Our church was asked to meditate on Psalm 23. Following the King James Version with assistance from The Jerusalem Bible and other resources I offer this mediation:
It’s a short Psalm, very succinct. It paints a simple yet very profound image. This is an idyll, a pastoral poem with an idealized viewpoint. It describes life when the Lord is trusted fully and completely.
Verse 1: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. This is a statement of fact. Because the Lord is my Shepherd I have all that I need. Not all that I want, not the supposedly greener grass on the opposite riverbank. I trust my shepherd to provide and my experience is that He does. Now, we really are not talking about shepherds and sheep here. The poet is using that idea to depict the relationship between The Lord and those who worship Him in Spirit and Truth.
Verse 2: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. This is not make as in “force” but as in “create” and “participate”. The Shepherd provides green pastures. He enables me to be in the green pastures. Just as a human shepherd takes his sheep to the best pastures, The Lord takes us to the best spiritual pastures. This is the Biblical concept of Jehovah Jireh. We think first of Genesis 22:14, the Lord providing the sacrificial lamb. That, obviously, is most important. Yet it is not all, Exodus 15 & 16 are examples of the Lord providing. Joshua and Gideon are stories of His provision. In fact, as you read through the Bible, you find example after example of the ways the Lord provides for His people. Believers also can ponder their lives and note that God always provides for those who trust Him.
Verse 3: He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Continuing the thought of verse 2, God not only provides, He heals. When life’s events cause me to be sick, even sick to my soul, God heals me by returning me to full integrity. To be righteous is more than just being right or virtuous. It is to have goodness and love integrated into every aspect of my being. To be righteous is to have integrity. Yet the world can wreak havoc on me. It can fill me with spiritual illness that leads to physical illness. The world can trip me up, causing harm to my physical body which, through suffering, can lead to spiritual sickness, depression, and the like. Yet, no matter how the world attacks me, I belong to the Lord. Therefore, “for His name’s sake” He restores my soul. He does this by leading me in the paths of righteousness. That is, He heals my soul with His Mercy, His Goodness, His Love. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. When I am sick, even to the very core of my soul, my shepherd provides.
Verse 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The world attacks not only through illness, but also through fear. The shepherd’s rod and staff are devices of guidance. The shepherd uses them to steer the sheep onto the paths of righteousness. As the shepherd moves the flock from one green pasture to another, there may be places that are dangerous. Remember this line from the movie, The Wizard of Oz, “Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!” Well, David tells King Saul that, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. (1 Samuel 17:37KJV). That is confidence; the sort of confidence that a person can have only when they trust the Lord fully and completely. It is the confidence of knowing that the shepherd will provide. David knew, and you can know, that sort of confidence through his relationship with God. He accepted that he was a mere sheep and that God was his shepherd. David’s trust is in the Lord that has already provided many times. That relationship enabled men like St. Paul, St. Peter & St. John to stand before government authority and proclaim Christ. It enabled Hus and Wycliffe and Luther to proclaim truth to blind religious authority. And it will enable you to witness the truth of what you have experienced to those who do not understand.
Verse 5: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 1 Samuel 16:13 relates an event in David’s life that must have been overwhelming. He is given urgent summons to quickly return home. Upon arriving Samuel the prophet anoints him with oil in front of his brothers. Then, according to the context (verse 11) they sat down to eat. As the story progresses through the next few chapters, we learn that David’s brothers are jealous of him. There are other instances of David being in the middle of his enemies. He knew firsthand what he was describing in this verse. “Life is not a bowl of cherries.” No matter how wonderful it may be, there are always those who are jealous, suspicious or just dislike you. When God provides, they denounce and accuse. However, they are unable to do anything. As one’s enemies watch God bestow His Blessings (Jehovah Jireh) they are powerless to stop Him. They can only watch as your cup overflows.
Verse 6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. All of the Apostles except St. John were executed. He was exiled for a time. Many of the first Christians were honored to suffer torture and martyrdom for the sake of Jesus’ name. Their willingness to die for His Name, their Love for each other, their witness to Truth was the motive that spread Christianity around the world. From a Christian viewpoint, that overflowing cup is not the riches of this world. It is the provision of God for His sheep. They may execute St. Paul, but not before he has converted many in the Praetorian Guard.
Jehovah Jireh! The overflowing cup of the provision of God. The green pastures and still waters provided by the Good Shepherd to His flock. As a result, the sheep spread Goodness and Mercy wherever they go. Dwelling in the House of the Lord forever is not merely a promise of a Heavenly existence after death. It is a promise of a Heavenly existence now. The verse reads, “for ever”. Eternity does not have a beginning. It is here and now. There is no past or future. But it is always “here and now”. So, because of my relationship with God, because I trust Him today, death has no ‘sting’. I dwell in the House of the Lord, in the here and now, always. Therefore, I shall not want.