my life and guides my paths in righteousness for his name’s sake.
The sheep become parched and famished in the hills, but the shepherd gets them to food and water and restores their lives. So David was brought back to places of blessing after hard times.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear, you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.
The valleys in the Judean desert are steep and treacherous. The Jordan valley is spectacular and dangerous. David spent time in the Judean desert hiding from Saul. Yet in that fearful place, he knew God’s nearness. The rod and staff are sometimes used to discipline the sheep. David experienced God’s discipline, yet he was comforted. Better a rebuke from God than silence.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
David had many enemies, but God blessed him in front of them. God was faithful to David and brought justice. A man like David knows enemies can be a major problem. Yet God kept David on the throne, as the anointed king. David could look at the hard times and blessings and say, “You overflowed my cup with goodness–I am blessed more than I deserve.”
Surely goodness and covenant loyalty will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord the length of my days.
The kindness of the Lord and his covenant loyalty (khesed, often mistranslated mercy) would never leave David. Likewise, David would never stop going to prostrate himself in gratitude before God at the sanctuary.
I guess what blesses me is the realistic joy of Psalm 23. This is not naive faith. This is seasoned faith and joy from a man who led a hard life and found God always there, ready to rescue, discipline, and give rest.