How many times have you heard the 23rd Psalm?
Besides The Lord’s Prayer, it is surely one of the most quoted, loved, and depended upon passages in the whole Bible. You might have even memorized the whole thing back in childhood Sunday school with all your first grade church friends.
It’s comforting at funeral services.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil … ” is an oft-quoted comfort for those who are saying goodbye to someone they love. Perhaps it has a doubly peaceful purpose as the grieved understand a deeper meaning in those words. The one who takes his last breath on earth has lost all fear in the presence of Jesus, while the one who is left behind, barely taking the next breath, experiences peace when embracing these Biblical words.
In the dead of a long dark night, it brings a sense of calm.
If you’re like me, you might have repeated Psalm 23 a jillion times in the dead of night when something is keeping you awake. That fretful something or other that deprives us of sleep and threatens to consume our thoughts becomes a little less disconcerting when blanketed with thoughts of green pastures and a restored soul. I know of nothing more powerful than the softly whispered words of God to put me back on course and drift me off on soothing waves of peaceful sleep.
What does it mean to a child?
For a child who is memorizing the first verse of this psalm, the story of the one who wrote it provides just the right visual aid. Children love envisioning David as a shepherd boy, walking along in green pastures, nurturing the sheep in his care. Our grandchildren can also readily grasp the feelings of loneliness David must have experienced as he performed this lowly chore all by himself while his older brothers were off on more important tasks. These are good points to discuss together as we memorize this cornerstone verse of Scripture.
It’s a torch for grandparents to pass.
When my granddaughter memorized this verse as number 19 on her way to 66, I prayed it would do more than just stick inside her little brain. I prayed that it would take up residence inside her heart. It was my utmost desire for her to understand this verse and the power it would forever provide to calm her own anxious soul. As her Grammie, I am absolutely sure my precious girl is taken care of and that she has not a reason one to lay awake, waiting for the morning light; however, I’m also pretty sure it’ll happen. Someday, hopefully way off into her future, when my granddaughter has something gnawing at her in the dark of a sleepless night, I know that this verse will comfort her then as it comforts me now.
Our grandchildren are sheep, after all, and all sheep need a shepherd.
Do you find that as interesting as I do? God refers to his children as sheep. We are so often proud of how well we take care of ourselves that the analogy can get a little lost in our reasoning. As we graze our own selves in restaurants of our choosing, we think not a moment of a shepherd scanning the horizon for our next place of sustenance. With our increased reliance on quickly dispensed information from our iPhones, we can lose some understanding of our parallel connection to a furry flock of sheep. Yet, for every single one of us, there’s some moment, or many, when we get it. Coming to the end of our self-sufficient selves, we grasp the cold, hard truth. We’re the sheep, and we need a Shepherd.
Because sheep are prone to wander.
Isaiah prophesied: All we like sheep have gone astray. The Shepherd will leave the 99 to search for even one lost sheep, and when that sheep hears his voice, he knows who’s calling him home. That’s the bottom line. Sheep get preoccupied with the green pastures, forget to look up, and pretty soon, they’re wandering.
David knew whereof he spoke.
Most scholars agree that the 23rd Psalm was written near the end of David’s life. Looking back over his years, perhaps David remembered his days as a young shepherd boy, tending the family’s flock. But he also would have likely been pretty mindful of his own wanderings. The same shepherd boy who had slain the giant Goliath and been anointed king over the nation of Israel had also taken his neighbor’s wife and arranged her husband’s death. As he recalled the steps his feet had taken, David expressed intense thanksgiving for the one who corrected with a divine rod and staff, leading him back to the paths of righteousness.
I’m not really sure when I first memorized this verse for myself, but it was probably around the same age as my sweet Kynzie. I remember thinking more about the second part of the verse, feeling as though it was the not wanting that was important. I saw it as more of a command to watch out for greediness than as David’s proclamation of God’s continued provision in his life.
Today, I see it as perhaps a little of both. Why would I want for anything when the Shepherd has already guided me into such green pastures? He’s led me beside the still waters, too, and goodness, he’s restored my soul more times than I can count.
I rather like being a sheep.
Encouraging intentional adventure with the Shepherd of our souls,
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