|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 1
Meditation Title: My Shepherd
Psa 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd
This all sounds too obvious. I mean, we all know what a shepherd is, someone who looks after sheep. David at one time in his life was a shepherd so it is a simple analogy. God is my shepherd. No, come on, think about it!
How do we know he's talking about God? We know it because he says “The LORD is my shepherd,” and throughout the Old Testament when it says ‘LORD' in capital letters, it means “The I AM”, the eternal One, God (see Ex 3:14 ,15). Who is this God? Let's go back to basics. He is THE LORD, the one and only God, the unique being who has revealed Himself to us through the Bible. This one and only, unique being has revealed Himself to David in such a way that he is able now to say that He is his shepherd.
This unique being is personal, He has a personality and He communicates with us! He does things for us. That is why David is able to say He was his shepherd. This eternal One is the Creator and sustainer of all things, the Bible tells us. This is the One with whom we have dealings, this eternal Creator, this all-powerful being. We take these things for granted perhaps!
This almighty, sovereign being who had revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then later to Moses, has also revealed himself to David. He took a shepherd boy and chose him to be king (see 1 Sam 16), although whether that is before or after David wrote this psalm is unclear; the language of the latter part of it suggests David wrote this after Samuel had anointed him. Somehow David had come to know this God. We don't know how but the depth of his knowledge of God that comes through this psalm suggests it was more than through a few words with Samuel.
Indeed later, when testifying before Saul, he said, “Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:34-37) That had been David's testimony: God looks after me!
Now there is something so obvious here that we almost miss it. This Almighty God, this Creator of all things, is a shepherd. He looks after human beings in the same way that a human shepherd looks after sheep. Now don't take this for granted! God could have been a horrible entity who made mankind for sport, to be killed or tortured, but He didn't and He's not like that – the testimony of the Bible is clear about that! The Lord Himself had described Himself, “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) Many centuries later a man named John would write those devastating but simple words: “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16). A shepherd cares, and caring is one expression of love. God is a shepherd.
But David goes a step further. He doesn't say, “God is a shepherd,” he says, “The LORD is MY shepherd.” That too is testimony. This is David saying, I have known and experienced God and what I have experienced tells me that He cares for me, looks after me and provides for me in the same way that I do for my father's sheep, this Lord of the universe is there for me.
Again, many centuries later a famous Pharisee-turned-Christian wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) meaning, “I know God is for us so does it matter who can be against us?” and then went on to declare, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38 ,39) He too had learned that God was his shepherd and therefore he was completely secure.
The only question that remains, therefore, is, do we know the eternal One, the almighty, Creator of all things, in such a personal way as these men we have just referred to? Do we know the LORD as our shepherd, as one who is there for us, caring for us, providing for us and protecting us? It is all very well to think about these things from an academic point of view, trying to find out what it meant for the writer, but we must ask, what will it mean for us? Will we let the words of this psalm draw us into a deeper understanding of Him, the Lord of all things, and a deeper experience of Him who seeks to draw near? May we be able to answer positively!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: No Wants
Psa 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want
So, the Almighty, the ‘I AM', the eternal one, the Creator of all things, is my shepherd and because of that, says David, I shall not be in want. Now that last phrase raises questions in any honest Christian. First of all, is there a challenge here to consider wants versus needs? We live in a very materialistic world where pressure advertising seeks to make us dissatisfied. If we live in the West we live in the most affluent period of history and we have more than any generation before us yet, I suggest, many if not most people are still dissatisfied. My basic needs are met but, because of the environment I live in, I still want more. I don't need more but I want more. We have a two bedroom house and we are encouraged to aspire to a three bedroom house. We have a four bedroom house and we are encouraged to aspire to a five bedroom house with a swimming pool! And so it goes on.
Perhaps this is all to do with contentment or lack of it. How, in the face of modern culture, can we be contented with what we have? Contentment comes, I suggest, from knowing that God is our provider and He provides what He knows we can cope with. This has nothing to do with poverty or affluence. If we truly trust in the Lord then we can trust that the provision He makes for us individually is just right. So, for Solomon for instance, He gave him such wisdom that it enabled him to become the richest man in the world. That was God's provision.
Now that illustration suggests that provision often comes as a result of the abilities that God gives us. I used to know someone who didn't do very well at school, who was not considered very bright and thought little of their abilities. This person came to the Lord and over the next few years I watched a transformation into a godly person and with it came the wisdom of God which, in turn, brought blessing.
So when David says, “I shall not be in want,” there is the suggestion that God's provision is far more than mere food or possessions. He is not in want because God has provided a whole raft of things for him. From the reference we made in the previous meditation, David had learned that the Lord had protected him and perhaps part of that was in providing him with the skill to use a slingshot. We also know that David was good playing a harp (1 Sam 16:18 ) and clearly, by the number of psalms attributed to him, the ability to both sing and write songs. Today we might say he was a highly accomplished young man – but where did it all come from? The Lord! But did the Lord just dump these things on him? No, he responded to the Lord. In our relationship with the Lord, to receive blessing we need to respond to what the Lord says or the way He leads us.
Part of this is about heart change. In Psalm 37 David wrote, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psa 37:4) I am convinced that this means that if we make the Lord the focus of our hearts, entering into a joyful relationship with Him, then He will put new desires on our hearts and will then go on to bring those desires into being. When we fall in love with someone, we find our heart desires are to please and bless them. We find, say, that our new love really enjoys the opera, and so we go with them there. Their enjoyments become ours. The desires that we have, begin to match theirs. The same is true of us with the Lord. As we enter into a relationship with Him, so our hearts change to match the desires on His heart and, of course, His desire is to lead us into the fullness of His design for us: blessing, goodness, and fulfillment.
Thus, again, when David says, “I shall not be in want,” it means that he is completely content knowing that he is in the Shepherd's care and that the Lord knows best and will bring the best into his life and so, as long as he is submitted to the Shepherd, the Shepherd will provide all He wants to bring into David's life, which is almost certainly considerably more than David has in his own mind.
Isn't this why Jesus taught, “do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:31-33) This absence of worry is the same as this thing we have been thinking about, in respect of David being utterly contented and not having a sense of need, because he knows that he is in his Lord's hands and He will provide all he needs – and more! Remember, this is not merely about material possessions; it is also about gifts, abilities and even our whole future. When we come to know Him as our shepherd, part of the, “I shall not be in want,” also means I shall not be in want in respect of guidance and a blessed future.
This is all very practical. Suppose we run our own business. When we come to see that the lord is our shepherd, we will see that He knows better than we do. Consider Peter's experience with Jesus on the lake of Galilee. There we find Jesus said to Simon Peter, " Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch ." (Lk 5:4). Peter thought he knew best and replied, “Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything.” Yet there was something about Jesus that made him add, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When he did that something amazing happened: “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.” When he responded to Jesus' wisdom, his ‘business' was almost overwhelmed with the blessing! Don't ever think this, “I shall not be in want” is a basic, skimpy provision. God's provision is never ‘basic', but abundant!
