Monday, November 3, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:1 Our Relationship with God

For the next week or so, I thought I would repost a series I did on Psalm 23 earlier in the year. There seem to be several new readers lately and I've had a couple of new sites list my blog. I certainly hope you are edified and encouraged, brothers and sisters.

Bill Cosby, in one of his comedy routines, said that his father defined their relationship when he was very young. He was told “I am your father—I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me ‘cause I’ll make another one that looks just like you.” Now, this is quite silly and we can have a good laugh about it. There is, however, something about defining a relationship that gives one a sense of security. When you know what the boundaries and the responsibilities of a relationship are, you feel safe. In this manner, when David writes this most familiar psalm, we can be particularly encouraged as we reflect on our relationship to God and His love and care for us.
I should probably mention as I start this series that my interpretation of this psalm was greatly influenced by a book written by Phillip Keller titled “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”. You can find information about the book here. I strongly recommend it as a great resource to understanding what God meant when He inspired David to write this text.

I believe the first thing we should take note of as we examine this psalm is that David writes this psalm about a Person—specifically God. He beings the psalm by saying in verse 1 that “The Lord is my Shepherd”. The fact that he identifies God as his Shepherd should be of great encouragement to us as believers. This is the same Lord that made, and kept, a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:24). He displayed His power by freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 7-12) not to mention creating the entire universe by merely speaking it into existence (Genesis 1-2). This is a Holy God who judges sin and, as David would come to find out, forgives people when they repent. Suffice it to say, God has quite an impressive track record and it only makes sense that the Bible declares that there is no God like Him (I Kings 8:23). Considering the relationship that is defined by this psalm, the character of the One on whom David is depending seems particularly relevant. Therefore, we should remember that it is the Lord that David refers to as his Shepherd.

I think it’s pretty important to notice, also, that David is writing in the present tense. He does not say the Lord was his Shepherd or will be his Shepherd or that He might be his Shepherd but rather that He is David’s Shepherd. David made this rather bold affirmation of his relationship with God based on his daily walk with God. As we read in I Samuel 17:34-36, David depended on God daily as he carried out his task of tending his father’s sheep. When he faced dangerous situations, he knew through experience that God would be with him. What we have here, then, is not touchy-feely “You Best Life Now” garbage, but true saving faith grounded in a daily walk with God. It is not hope for the future or pining about the past but a present tense awareness of the presence of God in David’s life that leads him to write these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, in making this statement, David is acknowledging that he recognizes not only his position but also God’s position. By saying “The Lord is my Shepherd”, David is saying that he is a sheep. Recognizing who you are in relation to others is important in any relationship. For instance, the book of Genesis records that when a man is married he is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. Basically, his primary responsibility is no longer to his parents but to his wife. Failing to recognize that change in relationship can result in problems with his new wife to say the least. (By the way, I also believe the same principal applies for wives. That was an aside. You don’t owe me anything for that) David has no delusions about his role in relation to God. He is a sheep. Now, this is a humbling admission for him to make. First of all, sheep are stupid. I mean, these critters, from all accounts I have read, will go out of way to get themselves into trouble of all kinds. They need constant care and supervision. If left to their own devices they will invariably get themselves into trouble time and time again.

You know, that is a pretty good description of you and me. I mean, I’ve been saved for 24 years now and sometimes I have pretty good days. But it is just as often that I feel like the apostle Paul in Romans 7 and I feel like shouting “I’m doing the things I know I shouldn’t do and not doing the things that I know I should do”. If it were not for the mercy, grace, and providence of almighty God I would get my self in pickles so often they’d have to change my last name to Vlassick. It’s the same way with sheep. Being a shepherd is very hard work because you have to watch out for those animals tirelessly. God does just that. He never sleeps, takes a day off, or turns His eyes off of us who are His sheep even for a moment.

Because of this wonderful, loving care provided by our Shepherd, we can come to the same conclusion that David did. He said that because of the Lord being his Shepherd, “I shall not want”. Sheep don’t take care of themselves. Therefore, if their needs are provided, it is a direct result of the shepherd’s care of them. Notice the condition he expects to find himself in. He uses a Hebrew word “chaser” which is translated “want”. That Hebrew word means lack. David isn’t saying that he will always have everything that he wants; but that he will not lack things he needs so as to suffer want. That’s just a wee bit different take on God’s care of us than you would find from your typical prosperity theology preacher. Saying that we will not want in this context does not mean that we will be happy all the time or in a state of abundance. What it does mean is that God will provide what we need when we need it. There have been Christians who have been hungry or lacked clothing or shelter. That does not mean that God is not fulfilling His role as Shepherd. In fact, I’m not sure I could even speculate on why a situation like that would occur. I would suggest that more times than not Christians are provided for with the things they need in this life by a loving Shepherd who takes meticulous care of His sheep. Let us praise God for His love and protection.

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