Sunday, February 21, 2010

Looking a bit deeper into Psalm 23

I decided I would post the notes from my turn at Devotions for our church's Ladies Fellowship breakfast:

How do you view the 23rd Psalm? What does it mean to you?
Is it a Psalm that you only hear at funerals?
Do you see promises in it?
Is it just a popular Psalm, that you memorized when you were a kid?

We are going to take a bit of time to explore the first verse of this Psalm, and understand what lessons we can learn from it.

Maybe because I am a closet history geek, but I like to know when things in the Bible are written. I think that understanding culture, time frame, and life situations of the author goes a long way to help us understand the meaning within the words.

Some Psalms that David wrote are well documented, as to the time frame that they were written. You can go to a corresponding section of scripture and read about the event or events that prompted his outpouring to God.

Psalm 23 was likely written during the time David was living in exile, fleeing for his life; being hunter by his son Absolom. You can read the account in 2 Samuel 15-18.

How does the life of David parallel our own? What was going on to prompt him to pen the 23rd Psalm? How does this Psalm translate to our everyday lives as a declaration of God's care and provision?

Lets look at the events in Davids life, and see things from today's culture that we experience

  • Absolom falsely represented his father at the city gates, calling into question his father's ability to rule effectively. He told lies, all to endear himself to the people of Israel.
  • Today we see this same problem with gossip. Have you ever been hurt by lies?
  • Absolom was angry at David for sending him away. Absolom had killed his brother Amnon because of jealousy.
  • Do your children always get along? Are there days when you feel like you are more of a referee than a mom? Do you have older children that are rebelling against you and God?
  • David had to flee his home to save his life. He had to leave the Ark of the Covenant behind in Jerusalem. To David this was like leaving God behind. The Ark represented God's presence to the Israelites. As he left the city, David wept and cried out to God to orchestrate his safe return.
  • Have you ever had to make hard choices and leave something behind? Have you had to leave what is familiar to you, because you knew it was best?
King David's life was an absolute MESS! From our perspective on this side of history, we can see all the trials and problems that he endured. He had committed adultery. He had ordered a man killed. He had suffered the loss and pain that comes with losing a child. He had children that fought with each other. He had children that wanted to now kill him. Yet, in the midst of this upheaval, David cried out to God, and God provided. God sent a servant of Maphibosheth ( he was the last member of Saul's family, and David had promised his best friend Jonathan that he would bestow kindness to Saul's heirs you can read it in 2 Samuel 9.) This servant brought food for David, and the 600 men that had followed him into exile. Later in 2nd Samuel, you can read how David was able to escape over the river, just before Absolom was going to kill him.
With this portion of history as a backdrop, we can better understand what David was drawing from as he was prompted by God to pen the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

This is the first verse of this most famous Psalm. It is two complete thoughts that have been joined together to convey a very powerful message. David is affirming God's care and provision in his life. It is NO mistake that David was prompted by God to use the word Shepherd.

The very word shepherd evokes care. The automatic implication, with the possessive pronoun my in front of it.... that we are sheep and in need of that very care.
Sheep are not the brightest animals that God created. My dad used to say that sheep were the stupidest animals ever! He had raised more than a few when he was younger, so I took his word for it. As I got older and heard over and over Christians compared to sheep, I would actually get a little offended, almost as if someone were calling me stupid. My brain would sort of switch off and never really let the full imagery of the metaphor that God uses here to sink in. My dad's description, while colorfully accurate, only offers a partial portrayal.

Lets look at the following descriptions of sheep, by and actual shepherd, and lets see if we can find ourselves amongst the metaphor, that God has chosen, to depict us throughout scripture.

  • Sheep can not care for themselves.
  • While today, you may have actually found time to take a shower between the 3 loads of laundry, and two stacks of dishes that you had to do...... Have you ever been so busy that you forgot to eat? Have you ever passed on quiet moments with God because your schedule is so full?

  • Sheep have a flock mentality.
    Have you ever talked about someone when you shouldn't have, just because someone else started the conversation? Have you ever gone to a movie, watched a TV show, or listened to music you knew didn't honor God..... just because you didn't want your friends to think you were weird, stuck up or too good for them?

