Psalm 23 Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
But why do we have to go through this valley? Didn’t Jesus suffer enough for our sins? Yes, He did. But the only way you can make a horse drink is to make him thirsty. Will you feel a need to pray to God, if everything you wanted was given to you? Will you feel a need for His angels, if you didn’t occasionally suffer loss? Will you want to drink of God’s eternal life, if life here was so much fun? No! The path of righteousness-Jesus’ righteousness-must lead through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s only when we meet death that we will be able to be with our Lord forever. That’s why Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better far.” The only way to heaven is through the valley of the shadow of death on the pathway of Christ’s righteousness. It is a move of pure mercy for our Lord to take us down the valley of the shadow of death.
But what gives us comfort on this pathway? The rod and staff of God. The rod is used by the shepherd to fight off the wild animals. And the staff is used to help guide the sheep. This is, once again, the Word of God. Only the Word of God will fight off the demons, with their temptations. He instructs me by His word and directs me through my conscience and by His will. Only the staff of God will assure us that God is still protecting us through this veil of tears. All of God’s people realize that they are prone to go astray like lost sheep. Although God may allow His people to fall into sin, He will not allow them to lie still in it. Only God’s word will guide us out of sin and to Christ and His righteousness. Why does God mercifully lead us on this pathway? Because He is our merciful Lord and Savior. All that He has done for me was not done because I deserved His favor, but only for His name’s sake, or for the sake of His word, or because He was fulfilling His promises, or for His own glory, or to benefit His people. The name of God will, therefore, be my strong tower, and assures me that He, who has led me and fed me, all through my life, will not leave me as I near the end.
Verse 5 says…..
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
There is a story in Daniel chapter five about a Babylonian king by the name of Belshazzar, whose kingdom was about to be overrun by the armies of the Medes and Persians. Their armies were right outside the gates of the city. Do you know what he decided to do in the face of this disaster? He decided to have a banquet. He either underestimated his enemy or overestimated his abilities. His action was one of either arrogance or ignorance. That very night God wrote his fate down on the wall of his palace; He wrote, “Your kingdom will fall.”
Therefore, this psalm might surprise us by the turn it takes. You would think that while going through the valley of death and facing Satan that God would erect a wall or some form of protection around His servant. But instead, the Psalmists writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Is this arrogance? Not at all. Why? Because we are to put on our Armour through our mouths. Remember, that throughout this psalm, God compares listening to the Word of God, to eating. So, when you eat from the Word of God by listening to it, it makes you stronger and better prepared to fight against the Devil. Before Jesus fought the Devil in the wilderness, He spent His life studying the scriptures, enabling Him to fight those fights. Thank God, Jesus did His homework! If He hadn’t defeated the Devil and lost instead, then we would be on our way to Hell. But thanks be to God, He fully partook of God’s word and defeated the Devil.
God has prepared a great diet for us to eat, to protect us against the Devil’s attacks. We have been provided with a smorgasbord of God’s word, that all of us have easy access to. Isn’t that a great thing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if every war could be won without any danger, care, trouble, and work; we could conquer our enemies by doing nothing more than just sitting at a table, dining and being happily content? In this psalm, God’s man wants to indicate the great and wonderful power of the precious Word. Through God’s word, I have a feeling of rich comfort in my heart, despite my guilty conscience, despite sin, fear and the terror of death. If I live by the word, I become so courageous and invincible, outwardly, that none of my enemies can prevail against me. His word gives me strength when I am in the presence of my enemies so that when they rage and rant violently, I feel more at ease than when I am sitting at a table and have all that my heart desires. Eating and drinking means believing and clinging firmly to the Word. It’s through that Word that God anoints our head with oil and fills our cups to overflowing. In the Old Testament, Oil was used in times of joy and celebration. It smelled and felt good.
Priests and Kings were customarily anointed with it. When the Jews had their festivals and wished to be happy, they would anoint or sprinkle themselves with precious oils. I thought that He would have put armor on me, placed a helmet on my head, a sword in my hand, and warned me to be cautious and to pay special attention to the business at hand. Instead, He places me at a table and prepares a special meal for me; He anoints my head with oil as if, instead of going to do battle, I was on my way to a party or a dance. And so, if I may want anything now, He fills my cup to overflowing, so that at once I may get happy and get drunk, not with wine, but with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us not only courageous and bold but also, so secure and happy that we can get drunk with a great and boundless joy. As Ephesians 5:18 says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” The apostles were this type of warrior, and on the day of Pentecost, they stood up in Jerusalem against the command of the emperor, not being intoxicated with wine, but with the Holy Spirit.
And now we come to the last verse, which says, …..
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
There are many people today, who call themselves Christians, which would look at this verse as a sign of arrogance. They would say, “How can anyone know where they will go when they die? All we can have is just a vague hope that someday we may end up getting there; maybe after a few hundred years of suffering in some netherworld.” It makes me wonder how they can speak this psalm or why they would speak it.
There is the most wonderful word in this verse-“MERCY.” It does not mean the same as love or grace, and it means even more than what we commonly believe “mercy” to mean. It carries with it a sense of carrying out a responsibility and fulfilling an obligation. For example, when a person looks after his or her parents he or she is fulfilling a sense of duty or obligation. The Lord has an obligation toward us; not that He owes us for anything that we have done. No! He has an obligation to live up to His name as a merciful God. Since He is a faithful God who keeps his promises, and a loving God, He has an obligation to his own name to do what He has promised to do.
Out of pure grace, God has promised to us:
(1 John 1:7) The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sins.
(Romans 8:28) In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.
(John 11:25) I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.
(John 14:6) The way to eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ.
God has promised great things to us. He has promised that Jesus has paid for all our sins. He has promised that all things will work out for our good. He has promised those who believe in Him, an eternity in heaven. He has never made a promise that He didn’t keep.
Is it arrogance or presumptuous to say with David that I will surely dwell in the house of the Lord forever? Is the promise of heaven made to only a few special saints, throughout history? By no means! Jesus died for the sins of the world. He promises those who believe in Him that they will live again to be with Jesus. To doubt that, and to say something like this, “I might make it, but I’m not sure,” is the same as questioning God’s mercy. It isn’t presumptuous to believe God’s promises. It is called God given faith. He has an obligation to fulfill His promises as our merciful Lord. With Paul then, we can say, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For 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, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Have you noticed the one repeating theme throughout this psalm? What is it? Isn’t it the importance of the Word of God? By it, our Shepherd gives us nourishment through the message of Christ. In it we find comfort in life’s trials and tribulations. And in the message of Christ, our Good Shepherd, we find eternal life. Therefore, we can say with David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Amen.