How often have you heard, read or recited the 23rd Psalms? For most Christians it is a familiar Psalm. In fact, many non-Christians know it as well, at least in part. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” (Psalm 23:4, KJV) is a verse many people know. It is so popular with some men it can be found on T-shirts and bumper stickers.
Verse 4 is sometimes quoted exactly. Other times, it is paraphrased in creative, possibly blasphemous, ways. Yet, fearing no evil is not the specific subject of AnOldSinner’s thinking about today.
My church recently completed a study entitled “Jesus in 3-D.” This was part of an ongoing study of the Book of Hebrews. Each sermon focused on what the scripture meant and how a believer could apply it to his or her life. One sermon was entitled, “Jesus in 3D: The Rest of The Story.” While the sermon was excellent, the true meaning of the word rest in the title did not sink in until later.
AnOldSinner is taking a bible study methods course through a local seminary. A few weeks after the sermon on rest, the discussion in class focused on understanding the language of the bible in terms of cultural and historical periods. During the discussion, the professor referred to Psalm 23:2, which states in part, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures . . . “(KJV) It was interesting, but no bells went off, no moments of illumination occurred in AnOldSinner’s mind. Those came the next evening.
My wife and I are members of a small group from church. Our group has adopted the church’s recommended study method of reviewing sermons from previous weeks. Part of that study model is to discuss how the sermon influenced group members or raised questions for us. The study also expands on verses that could be considered in light of a sermon’s theme. On this night, the first part of Psalm 23 was part of the study, and the light bulbs started flashing behind AnOldSinners eyes.
The group was focused on the completely rational thought that one could rest in Christ through faith. One could find peace in knowing that faith in Christ gave them purpose and through Him they could handle all challenges. The focus of the discussion was partially how busy everyone was, and how that interfered with the religious pursuits. The consensus seemed to be one should quit worrying about all these worldly things and focus on studying God’s Word and growing closer to God. For AnOldSinner, it was not that simple.
The rest mentioned in the 23rd Psalm is not the rest one gets by re prioritizing. It is not the rest or peace one might realize simply by accepting that God is in control. It is a rest that one can only achieve by placing one’s faith and trust completely in the Lord God.
Psalm 23 is a prayer or song of praise and trust. It acknowledges God’s power and how one can feel safe in God. As noted earlier, Verse 4 is often quoted out of context as a masculine sort of power trip. One can envision someone walking into a dark alley or other threatening situation quoting or praying this verse to stiffen one’s spine. Yet, in some ways that sort of faith is much less powerful than the faith expressed by the phrase, “He makes me to line down in green pastures.”
The Psalm is called a Psalm of David. Before David was king, he was a shepherd. Theological scholars can debate whether David was the author of the Psalm or it was written in memory of him. Without regard for that debate, AnOldSinner feels the meaning of Verse 2 is clear. The reference making the psalmist lie down in green pastures can mean only one thing when interpreted through the cultural lens of that time.
A shepherd never rests in green pastures. Neither do his sheep. Sheep, like some other animals, do not always know when to stop eating. They can literally die of overeating. Additionally, sheep will keep eating until they have destroyed the very forage they need for sustenance. A shepherd’s job is to keep his flock moving. Lying down in a green pasture would be unthinkable to a shepherd in those times, and that is how the people reading or hearing the Psalm would understand it.
The author of Psalm 23 is not telling the reader that one can catch a catnap while watching the flock. Neither is the author saying one should simply rearrange a schedule to find more time to rest. The author is saying that having faith, real faith, in God, will give one the spiritual rest one needs for this life. The author is saying a Christian’s goal is to have faith so strong the Christian would entrust himself, his family and his future to God, and that will bring rest.
Many come up woefully short on the faith meter when the chips are really down. Many, especially the guys, would say, “Lay down in green pastures? Not me, there’s no time for that sort of stuff. I’ve got a family to feed and people to impress!” “Let’s go walk through that valley so I can show God how much faith I have!” That is often AnOldSinner’s problem. I pray that will not always be the case.