When we learn that God is our shepherd, we will learn that He is the one who will be responsible for providing all we have now and in the future, and in that we will be content, in that we will know that we will not be in need! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 3
Meditation Title: Pastured
Psa 23:2a He makes me lie down in green pastures.
We don‘t like being ‘made' to do something. Children don't like being told to “wash behind your ears!” Adults don't like being told to keep to the speed limit or pay their taxes. But not only don't we not like being told what to do, there's something about us that doesn't like being made to do things. Speed ramps that force us to slow down are a real nuisance! Parents who reach in and turn the bedroom light off are grumbled at by the hard done by child! Many of us don't like it when we are told to be ‘green' and to sort out and put aside recyclable materials, but deep down we know it's for our long term good. Then there are the ‘don't smoke, and ‘don't drink' and ‘eat five fruits or vegetables a day' exhortations we receive – again all for our good! What is it about us that doesn't like being told to do things ‘for our good'?
What is it about us that means we run ourselves into the ground until we feel utterly run down, exhausted and prone to coughs and colds. Sometimes we're just not good at pacing ourselves and we do silly things like staying up late when we have to get up early in the morning. We rush our food or eat unhealthily. We don't take breaks when working on the computer, or work crazily long hours to earn overtime – and then wonder why we feel so run down, jaded, niggly, and edgy!
But if we are Christians we have a shepherd who looks after us, who is concerned about our welfare and doesn't just sit back and let His children get into a mess without doing something about it. As sheep we need rest and we need proper food, which is why David says the Lord makes him lie down in green pastures.
Note, first of all, the ‘lying down' part of it. Lying down is a position of rest. Note that David says the Lord makes him rest! Now it can be physical rest, mental rest or spiritual rest. Perhaps we need to rest physically because we have been overstretching ourselves as we considered above. But actually we may also need to rest mentally. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing – full of thoughts about yesterday or worries about tomorrow? If only we could make our mind slow down and rest! Sometimes the best thing is to get up, go and make a cup of decaffeinated tea and read something restful. For the businessman whose mind is full of the affairs of work, it becomes necessary to put aside the papers you brought home and do something that takes your mind off work. No, sometimes we need to ‘lie down', and our Father in heaven who is also our shepherd, takes steps to make us lie down.
How does he do this? Sometimes He just brings us to the end of ourselves, so that we learn the lesson – we re not invincible, we are not God, we cannot just go on and on without receiving a fresh input of resources. Sometimes He forces a change of circumstances across our path so that we have to slow up. We cannot see why things are happening as they are, but looking back we can see the goodness of God working for our best. In a variety of ways He will make us lie down.
He will make us come into a place of rest, refreshing and restoring, for these are the objectives that He has in mind for us when He does make us lie down. Rest means a ceasing from work and activity, an opportunity to recharge our batteries. Refreshing is a freshening up! My wife uses a fine spray that refreshes the skin. We are just made to feel better, but it is a surface thing. Restoring is putting us back into the place we originally were – our design quality, where we have the energy or the abilities to function at our normal level. Lying down enables all these things to happen.
But note that David speaks of the Lord making him lie down in ‘green pastures'. I don't know if you have ever been out on the moors where sheep often graze but so often, I have noticed, it is NOT ‘green pastures'. Green pastures speak of lush grass, plentiful provision. The Lord does not work on minimums. He has access to unlimited resources and so when He wants to bless us it is with abundant provision. The apostle Paul spoke of “God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness.” (Rom 5:17 ) There is nothing half-hearted about God's provision for us. (We saw this in a previous meditation.) When He goes to restore us by making us lie down, He leads us into a place of abundant provision, abundant blessing. It is not what we deserve, because often we appear as foolish sheep, constantly getting into trouble, but nevertheless He blesses us with abundant provision.
Indeed one aspect of the wonderful grace of God seems to be that often He blesses us when we are at our lowest point, and often that is because of our own foolishness or blindness to the harm we are doing to ourselves by our lifestyle. Yet, He comes and makes us lie down and rest and be refreshed and restored in a place of great blessing. Now this is not to say that we should work to run ourselves down so that He may bless us, but it does show how wonderful His grace is!
Oh, one more thing. Green pastures come where there is plenty of rain. Living in the United Kingdom , I am reminded again and again of this. I return from a visit to California in the summer, and I am immediately struck by how green it is. It rained while I was away and the grass on our lawn is lush and needing cutting. Rain in the Bible often typifies the coming of the Holy Spirit. The place of God's blessing is a place of abundance of the Spirit. When we have run ourselves into the ground, in need of rest, it was a time when we relied on our own strength or our own wisdom. When the Lord makes us lie down, it is coming to a place of ceasing to rely upon our own strength and to let the Holy Spirit come to rest, refresh and restore us. HE is the source of all of these things; He is the One we need. He is the Provider of the green pastures for He Himself is the provider and maker of that time. Run down? Needing refreshing? Needing restoring? Let Him make you lie down in His green pastures. Be still and receive of Him!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: Tranquillity
Psa 23:2b he leads me beside quiet waters,
David is going through a number of things that he has learnt that the Lord, his Shepherd, does for him. Previously it was making him lie down in green pastures; now it is leading him beside quiet (or older versions say ‘still') waters. In the past I have canoed down long rivers. Sometimes the water is rushing and fast and then suddenly you come across a part where it seems the stream or flow of the river almost dies away and you are paddling in still waters. As you wonder why you realise you can no longer see the bottom. These still waters tend to be deep waters. The fast waters tend to be the shallow waters.
David, the sheep, knows the Lord's leading. The Shepherd leads the sheep; he goes ahead and calls the sheep to follow him. The Christian life is a walk and it is following the one who calls us; we follow a man, Jesus Christ. It isn't following rules; it is following a man. It isn't being religious; it is following a man. It is all about letting Jesus lead us, and yet I wonder how often we are conscious of his leading? Jesus knows where he wants to go with us, he knows where he wants to take us, he knows the plans he has on his heart for us and what he can achieve with us and in us and through us, but he has to be able to lead us there.
Perhaps we take for granted this basic but essential truth. For us mostly, one day follows another with fairly predictable life styles, yet the truth is that Jesus seeks to lead us. Now perhaps much of the time it is just a case of the sheep getting on munching the grass where we are but then there come times for change and it is these times especially where we need to learn to heed the Shepherd's voice.
In the previous meditation we noted that one of those times of need for change was when we get run down and He then has to make us lie down and rest. That was a time of dependent restoration; this is now a time of deepening relationship.
Now the shepherd is leading him beside still waters. Note that he doesn't say to ‘drink from still waters', or to ‘step into still waters', but to walk beside them. He is leading us into a place of tranquillity. There is something about being next to a river where the water is deep but almost still. There is an air of quietness, but there is something more. There is a feeling of strong awesomeness, if I may put it like that. There is the sense of a volume of water and that is always a bit awesome. It is like that out on the sea and it is like it next to a big waterfall, and it is like it next to a deep river, this same sense of quiet greatness.
