First, I’m going to give you some background for why I believe it is necessary to address the staggering nature and meaning of God’s promises. Then, I am going to go through Psalm 23 in the light of other Scriptures. I would like everyone to keep in mind throughout that all the promises are made in Christ and ultimately are Christ, even as we are told “Jesus Christ His Son, who is the only true God and eternal life,” and that it is in Christ that all the promises are “Yes and Amen.”
There is an unfortunate problem in America. There are a lot of people who don’t want to warn would-be believers to count the cost of discipleship. They shrink from telling people what Jesus did: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. Anyone who loves father or mother or wife or brother or lands more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Instead, these people interpret God’s promises in ways that appeal to fleshly, carnal desire to varying degrees, from those who think that God promises His people faith healings and multiple Mercedes to those who think that God mostly wants people to try to be moral and good and live a reasonably, nice, American life.) There are a lot of sides to this problem. One of them is that these people are desperate to get “converts” (funny thing in a country where people still think, as of the date of this writing, that 50% or more of the population is “Christian,”) and so they don’t want to scare anyone away. At any rate, it results in all kinds of problems. One of them is that these people who won’t warn would-be believers to count the cost then warn actual believers, who know the potential fleshly danger but have been captivated by the love of God, to “consider the price.” This is a deplorable situation. I could talk about a lot of “whys,” but right now I want to suggest only one: These people either have never seen the worth of Jesus Christ, never been enthralled by the love of God, never seen the reality of His promises, or they have been taught by those before them to think that they don’t really value God above all else, that God isn’t really alone real and worthy and worth-full. By God’s providence I have been protected from this second danger, probably through my fear that I may be tortured or killed for the sake of the Name, which forces me to either believe that God’s love alone is true, worthy of and worth all, or think that it is not and abandon Christ because I’m terrified out of my senses – and, of course, being a Christian who’s actually known His love, I could never do that, so I must believe in the inestimable worth of God and His promises which are the expression of Himself who is Love.
I am going to look at the startling promises in Psalm 23:
YHWH is my Shepherd; I shall not lack. He leads me besides quiet waters. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Yes, 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 comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup flows over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of YHWH forever.
It is my firm belief that God never says more than He means, more, that He always means more than He says. I have chosen Psalm 23 here, because it is well-known and rather short. These promises are scattered throughout Psalms. “YHWH is my portion; I have no good besides You… The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, behold, my heritage is beautiful to me. I have set YHWH ever before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be shaken. My flesh also will dwell securely, for You will not abandon Your holy one to the netherworld nor will You let my flesh see corruption…. You will lead me in the paths of life. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” “But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I will praise You yet more and more…” “The young lions do lack and suffer want, but they who seek YHWH shall be in want of no good thing.” “YHWH God is a sun and shield. YHWH gives grace and glory. From those who trust Him He will withhold no good thing.” As you can see, the verses are countless. These are only a very small portion of them; what I can quote off the top of my head at this precise moment without even struggling to remember. Additionally, that’s just Psalms. If I was looking through Isaiah or the New Testament, it would be a lot more. So, it’s clear, God really wants us to understand something here.
God loves His children immensely. I’m going to quote from John 17 now. “I have given them the glory that You have given Me so that they may be one even as We are one, Father, You in Me and I in them, that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” I’m not going to go into this verse right here, but suffice it to say that it puts all these verses from Psalms in the shade.
So, when it says, “YHWH is my Shepherd. I shall not lack,” it means what it says. Sometimes people think that these promises refer to earthly things, like food or water, an idea which disgusts me frankly; what about all those Christians in Iraqi prisons? You cannot expect me to believe that God loves them any less or is any less pleased with them than He is with wealthy Americans. So, it’s obvious that that’s not what it means. But, then, some people, I think, wonder if it really means anything. Oh, they wouldn’t say that, but a lot of people when they say “spiritual,” they’re thinking things like “hazy, insubstantial, etc.” (I think many of them are not ill-intentioned, but they are reacting against the disgusting position I’ve referenced upon by “spiritualizing” things until they hardly mean anything, and thus ending up in an equally bad place.) I want to fix that, or at least show that it is wrong, so people can catch it, even though they can’t change it. The physical, material, “things that are seen,” are not unreal, but the “things that are unseen,” (not only to the eye but to the intellect and all that is of the carnal man, perceived only be faith) are infinitely more real, eternal. So, God’s children really shall not be in want of any good thing. God showers them with His goodness, and His goodness is absolutely real. He really works all things to the best good of each one of His children – and of His entire world. Psalm 23 shows this beautifully. “He leads me beside quiet waters. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” That’s reality. Obviously, it’s imagery, but the imagery points to a spiritual reality full of freshness, richness, in a word, life. The spiritual reality is desirable; the earthly imagery is a poor shadow of it. In the Song of Songs we read, “He is altogether lovely, wholly desirable.” And He is. Our Shepherd, YHWH, Jesus Christ (see John chapter 10) leads us beside the quiet waters of His love, of knowing Him and rest in Him. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He refreshes and sustains us with His own body, broken on the cross, and His own blood, poured out for us, to save us and bring us back from the dead – “You restore my soul.” “You lead me in the paths of righteousness. For Your Name’s sake.”
