Psalm 23 was not written on a green hillside on a peaceful day; it was written in a dark cave on a frightening day.
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.2He makes me to lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside the still waters.3He restores my soul;He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.4Yea, 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.5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil;My cup runs over.6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
Often, because of the wonderfully comforting words David sings to God in Psalm 23, we imagine he wrote it on a green hillside, on a sunny, peaceful day while watching sheep feast on grass. Descriptions like “green pastures” and “still waters” and statements like “restore my soul” cause us to see this picture David is painting with his song and release inside of us the same comfort he was experiencing while he sang.
We image these words were penned during his boyhood years as a shepherd of his father’s sheep, as he spent many days and nights alone, contemplating and singing. We believe the song flowed from a heart full of youthful innocence and optimism.
But by doing this we miss the power of Psalm 23. By looking closely at Psalm 23 we observe that David was not on a green hill side but inside a dark cave. He was not a youth but a fugitive. He was not inexperienced at the crises of life. He had been betrayed, lied about, and attacked. He had lost everything. He was afraid for his life. Psalm 23 is a manifesto of patient faith sung during a dark time in David’s life. It is an anthem of hope. When we place this bright Psalm in its dark context it shines even brighter–the words more comforting, the example more compelling.
David describes himself as walking through the valley of the shadow of death–a clear allusion to the physical desert he was hiding in, the threat to his life, and the emotional weight bearing on his soul. He says that he is the presence of his enemies. He did not have enemies before King Saul tried to kill him. When he says, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” he is using a play on words. “Follow” is best translated “pursue”. It is a word used of hunting someone or something to destroy it. It is a word used to describe persecution. This declaration, like the rest of the Psalm, is a faith-filled defiance of his circumstances. David is experiencing lack, but he declares that God is his shepherd and lacks nothing. David is emotionally raw, but he declares God makes him lie down, gives him rest and restores his soul. He doesn’t know what to do or where to go, but he declares God will guide him. His life is being threatened, but he declares God is with him and comforts him. His enemies–an angry, jealous, crazy King Saul and his army–are pursing David in the desert, but he declares that God delights in him. Can you imagine someone hating you, lying about you, attacking you and trying to end your life? David was innocent; he had done nothing to warrant this attack. In the midst of rejection and loss, he declares God loves him and enjoys him. Though a crazy man is trying to kill him, David declares God’s promise and plan for his life will win. He is implying, “This man might be chasing me, but God is chasing me too. And God, not this man, will catch me. His goodness and mercy, his love, his blessings, his promises, his plan, his commitment to me will catch me, consume me, and characterize my life!”
Psalm 23 is powerful because David is declaring the exact opposite of what he is experiencing. Without denying his precarious state, he boasts about his God, defying his circumstances with the declaration of God’s promises for his life. He is not a green hillside, but a dark cave.
- He declares he has no lack because he was hungry and alone.
- He declares God is with him because he is scared for his life.
- He declares God’s delightful fellowship because he is being rejected and attacked by his King and father-in-law.
- He declares the goodness and mercy of God pursues him because he is being pursued by a man who wants to end his life, terminate his calling, and rob his blessings.
He is assuring himself that God is with him and for him; that, even if others reject him, God delights in him; that, in the end, God’s good promises will win out in his life. Whether financially or relationally, physically or spiritually, emotionally or practically, David is placing his trust and hope firmly in the Faithful One’s hands.
We have, in many of David’s Psalms (and especially Psalm 23), a perfect example of how faith responds to trials, delays, setbacks, disappointments, and life threatening situations. This is what it means in 1 Samuel 30 that David “strengthened himself in the Lord” in response to tragedy. This is costly worship. Faith boasts about God. Faith does not deny circumstances but it sure does defy them. Circumstances have a way of preaching to us, of boasting that they will defeat us. David knew how to overcome. He models for us that we need to preach to our hearts and to our circumstances by boasting about our God. We need to declare that our God is bigger than our circumstances. This is how to be people of faith, of worship, who overcome and see the fulfillment of God’s promises and plan in our lives.
So boast about your God. Declare what God will do for you.
I do not lack; because I have God, I have everything I need. If I have nothing, but I have God, I lack no good thing. God is my comfort, peace, and rest. I will not fear. Though I am emotionally raw, God restores me. He is the strength of my soul, the strength of my emotions, my confidence, my rock and refuge. God is with me; I am not alone. He will guide me. God delights in me. Even if others reject me, God loves me and enjoys me. God will bless me. His plan for my life will win. His goodness and mercy, his blessing and promises, his love and faithfulness will characterize my life. And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!