So the Lord leads us into experiences where suddenly there is much more to life. The boredom and hum drum existence takes on a new meaning. Suddenly we are aware of life with a new sensitivity. It is like the air takes on meaning. Have you ever had this? It doesn't tend to happen often and when it does it comes from the Lord's leading.
I was once taken into an art gallery and as I looked at the paintings, it was as if suddenly they came alive. Suddenly I looked at them with new eyes. In the tranquillity of the moment, there was also a realisation of ‘something more'. It was like God was heightening all my senses and I gazed in awe at these masterpieces, aware of the incredible skills and amazing end results of these masters. I felt drunk with their beauty.
Some months later I was holiday in the south of England , walking over the rolling hills above what are called ‘the Seven Sisters', chalk cliffs near Eastbourne . Again there was this coming of tranquillity, a sense of heightened awareness in the presence of the Lord, and I felt drunk with the beauty of the countryside, a truly supernatural provision!
Sometimes it can be simply a sense of stillness and there is the awareness of the Lord. Sometimes we have to be still to know Him. The psalmist wrote, “ Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” (Psa 37:7) There was a third time, that I have in my memory, of walking around a beautiful lake and suddenly being aware of stillness. This time the Lord seemed to speak as if to say, “Stand still and listen.” I had thought if was totally silent, but as I stood there in a state of heightened awareness in His presence, I began to be aware of tiny rustlings in the undergrowth around me, which was alive with wildlife. Then came the Lord's gentle voice, “If you learn to stand still and listen, you will hear my voice much more.”
I am reminded of the time when Elijah was called to encounter the Lord in a cave at Horeb: “ The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD , for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD , but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11 -13) The sense of the Lord's presence did not come with great power but through a gentle whisper in the silence that followed the power.
As He leads us beside quiet waters there comes a stillness that signifies the awesome presence of God Himself. It is like the world stands still and all we are aware of is Him, or the wonder of Him, or the wonder of His world. Suddenly our focus is not on the river but on Him. He is there! So much of the time we are not aware of His presence, even though He is always there. These are times when His presence almost becomes manifest and we feel it and know it and suddenly everything is orientated by Him. No longer are we orientated by the world or by people, but by Him. Perhaps more often we need to pray, “Lord, please lead me besides still waters.”
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 5
Meditation Title: Soul Restoration
Psa 23:3 he restores my soul
This psalm, as a hymn, has probably been sung millions of times, but I wonder how many of us, if challenged, could say what this little phrase in our verse above actually means. Immediate questions: what is my soul, and why might it need restoring?
Now before going on to answer those two questions, I would suggest that this phrase is in fact, a summary of the two meditation verses we have just previously considered: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” i.e. He restores my soul by making me lie down in green pastures and by leading me beside quiet waters. We have already considered much of this in considering those two things, so that now leaves us to focus on the two questions in more detail.
So what is my soul? Well, how does the Bible use the word? Well the word comes up a lot. One of the common uses is in Deuteronomy, “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul .” (Deut 4:29 and a number of following times). Then there is, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.” (1 Sam 1:10) and followed by, “Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.” (1 Sam 1:15)
The psalmists also use it: “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD , how long?” (Psa 6:3), and “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” (Psa 19:7) and, “My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” (Psa 34:2) and, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psa 42:2). There are many more references but what can we deduce from these? The soul is an active deep inner part of us that can be in anguish, can be revived, can boast, and can thirst. It seems to be credited with the functions of thinking and willing and expressing emotions of a human being. It is distinguished from the body (Rev 18:13 ) and seems to be the part that survives after death of the body (Rev 6:9 & 1 Pet 1:9) which suggests that it is the immortal part of us.
The Bible thus seems to make this claim that the soul is more than the material part of us and even that it is distinguished from our ‘spirit' (1 Thess 5:23, Heb 4:12) which, we would suggest, is the ‘communication with God' part of us. So our soul seems to be our inner life that is personal to us and distinguished from the material body.
Now the next thing to note is that the soul seems to be able to get run down or worn out. We saw above a reference to “reviving the soul.” Jeremiah prophesied, “ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jer 6:16). Jesus taught, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29) The implication of both those verses is that the soul can get weary, that inner life within us can get weary and worn and run down buy the trials and struggles of life and, maybe, the activities of the world and of the enemy. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus declared, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Mk 14:34) That takes the idea on a stage further. Things can happen to us that seem to almost overwhelm us on the inside.
Now there is something very obvious here, but which can be easily missed. All these verses speak of an inner life that we have, that is certainly affected by the outer life and by circumstances, but I wonder how many of us are conscious of, or think about this inner life, our soul? Why is it important? What happens when we get tired, what happens when we feel overwhelmed? We want to give up! That is why it is so important! Things happen to us and one day we find from deep within a cry arising, “Why is it like this? I can't take any more. I want to give up.”
At this point we need two things: rest and restoration. Do you notice the similarity between the two words? Restoration is restoring or recovering or rebuilding through rest. The implication is that God has designed us so that in rest, systems kick in to restore. Vet, James Herriot, told of a dog that was dying to which he gave a strong injection to put it to sleep. In fact it slept for two days and then completely revived. So often, exhausted people sleep for twenty four hours and then are completely revived. We are made to recover!
Rest for our souls, said Jesus in our quote above, comes from being yoked to him so that we go at his pace and use his strength while we recover. Revival of the soul, said the psalmist quoted above, comes from the word of the Lord. Receiving God's words into our inner being restores us. Again and again I find, that when I have been feeling weary on the inside, when I meditate on His word, then I come away at the end feeling completely refreshed; no, I feel revived and restored! Please note: this is more than mere physical restoration. As good as sleep is for restoring us physically, there is a deeper restoration that is often needed, a restoring of the soul and that comes from the One, the only One, who can reach deep into us and revive us.
Yes, says David, my Shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures and he leads me beside quiet waters and that restores my soul! May we be aware of our need in this respect and may we allow Him to do His work as our Shepherd! Be restored!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 6
Meditation Title: Righteous Paths
Psa 23:3b He guides me in paths of righteousness
In the early years of being a Christian, I struggled a bit with this concept of righteousness, and I think many people still do. It's not a word we use in everyday life, for some very obvious reasons. When theologians talk about righteousness linked with salvation, they speak of ‘imputed righteousness' and ‘imparted righteousness'. When we come to Christ, God imputes righteousness to us, He ascribes righteousness to us, Christ's righteousness. He sees us as being righteous as the outworking of salvation, of the work of the Cross. We have, through the Cross, all our sins dealt with and so he can declare us righteous. But then he places His own Holy Spirit within us, who works within us to change us into the likeness of Jesus. Lives that are, in reality, often far from being righteous, start to change to become righteous, and this is a process that will continue throughout the rest of our lives. It is actually Jesus living out his life in us and the more he is able to express himself, the more our lives are seen to be righteous. Righteousness is being imparted to us through Christ.
Now that is all very true and very wonderful but it still doesn't explain really the meaning of the word righteous; it still speaks in too general terms. So how can we remedy that? Over the years I have come to see righteousness in a new way. Some people speak of it as ‘right-ness' and that it is, but why?
