Psalms of David
Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.
I could have titled this psalm The Shepherd and concentrated on the idyllic, pastoral scenes of the first few verses, but I do not think the purpose of Psalm 23 is to bring warm comfortable feelings at all. At least not in the manner of comforting the comfortable. Comforting the troubled, on the other hand, is well within the scope of this psalm.
The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
A Psalm of David.
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even 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.
5 You prepare a table before mePsalm 23 ESVUK
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
I once went to a wedding where the bride and groom were not regulars at any church and so did not know many hymns at all. The hymns they chose were The Lord’s my Shepherd I’ll not Want, and The King of Love my Shepherd Is, not realising that they were both versified versions of Psalm 23.
On the Ship of Fools and St Pixels websites I have used Psalm 23 to stand up for contemporary music in churches, when someone has complained of the ‘me and Jesus’ nature of modern worship songs. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Me and God worship songs have been with us a long time.
The sentimental interpretation of Psalm 23 seems to be overruled when you look at its structure and its place in the psalter.
The structure is simple, a single chiasm of three parts:
A – The Lord.
B – Food and drink: Green pastures, still waters.
C – Security: He leads me in the right paths.
Then after the central section, the sections repeat in the reverse order.
C’ – Security: Your rod and your staff comfort me.
B’ – Food and drink: You prepare a table before me and my cup overflows.
A’ – The Lord.
But Psalm 23 is also part of something bigger, a series about how the king fights his battles, which are also messianic, about Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed. The war structure can be seen when David adds the phrase, “in the presence of my enemies” to verse five. But where is the fighting?
I titled my look at Psalm 22, “This is how God fights.” I am calling this one, Psalm 23, “This is how we fight.” But there is no fighting mentioned. Psalm 22 was a look at the past (although to David it was in the future) as it points to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Psalm 23 is about how we live in the present, the battle has been fought, the victory won and Jesus Christ has won it. We live in the victory of Jesus Christ.
However, this does not mean we have no problems in life. In Psalm 23 we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and the enemy is still around. Life is difficult. Evangelists who preach, “Come to Jesus and all your problems will go away,” have got it wrong, badly wrong. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” (Matthew 5:10). He also told his followers, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). But he concluded that by saying, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Like Jesus talking to his followers, Psalm 23 is honest about the troubles we face. Troubles are central to its message. It is the central section of a chiasm which holds the key to its interpretation, and the central section of Psalm 23 is, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” our troubles, and God is with us in our troubles, is what Psalm 23 is all about. After the central section, the shepherd analogy breaks down. That is not a problem, because the C’, B’ and A’ sections are written about a reality. God is with us in the valley and comforts us in our hardest times, God is feeding us when we are faced with our enemies. God is near to us in our troubles and persecutions, in our darkest times.
Acts chapter 5 shows that even when the church was being persecuted the Gospel was preached because the early Christians were living in the reality of the Holt Spirit being poured out on those who will receive her. God was with them in their valley of the shadow of death.
When we are irritated, God is with us. When we are depressed, God is with us. When we are persecuted, God is with us. God is with us in the present time, not just in the past. God is our comfort in the hard times. That is the real message of Psalm 23.
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2 thoughts on “This is how we fight – Psalm 23”
What a great insight into Psalm 23. It is reassuring to know that life has its dark places because that is what we experience. Reassuring because God is with us in those places.
I am also intrigued by the structure and how it relates in those three parts to different aspects.
It has really struck me how parts of the Bible we usually read in isolation actually fit together.