Jan 17th: Psalms 23 and 24

Things will be slightly truncated for the next few days. Why? Well, life just has its way of keeping you on your toes, and occasionally there are more important things going on than keeping a detailed blog going through the Bible readings you have done that day. Fortunately, Psalms 23 and 24 are both quite short so that probably won’t be that noticeable this evening.

Psalm 23 is without doubt among the most well-known of the psalms. Verse 1’s “The Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not want” is quite possibly Hollywood’s stock phrase for use when a Christian character finds themself in between a rock and a hard place. And Psalm 23 teaches us the sufficiency and reliability of God – He is our shepherd, so we shall not want. What other gods or idols could make that claim? Does a love for money leave one satisfied with enough? Does a love for health and beauty leave one satisified with life? Or a lust after sexual liaisons leave one satisified with ‘love’?

The only source of true satisfaction, as Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), is in a deep and meaningful relationship with God. In fact, this idea is very much in verse 1, because “the Lord” is our English rendering of the covenantal name of God so emphatically revealed to Moses during the Exodus. So true satisfcation is found in relationship with God. What does this look like? In verses 2 and 3, the picture is one of the Shepherd providing good rest, nourishment and direction to his flock. Jesus sums it up rather well, as he has a habit of doing:

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Matthew 6 verses 31 to 33

Put your relationship with God first, the rest follows. This isn’t some sort of prosperity gospel call, though. I think the most genuinely thankful Christians I have ever met were a poverty-stricken community in the Peruvian Andes. They had very little in the way of material things, and enough food to get by, but their joy and satisfaction in that was utterly complete – because they valued the blessing of their relationship with God above everything else.

Verse 4 speaks of the certain protection we have in our relationship with God as we go through tough times. As life-threatening as the valley may be, the certain presence of the covenant God with his people is a source of comfort. “I am who I am”, God said to Moses at the not-burning bush (Exodus 3 verse 14), which I am reliably informed carries the idea of presence. How could Moses lead the people through the trials of the Exodus and in the desert? “I am who I am” – God was with him. And so it is for every believer – “I fear no danger, for you are with me” (verse 4).

Verse 5 looks at our difficult situations from a different angle. In verse 4, walking through the valley was possible because of God’s presence. In verse 5, God provides for us in our troubled situations – such as when enemies breathing down our necks. We know from Scripture that Jesus is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1 verse 3); there is not an atom in the universe that is outside of his control or not upheld by him. And so does this Jesus not also uphold and sustain his people, even in the midst of great trials and difficulties? Consider his invitation to his followers:

Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

Matthew 6 verses 25 and 2

And so we come to the psalm’s culmination in verse 6 – wherein we see the assurance of blessing in the life of the believer, both now and to come. David contrasts the real life-threatening dangers of verses 4 and 5 with the real delights of God’s protection to his people – it is God’s goodness and faithful love that envelop his people, not the clutches of death or wicked enemies. But David’s final destination, and ours, is to “dwell in the house of the Lord” – to live in the rooms that Jesus is preparing for his people (John 14 verses 2 and 3). But it’s all very well and good for David to be this sure of his place – but what about feeble old me over here? Where is my assurance?

It takes its root in verse 1, where “The Lord is my shepherd”. As Jesus says:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. […]

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10 verses 11 […], 14 and 15

Our assurance is in who we know God to be and what we know God to have done. This is especially in the sacrificial death and righteous life of Jesus, the good shepherd.

Psalm 24, an altogether different ‘beast’ from Psalm 23, actually makes a rather similar point, albeit in a very different way. It starts by making a grand statement of God’s sovereignty: he is the lord and creator of everything (verses 1 and 2). Understanding this complete majesty of God, it is only natural to ask the questions of verse 3: which of us mere mortals could possibly have the right to go into God’s presence?

To qualify, we would need to be like the description in verse 4 – with “clean hands and a pure heart”, and no falsehood about us. It’s a bit like the bar is set at the very top – not one misdeed or un-acted-upon-thought-of-malintent measures up as ‘clean’ or ‘pure’. That definitely rules me out, alongisde pretty much every single other human that has ever lived. But anyone who did meet that standard would be rewarded with blessing and righteousness by God (verse 5).

But verse 6 surprises us a little with David’s assertion that “those who seek the face of the God of Jacob” are in a generation of people who receive the reward of verse 5. How can this be, if none of us can meet the mark ourselves? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is Jesus. He is the one who meets the mark for us. His perfect life of obedience to God satisfies the requirements of God’s law (verse 4) on our behalf; Paul elaborates on this idea of our union to Christ being the source of our righteousness with God throughout Romans 5 to 8.

In verses 7 to 10, we meet David’s cry of praise at the presence of God dwelling among man. This psalm may originally have been written to commemorate the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem – the symbol of his presence among them. But I think it doubly points forward to Jesus too.

In the first case – the King of glory came to that which was his own, and whilst we do see an initial reaction of jubilant crowds crying “hosanna!” at the arrival of their saviour king, ultimately this was only short-lived, and instead of the elation of the psalm, the religious leaders condemned him to death. The irony of that is that this rejection actually fulfilled God’s plan to redeem himself a people through the sacrificial death of his Son, thereby enabling the earlier ‘chunk’ of the psalm to make perfect sense.

And things did not end there; the death led to the resurrection, which led to the ascension, and now we eagerly await the return and the consummation of all things. The King of glory is going to enter again, and this time, the gates will lift up their heads, the doors will rise up – and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

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