Reflections on Psalm 23 & 24 Part 1

This is the first post of a two part reflection on Psalm 23 & 24, which I (Josh) have been reading over the past couple of weeks. The second half on Psalm 24 and bringing the two together will be up later this week.

A Psalm of David.
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD


Lately I have been reading over Psalm 23 and 24, noticing the contrast between the two adjacent poems. It is a contrast which adds depth to what each is saying about God. On the one hand you have Psalm 23, one of the most beloved and beautiful passages in the entire Bible. The Psalm is almost tangibly full of the gentle peace of a life lived in the presence of God, a God who nurtures, cares for, protects and provides for us. One can almost picture David composing it, perhaps walking as king among the very landscape where as a young shepherd boy he first fell in love with the Lord. With each line David discovers the depth and unquenchable love of God for him. Each familiar stream, pasture and path reveals clues to the good and merciful God who chose David to be King over Israel. This is a David young and fresh from the pressures of being a King, the triumphs and horrors of war, the overwhelming responsibilities of bureaucratic life and the constant needs of his people. So David, as we all need to do from time to time, takes a personal vacation back to his home, his shepherd childhood where he was free to wander the countryside and soak in the majesty of God, the God who was and is his Shepherd.

Psalm 23 reveals a motherly aspect of God’s love. It has a quiet, almost maternal tone; like a mother, God protects and comforts, nurtures and provides for David, the psalm is similar in tone to Psalm 91 where God desires to bring David ‘under his wings’ as a hen would her chicks. The love of God for David and for us is eternal, never wavering, the fullness of what a mother’s love for her child in this world points too.

The Psalm also finds David connecting his past as a shepherd with the realization that God is the ultimate Shepherd. God leads to green pastures, to quiet streams, is a source of comfort through dangerous valleys and provides food and drink for those He guides. He knows his flock intimately and totally and seeks us when we are lost, something Jesus reminds us in Luke 15:1-7.

It is no wonder Psalm 23 has become one of the most cherished passages in all Scripture, for it taps into the basic human desire to be loved, cared for, protected and sheltered. As I read the Psalm, I become acutely aware that I am God’s child or lamb, that he is my caretaker, my nurturer, the source of my very life. He is the perfect shepherd, the perfect mother, the perfect source of unfaltering love. W.H. Auden once wrote:

Nothing can be loved too much,

But all things can be loved

In the wrong way.

Psalm 23 reminds us, or in some cases informs us for the first time, that God will never love us the wrong way, his love will always be perfect and we can never have too much of it.

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From the Future: An Entirely Misleading Title

The older I get (24 is ancient), the longer I have walked with Jesus, the more I realize the Christian walk is a constant cycle of learning and unlearning. The Holy Spirit and the Bible are there to challenge us, to point out truth and untruth in our lives and too constantly change the way we interact in the world to be more like Jesus. A year ago, the things I was thinking about on a daily basis were different then they are today. Partially because I have settled on truth I believe the Holy Spirit led me too, and partially, if I am honest, because I lost interest in the ‘issues’ so important to me back then.

The past 3 months I have been trying to find the balance between being informed and knowledgeable about current issues pertaining to my faith and the world and simply enjoying the presence of Jesus in my world, community and life. I have written about this already. What I was thinking about this morning however, is how easy it is for young Christians to hold fast to certain ideas/opinions/things, thinking their minds will never change when it comes to those issues they feel so passionately about. Not to knock passion, we need it in our lives and Jesus demands passion for him. No, I’m speaking more about what I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with daily when it comes to living in a world of constant input that demands opinions from everyone about everything. Secondary issues are easily elevated to foundational truths with a depressing and destructive effect on one’s walk with Jesus. Instead of His glory we see our own as we engage in imaginary intellectual debate and dream of comprehensively crushing our opponent and impressing everyone listening (admit it, we’ve all dreamt of it). This pride worms its way into our walk with God so even our times in the Word or in prayer are consumed by it. Then two weeks later we realize our hearts are dry and the God we thought we were honoring with our constant mental soap-boxing has actually been waiting for us to shut up and enjoy his life-giving presence, instead of making it all about our own intellectual fortitude.

I guess all that to say is IF I could go back in time and tell myself then (a year or two ago) what I know now, I would say “Relax. Focus on Jesus before any of the crap besides him you are so passionate about. Misplaced passion is one of the great tragedies of the Christian life. Remember why you love Jesus, all he has done for you, and realize the Christian life is a journey of constant learning and unlearning. Trust me, I’m from the future.”

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