So, it took us two weeks to study four words of this luminous psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not lack.” Sorry for going so fast.
Now let us finish our study of the remaining verses of the 23rd Psalm:
23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
Green pastures and still waters are not just places of food, they are places of safety and places of hope. Barren pastures cannot feed us and roaring waters cannot be traversed.
So, let us ask, what places have you been in your life that have filled you with a sense of hope and safety and nurture? I wonder, are these places devoid of people or filled with people you love? If you achieve maximum solace in places where you are alone with God in nature, are you cutting off your ability to find God in community? If you only find God in community, are you hiding from the moments when you can experience the presence of God alone? My vote is for finding God in community. Nature is the creation of God but not the presence of God. Community is where we find our most enduring strength. Listen to this African Tribal saying, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. Sticks alone can be broken by a child.” We need to be bundled. What do you think?
23:3 He restoreth my soul. He guideth me in straight paths for His name's sake.
The Hebrew here, “He restores my soul” (nafshi yeshoveiv) can also mean, “He turns my soul around.” When did you experience turning to face something that you previously refused to face? When did you last experience a moment when God turned your soul around — from addiction to sobriety; from grief to joy; from despair to hope? God does not need to restore something that was never taken from us. Our souls are eternal because God is eternal.
23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
The promise God offers us in this life is not a life unburdened or unwounded by betrayal, evil or death. God’s promise is a life freed from the fear of evil and the fear of death. Our losses are not a betrayal by God, they are an invitation to lean on God’s promise to be with us in our journey through the deep valleys of our lives.
Do you blame God for your burdens and losses? Do you really believe that God owes you a life of continual blessings and no bumps in the road? Why do you believe that is God’s promise to you? I surely do not believe this is God’s promise to me.
23:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
The defeat of fear comes not in some grand assault on the enemy fortresses but rather in the calm resolve to continue the small but sustaining rhythms of our lives like eating a meal. Eating a meal under the ravenous gaze of the wolves shows them that this shepherd and this flock will not be panicked or routed or dispersed or deflected from their true and natural course to the pastures of hope. Even in the time of fear, the shepherd and the flock celebrate the abundance of the green pastures and the belief that freedom is not an accidental possession but an anointment by a God who wants all to be free and all to live in peace.
What do you most fear? What part of your faith and your life diminishes those fears? What ordinary things have you done or could you do each day to confront those fears with calmness and courage? Remember Winnie the Pooh’s friend Piglet who said, “It is hard to be brave when you’re only a Very Small Animal.” (A.A. Milne)
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The only things we can always control in our lives is our courage to be good and kind. Everything else is just not our business. The eternal life of our souls in Heaven/The World To Come is not a reward for goodness and kindness. It is a gift of God’s grace either directly from God (Judaism and Islam) or from God through the atoning death of Jesus (Christianity).
Describe in your own words what you think the 23rd Psalm is really about.
Let me know.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)
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