Church Write-Up: Psalm 23

I did not go to church last Sunday because I attended orientation for a new job. I said that I will listen to the sermon and read the Sunday school notes and write a blog post about them. I listened to the sermon and read the Sunday school notes, but I do not feel like blogging about them. But here is my post about the Wednesday Bible study that I attend.

The study today was about Psalm 23. Here are some items:

A. Psalm 23 is probably not David’s reflections about his time as a boy shepherding sheep in the green meadows, for the meadows were not green in Bethlehem, a dry and arid place. It may have been written when David was on the run from his son Absalom. Absalom killed his half-brother Amnon for raping Absalom’s sister Tamar. Ordinarily, those in and near Jerusalem would bring their cases to King David, but Absalom preempted that by judging the cases himself at Jerusalem’s gates, alienating people from David and attracting them to himself. David wrote a psalm about God’s provision when it appeared that he had nothing. David had lost the throne, which he possessed by God’s promise. A lady read in her study Bible that David courageously backed down from a conflict with Absalom for the sake of others, for a direct battle with Absalom would have been bloody; David abandons his throne and his land out of love for his son and his people.

B. God possesses all things and provides for people through means: through government, the economy, and workers. But our portion as God’s people is also God himself. God has given himself to us. And, when we are in God’s word, God’s word is our desire (Psalm 119).

C. V. 2: The Judean countryside was dry and arid, but there were oases that had water. Shepherds would lead their sheep to these oases. Still waters were essential because sheep could drown in rapidly moving water, since they did not know any better. Similarly, David, on the run from Absalom, was looking for an oasis, both literally and figuratively. He undoubtedly needed a place that had water in a dry countryside, but he also sought a place of safety and rest.

D. V. 3: God as shepherd is like the ultimate GPS. God directs us on where to go and how to get there. Similarly, sheep were trained to know and to respond to their shepherd’s specific voice. God’s word is what guides us, not merely some vague mysterious urging that can coincide with rationalization. Eve herself could have rationalized that God was the source of the forbidden fruit so it must not be bad, coming from God, but she was wrong.

E. God values the sheep and seeks them out because he values them. God also acts for his name’s sake, which refers to his reputation. As the nations hear about God’s reputation as shepherd, provider, and guide, they may be encouraged to learn more.

F. V. 4: The shadow of death refers to utter darkness. A lady read in her study Bible that darkness coincides with something being secret or closed, or a person being blinded. The pastor referred to a friend who described a dark veil in his heart between wanting to believe and where his heart actually was; I identify with that.

G. The rod and the staff in v. 4 does not refer to the staff of a pilgrim on his journey, but the shepherd’s rod protecting and guiding, sometimes with a poke or a jab. This brought to mind my reading of Exodus that morning: God in Exodus 4 rebuked Moses for offering all these excuses not to go to Egypt to deliver Israel. Sometimes, a rebuke is necessary to motivate us into action.

H. The pastor said that God is not like Father Time, waiting at the end of the journey to greet us with outstretched arms. Rather, God is with us in the journey, calming either the storms or the child in the midst of the storms.

I. There is scholarly debate about whether the Psalmist in v. 5 sticks with the shepherd metaphor or switches to a new metaphor, that of a host providing for his guest at the banquet. According to the shepherd interpretation, God as shepherd guides his sheep to the best pasturage land (“table”), especially in the hot summer, and protects them from their enemies, who look on but are too fearful to attack. The oil of anointing is to heal the wounds of the sheep and to keep insects out of them. According to the banquet interpretation, people are in a hostile country, eating from the banquet as their enemies look hungrily on. The anointing oil is so that the guests smell nice and do not alienate fellow guests through rustic odor. The cup runs over because the host keeps the cup of the guest filled.

J. V. 6: God’s love and mercy follow David, even as he flees from Absalom. David still longs to return to God’s sanctuary, where God is especially present; David desires the assurance of God’s presence in Jerusalem, where God promises to meet God’s people.

K. The pastor drew a distinction between two Greek words for life. Bios refers to biological life and physical sustenance and survival; from it we get the term biology. Zoe is life in God’s love, covenant, and grace, from this we get the term zoology. I did not do an exhaustive word study to evaluate the pastor’s claim, but I looked at lexica and the occurrence of the terms in the New Testament. Bios largely has a this-worldly sense: it can refer to physical survival but also the goods that one possesses in this life. Zoe, too, can occasionally refer to physical life in the here and now in the New Testament (Luke 16:25; I Corinthians 15:19), but it is the term that is used for eternal life or life in relationship with God; when discussing eternal life, the New Testament uses zoe, not bios.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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