Before I ever read the Bible, I knew the twenty-third psalm. I don't know if it really happened or is a false memory, but I seem to recall a small children's book that contained the psalm. Somehow, that particular passage was taught to me and stayed with me throughout my life, offering me comfort and peace in the darkest moments of my existence. Now, in my later years, I have read the scriptures from cover to cover many times, but still turn to this psalm of David's when I am troubled and need reassurance.
Today, I learned something about this passage that I have never noticed before thanks to my pastor, Rick Hayes, in his Sunday morning sermon about this psalm.
In the first half of the psalm, David talks about God in the verses. Psalm 23: 1-3 says:
"The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
Then, for whatever reason, he shifts to actually talking to God. Psalm 23: 4-6 continues:
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the death,
I fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou hast anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Now, as a writer, I thought about this. If I were to write a story about my wife and say, "Pam is my wife. She lives with me in our home in Kentucky. She has four children. etc....." Then, all of a sudden, I write, "Pam, I appreciate the way you cook for me."
People would read and wonder what in the world I was doing. It would be confusing because I started out talking to my readers about my wife, and then suddenly the text would seem to be a letter to my wife instead. How could I expect them to be able to follow the text when it was written like this?
....And yet, I have never been confused at all when I read the 23rd Psalm. Somehow, the message of the writer comes through clearly with no confusion about his meaning. I thought about this style and wondered why David worded this in this way. I have a theory of my own that I came up with.
In the first part of the psalm, David is telling the readers that God is very much like a shepherd. David knew about the every day processes of being a shepherd because he had been one. He tells the reader how the Lord cares for him with as much tenderness as a shepherd cares for his sheep, but why should the reader take his word about the nature of God?
I think that is the reason that he begins talking to God in the second half of the psalm. He wants the reader to realize something very important: David, the psalmist, doesn't just know things about God, he has such a personal relationship with God that he can talk directly to Him. He addresses God with such love and appreciation and demonstrates an awareness that God, the Father and Creator of us all, watches over him and protects him in the most dire circumstances.
In the very last sentence, he makes his proclamation about God deeply personal, assured that God's goodness and mercy will continue as long as he lives, and into eternity.
This is why I love to study things, and frequently return to topics that I believe that I know well. The scriptures, unlike any other book I have come across, yield fresh and new lessons each time I read them.
I believe that David was telling us about a great treasure that each of us should seek: a personal relationship with God.
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