287 The Best Loved page in my Bible
A study of Psalm 23
Isn’t it amazing how easily we become used to familiar things, so much so that we often fail to notice them at all. We can become familiar with people too, and we can often take them for granted, and forget to say “thanks” and fail to appreciate the things that others do, and do regularly for our sake and our good.
I remember years ago, during my School days, that our “Art” teacher who was lecturing us on the ability to observe the things around us, asked a simple question. “What colour is the front door of the School?” After some debate and some argument we came to the conclusion that if our lives had depended on it, none of us knew with certainty the colour of that door through which we had walked every day!
Familiarity can breed contempt, but more significantly being familiar with things can often lead to ignorance. Familiarity with Spiritual things can be just the same. Whether in the Church or in the School-room, when we recite the Lords Prayer, we have often gone from the “Our Father” to the “Amen” without realizing exactly what we have said in between!
(and I am as guilty of this as I am sure you are)
Today in the moments left to me, I want to look at the best loved page in my Bible for on that page is a familiar Psalm, maybe the most familiar and most loved of all the Psalms,
the Psalm 23.
As a child, my Father told me from my earliest recollection, that I was called “David” not after my Mothers Uncle David, nor after my second cousin David, but I was called “after the sweet Psalmist of Israel, the shepherd-boy who became King.” Obviously, as soon as I was able, I made diligent search for this
King David, to find out about him, and to uncover what it was about this lad, that had prompted my parents to name their youngest Son, after, or for him?
You see it was David, the youngest Son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite who penned these lovely words. And when he begins with the words, …
v:1 The LORD is my shepherd;
…he knew exactly what he was talking about. David’s brothers were soldiers, warriors, men sent to battle to war, to combat with men, – but David was sent out into the barren hillsides around Bethlehem to tend his fathers sheep. David was sent to battle with the elements, the foxes and the other wild threats to the sheep! David knew about Shepherding, and if like me you have ever visited the land of Israel, you will have noticed a peculiarity amongst shepherds there that you will not find here, in this part of the world. You will have noticed that the Shepherd, even the Hireling, will never leave the Sheep unattended in the fields. Day and night the flock will have the security of the Shepherd near-by, and will feel safe, and unthreatened by the wilderness around them.
So when David says, the LORD is my Shepherd, he is reminding himself of the constant presence of God. The word LORD in capital letters in your Bible is a direct translation of the Hebrew word “Yahweh” meaning Jehovah, – The great God, the creator of the ends of the earth, the Mighty God. David knew, and knew well that while he was looking after the sheep, Yahweh was looking after him. Can you say “the LORD is my Shepherd“? Do you know and realize that God looks after you? The Devil would have you believe that you are alone in the world, abandoned to your own desires and devises, but the Devil is a liar, and you must realize that even if you never give God a thought, his thoughts are always towards you.
David then adds these words …I shall not want.
David acknowledges that if the great God himself is looking after him, then he would “lack for nothing” His physical needs, his material needs, his psychological needs, his emotional needs, his spiritual needs …. God wants to take care of it all, but fear and doubt prevent most of us from allowing him to meet our needs. God promises to take care of us, but we worry and fret and fear most days about just how we will manage to make ends meet and sustain ourselves and our families in hard and difficult times. If the LORD Jesus is your Shepherd, then he has promised that whatever happens, he will take care of you!
David goes on to say ….
v:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
David did not usually feed his sheep on that kind of green luscious pastures, for the hillsides around Bethlehem are not green, but mostly stony, barren and dried up terrain, without much vegetation. I am sure that David had a very real struggle on his hands to find food and fodder for his flocks. But when he speaks of God provision of “green pastures” he is reminding us that those who leave the choices with God will find God will provide the “best”. I remember some time ago, reading the life story of a young man called by God to be a Missionary to one of the large African Communities. At the time of his calling, he had just been engaged to be married to a young girl, who he said was “the most wonderful woman in all the world“. To his surprise and disappointment, she informed him that “God was not calling her” and that “if he wanted to go to Africa, then it would be alone, and without her”. Tears filled his eyes, and an ache tore at his heart, on the day when he left her behind to embark on his ministry, and he felt angry with God! As he took his seat in the aircraft to fly out of her life for ever he cried to God “How can you hold out this wonderful person to me in one hand, and take her away from me with the other?”