  • Sheep have bad habits.
  • This is more than just saying that we sin. I would submit to you that this is our habit of how we view life. Do you have a habit of viewing things from your shepherd's perspective? Or are you discontent with where you feel you are being led, and are you always looking for the better grass? Are you viewing things from bitterness and are you stirring up the flock?

  • Sheep get lost.
  • Do you forget where you are headed in your relationship with God?

  • Sheep are timid.
  • Have you shared your faith by way of encouragement, prayer or evangelism recently?

  • Sheep need endless attention and vigilance.
  • Are you always straying? Does your shepherd have to go looking for you? Or are you close to him and safe from the predators?

  • Sheep are always getting themselves into trouble.
  • I am sure I don't need to expound too much on this one.... I don't know about you, but I am ALWAYS in trouble....

Hopefully you are able to see the parallels between we humans who follow Christ, and the earthly animal we call the sheep. Hopefully you are seeing more clearly why you need a shepherd too.

There are Good Shepherds are there are Bad Shepherds. The good ones, are attentive to their flock and to the land they are on. Bad ones, let their sheep roam, never caring how or where they find their food.

A good shepherd knows all about his sheep. He knows how to care for their every need. He develops a relationship with each one. He knows when they need to eat and where to find the choicest grass and fresh water, even if it means he has to lead them through a scary valley to get there. He watches out for predators. He knows what to do for each bruise cut or broken bone. He is always looking ahead to mare sure his sheep are on the safe path.

His attentiveness, both day and night, creates a content flock, one that know their masters voice; a flock that is content and secure, trusting, and eager to follow. His sheep are not wanting for care.

All the sheep in a shepherd's flock carry the mark or brand of their shepherd. Does your life bear the mark of your shepherd? Or are you like Mrs Gad-about, and want the best of both worlds. The following excerpt is from Paul Keller's book " A Shepherd's Look at Psalm 23".

"I once owned an ewe whose conduct exactly typified this sort of person. She was one of the most attractive sheep that ever belonged to me. Her body was beautifully proportioned. She had a strong constitution and an excellent coat of wool. Her head was clean, alert, well-set with bright eyes. She bore study lambs that matured rapidly.

But in spite of all these attractive attributes she had one pronounced fault. She was restless-- discontented-- a fence crawler.

So much so that I came to call her "Mrs. Gad-about."

This one ewe produced more problems for me than almost all the rest of the flock combined.

No matter what field or pasture the sheep were in, she would search all along the fences or shoreline ( we lived by the sea ) looking for a loophole she could crawl through and start to feed on the other side.

It was not that she lacked pasturage. My fields were my joy and delight. No sheep in the district had better grazing.

With "Mrs. Gad-about" it was an ingrained habit. She was simply never contented with things as they were. Often when she had forced her way through some such spot in a fence or found a way around the end of a wire at low tide on the beaches, she would end up feeding on bare, brown, burned-up pasturage of a most inferior sort.

But she never learned her lesson and continued to fence crawl time after time.

Now it would have been bad enough if she was the only on who did this. It was a sufficient problem to find her an bring her back. But the further point was that she taught her lambs the same tricks. They simply followed her example and soon were as skilled at escaping as their mother.

Even worse, however, was the example she set for the other sheep. In a short time she began to lead others through the same holes and over the same dangerous paths down by the sea. "

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. Can you say this with the same conviction that David did?

It does not mean that your life will be easy, David's wasn't. It doesn't mean that you will have the perfect job or the best marriage, David didn't. There is absolutely NO correlation between the amount of money in your bank account or the number of things that you own and the "lack of want" that you have; David was a KING.... money, power, a whole country full of "stuff"............ Being able to state: "I shall not want", is being under God's control and knowing it. It is entrusting yourself completely to the care of your Shepherd and finding contentment. It is displayed by a radiating peace, confidence and quiet joy that will surmount any tragedy, struggle or financial hardship that may come your way.

Is that peace and joy something you can say you have? Are you content? Or is your life more like Mr Keller's ewe? Are you looking for holds in the fence and getting your head stuck?

My prayer for each one of you, is for you all to be able to confidently proclaim that the LORD is YOUR Shepherd and that you are content and have EVERYTHING you need.

Psalm 23 (New Living Translation)

"The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his mane. Even when I walk trough the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessing. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever."

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