Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Classic Psalm

There are some things we learn when we're young and we don't really know what they mean.  For example, I remember having no idea what "allegiance" was when I learned the pledge of allegiance* when I was four or five.  But it was something you said, and it didn't cross my mind to ask. Learning and saying it was just a part of growing up and going to school.

Similarly, I remember learning "The Lord's Prayer", and not really getting what "trespasses" were (I learned the King James Version). I knew trespassing meant you were somewhere you weren't allowed to me, so I guessed it mean if someone trespassed in your house, you had to forgive them? But that didn't seem right. But I just said it anyway.  Later on, I learned what it really meant, and why some people say 'debt' and 'debtors', to try to give a better reason.  Basically, it's what Jesus says in Luke 6:37 "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

Psalm 23, along with John 3:16 and a few others, is absolutely one of the best known Bible verses, at least in my culture. 

I remember, growing up, hearing it quoted and people saying, "It's such a comfort!" I didn't get that.  See, I heard that first line "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want", and I felt grumpy.  My mom was always telling me everything good in life was "a want, not a need", and I'd had to learn the Ten Commandments filled with all those "Thou shalt not"s... so here I was hearing, "The LORD is your shepherd, so it's a sin to want anything at all!" And I did want stuff. I didn't want to feel guilty, think I'm sinning, if I want a chocolate bar or a stuffed toy for Christmas. So this made me grumpy.  How is that a comfort at all?

Later on, I grew up and learned "want" is a synonym for "lack", and what that really means is "God takes care of me; I will not lack anything that I need!"  Oh. Well, that is comforting.

You may have understood that the first time you heard it, but regardless, this is one of those Psalms we hear so often it can loose meaning. So join me, and let's read Psalm 23 again, with fresh eyes.

The LORD is my shepherd;
         I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
         He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
         He leads me in the paths of righteousness
         For His name’s sake. 

Yea, 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. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
         You anoint my head with oil;
         My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
         All the days of my life;
         And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

 Ahhh. Yes, now I see the comfort!  I've heard so much commentary, so much depth of interpretation on these 6 verses, I don't want to cloud them with my own meager lines. If you want to know more, go deeper, ask God to be your Teacher. He will surely respond!

*For my non-American readers, the Pledge of Allegiance is a patriotic pledge said daily in most American schools, with hand over heart, to the US flag.

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