Well, let's start from basics. God is the Creator of all things. When He finished the work of Creation we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) It wasn't just good, it was very good and if God says it was very good, it was VERY good. In other words it was perfect. Within creation were living creatures and within the living creatures were human beings. When we speak of God ‘making us' we also mean He designed us, He designed us to work (in the mechanical sense) in a certain way. It is clear that this way is a way that would be enjoyable and fulfilling. There would be complete enjoyment of the provision of His creation and there would be no disharmony between human beings. Life would be good in every sense.
Now of course we know it is not like that today and the reason for it is the Fall (Gen 3) after which everything changed. ‘Nature' became ‘red in tooth and claw' and mankind was tainted from then on with Sin – that tendency to self-centredness and godlessness. Hold on, I hear you saying, I thought we were supposed to be talking about righteousness? Exactly, but we had to take hold of this concept of God's design for us, the way we are to ‘work' in accordance with His original design. Righteousness is simply living in conformity with God's original design for us. For us it is coming back into that conformity when we have been saved through Jesus Christ, and as we are led by his Spirit.
Now here we are focusing on David saying about the Shepherd, “He guides me in paths of righteousness.” For David that would simply mean, ‘He leads me in right ways of living,” and we can add, ‘He leads me in right ways of living according to His design for us.' In discussions about guidance, I have noted there is a school of thought that says that God often leaves us to make up our own minds and choose our own outcomes from a range of possibilities and that is fine, but actually I no longer believe in this. I believe God knows best and God knows how we will function best according to His original design which is being worked out in the present reality and so yes, there is a right job for me at the present and there is a right partner for me etc. etc.
Immediately we start getting defensive here, worrying that we may have made wrong choices and perhaps we didn't get God's guidance so we don't have the right job or right partner etc. (perhaps we DID get it right, think on that!) There are several answers here. First of all, God is working with projects that are ‘in progress' and will continue ‘in progress' every day until we die – and He's happy with that! So yes, it may be that we didn't consult Him and maybe we made self-centred decisions but in fact, even those things God will work on to bring good to us (see Rom 8:28). God's guidance – leading us into right paths – includes taking our bad choices from the past and weaving them into the tapestry of life to bring good out of them.
I know of a lady who is now a single mother with three children, two of whom are walking good Christian lives. When she looks back, she confesses that perhaps she shouldn't have married the man she did – who eventually left her. However, I pointed out to her, God has clearly been working in her life and the life of two of her children and has brought real good out of that. He has been leading her into paths of righteousness, even though originally they were not! (incidentally I believe that God is going to draw her third child to Himself and her deserting husband back to Himself, despite all that has gone on in the intervening years.)
This is the wonder. Left to ourselves we wander on paths that are far from righteous, far from being in accord with His design, but as we come to Christ, He changes the path from being a chaotic shambles causing potential self-destruction, to a path that is gradually being changed to conform to His design for us, a path of righteousness, a path where order and blessing start to emerge (and sometimes it is slow to emerge), a path that is good as we learn to appreciate that His will, His design for us is best. No, not merely best, it is very good!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 7
Meditation Title: For His Name's Sake
Psa 23:3c He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
All around us people are concerned, for the sake of their name. There are parents who feel ashamed because of the wayward things their teenage children get into. Fathers have serious talks with sons about not shaming the family name. Companies train their employees so that they are good representatives of the company and so portray the company name well wherever they are. Schools admonish wayward pupils who behave badly outside the school while still in school uniform, for letting down the name of the school. Oh yes, names and reputation go together.
When it comes to God it is no different. One of the earliest references to the Lord acting for His own name's sake is when Samuel speaks: “For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.” (1 Sam 12:22) Samuel had come to understand this fact, that God's name and how the world thought about it was important.
Sometimes we find in Scripture that God acts according to His word, according to what He has previously spoken, for example, “For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.” (2 Sam 7:21).
We see these two things together when Moses pleaded with the Lord not to destroy Israel after the incident of the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai : “But Moses sought the favour of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel , to whom you swore by your own self: `I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.' " Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (Ex 32:11-14) Moses plea was first on the basis of what the world might say if the Lord now destroyed Israel , and then, second, on the basis of the Lord's prior promises to Abraham etc. These things affected His name and His honour and His reputation.
So why is it important about the way people think about the Lord? Very simply it is important because if the world sees God as He really is, then there is more hope of them turning back to Him. For instance, the enemy has been at serious work in the early years of the twenty-first century through the crusading atheists who seek to denigrate the name of the Lord. The truth is plainly declared in Scripture: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) That is the truth about the Lord and it was summed up by the apostle John: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). That is the truth and the enemy works in the minds of men and women to deny it. He is also holy, which means He is different, perfect, wonderful to behold, but men deny that too. But it is important that the people of God convey the truth about Him.
Thus David is aware that the Lord looks after him, provides for him, makes him rest, brings him into a place of restoring tranquillity, and restores him, as He leads him into a way of life that is in line with His original design for us. God does all these good things in conformity with His loving character. It is the natural expression of God's being, it is the way He is and it is important that the world sees Him like He is so they may see, understand and turn to Him. He does these things for His name's sake, so that people, when they hear the name, will know who this God is and what He is like.
In one of the enigmatic Servant Songs of Isaiah, the Lord says, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,” (Isa 49:6) which seems to sum up His intention for Israel and certainly His Son. Tragically again and again Israel failed in this role, so much so that eventually the Lord was to say through Ezekiel, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name , which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD , declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” (Ezek 36:22-23).
God would work through whatever means to reveal Himself to the world, even through disciplining Israel , or indeed even sparing them for His purposes. Eventually He was to bring His own Son on to the world stage and we are what we are today, as His children, still to reveal Him –“ let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) As the apostle John wrote to his friend Gaius, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 Jn 1:5-8) Still today we serve and honour Him that we may reveal Him to others. May it be so!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Dark Walks
Psa 23:4a Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Have you ever walked along a deep valley? The sun may be shining but its angle means that the walls of the valley cast a shadow. David has walked valleys with his sheep and he too has seen the shadow and has walked in the gloom of that shadow. If it is a hot day it is nice to be in the cool of the shadow but sometimes that shadow can be too cool, cold in fact, and the gloom is somewhat forbidding, and we're glad when we come out into the sunlight again. As David thinks about his walk with his Shepherd, he realises that there have been times when death has been towering over him, threatening him. We'll see in the next meditation why he feels secure even under such threat, but for the present one we want to simply acknowledge the fact that in life we do sometimes go through the valley of the shadow of death. – even Christians! It is a fact we have to face.