That young man was clearly heart-broken, and sitting there with tears coursing down his face, suddenly a Word from the Psalms penetrated his numbed mind, the word …”no good things does the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly” from Psalm 84:11. In a moment or two when that great truth had penetrated his soul, he jumped up in his seated and shouted down the length of the plane, “Praise God, he’s going to give me a “gooder” one”!
Do you see what the Psalmist was saying, that when we leave our lives in Gods keeping, he will make us to lie down in
“green pastures” the best places, the best for us!
Then David adds, …
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Sheep are very easily frightened. Farmers and Shepherds alike will tell you that they don’t like to drink from fast flowing rivers or torrential waters, rather they prefer calm and still pools, and when David says that God leads us beside the “still waters” he is reminding us that we have nothing to fear from the Path that God has chosen for us, nor need we be fearful of the future.
In v:3 David goes on, He restoreth my soul:
Now there have been times in all of our lives when we have felt in need of restoration, in need of repair, in need of renewal. Times when the pressures and problems of life can become overpowering and overwhelming. Times when it seems impossible for us to carry on, and times when we may feel like “throwing in the towel”. The Lord knows about those pressures which we may face and he knows that most of those pressures and problems are being allowed by him to “Process” us as his Children, and mature us to become his Sons. He has made us promises in his word, but we are often unable to come into those promises without first of all having gone through the process of preparation?
Boys like to feel that they are strong, capable of getting things done, able to do what Girls cannot do…..at least it was like that with my Sisters and I. I was the man, together with my brothers, we were able for any task, the girls could do the lesser, the boys were fit for most. I would volunteer to carry the heavy shopping bags, and was saddened because my Father would simply point out that I was not yet able for that task, but that one day when I was older and stronger, then I could carry many heavier burdens.
God once swore to Abraham that he would Bless him. I have often wondered why God had to “Swear” such a promise? Gen 22:16. There would be times in Abraham, Isaac and Jacobs lives, times in your life and mine, when all hell may break loose, times when it seems like we are anything but blessed, and in those times, we need to know that God has sworn to bless us, because like Abraham, we are a peculiar treasure to the Father. So then, when we are beginning to run out of strength, run out of faith, run out of motivation and run out of love, it is in those very times that “he restoreth the soul” with the Spirit of revival, renewal and refreshment.
David says moreover in v3 ….
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
God is anxious that we walk in righteousness all our days, this simply means that we walk in “what is right before God” rather than walking in the wrong in his sight. Christians are called to a life of Holiness, but most of us have discovered that this is not possible for us as human beings, for we have a fallen fleshy nature that is at war with our new Christian nature all the time! Thus it is important that we realize and recognise that “holiness” is not so much about what I can achieve, but rather about what I allow Him (that is Jesus) to achieve in me! Jesus has become our Righteousness and the indwelling and enabling of the Holy Spirit allows us and assists us to walk in that kind of Holiness -and David adds, it is for “His names sake” or in other words, for the sake of Gods greater Glory!
God is honoured and Glorified by your righteous walk, as he is by mine.
This leads us to the fourth verse, which reads,
v: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.
Most of you will have suffered bereavement at some point in your life, and most of you, like me will understand the heartache and heart-break that can so very often accompany it! Verses from the Scriptures such as this one will help ease the pain we may feel, but with the familiarity of this verse, we often miss the point of what David, the writer is saying. Notice with me if you will, that David does not write, “Yea though I walk through the valley of Death” as its rendition often applies. David says that when the times comes for him to pass through this valley,
it is not for him the valley of Death, rather the valley of the Shadow of Death!
If I hold my hand above the Bible I am reading, the light above casts a shadow of my hand across the pages of the Bible. The shadow resembles my hand, it looks like my hand and not another’s, it is directly in profile with my hand, but what I am trying to help you see, it is NOT my hand! With my hand,
I can write a letter, play the piano, type a sermon, wave to a friend, clasp your hand in mine, …while the shadow can do none of these things! You see David is trying to help us understand that for every child of God, Death is only a shadow, there is no dying, we simply pass through that valley into the
next world, absent from this body, and present with the Lord,
as the apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8.
