PSALM 23. IT’S PROBABLY VERY FAMILIAR TO YOU. PLEASE READ IT THoUGHTFULLY AGAIN, though. TRY TO READ IT AS IF YOU’RE HEARING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME. RAISE THE WINDOWS IN YOUR MIND AND LET FRESH BREEZES BLOW THROUGH. At first, I was going to call this a Q & A (Question and Answer) session, but I’m only asking questions now. . . of myself, and those who choose to join me in a journey. I encourage you to take your time. No one is pushing you, and just as food takes a while to digest. . . your thoughts may require time to be absorbed. I know you can get indigestion if you try to eat in a hurry or just eat “junk” food. I’m not sure what happens if you don’t take time to “digest” your thoughts, but it probably isn’t a good thing. No hurry. No pressure. No one’s looking over your shoulder or pressing to cram for a ‘final exam.’ Just THINK and enjoy what you discover. (But you might also warn yourself you may find yourself feeling you can’t keep it to yourself. Joy has to be expressed!)
Lately it’s been a little busier around here than usual. Hectic, actually. So I haven’t had a lot of time to write and I don’t want to get “sloppy.” At the moment, this a long way from being the busiest corner on the internet; but you never know what might catch someone’s attention. Little sparks have been known to start big fires! You’ve come here for some reason, and I should not waste your time or mislead you in any way. If anyone spends time here, it should be worthwhile. If I waste your time, I’m disappointed in me and have not kept the commitment made to the Lord once this effort was actually launched.
So, not “stalling,” I have been studying, and praying; specifically, about the “SHEPHERD PSALM;” But have simply lacked the time to compose my thoughts carefully. I CAN tell you how I’ve been thinking, but will need a bit more time before actually saying what I’m thinking. Listed here are some of the questions I’m asking myself. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful in your own study and you’ll add a few of your own.
1. Who do you think composed the “song” (A psalm is a poem or song, you know.)? If David did it, perhaps while he was a teen-age shepherd, can you imagine how long it took to write it or what inspired him to do it? It’s considered great literature, even by some who make no claim to faith. Can you imagine a very young, very uneducated shepherd writing anything so beautiful? He was on the backside of nowhere. No Bible to consult, no wise instructors and no access to computers, or networks, or libraries or Discovery Channels. How could he possibly compose someting so simple, and yet so profound? Especially something that has brought so much comfort for so long to so many people? Could YOU write something like that?
2. Why do you suppose he used an analogy which was so familiar, so common and simple? Perhaps that’s just the reason. He certainly seemed to understand the relationship which is so vital between shepherds and sheep. And it’s hard for me to think of another analogy that would have gotten his points made nearly as clearly.
3. Shepherds and sheep were so much a part of life back there and then. It’s even the case today in some cultures. In what ways can you think the Lord is like a Shepherd? Now, put the shoe on the other foot and ask in what ways we, His people, are like sheep. Think about it. Make some notes. Weigh the words and ideas. Make a list of the similarities and comparisons, just for your own study.
4. When the psalmist says “I shall not want. . .” he’s seeing himself in the role of a sheep, totally dependent on his “shepherd” for every thing needed for existence and sustenance. Everything. Have you ever felt that dependent? What does the word “want” mean in this context?
5. Next, the psalmist says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Now, obviously, I can’t think like a sheep . . . but I can imagine their getting “excited” about getting green grass to eat! And then with their tummies full, romp and cavort a bit and then lie down for a nice afternoon nap on the lush green grass. Especially if they’d been rambling out at the edge of the dessert and had nothing but dry grass, briers and bramble, and sandy grit to chew on. He (the shepherd) MAKES the sheep lie down. That sounds to me like the Shepherd knows more about what the sheep needs than the sheep does.
When I was a little boy, I cannot tell you how many hours I spent following a stream across the rail road tracks below my home. My dog, “Spooky” and I followed the creek as it flowed, rambling through meadows, with the railroad tracks tagging along beside playfully crossing it now and then in a toward the river not far away. The idea of “green pastures or meadows” still calls beautiful memories back to my mind. I never ate the grass like the sheep would, but I guarantee you no sheep ever enjoyed a green pasture more than I did as a boy. In memory’s eye, I can see me now lying on my back in the grass in some meadow, legs crossed, hands behind my head as beautiful clouds above chased others, changing by the minute as they sailed across a sky that has never been bluer.
6. Next, he says his “shepherd” leads the sheep beside still waters. I’m not certain what he actually meant in terms I can understand or explain. But they say “still waters” run deep. And I don’t even know if sheep can swim. That sort of makes me feel this scene sounds sort of dangerous as well as tranquil. The threat of danger hangs ominously low and close. My instincts would warn me to walk carefully and hope a shepherd or a lifeguard is somewhere close by. Let’s think about it a bit. Beside still waters. . . What does that suggest to you, when you take time to think about it?
7. Next, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness.” Do you think that kind of thought would ever occur to a sheep? Do they even know what “righteousness” is? Do we? If we walk in the “paths of righteousness,” wouldn’t it be safe to assume the “Good Shepherd” is leading us? And if righteousness is that big a concern to Him, wouldn’t we be smart to spend some time figuring out what it is? What is your definition of “righteousness.”
8. And He does that “for His Name’s sake.” If you’re like me, you’ve probably said or read those words many times through the years. Have you ever THOUGHT about what that means? Doesn’t it suggest that the Shepherd Himself, has an interest and a stake in the way we conduct our lives? Doesn’t it mean His investment in us means He has a taken a personal interest in our success or failure as His sheep? His reputation is affected by the way His followers behave. The “word picture” (analogy) isn’t using hard headed, strongly self-willed billy goats here. Have you ever thought the Lord has an investment in you and the way you live affects His reputation?
Please don’t get impatient now. We’re studying. That requires thinking, and thinking takes time and requires effort. But, what if we look at Bible study this way: If God has invested the effort to reveal His thoughts and wishes to us, is it asking too much that we take it seriously and take the time and invest the effort to understand?
Some thoughts before leaving:
Calling this blog “scriptureSTUDENT” does seem like a fairly good idea. The more I think of it, the more that decision seems to be the right one. My son Tim, who helped get it up and running had originally called it “scriptureSCHOLAR.” I vetoed that for reasons: First, I don’t consider myself a “scholar.” That implies a degree of intellectual skill, which I don’t claim to possess. Second, my efforts are not designed to discuss “scholarly” matters. While there are legitimate concerns over apologetics, doctrinal or denominational matters, etc., that is not what I’ll be addressing on the site. It is meant to be, purely and simply: devotional study of the Bible. Hopefully, it will provide some encouragement and hope for those who appreciate or need such a “ministry.” If the studies seem plain and simple, that is deliberate. I want to consider and understand Scripture and then to be understood, not to impress anyone otherwise.
One other confirmation that it should never be called “scholar” is the difficulty I had in getting to and from the site. It has ben hilarious. In fact, I’ve had more trouble getting there, posting and editing things, and getting “safely back home” than I had in developing the studies. Can you imagine a “scholar” telling you he has something important to say. . . but can’t tell you where to find it!!
That made me think of the story I heard of the brilliant but famously absent-minded Albert Einstein. On a train trip once (He never learned to drive), when the conductor came around to collect tickets, he couldn’t find his. Frustrated, he searched every pocket, his brief case, etc. a couple of times. The sympathetic conductor said: “It’s all right Dr. Einstein. There’s no problem. I know who you are.” And Dr. Einstein replied: “I do, too. But I don’t know where I’m going!”
Incidentally, absent-mindedness is the only thing I have in common with Dr. Einstein!
A servant, donkimrey