The first ‘shadow' is indeed of physical death. It does sometimes hang over our lives, simply because we live in a Fallen World and things go wrong, and we also have an enemy who seeks our destruction, and Sin has its destructive effects in the human race generally. So it may be that we find ourselves diagnosed with a potentially critical illness. It is at this point that we hear people speaking of the kingdom of God as ‘now but not yet'. In other words Jesus does reign but limits his rule, it seems, to allow freedom of will, and so sometimes we see remarkable, miraculous healings – and some times we don't! And it is a mystery! If the illness it not ours it may be someone we love. Death may not come to us but it comes to someone close to us. An infant is born dead or dies in the early weeks, or there is a cot death, or an accident in teenage years, or a heart attack in the early thirties. All of these things make us realise that life is very fragile and often very painful. It is the cost of living in a Fallen World. And yet the God of comfort (2 Cor 1:3,4) IS there and His grace is sufficient to bring us through the mourning or worry. It cannot be explained but all we know is that He was there and He did comfort and He did bring us through it all. A Biblical example of this is Job.
The second ‘shadow' is what I would call mental death – at least it is the removal of sanity. Again we move in areas of mystery. Why does sanity seem to depart some people – people who you analyse and can see no good reason. It seems to happen. Sometimes there are causes but more often it is just a fact and we remain in ignorance. We'll know when we get to heaven perhaps, but for now it is shrouded in mystery – death is often like that whether it is physical or mental. Mental illness in whatever form may one day become clearer to us but mostly it is a matter of simply controlling the life of the one afflicted. Depression kills life. It is easy to rationalise about it – when it is not you. Yet, over the years I have observed another mystery – God can be ‘in there' in the depressed or psychotic mind, yes even in the midst of utter confusion, He can be there quietly communicating. I have seen it. A Biblical example of loss of sanity is, of course, Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 4).
The shadow of ‘spiritual death' is also, I believe, very real. At least it seems very real to the person who seems to be hanging on by a thread to their relationship with the Lord. These may be areas where only pastors see these inner workings, but I have had to bring reassurance to those who feel, despite their wants, they seem miles from the Lord and their relationship with Him seems very unreal. Yes, these are people who had a strong relationship with Him who did great things, but who now seem burned out. For them it seems at times that the shadow of spiritual death hangs over them. Will they come through with a stronger relationship with the Lord? Some fall away and some come through and I have to say it is another mystery. Maybe there are many factors we should be aware of.
Then there is the blur between spiritual, mental and a physical outworking – and here I refer to the potential suicide. In a perfect world the church would always be there for every person, bringing help, comfort, support and encouragement and assurance and suicides would never happen – but it isn't and it is a Fallen World!
In every case we have cited as examples of ‘shadows' the reality is that the Shepherd IS there, but whether the sheep is aware of that is another thing. For the child of God He promises “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Heb 13:5). In some situations the Lord has a very real hand in what is happening (e.g. Job and Nebuchadnezzar) but in others He is just there, to be there for His child. Even for the two we have cited, His will was to bring them through to the good!
For the child of God who knows they are a sheep with a Shepherd, there are sources of comfort and assurance and we'll consider them in. the next meditation. For those of us who are such sheep and who are onlookers as another goes through this valley, our call is to be sensitive, empathetic, compassionate, caring, supportive, loving and understanding and, hopefully, through us the Lord, the Shepherd, may be able to bring what is needed for this person as they walk in the shadow. May it be so!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: Fearless Security
Psa 23:4a Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil
It is sometimes too easy to rush past words or phrases in the Bible. In the previous meditation we pondered on the various ‘shadows' that can overhang us in life. Each of those shadows has the potential to create fear in us. Fear in this context is a morbid worry about the future – what is going to happen to me. Even in the face of the loss of a loved one, it can be how I am going to be able to cope with what I feel and the future without them? All of these things are evil! Evil is wrong, what is against God's design for us, that which is harmful and potentially destructive.
All of the things we considered previously, the shadows, are potentially harmful; they have the power to make life even worse. It is bad that I have had a bad diagnosis, it is bad that a loved one is threatened or has died, it is bad that I feel I am beginning to lose it, and it is bad that God seems a million miles away. Yet what is worse is what might follow all these things – I may die from this illness, they may die from this illness, I cannot cope with their loss, the hole in my life, I may completely lose it and have a complete breakdown and be institutionalised, and I may completely lose God and go to hell. These are all the evils we fear and, humanly speaking, it is a legitimate fear.
Yet David says the he will fear no evil. He recognises evil, he knows that it is there, he knows that his life is under threat but he will not let the evil create fear in him. He goes on to give two things that bring him reassurance, which we'll consider in the next meditation but for now, what general things are there that can keep evil at bay?
In a slightly different context, the apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” (1 Jn 4:18) Where do we find perfect love? God! Jesus! It is the assurance of that perfect love that keeps us and holds us, but how many of us have it? When the chips are down, when black clouds loom over the horizon, and when we find ourselves walking in the shadow of death, how many of us have a sufficiently deep relationship with our Lord that we know His love, and stand in His love and can be unmoved by fear in His love? These are the marks of maturity that the Lord seeks to bring into our experience.
It is an assurance of love that knows that God is for me (Rom 8:31), that when I fail Jesus will be there speaking up for me (1 Jn 2:1), that when things are going wrong God will be working to bring good out of it for me (Rom 8:28) and that whenever I get it wrong and drift away, God will be seeking to gently restore me (Gal 6:1). These are the truths of Scripture that need to be embedded in our lives. The truth is that God does love us and is for us and is there working for our good and working to draw me closer to Him, but unless I KNOW these things, then I will be a prey to fear. I need to read my Bible and ask the Lord to implant these truths in me and help me live according to His word. Then, and only then will I become secure in His love.
Jesus warned us about these very things when he told the parable of the two house builders (Mt 7). He pictured troubles coming as “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house.” (Mt 7:25) The house that stood in the face of these troubles was described as “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” ( Mt 7:24). Now the time to do this is not when the troubles arrive, but before them. It is by building these things into your life BEFORE the troubles come that ensures you're equipped to cope with them when they do come. The knowledge of this love of God does not come over night. It comes and grows within us over a period, after we have surrendered our lives to Him, and then in a life that obeys His word and responds to His Spirit. This isn't mere intellectual knowledge; this is the knowledge of experience. Oh yes, you can exist quite easily without being that sort of committed Christian while life is going along easily but don't expect to cope when the storms of life hit! Survival and even triumph in those times, comes to those who know Him and receive of Him.
David knew these things by experience. Before Saul he testified how the Lord had enabled him to slay a bear and lion: “When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear.” (1 Sam 17:4,35) But he didn't attribute this to his own prowess, but to the Lord's enabling: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear.” (v.37). Yes he had faced death without fear as he looked after his father's sheep. Soon he looked the giant, Goliath, in the face and declared, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel , whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel .” (1 Sam17:45,46). He came with a complete confidence that his God would be there for him and give him victory over this one who came bringing the shadow of death. May that also be true of us!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 10
Meditation Title: Comforted
Psa 23:4c your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
We need to remind ourselves of the context: “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.” We didn't emphasis it in the previous meditation but the primary reason that David fears no evil is, “for you are with me.” It is the Lord's presence that conveys love and assurance. It is knowing what God is like and knowing that He is with you that dispels all fear of the various shadows that might overhang us. It is that assurance that the all-powerful One is with us and He is for us, so whatever comes He will be all we need to cope with it. THAT is the ultimate truth that upholds us.
