Psalm 23 is the most well-known psalm there is. People know it by heart. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard someone sing it before (which is appropriate because it’s a song, but also a bit odd because people don’t really do that anymore). It’s a great source of hope and comfort for many people.
But I’ll let you guys in on something: I don’t particularly care for Psalm 23. It’s not that I dislike Psalm 23. It’s just that I can’t think of a time it’s ever moved me greatly. I can take it or leave it. I’ve yet to reach a point in my life where Psalm 23 speaks to me, but I’m glad it’s there if I ever do desperately need it.
I’m not saying this to belittle the hope and peace anyone gets from this scripture. Hope is hope. You should get it wherever you can and hold onto it. And what I think about something shouldn’t affect the experiences you’ve had. If Psalm 23 was there for you in some dark or tough time, I say cling to it and shout its praises.
Everything in Psalm 23 points to peace and comfort. Green is a very calming color, and green pastures make us think of more rural settings where everything is slow and usually quiet. And the waters are described as “still.” They aren’t rushing or roaring; they’re perfectly still. David says that he isn’t afraid simply because God’s there. The rod and staff indicate that God will help and protect him. David says that God blesses him, even when he’s surrounded by his enemies, and he knows that those blessings will always be with him.
It’s a series of lovely scenes. First peace then blessings then prosperity.
David was a great man of God. He wasn’t perfect in any sense, but he followed after God with all of his heart. He made some bad decisions. He was forced to deal with some serious consequences. He sang songs of love to God when everything was going well and sang songs of anger to God when he was upset with how his life was going.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
That’s us. That is each and every child of God. We’re on cloud nine and worshipping when it’s all going well and we see God’s movement in our lives. And when we’re down and out, we turn away from Him. We fall, we falter, and we reach up for God’s hand even when we know we don’t deserve it.
The closeness we see between God and David isn’t only for God and David. It’s special, yes, because everyone’s relationship with God is unique and individual. But there’s nothing stopping us from reaching that same level of intimacy with God. Even if we can’t express it as well as David does in Psalm 23, we can surely feel it in our hearts and souls. The only things that can hinder us from doing so are the things we allow to stop us.
Look at Psalm 23 again. This time, look specifically at the verbs. To begin with, they’re in present tense. David isn’t talking about the past or talking exclusively about the future. He’s talking about the here and now.
God is a very present God. We talk about the past – what He did, where He brought us from. We talk about the future and all the grand plans He has for us. But it feels like we never talk about the present, and I think it’s because a lot of times, the present isn’t that great. There are bills to pay and decisions to make and disagreements and trials. Oh, it may be better than our past, but it’s not nearly as good as our future. Or maybe it’s not quite as good as the past and we’re looking forward to the next mountaintop. What David is showing us here is that it doesn’t matter what our present situation is like. God is still God. If it’s grim or if it’s great, God wants to go through it with us, and He wants to bless us at this very moment in time.
The second thing we notice about the verbs in Psalm 23 is that they are active. The verbs are strong and they’re certainly happening. David doesn’t doubt what God’s doing or that He’s doing anything. He knows that God’s up to something, that He’s working in David’s life. Even if it didn’t seem like it, David knew it was happening.
The third thing we notice about the verbs is that God is usually the subject in front of them. God’s the one moving and acting here. David does something every now and then and an inanimate object will serve as a subject occasionally, but it’s mostly God. David shows us that this tranquil state he’s reached, this mound of blessings he has, is due to God. He shows us that it’s not about him or his victories or his deeds, but all of it, every last bit of it, is about God.
I’m sure when David wrote Psalm 23 that he didn’t expect it to be published and be handing out hope to people centuries later. He meant it as a song of worship, a song he would use to glorify God. He probably didn’t care what came of it so long as it made God smile and showed God’s power. And no matter how anyone feels about it, I think we can all agree that it certainly does both of those things.
By Carrie Prevette