“THOU ART WITH ME”: A teaching/message on the 23rd Psalm. (29 DEC 2016)

It was the spring of ’75, & I faced a tall, lean, long bearded Amish bishop. He asked, “What’s your favorite book of the Bible?” “The Psalms, because they speak personally to my heart in so many situations.” “You should be in the New Testament.” “What are you saying??” “That’s old testament, Christians should be more in the new.” His words were difficult for me to fathom, hard to comprehend…I thought to myself, this was Jesus’s (Yahshua’s) Bible, if it was good enough for Him, it’s good enough to me. And He quoted the Psalms, & the Psalms spoke of him. (A) And most of us have sang various Psalms…for instance, “The Lord liveth & blessed be the rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted!”(B) Most of the Psalms at one time or the other have been sung, which is why the book in English is named Psalms (songs). The ancient Hebrews called it “Praises”. (C)

DIVERSE HEALING WISDOM. But the 150 psalms are really a diverse collection of snapshots of different circumstances & different emotions, a lot more emotions than just praise, at times righteous indignation; at other times, awe, thankfulness, confusion, despair or fear. Their words contain no systematic theology–but consist of moment-by-moment practical theological snapshots. Let’s look at the most beloved & influential psalm of all times…the 23rd…57 Hebrew words…6 English sentences (verses)…but talk about poetic SPIRITUAL POWER! This psalm has kept soldiers under bombardment from going crazy.

THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD I SHALL NOT WANT. Christ is the good shepherd.(D) Why does the flock need a shepherd? because there are wolves, & we need safety. And our caretaker provides. What does it mean I shall not want? (The Heb. word=chacer=lack; “want” in old Eng.=lack.) Obviously even believers can become hungry, unemployed, lost, frustrated & lonely. I think the meaning is within the context of the care & safety that a good shepherd provides. The context is that this planet has dangers & death—but He is with us. The best analogy I can think of is this: when we are a small child and we get sick…our mother tucks us in bed, brings us chicken soup, and kisses our forehead. And we are still sick, but somehow it now seems o.k. Mommy’s love makes it o.k. Another PS sings, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits,…Selah.”(E)

There is another perspective one can have to this verse…to have a spirit of contentment, because if the Shepherd has not given it, then we are better off without it. If we could only step back & see how the World manipulates our desires & lusts with ads…and tries to keep us in perpetual dissatisfaction. It’s called a nice word: “consumerism”. God replaces that with a peace. Don’t get me wrong, God will give us the desires of our heart–for better or worse.(F) But He recommends, “Thou shall not covet.”(G) “The wicked boasts of his hearts desires; He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord.”(H)

HE MAKES ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES. HE LEADS ME BESIDE STILL WATERS. Sacred spots & sacred moments. Who as a child has not enjoyed the green grass, or a beautiful lake? Hey even adults enjoy nature…the peacefulness, the refreshment to the soul that it gives. What a beautiful earth God has created, & then decorated it with His love. This verse 2 echoes EX 33:14, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” It’s the Spirit breathed images (green fields/still waters) that are so powerful here, & they still fit the sheep analogy. Another Psalm (121) relishes in lifting his eyes & looking at the hills & mountains. And another way to look at the poetic “still waters” is to see them as calm feelings in contrast with the tidal waves of fear, and stormy choppy waters of drama.

HE RESTORES MY SOUL…The traditional morning prayer said in Hebrew: “Praised are You O Lord who restores the soul to a lifeless body.” Another PS says: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.”(I) When we rise each morning, it is a shadow of the resurrection…our “lifeless” body is restored. The Sabbath was given as a time of restoring, as well as being prophetic. I can think of nothing that restores the soul as much as love. Sensing God’s love is truly a time of restoration. “Those that trust in the Lord will have their strength renewed.”(J) How many people have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and found restoration & healing!? Hallelujah!! Do you need your soul restored? Let the Great Physician heal & restore your soul my friend.

YEA THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL: FOR THOU ART WITH ME. The specter of death casts its dark shadow over us. On my West Point Howitzer yearbook, I had the verse from PS 90:12 embossed in gold on the cover: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (It was a play on words, as “The days” was something we had to calculate each day & memorize when we were plebes.) We won’t be around forever in this time period…so we want to make our days count. On the other hand, life with God for us is forever…so we don’t have to fear. He is with us, no matter what. Who can separate us from the love of God?(K) A shadow is the absence of light. God is light…but if He is blocked we get shadows. Sometimes God seems distant…we are in the shadows of life…but we read this verse…and realize, even in the darkness…God’s love reaches us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. This verse may apply to one person who has lost a loved one. It may apply to another person who has lived in trauma for years. It may apply to another on his death bed, or in combat. The beauty & power of these divine words are how they apply to so many situations. A dark past can not be changed, but the hope of the future can. There will be emotional darkness…and we will have enemies…but the bottom line “Thou art with me.”

SURELY GOODNESS & MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE. Blessings will pursue us. All things work together for good to those who love God & are called according to His purpose.(L) Sometimes we try too hard, when success would follow (pursue) us. The Hebrew word in this verse means “pursue” by the way. Don’t let the enemy of God steal your blessings. God’s mercy wants to bless you. He will extend His grace (His favor) to you if you let Him. Surely goodness & mercy shall pursue you my friend. Be blessed.

(A) for instance, PS 110:1 ff speaks about the Messiah (B) PS 18:46 (C) Examples of praise psalms: 8, 19, 29, 33 & many others (D) ISA 40:11 (E) PS 68:19 (F) PS 37:4 (G) EX 20:17, DT 5:21, et al. (H) PS 10:3 (I) PS 51:12 (J) ISA 40:31a (K) ROM 8:35 (L) ROM 8:28


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