A reflection on Psalm 23 for Sunday, February 28, 2021 at Mosaic Baptist Church
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Psalm 23 (NRSVA)
Perhaps Psalm 23 is the best known of all the Psalms. It’s familiar words are easily remembered. They are read at many Christian funerals.
And why not? Here we find one of the great celebrations of faith in God. This is a song of trust.
I have often wondered when in David’s life this poem was written. Is he looking back over a lifetime of faith, approaching his own ‘darkest valley’? Is he remembering simpler times as a shepherd boy and recognising their parallels with his own life for the first time? Is he an adolescent alone in with his father’s flock pondering what may come?
These are great questions to hold alongside this masterpiece. Some may argue that the final line, ‘I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long’, indicates that a full life is still before him. Be that as it may. Ultimately these questions are impossible for us to answer.
What we do know, however, is that David – at some stage – was moved to write of his soul put at ease by the gracious guidance of YHWH. Whether David is still in the fields, a feared soldier, or king of his nation – this man considers here the parallels between himself and a sheep entirely dependant on the shepherd’s protection.
It is a humble place for David to find himself. He either will be or already is widely considered to be the protector of Israel. We know others sang their songs about this man’s feats in battle.
And yet this national protector celebrates the divine protection. YHWH leads, provides for, and is always with him. In the poet warrior’s mind God’s ‘rod and staff’ are a source of ‘comfort’ even through – as it is sometimes translated – ‘the valley of the shadow of death’.
Yes, this is a song of trust.
This man with revered battle skills is not singing the praises of his muscular physique. He is not celebrating the prowess of the sword at his side. He is not praising his band of faithful warriors.
No, David is singing the praises of the faithfulness of God.
Have you ever been moved by the faithfulness of God in your life? What did you do with this moment of clarity?
What are the aspects of life you are most prone to trust God with? What aspects of life are you still learning to trust God with?
Can you read all a time when Psalm 23 was especially comforting to you? is there someone you would like to pray Psalm 23 over? Is there a specific situation that you would like to ‘take’ the words of Psalm 23 into?