D.L.Moody the great American Evangelist said once: “In the valley of the Shadow, there must be a light, otherwise there could not be a shadow!” …. and every child of God knows that Jesus is the light there. Corrie-ten-Boom says, “Death is only the old family servant, that opens the door when the Children come home” Is it any wonder that David could add, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me …” David knew about this light, this blessed presence of Jesus that comes at the end to receive us unto himself. Dr Billy Graham tells of the last and dying moments of his dear Mother. She had been lying bed-ridden for many days, unable to move, and unable to eat. Without, (it seemed) knowing that any of her family were present. Then suddenly and without any warning, she sat bolt upright in her bed, looked down the room, and said: ”Oh Lord Jesus, its you!” and then fell back on her pillow, and she was gone! I believe as Dr Graham did, that Jesus comes at the end of our pilgrim journey to walk with us through the “valley” into the life here-after. Is it any wonder David could say “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” When your physical or spiritual strength may have gone, you will still be able to “lean on Jesus, to lean on the everlasting arms”. His rod and his staff will still hold you up.
David now continues in verse five …
v:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
It is uncertain to the casual reader just who David was referring to here, if indeed he was referring to one specific “enemy” or just the “enemies” he had encountered in general. King Saul who he was to replace pursued him wanting to destroy him. But I like
to think that this little trinket in Psalm 23:5 is a prophetic and provoking account of his dealings with the Giant of Gath
We read earlier in the service from 1 Sam 17 from verse
32 onwards that well known story of David’s encounter with Goliath, when David was sent down to the battle field taking provisions for his brothers who were in the army. Every day the Philistines (the opposition or enemy) paraded this Champion warrior Goliath, a giant of a man, head and shoulders above them all, even bigger than King Saul. (who was chosen for his height).
Daily this giant would taunt the armies of Israel, and there was not a man among them, including David‘s brothers who were brave enough or had courage enough to face him, and so preserve the good name of Israel. But remember David had a heart for God, and for the people of God, and David had an anointing on his life, a Kingly anointing. What I am trying to say is that David was Armed for the Triumph in a way that no other man on that battle field was armed. David’s confidence was not in a sword or shield, not even in his ability with a sling-shot, but David’s confidence was in a name, in the name of the Lord. David was armed within, not without, that is why he refused to wear the armour that Saul offered to him. David’s armour was invisible, that is why a boy could march in to the Kings tent and announce with a fearless courage – “I’ll go”, when there was no-one else willing to go!
The Bible tells us that David ran to the front line, God had put a spring in his step and a song in his heart and I can almost hear him singing to himself …
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. He had collected five smooth stones from a nearby brook,
but he didn’t need five, (his cup was running over) he only needed one, and in fact he knew that if God was for him, no one could stand against him! No sword fashioned against him would prosper. God has promised to deal with every enemy that stands up to oppose or offend his children, and God will destroy every enemy of the Cross of Jesus, and fight for those who love that Old Rugged Cross!
David ends the Psalm with a note of certainty, in verse 6. He begins with the word “Surely” or in other words, he is saying, now this I am sure of, this I am certain about, this I cannot doubt …. that
v:6 goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
You see David had experienced the “Goodness” and the “Mercy” of God every day in his life, from its beginning right up to that moment. He knows that that same blessing will never end. He declares it will “follow me” like a little dog that wont go home, God will follow us, pursue us, protect us, feed us, discipline us, empower us, equip us, heal us, comfort us, strengthen us, all the days of this life, until we dwell with him for ever.
Hallelujah. God will never give up on his children, never ever abandon us, and never forsake us.
This was the final promise which our Blessed Lord Jesus made to his disciples before he was taken away into the clouds. There are those who would teach that they do not consider it to be a promise, rather a statement of fact! And so it is, for Jesus also said, that once the Holy Spirit came to dwell within, he would dwell there for ever and that’s what makes this page …
the best loved page in my Bible!
NOW THIS FINAL WORD
Many years ago in one of the worlds fine auditoriums, a great and famous “Tenor” stood and sung the “23rd Psalm”. when he had finished, the house erupted in applause and many stood to their feet calling for an “encore”, wanting to hear more. While they applauded, an old tramp like figure made his way from the back of the auditorium, through the rows of seats, to the platform, and stood beside the great singer. Assuming this was part of some “act” those who had been on their feet applauding sat down, and patiently waited … while the old tramp began to sing “The Lords my Shepherd” He had no orchestral accompaniment, and no microphone, and when he had finished, no one applauded, or called for an encore ….but there was scarcely a dry eye in the house. The great Tenor moved forward and grasped the old mans hand in his. “Ladies and Gentlemen” he said, “I knew the Psalm, …. but this man knows the Shepherd”
In the mercy of God I am in front of this microphone today to ask you a simple question, DO YOU KNOW THE SHEPHERD, DO YOU KNOW HIM?
May God Bless this precious word to all our hearts, for his dear names sake: Amen.