In the span of a month, I have memorized Psalm 23, one of King David’s most famous songs dedicated to God. It is something I have wanted to accomplish since returning to church April 10, much like reading the bible cover to cover, which I completed last year. I am rereading the bible again this year, but this time it is the New International Version.
I am not sure what the reaction to this post will be (my 500th), but I am writing it to help others who may have wondered about the meaning of the psalm. Before going on, below is the full text, as presented in the English Standard Version:
- 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.
- 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.
- You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
- 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 interesting thing about memorizing scripture over a long period is having the luxury to think through the verses and their meaning. I can say without a doubt, each verse has had an impact on my life.
Let me begin with Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
When David wrote this, he knew all about being a shepherd through experience. In his time working out on the field, he had saved his flock from the jaws of a ravenous lion (1 Samuel 17:34-35). For David to compare God to a shepherd was natural for him. He knew all about the life of a shepherd because he had been one before defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:36).
Back in February, when I was in the throes of agony, I did not desire anything from God other than relief for the pain in my neck. I would classify it as an upsetting experience. However, it encouraged my belief that nothing really mattered in life other than to be kind to one another and live as peaceable a life as I possibly could. In other words, my want—desire—was nothing in comparison to knowing God was working a miracle in my life. He was my shepherd, and I had no hesitation knowing he was on my side.
Psalm 23:2-3 continues to say, “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.”
I cannot say how important those verses were when I was going through one of the most distressing periods of my life. I had to let go of certain things in order to let God nudge me in the right direction. Once I had done that, green pastures and still waters presented themselves for me and I finally found peace. It was not by accident. A shepherd knows where he wants to lead his sheep, and God took his time to bring me into the fold of the flock. I resisted, but he was there to lead me in the path of righteousness. It may sound corny, and I would have agreed with you several months ago, but after having lived through it, I am in no way fearful to give him all the glory and honor for my renewed spirit and attitude.
David Changes the Way He Talks About God
Psalm 23:4, “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.”
Something I had not noticed before was how David refers to God in a more personal tone. Instead of using pronouns such as him, he uses you. I wondered about that. Why would he do that?
I have had my dark days where I did not see the light. I define dark days as a time when I did not know God, and led a life that went diametrically opposite to what God wanted. Nonetheless, when I did wrong, he made sure I knew about it through his correction in the form of situations that did not work quite the way I had planned. Now, that is not to say his rod and his staff are bad things, because he was purging sin from my heart, and I knew he was not about to abandon me because of my sin. No. If God was using the rod and the staff to tap me back into place along with all the other sheep, then I knew he loved me. All he wanted was for me to be safe. Moreover, yes, that was a comfort.
David felt the same way, and to express the comfort he had with God, he referred to him in the most intimate way he could.
Pslam 23:5 says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
When memorizing this verse, I learned that God sometimes will not get rid of a problem, but control it, which left me with no other choice than to accept it and move on. Much like a pack of wolves wanting to kill me, he did not get rid of the wolves but he protected me from them instead.
Even more so, I was in the middle of a personal anointing at my church. I had gone up to remove a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) from my heart, and I had gone up to ask for forgiveness for the transgressions I had committed to the Lord my god. More than anything, I wanted reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24). Because of this, the minister left my forehead soaked with anointing oil, something I had never experienced before. The event made verse 5 all the more real to me.
Lastly, Psalm 23:6 states, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I am at the point where I know God has forgiven me and his mercy is now upon my life. I do not have to worry that I am unworthy to receive his grace, because really, he has given me his grace freely without conditions. Nothing I do will earn me salvation (John 3:16). I know that now.
And with that knowledge, I know that when I die I will dwell with God forever.