another look at psalm 23


When my Ladies' Bible Study leader asked us to read Psalm 23 five times a day for the next week, I was somewhat disappointed. Not because I don't enjoy studying the Bible, for that was one of my main goals for the summer after nine months of classroom teaching, but because I had memorized that scripture as a child of four and through the years had heard many sermons preached from that text.

After the first morning of study and the first revelation from the Holy Spirit, I became more and more excited about what it might have to say that I personally had never discerned.
Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
I decided to start with the first line and the word SHEPHERD. I looked up passages in the Bible and was amazed to see (with spiritual eyes for the first time) that right before Moses saw the buring bush, angels, and heard the voice of God telling him to take off his sandals because he was on Holy Ground, he was tending his sheep and led them to the far side of the desert.

Why did Moses lead his flock to the far side of the desert? Had God, in the past, tried to lead me to HOLY GROUND only to be sidetracked by my mumbling and complaining and disobedience? For you see, God will lead us but he will not make us go. Just as the sheep who gets lost and costs the Shepherd valuable time and trouble, how many times had God tried to lead me to the far side of the desert? How many times had God tried to show me his Glory only to be thwarted by my insistence to lead and not to follow?

Once we have seen his Glory, it is natural and easy to obey for awhile as I saw in the next few verses of the chapter where my soul was refreshed, restored, and healed.

Ps 23:2-3
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
After the Glory and the refreshing, God tenderly tries to teach us how to walk uprightly in his own paths of righteousness. We know that we have been made right with God because of Jesus' righteousness. We have received this through faith.

However, the Bible says in James that faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:20-26
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

It is interesting to note that it was Abraham's belief in what God said that was exchanged for righteousness. Do my actions prove that I believe what God says? It is not enough for me to believe in God.

James 2:19
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder.

Suddenly a new light seemed to be dawning for me about righteousness. I was getting excited about doing what was "right" and even more excited about exercising my "belief" in what God says. After completing a study on "righteousness," I learned that many things were promised to those who walk uprightly before God. And the Good Shepherd would actually LEAD me down these paths of righteousness? How wonderful! How glorious! I did not have to search for them on my own. But I did need to follow where He was guiding.

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.
After the Glory, the refreshing and the peaceful walks down paths of righteousness, suddenly I am brought to a time of great testing. I walk "through the valley of the shadow of death." But, there I learn an even greater peace. In the first three verses of Psalm 23 we see a peace among peaceful circumstances. In verse four we learn about the "peace that passes all understanding," because it is the peace we experience in the midst of death staring us, our friends, or loved ones in the face. This is the peace the world does not understand. Do I really BELIEVE that God can and will give this peace to me? Right here and now, I have the opportunity to exercise my faith and belief in God.
(Somewhere in the writing of this piece, it became a prayer--a heart cry to God. Knowing this was grammatically incorrect, I started to change it, but decided to keep it as was first written.)
And now God, after all this, you have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies? God, I could really get puffed up about this, but it seems to me that you are trying to teach me something. Will I feast and dine with only my friends or will I invite those who have treated me the worst to partake of this heavenly food knowing that they will mistreat me again? Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot KNOWING that he was going to betray him. Is that a lesson for me, God? Yes, God, with great thankfulness, humbleness, and sincerity I will ask my enemies to dine with me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
And now, Lord, you are anointing my head with oil.
1Sam 16:13
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.

Lord, is this what you are teaching me through Psalm 23? You have shown me your Glory, refreshed and restored my soul, guided me in paths of righteousness, walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death, fed my hungry spirit, and anointed me with oil.

Could Isaiah 61 be what you are trying to teach me? This passage says:

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (NIV)

6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I understand now, Lord, that if I live Psalm 23, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life--not only will goodness and mercy be bestowed upon me by you, Heavenly Father, but because you live in me goodness and mercy will be bestowed upon others by me wherever I go and whatever I do for as long as I am blessed to live this life.

And considering this, how could I ever want anything else than to dwell in your presence from this day forward through eternity?!

Ps 84:10
10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

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