But now David concludes that thought with a reference to the two ‘sticks' that the shepherd had with him. They could have been one and the same one but often, it appears, they were two. It is the uses of these two that brings interest. They had a number of uses and were, in a sense, the simple ancient equivalent to the modern Swiss army knife with its various gadgets. There are some basic uses that we might focus upon, but we need to look elsewhere in Scripture to get some clues; first the rod.
“The entire tithe of the herd and flock--every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod --will be holy to the LORD .” (Lev 37:22 ) “I will take note of you as you pass under my rod , and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” (Ezek 20:37). The rod, therefore, was used for counting the sheep. As they went into or out of the sheepfold the shepherd would hold the rod horizontally and they would pass under it and he would count them. David knows God will count him, take account of him, watch out for him. In this respect the rod was a thing of assurance, a reminder that God would watch over him and take account of him, looking out for him. In one of the psalms the psalmist writes, “The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psa 121:7,8) That was the sense that the rod brought David. So a threat may come, but the Lord's presence and His rod will bring reassurance.
But the rod also had another use: “I will punish their sin with the rod , their iniquity with flogging.” (Psa 89:32) and “I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.” (2 Sam 7:14) The rod was also a means of correction. Now there is security in knowing that God will not leave us in a place of folly but will work to bring us back into a good place. It may need a strike across the rear with his rod to shoo us back, but the Lord will do that if He sees we are about to wander into danger. It may be a painful moment, but it is reassuring to know that He cares and takes action to bring us back. If the threat to us is of our own making, then we can be reassured that the Lord will be working to bring us back from it. That's one of the things that discipline does.
But then there is the staff. Note this reference to the person who “gets up and walks around outside with his staff.” (Ex 21:19 ) The staff was thus like a walking stick, used for support. It was a regular accompaniment for walkers (like shepherds): “Elisha said to Gehazi, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face.” (2 Kings 4:29) There it was also an instrument of healing. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem , each with staff in hand because of his age.” (Zech 8:4) In old age the staff acted like a modern day Zimmer frame, something to lean on for support. Although in this case it was used by a shepherd, it was reassuring to know that the shepherd himself had this support. But it also tended to have a crook or hook shape at the end and the shepherd could use it to hook off brambles from the sheep or even to catch the horns of a ram and extricate him from the briars. Again it was a means of helping the sheep.
The shepherd is equipped with all he needs to do his job. God is equipped with all He needs to care for the sheep. We need have no worry about whatever confronts us; He is big enough, wise enough and powerful enough to deal with it! Whatever the ‘shadow', it is small stuff in comparison to the Lord and His resources!
In modern terms the Lord has various means of bringing comfort and reassurance to us. Obviously, first of all, He Himself is our comfort. Indeed Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the ‘Comforter' or ‘Counsellor ' (Jn 14:16 ,26 NB. A counselor brings comfort and reassurance). Then His word, the Bible, brings comfort and reassurance as we dwell on the truths revealed there. Finally there is the Church with its gifts and ministries and the love that it brings in practical terms. People – Christians – are to be means of support and encouragement. In many ways today the Lord brings comfort and assurance when the shadows of death overhang our lives. May we be comforted by them!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 11
Meditation Title: Triumphant Dining
Psa 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Throughout the Old Testament we see pictures of kings making treaties with kings. Sometimes it was just for trade: “Hiram kept Solomon supplied with all the cedar and pine logs he wanted, and Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, in addition to twenty thousand baths of pressed olive oil. Solomon continued to do this for Hiram year after year . There were peaceful relations between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.” (1 King 5:11,12).
More often it was of mutual protection: “Let there be a treaty between me and you," he said, "as there was between my father and your father. See, I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me.” (1 Kings 15:19 ) That treaty between Asa and Ben Hadad of Damascus was intended to balance up power and protect Judah from alliances of the north. Such treaties were usually concluded over a meal that indicated their unity and the bond between them.
Thus when David speaks of his Shepherd, the Lord, preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies, it is a picture of being under the protection of his Shepherd in a covenant relationship that means he is completely secure from those enemies. The Lord is the all-powerful One and so no enemy may prevail against David while he is under the Lord's protection. David is clearly aware of the covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel and it is shown in the language he uses on the occasion of coming against Goliath: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). Note the description – uncircumcised Philistine! That is the key. The Israelite men were all circumcised as a sign of their covenant relationship with the Lord. Goliath has no such relationship!
That covenant relationship was the all important thing, the thing that David could rely upon. He understood it not only separated out Israel from all other peoples, but it also meant that Israel had obligations to the Lord and the Lord had obligations towards Israel . Back at Mount Sinai the initiation of that relationship had the Lord declaring, “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5,6) Implied within that covenant was protection that the Lord would bring to Israel as His side of that agreement. David now trusted utterly in that.
Thus when David thought about enemies – and, as a child of God, he had plenty – he envisioned himself in God's presence, sitting at a table eating with the Lord. It was a powerful picture. Imagine for a moment, one of the really powerful kings of the Bible – Nebuchadnezzar say – and you are his honoured guest and you are sitting at table with him when an enemy bursts in and challenges you. Imagine the ire of Nebuchadnezzar at this intrusion, this affront to his hospitality. That intruder would be short lived. So what about when you are sitting with the All-mighty Lord of Creation, the Holy One, and an enemy seeks to come against you? If they come against you they come against the Lord of Creation. Not likely! The enemy whimpers in the shadows, utterly frustrated because you are beyond his power. This is the picture we need to hold.
I have had people come to me and say, “I am disturbed by awful thoughts, terrible pictures. What is happening to me? The answer is that you are listening to the enemy who is shouting over the garden fence at you. He has no right of access to you (unless you give it to him) and so all he can do is shout into your mind from a distance, so don't listen to him.
When the apostle Paul was speaking about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, he instructed, “Stand firm then.” (v.14) Imagine your Christian life as a plot of land that the Lord Has given you. It is yours through what Jesus has done for you on the Cross. Satan has no right to it and no access to it. He tries to get you to give it up by deception – telling you lies – or by accusing you, to demean you. He does it by ‘messing with your mind'.
Your call is to hold on to it, to stand firm. To use the expression I used earlier, imagine your home is this land. The enemy has no access; he can only shout over the garden fence! Realise that the Lord is there with you. James wrote, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7). Peter wrote of Satan, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith .” (1 Pet 5:8,9) Faith is turning to the Lord, recognizing His presence and rejoicing in Him. Then turn to the other character and tell him to go away, you've got his measure. Declare the truth and rejoice in the Lord. See yourself as seated at a banquet with the Lord. Let the Lord deal with the intruder! Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 12
Meditation Title: Anointed
Psa 23:5b You anoint my head with oil;
The subject of anointing is found in many places in the Bible. There seem to be three main uses for it and instead of suggesting just one for David here, as some commentators do, we're going to suggest all three.
The very first reference is actually about Jacob: “Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel,” (Gen 28:18,19) to which God later referred: “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me.” (Gen 31:13) Anointing was thus simply pouring oil upon something or someone.
