Friday, September 03, 2010

Thoughts on Psalm 23 Part 1

Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most well known parts of the Bible, as it, or at least a part of it is said at almost every funeral I have attended, seen, heard, or have talked about.  It is also the subject of last weeks sermon at my Church and the topic of discussion at our community group meeting we had this week.

There were several things said about this Psalm, and I wanted to convey some of them here.  I am using the NASB translation.

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.(Psa 23:1)
The first thing that was looked at, was not the fact that the Lord was being compared to just any shepherd, but this was an intimate, personal saying.  The Lord is my shepherd.  Not just any shepherd on the block, or not just anybody's old shepherd, but mine.  This reveals a very personable relationship that goes beyond friendship.

You might wonder why a shepherd?  Well, if you look at a shepherd, you would see a few things that make a shepherd stand out.  In biblical times, a shepherd was usually not the best profession around.  A shepherd was looked down upon by most people.  They spent time among the sheep they tended, probably didn't bathe very regularly, and well, you get the picture.  However, the shepherd protected the sheep they looked after, fighting off wild animals, looking for them if one or more became lost, and carrying one if it were injured and could not walk.

A shepherd also was around the sheep so much that the sheep knew the shepherd's voice and would come if called.  There was much trust there, between sheep and shepherd.

So David calls the Lord, his shepherd, his personal shepherd, as we all should.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.(Psa 23:2)
The second verse of this Psalm caused a little bit of an animated discussion among our community group.  One person wanted to know, why wold God make anyone do anything, as David says, makes me lie down.  Now the Hebrew word here is רבץ (râbats pronounced raw-bats') and means the following:
A primitive root; to crouch (on all four legs folded, like a recumbent animal); by implication to recline, repose, brood, lurk, imbed: - crouch (down), fall down, make a fold, lay (cause to, make to) lie (down), make to rest, sit.
 So the question posed was, "why would God make us (or David) lie down as a sheep in a green pasture?".  Personally I think that there is a couple of reasons. One, there is that matter of trust.  Do we trust God to know us better than we know ourselves, and two, sometimes we may not know when we need a rest.  Have you ever gone on doing something, say, like working, to the point of exhaustion simply because something needed to be completed on time?  I believe that this would be the case of God knowing when we needed a rest and therefore would make us lie down to rest.  Do we follow the doctor's orders if we are placed on bed rest?  Well, then if the greatest physician of all tells us to rest, who are we to argue?

In this particular verse,  I believe that we are God's sheep and as such we must trust the shepherd to know what is best for us.  David did.  Now before you decide to take offense at being called a sheep of God, please remember a couple of things about Sheep in biblical times.  One, sheep were considered a very valuable possession and as such sheep were bought at a great price.  Two, a person's or a family's wealth would sometimes be measured in how much livestock was owned.  And yes, that included sheep.  So God would value you as a prized possession, purchased with the greatest cost imagined.  I don't mind being thought of as one of God's sheep.  I am glad he purchased me!

He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.(Psa 23:3)

Let me ask you a couple of questions.  Have you ever experienced stress?  Have you ever taken a path in life that you regretted as it perhaps made you do things you thought you never would or could?  Most stress in life, at least the way I perceive it, is self induced, and usually brought on by walking down paths you really shouldn't have.  Having stress brought on by financial problems?  Was it perhaps because you decided to purchase things you didn't need, or you were living above your means?  That is but one example.  In verse 3, the Shepherd of David's psalm, the Lord God, does two things to David.  He restores David's soul, and He guides David in the righteous pathways for His (God's) own sake.  So what exactly does this mean?

Once again, I would like to go back to the original Hebrew.
The word restores in the original Hebrew is שׁוּב (shûb pronounced shoob) and one of the meanings of this word is:
A primitive root; ... recall, recompense, recover, refresh, relieve, render (again).
Now, I have to be honest is saying that I am not sure as to what period of David's life that the 23rd Psalm was written in, though I will find out if I can.  But two things come to my mind that would make David's soul need restoring, or refreshing.  Those times would have been when David was being pursued by King Saul, and when David sinned greatly with Bathsheeba. Both of those times surely must have caused David much stress in his life, to the point that his soul was probably restless and troubled.  Yet both times, David's soul was restored at the time God deemed it ready to be restored.

Now the other part of this verse is that God leads David (and us) in the path of righteousness, for His (God's) name's sake.  I want to highlight the word "sake" here.

Sake in the Hebrew is  שׁם (shêm pronounced shame) and means
A primitive word (perhaps rather from H7760 through the idea of definite and conspicuous position; compare H8064); an appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honor, authority, character: -  + base, [in-] fame [-ous], name (-d), renown, report.
What I take out of this is that God leads us on this path because one, this is his character and his character is one of perfect righteousness, and two, he does it to bring glory to himself.  If his people (including me) are living lives of righteousness, then we bring glory to God.  I know that I want to live a life of righteousness, but there are times in which I do stray, just like a wayward sheep.  God, as my shepherd, leads me back on that path of righteousness that I should not have strayed off of.

As for the rest of the verses of this psalm, I will continue this discussion in a second post a little later as it is late and I am ready to retire for the evening.


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