1. God’s Self–DisclosureAs we look into this psalm, we can liberate it from exclusive use at the graveside and discover what it has to say to us about the generous love of the Lord toward mankind.
Psalm 23 is the most recognizable chapter in all of Christian Scripture. There are other passages and verses that are favorites including John 3:16. However, in terms of full chapters, Psalm 23, written by David, is by far the chapter that is best remembered. I am sure that with very little prompting and not much preparation you could recite it with a great deal of accuracy right now. If you have ever attended a Christian funeral you have likely heard the verses recited. This is understandable. The rich and powerful words have brought comfort to grieving families during times of difficult loss. As we look deeply into this psalm and study it, we can liberate it from exclusive use at the graveside and discover what it has to say to us about the generous love of the Lord toward mankind.
Throughout this ongoing Bible study series, we will explore the psalm and ask God’s Holy Spirit to reveal the words to us in a new and fresh way. Try for a moment to forget that you know the words of the psalm by heart so you can hear them as if for the first time. Allow them to conjure up in your mind a fresh image of the Lord as a Shepherd and as a Host of the Banquet.
Because of the limitation of human understanding and perspective, God inspired David to craft and arrange the words to paint vivid pictures for the reader. We can imagine the gloomy and frightening path that leads through the valley of the shadow of death. We can imagine hearing the haunting hoot of an owl during the night watch. We can imagine confronting the putrid aroma that would waft through a place associated with death. We can imagine how the temperature would change upon descending into the deep valley where sunlight is obscured and darkening shadows envelope everything.
In contrast, we can also imagine the opulence and wonder of the banquet table the Lord prepares. Imagine the table finely adorned and overflowing with lavish foods and erupting with the wonderful smells of roasted meats and freshly baked breads. The images go beyond dismal valleys and luscious feasts to picture God Himself. The elaborate picture is born out of God’s desire for self-disclosure. Psalm 23 is a wonderful example of God’s personal revelation of His nature to mankind. As you read it, allow God’s Holy Spirit to peel back the layers of this familiar chapter and discover what it reveals about God’s incredibly gracious, loving and restorative nature.
There are two metaphorical images presented. One is a watchful shepherd who cares for his sheep; the other is a host of an elaborate banquet. The images are remarkably different, but work together to accomplish similar goals. Both metaphors portray something about the Lord’s nature through the lens of human endeavors. They each utilize a poetic construction to appeal to our creativity. Each of the two metaphors invites the reader to see God’s divine restorative character. As one commentator has noted, “Using the images of a shepherd and a gracious host, David reflected on the many benefits the Lord gave him in the dangers of life and concluded that God’s persistent, loving protection would restore him to full communion.”
In this Bible study series, we will look closely at both metaphors and discover something of what the Lord is revealing of Himself to us. We will also discover something about ourselves as His sheep and banquet guests.
We are first introduced to David’s story in the context of shepherding. The prophet Samuel was on a mission to anoint a new leader of Israel because the kingdom was crumbling under the feet of King Saul. Samuel had carefully examined seven sons of a man named Jesse but found that “The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ Then Samuel asked, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’
‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse replied. ‘But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.’”
“‘Send for him at once,’ Samuel said… So, Jesse sent for him… And the Lord said, ‘This is the one; anoint him’” (1 Samuel 16:10-12).
This shepherd who was anointed by Samuel had a wonderful context to draw upon.
Adam was given dominion over creation. In a sense, he became the shepherd of all of the creatures of the earth.
Abel, the son of Adam, was a “keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4).
Abraham is described in Genesis 13 as being “rich in livestock.”
Isaac had possessions of flocks and herds (Genesis 26).
Jacob was a skilled “breeder of sheep” (Genesis 30).
Rachel was a shepherdess of her father’s sheep (Genesis 29).
Joseph, before he was sold into slavery by his brothers was described as “tending the flocks with his brothers” (Genesis 37:2 NIV).
Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian developing his vocation of shepherding which was helpful as he began his task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
David was also acquainted with celebration and feasts. Shortly after he emerged from the civil war that erupted after Saul’s death, King David brought the ark of the Lord back into Jerusalem with much celebration. During the festivities, we read that David “Gave to every Israelite man and woman in the crowd a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins” (2 Samuel 16:19). David knew the joy of celebrating the blessings of the Lord and sharing those blessings as the host of a celebratory feast. David also reflected the Lord’s gracious nature in extending his table to Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, who could have been assassinated as a possible rival to the throne.
This psalm is rich with imagery and meaning. We will discover much as we study it together.