“Yes, 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 comfort me.” How marvelous is our God. “The valley of the shadow of death,” – the place of horror and defeat, where a death, not necessarily of the body, clings round one like the thick mists on the forest floor, where no star looks down between the narrow, mighty cliffs, and mind and soul reel from it. Even there, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” – You who are YHWH, the Self-Existent One whose character is the reason for Your being and whose being is the reason for Your character, who acts only from Yourself and is effected only by Your own will and choice; You who are my Shepherd, who laid down Your life for me and took it up again, for You have authority both to lay it down and to take it up again, who will never flee from protecting me but calls me by name and knows me perfectly, who will lead me gently by quiet, flowing streams and through rich pastures, who will cradle me near Your heart. “You are with me.” To see Jesus is to know that all goodness is found in Him, the Prophet, Priest, and Sacrifice, the Warrior, Judge, and King. To be so close to Him, under the protection of His rod and staff, is to know no harm even when assailed all around by harm, physical, emotional, and spiritual. I will fear no evil, for You Are. That is to say, I will fear no evil, for, essentially, only YHWH is, as that Name says. Even the fiercest, darkest, deadliest evil isn’t Real but is a falling from reality, is what created reality becomes when it falls away from Him who alone exists by Himself and alone can give existence, reality, or goodness. He is good, because that it is His Name – YHWH, I AM WHO AM – and the valley of the shadow of death cannot change that, and by virtue of His changeless goodness towards me as my Shepherd, “You are with me.” It takes me to this, “Your lovingkindness is better than life; therefore I will praise you,” and this, “Oh, give thanks to YHWH for He is good; His mercies endure forever.”
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup flows over.” I love how, in its unblushing declaration of God’s unfailing and surpassing-all goodness towards His people Psalm 23 is so full of rich imagery. This first line makes me think of the ending of Psalm 17 where the Psalmist says, “Fill them with Your treasure, but as for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness, I will be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” In the presence of my enemies, God prepares a table before me. Joy. Goodness. Fullness. Complete satisfaction. Ultimately, this is what God yearns to give each and every one of His children, and nothing can prevent Him. Nothing except my – or, for you, your – own rejection and, in the end, that will be shown to be a very poor obstacle for “They will graze beside the road and find pasture on every barren hill.” Remember the river that flows through the salt sea and turns it all fresh and living in Ezekiel, the river that flowed out from under the altar and grew wider and wider as it went? “You anoint my head with oil.” Oil means richness of joy, but it might also allude to kingship and priesthood, which is the special privilege of all redeemed man, for which God originally made man. Kingship, to reign with God and under God, and priesthood, to look upon God’s face and represent Him to creation and creation to Him – for we, remaining creatures of dust, are nonetheless mystically joined to Christ and members of His body. In Revelations we read, “For You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign upon the earth,” and also, “He who overcomes I will give to sit with Me on My throne just as I have overcome and sit with My Father on His throne,” (I’ll try to write another article on this sometime). It is all sheer gift, the eternal life which is the gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, and makes all the treasures and goods of earth seem pale shadows, as indeed they are. God, being the Lord of Goodness, Supreme Goodness, to behold is sheer goodness and to be with is sheer goodness. For then, it says, “My cup flows over.” Super abundance of joy and fullness, more goodness and life that we could ever want or contain. How lavishly God pours out blessing on His children! “He who believes in Me, from within him shall flow rivers of living water.”
God is my God. It is all written in the singular. God relates to each one of us personally and individually; all these wonders and blessings are not something abstract or generally held – they are the personal inheritance of whoever is a child of God, born not of carnal desire or the will of man or nature, but of God, of the wind that blows where it wishes but no man knows from where it comes or where it goes, of the Spirit.
“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of YHWH forever.” Surely. What could be more than goodness and mercy – God, Himself, and salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son for we who deserve only death? All the days of my life. This is not something that comes and goes. This staggering fullness of Divine blessing is always. “I shall dwell in the house of YHWH forever.” By the once-for-all sacrifice of the body of the Lord Jesus I have been made right with God and an adopted child of the Father, and so I dwell in the house of YHWH from now and – forever!
May the “I” of the Psalmist be each one of us.
Copyright 2017 Raina Nightingale