Friday, 18 September 2020

Psalm 23 comes alive with new insight

A Psalm in troubled times

Psalm 23 was the recitation of refuge that I woke to say every night probably hundreds of times in my first term of boarding school, haunted by things only I could see and sounds only I could hear. Such was the menace of my disturbance that the first half of my second term was spent as a day student living with my aunt.

Psalm 23 however is like a rare diamond, which when put up to light has a colour too mesmerising for words, a cut by the craftmanship of divine providence, a clarity in message that is individualised in revelation to those who meditate on it and a carat weight of priceless value.

I say this because just under 5 months ago, I received a revelation that came at a time that I needed to understand how the Lord is my shepherd. With it came a calmness in my soul and an assurance that things would turn out right. Soon, I got a new job in the midst of a pandemic and the way it came about was just too amazing to describe.

Blog - The changing texts of religious meditation

New treasures in old mines

As I was engaged in a conversation this evening, I was persuaded to share my new understanding as a word of comfort. We were communicating by text on WhatsApp as I began to write what I thought I was going to share.

What transpired just blew my mind for as I was writing, some new insight came to me that I had never seen before, unveiling to the eyes of my understanding that it was as if I was now sermonising to both myself and the person I was chatting.

A Psalm of David. [KJV]

1.    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2.    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3.    He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4.    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5.    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6.    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Doing waters and feeling pastures

There are a number of themes running through these 6 verses, repeated over and over again, whilst each successive verse reinforces the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. I have before indicated that if the Lord is my shepherd, by inference, I would be His sheep and that is why we end up at the green pastures where the sheep can feed and the still waters where the sheep can peacefully drink.

I also find that there is the thread of what the shepherd does as a shepherd and for the sheep and what that does for the sheep and how the sheep feel. There is an anthropomorphic quality to these relationships, but please forgive my amateurish attempt at expounding this text.

Finding the recurring themes

Taking each verse, I address the themes.

1.    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Here, what he does is shepherd and by reason of that, I want for nothing.

2.    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Here, he does lead the sheep beside the still waters, a place of peace and refreshing, as the sheep lays in the verdant pastures they feed to their satisfaction unperturbed.

In King James’ English, the -eth suffix denotes a present continuous tense. So, read maketh and continues to make and leadeth as continues to lead. The job of a shepherd when the sheep are about is never left undone at any time.

3.    He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

As he leads the sheep in the right and sure path continuously, for that is what the shepherd does by profession, by duty, and by name. There, you see a form of still waters.

Where he continues to restore the soul bringing comfort, peace and assurance reads like a form of green pastures. An abundance of mental restoration means we are never left exhausted by any situation.

4.    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

The still waters might get turbulent or the green pastures might be exhausted after a time of grazing. This would mean the shepherd has to herd the sheep to new green pastures and still waters.

The sheep are always led by the shepherd and the shepherd knows the many green pastures and still waters all around the wilderness to lead the sheep to, to ensure never want for provision of comfort.

Getting to the next green pastures and still waters might include traversing the valley of the shadow of death where dangers lurk from the sheep straying and brought back into the flock with the rod or where predators are warded off with the staff.

The shepherd, ever vigilant is with the sheep and the sheep should fear no danger or accident as the shepherd is there. In our lives, we also traverse difficulty, adversity, trials, tribulations and negative circumstances. The Lord with us will lead us out of it to new triumphs in life.

5.    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Here we are, having gone through the valley of the shadow of death with the sheep, the new green pastures are a table set before us where our enemies can see but never assail us. The new still waters are the anointing of the head, succouring and empowerment with capacity. We can only thrive for we are in a place of joy.

We have become warriors, celebrating victories over situations, circumstances and issues in life.

6.    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Yet, the table is just a place of transition for there is another possible valley of the shadow of death that the shepherd has to herd the sheep to, where the still waters are now goodness and mercy in all the days of our lives and the green pastures of the final destination is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

At this point, we are no more mere sheep, but people, living and enjoying the blessings of the Lord. Goodness being everything right, good and desirous for wellbeing, health, and a sense of contentment in not wanting for anything. Mercy in that there is no guilt or condemnation, we have been continuously led in the paths of righteousness from verse 3.

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