Anointing first really gets mentioned in a big way in the Bible in the instructions to Moses when setting up the Tabernacle and establishing the priesthood. Its first mention there is. simply in a long list of things that Israel are to provide for this: “spices for the anointing oil.” (Ex 25:6). The purpose is later declared: “After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.” (Ex 28:41) This oil is to consecrate or set apart the new priest. This instruction is later reiterated: “Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head.” (Ex 29:7)
Its importance is shortly spelled out in greater detail: “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. Say to the Israelites, `This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men's bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and whoever puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from his people.” (Ex 30:30-33) This special anointing oil was to be used on no other person than one of the priests. It also includes their clothes: “Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments.” (Lev 8:30 )
But then, as we move on in the history of Israel and they ask for a king, the Lord instructs Samuel about Saul who will be the first king: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel .” (1 Sam 9:16) When Saul fails in the job, and the Lord prepares to set up David as king, He instructs Samuel, “Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” (1 Sam 16:3) When David appears, the Lord instructs, “Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (1 Sam 16:12,13) In later years when Solomon succeeds David we find, “Then they acknowledged Solomon son of David as king a second time, anointing him before the LORD to be ruler.” (1 Chron 29:22).
But there was a third and more common usage of the term anointing. It was simply a means of preparing for the day or for blessing a guest, to help him feel good. Today we have many hair preparations; oil was the thing for those days. In a general instruction we find Solomon writing, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favours what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.” (Eccles 9:7,8). In Jesus' day that practice continued for we find Jesus making reference to it: “You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.” (Lk 7:46).
So, to summarise, oil was poured over the head to consecrate or set apart priests and kings in Israel . They were anointed for a task. In the New Testament we find references to the Messiah or the Christ and both terms simply mean ‘the anointed one' or the one sent for a task. The more general use was to bless a guest at a meal to honour them and make them feel good.
Thus now, we see David saying that the Lord anoints his head with oil. Now whether this was after Samuel had anointed him or it was a prophetic insight into what was to come, we don't know, but in the context of the banquet he has just referred to, it is like he says, the Lord makes me special by anointing me as His honoured guest. It may be that he has a sense of being called out to God to be used by Him (especially if it is after Samuel's anointing) but even if it is only the former usage, then we see David having a strong understanding of the wonder of his relationship with the Lord. He is an honoured guest.
Dare we feel that, because in reality we are more than that! The New Testament declares that we are children of God (1 Jn 3:1). We are more than guests; we are part of the family. We don't just know the Lord's presence on special occasions; we know it all the time, for He actually indwells us by His Spirit. Anointing oil was a symbolic sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon a person to enable them to be who they were called to be (see the 1 Sam 16:12 ,13 reference above). We have been indwelt by the Spirit to enable us to be what we are called to be, children of God! How wonderful! Rejoice in the wonder of that.
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 13
Meditation Title: Overflowing Blessings
Psa 23:5c my cup overflows.
How easy it would be to just dash past these three words, dealing with them in the bigger verse, but they speak loudly to us and so we must reflect upon them. We live in a world where the enemy's activities have been rampant, working through the media and through the crusading atheists to downplay faith and marginalise it. For many believers, therefore, their faith is something that is kept in private, and it is a struggle to hold it in the face of the godless and materialistic world that surrounds them. Some churches isolate themselves and carry on their religious activities in splendid isolation so, yes, Sunday morning worship may be great but once the believer leaves the church building it is back into the secular world and faith is put away for another week. Underneath this minority feeling there is within many a nagging doubt about God. Why doesn't He turn up, why doesn't He bless us to that we will be great and glorious in the world? We actually hold a mentality that is minimalistic. What is the least that can happen to show that I am still a Christian and still have faith?
And then these three words burst in on us – my cup overflows. David is at a banquet with the Lord who has anointed him as His honoured guest and now he says, ‘my cup overflows'. The thought of our cup overflowing, for us possibly conjures up a picture of carelessly pouring water into the cup to make tea or coffee, but here it is a picture of abundant provision. The Lord doesn't just pour him a half a cupful; He pours and pours until it overflows the cup. David is telling us that in his life as a sheep, his shepherd provides abundantly for him, even in the face of the enemy who is watching, indeed perhaps because the enemy is watching.
When you are next reading through the Gospels, observe Jesus' ministry and think which word describes it – skimpy or abundant? I think it was abundant. There was an abundance of teaching, an abundance of healings and an abundance of miracles. In many of our churches we work on skimpy! How brief a service can we get away with, how brief the worship, how brief a sermon can we have, how little can we get away with to show that we are still believers? If your church has a prayer meeting, how is attendance described? Skimpy or abundant? I suspect in many churches it is skimpy. We are too busy or too tired to pray.
I remember in the days of the blessing that was poured out during what we called the Toronto Blessing, the prayer meeting was packed because God was there. So do we have ‘skimpy' because God is not there or is God not there because we are skimpy? David didn't have church meetings, he just sung and worshipped on the hillside with his sheep, but his heart was full. He considered that all he had was the abundant provision of God, and the abundance stirred his heart so that he wrote and sung songs and he had a strength and boldness to take on all uncircumcised Philistines!
David's faith had an almost childlike naivety about it. When he turned up at the battlefield where Goliath was holding the field, we find, “David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel ? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (1 Sam 17:26) but when he older brother, Eliab, rebuked him he asked, “Now what have I done? Can't I even speak?” (v.29)
For David who lived in the abundance of God's provision, it wasn't a problem: “David said to Saul, "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:34-37) This Philistine was no different from a lion or a bear, just another enemy for God to deal with! Do you see David's mentality? God provides in abundance. Not just a pat on the back and encouraging words to make us feel nice, but the power and the ability to do the works of God. Yes there IS the pat on the back and the encouraging words – in abundance for those with ears to hear – but those are only to encourage us on to do the works of God – in abundance!
When David said his cup overflowed, he meant that he knew the abundance of God's provision for any and every aspect of his life. As a shepherd who spent his life out on the hillside, he wasn't able to enter into the spiritual life of the community but that didn't stop him receiving of the goodness of God in abundance. Why? It was all a heart thing! Remember he is described in Scripture as a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22 , 1 Sam 13:14 ). His heart yearned with God's heart; he wanted to know the Lord more and more. He reached out for the Lord and the Lord met him, appointed and anointed him. Thus he knew the abundance of God's provision. Get rid of the ‘skimpy attitude' and be content with nothing less than the abundant provision of God to do abundantly the works of God. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: IShepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 14
Meditation Title: A Blessed Life
Psa 23:6a Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
There are two words that stand out to me from this verse, and they may not be the ones you think! They are' surely' and ‘will'. They speak of the confidence that David had and, in comparison to what I observe often in the church today, I suspect that it is an unusual confidence. Yes, on a Sunday morning at the end of a good service, I am sure that there are many Christians who would declare that they are sure of God's goodness and love, but half way through the week, it may be something quite different. And then on a bad day or a bad week, when all the problems of the world seem to be falling on us, how many of us can declare this same confidence?
