The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want…
Oh? You already know that Psalm?
These days, one of my missions in life is to urge God’s people to get into the Psalms, the beloved “songbook of Israel,” and to live there. The older we get, the more this wonderful collection of hymns seems to speak our language, to understand us, and to know where we live and how to touch us in the deepest, most personal places.
In addressing a seniors group when I recite the six verses of this beloved Psalm, I can hear some thinking, “We all know that Psalm. It’s old news.” My response is: No, you do not know it. You may know the words and may be able to recite it. But no way do you “know it.” I’ve been preaching over six decades and I still make discoveries in that psalm–as well as the rest of them! That, incidentally, is one of the lies Satan uses to keep you and me out of God’s Word. He says “you already know that scripture; there’s nothing new there” and tells us “no one can understand that scripture; it was written thousands of years ago in another language; only scholars can do this.” Both are lies.
We can understand much of it, and more of it as we live in it. And no, you will never plumb its depths. The word of God is a bottomless well. We never reach its end.
Take the 23rd Psalm for example….
Now, I personally am convinced a teenage David did not write this while keeping his father’s sheep. There are too many deep references in this Psalm for a teenager to have penned it. One has to have lived a long time to know how that having “the Lord (as) my Shepherd” satisfies, provides, leads, and gives victories.
When I was a kid, I would read the Psalms and once in a while stumble across a nugget. But most of these 150 songs of Israel were closed to me. I had not lived long enough, suffered enough, experienced enough betrayal and disappointments to see life as the Psalmist saw it. But in time, that all changed.
Dixie was a Catholic lady who sometimes attended our church’s senior events with her friends. When calling on them in their apartment complex, I visited her too. Once as I approached her apartment, I noticed she was seated on her tiny porch with an open Bible. After greeting her, I said, “What are you reading?” She said, “I’m reading the Psalms, Joe. Oh, I do love the Psalms. When I think I was 50 years old before I discovered the Psalms, I could just cry.”
I said, “My friend, I can show you a lot of people who will never see fifty again and still haven’t discovered the Psalms.”
I think I know how David did it…
I imagine David was middle-aged. One day he was reflecting back on his youth, on those years he kept his father’s sheep. And it occurred to him that what he was to the sheep, the Lord God is to him. And that was his impetus to begin to write “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want….”
The summers of my 15th, 16th, and 17th years I spent following a mule on my dad’s farm in north Alabama. Toby may have been the slowest mule in creation, but that suited me just fine. Often, we would be plowing a mile away from another human and I would sing at the top of my lungs. Or whistle. Or spend the day practicing public speaking. (I was president of our high school chapter of Future Farmers of America and one requirement was the ability to speak for 30 minutes without notes. Quite a challenge for a farm kid.) Once I spent the whole day trying to make up a joke.
Many years later, as I reflected on that period of my life, I realized that it was a kind of prophecy or prediction of my life in maturity. I loved music, loved to sing, enjoyed thinking about things, became a preacher (for whom public speaking was his life!) and have done a few hundred banquets where telling a funny story was a requirement. Oh, and the solitude, I loved the solitude–then and now.
That was David, methinks: reflecting on his youth, remembering the sheep, thinking of the relationship of shepherd and sheep, and making a spiritual connection. As the shepherd is to the sheep, God is to us.
I keep making discoveries in the 23rd Psalm…
Here are two.
–There is a change in the personal pronoun. The first three verses are in the third person. “He leads me…He restores…He guides me.” And then, for some reason, the last three verses are in the first person: “Thou art with me…Thy rod and thy staff….Thou preparest a table…Thou anointest…”
Why did David do this? Why the tense change? He was speaking about God, then suddenly He’s speaking to the Lord God.
No one knows. My hunch is that as he was delighting while thinking about the Heavenly Father in these ways, he suddenly broke into worship and addressed Him personally. That works for me. I expect most of us have done that at one time or other.
–And think of that last line: I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Our Lord Jesus surely had that in mind when He said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places…. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14).
Was David referring to Heaven? There’s no way of knowing. The only “house of God” in his day was the tabernacle. But in another sense, at least to me personally, it does not matter what David meant since I know how God works. The writers of Scripture often said more than they knew. Here are two scriptures giving us what the Apostle Peter had to say on that subject….
No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:21) (Suggestion: This passage, especially 1:16-21, speaks to the process of inspiration. I recommend that it become a huge part of your arsenal.) God inspired it.
As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look (I Peter 1:10-12).
Don’t miss that. I have known professors who taught the way to understand prophecies began with grasping what the Scripture writer understood his writing to mean. But the First Peter passage says otherwise, that often the prophets wrote more than they understood. In fact, even angels were puzzled by these prophecies! And I find that absolutely wonderful!