The two commodities that David is so sure about are goodness and love, and they are things that he clearly experiences and knows about. Again, may I ask the question, how many of us are confident that God is a good God and everything He does is good and so everything we receive from Him comes in a wrapper of goodness? The same question might be asked about love. As I said above, on a good Sunday morning we may be confident about God's love for us, but on a grey day when the worries of the world have been dumped on us by the enemy, are we still so confident? And I don't mean that we are just able to quote John 3:16,17 but that we know it as a deep reality?
But then see what David says about these two commodities: they will follow him – be with him, remain with him, stay with him – all the days of his life, i.e. for ever! Every single day, not just some! On a black Monday or a Friday the thirteenth, they will still be with him. Why? Because the Lord is with Him, his Shepherd who is there overseeing his life at all times. There is a sense about this verse that really can only be summed up by the word ‘abundance'. Goodness and love are his in abundance and will be there every single day for him.
Now perhaps there is a bigger over-arching question that we should ask: how many of us (and yes, this has echoes of yesterday's meditation) live on a minimalistic or skimpy faith? How many of us, in reality, believe God is going to give us only the bare minimum? How many of us, I wonder, believe that God will only give us more if we work hard for it? Well, let's do a brief study on that word abundance as it appears in the New Testament. “How much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:17 ) Compared with the way sin flourished when it came into the world through Adam, like a rampant virus or evil prolific weed, God's provision of grace and righteousness for us when we have entered His kingdom, is so much more prolific; it is abundant. There is more than enough of it to totally set us free from the old life and keep us going in the new one. There's more!.
“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 1:14) That abundant provision was not just some theoretical or theological detached issue; it was something real that Paul had personally experienced. It was grace to save him, faith to send him, and love to hold him in his new life. But it is not only Paul; some of the other letter writers of the New Testament, expected God's blessing on His people in abundance: “ Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” (Jude 1:2) There it is! Mercy, peace and love, says Jude, all in abundance. Peter speaks similarly: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” (1 Pet 1:2) and then in his second letter adds the reason for it: “ Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Pet 1:2). He doesn't expect us to have just a little bit of grace and peace but grace and peace in abundance, i.e. lots of it! And it all comes through knowing Jesus, the daily experience.
Now Jesus taught something that was very significant: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” (Mt 13:12 ) and in case we missed it the first time, Matthew repeats it later in his Gospel: “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 25:29) What is he describing? Essentially faith which, the New Testament teaches, comes through hearing God's word (Rom 10:17 ). When he hear it and receive it, believing it, it stirs something within us and faith is generated. Once we have some, it grows – in abundance! Faith releases the blessing of God: “So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Gal 3:9) So when faith is generated in us in abundance, it releases the blessing of God in us in abundance.
We've seen it described above: goodness, love, grace, righteousness, faith, mercy, and peace. Now just read back over that list. Those are the things the New Testament tells us that we have IN ABUNDANCE and they all come through the goodness and love of God. Those two things are primary characteristics of the Lord, and all the other things are expressions of them – and they come from Him in great measure. So if you are someone who thinks his life is ‘half empty', realise that it is not; it is not even just half full – it is full right up. David's cup was overflowing and he had an assurance of God's free-flowing blessing on his life, for ever. May we too have that same confidence!
|Series Theme: Shepherd Psalm Meditations|
Meditation No. 15
Meditation Title: Holy Communion
Psa 23:6b and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
For the person of shallow thought, there is a picture here that may convey total boredom! “I wouldn't want to live the rest of my life in a church building,” might come this response. Well actually, no, neither would I! But is that what it means? In David's day the house of the Lord would have referred to the Tabernacle and then in Solomon's day it would have referred to the Temple. Indeed Jesus referred to Herod's Temple in his own day as his “Father's house” (Jn 2:16, Lk 19:46). Jesus also referred back to David's day and referred to the Tabernacle as “the house of God” (Mt 12:4). But Jesus also referred to heaven as his “Father's house” (Jn 14:2). So, the “house of the Lord” can mean the physical building that was either the Tabernacle or the Temple , or heaven.
Now the thing that was important about this ‘house' was not its structure but who dwelt in it. There is an ironic verse in Matthew 24: “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” (Mt 24:1) The disciples were excited by the splendour of this Temple built by Herod, but the truth was that the presence of God had just walked out of it! The presence of God is very significant in the history of the house of God. It filled the tabernacle on its completion (Ex 40:34) and it filled the Temple on its completion (1 Kings 8:10,11). In Ezekiel there is the terrible picture conveyed of the glory of the Lord gradually departing from the Temple (Ezek 9:3, 10:18,19, 11:22,23) The Temple had been for the dwelling of God on earth, as a meeting place between He and His people yet, as His people had departed from Him, so He departed from them and from the Temple.
Yet in David's time, when he speaks of dwelling in God's house for ever, he simply means that he will dwell in God's presence for ever. For him, being in God's presence was the all-important issue. Yes, in his day, that presence was associated with the Tabernacle and so that is probably what he meant, but again, realise it wasn't the structure that was important, it was God Himself. How many great and mighty cathedrals are there around the world, ‘built to the glory of God' but which attract attention NOT because they are where the presence of God is manifest, but because of their great architecture? Church buildings are only important in as much as they provide a central meeting place for the people of God. They are no more special than that. It is the presence of the Lord Himself that is all important.
I wonder how many churches wouldn't be able to tell if the presence of God was there or not? Oh yes, the presence of God is everywhere in one sense, but usually when the Bible refers to it, it means the manifest presence of God, God making His presence known. So let's ask the question again: how many churches know the presence of God made manifest today? Let's not talk about great singing or great liturgy for you can have both without God. You can even have great oratory without God, but in how many churches is there a clear encounter with the Living Presence who comes in power and revelation changing lives week by week?
In another psalm David wrote, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psa 16:11) He anticipated the presence of the Lord being a truly joyful experience, and again, “Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” (Psa 21:6). He had a security in the knowledge that he could be in God's presence, “you uphold me and set me in your presence forever, (Psa 41:12) which is the same as he has in Psalm 23. When he sins, his greatest fear is that he will be put out of God's presence: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psa 51:11).
The end product, if we may put it like that, for this sheep looked after by the great Shepherd, is that he will live with Him in His presence for ever. In that is security, in that is blessing. He wants for nothing else! I wonder if you and I take the presence of the Lord for granted? Of course today His presence dwells within us in the form of His own Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 3:16 , 6:19 , 2 Cor 6:16 etc.), but how much of His presence are we aware of? Do we take time to be still and know that He is God? (Psa 46:10).
Yes, David knew the Lord as his shepherd, as the one who provided for him, the one who made him lie down to rest, the one who led him beside quiet waters to restore his soul. He knew Him as the one who walked with him through the dark times, comforting him. He knew Him as the one who invited him as an honoured guest to banquet with him, even as his enemies looked on, the one who blessed him and poured out blessings in abundance on him so that he had an assurance of goodness and love to come for the rest of his life – and all this came from the presence of the Shepherd, the Lord. No wonder he relished the wonder of dwelling in God's presence for ever. So should we! Hallelujah!
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever .