Grace Notes - with Pastor Liz
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I 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 overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. Psalm 23
As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, there are very few times I wish I could bring my whole congregation to a seminary Hebrew class. But studying Psalm 23 just might be one of those times. The layers of the poetry in this psalm come alive when reading or hearing it in its original Hebrew language. This was the language Jesus himself would have learned this psalm in, and I can’t help but think the language of the psalmist inspired Jesus when he proclaimed himself to be the good shepherd.
There are so many lessons that could be gleaned from this psalm that has so poignantly spoken to some of our deepest moments. But I want to highlight something interesting- something you would only learn from the original Hebrew (and, full disclosure, I discovered with the help of many wonderful commentaries and translation tools. I am not fluent in biblical Hebrew!).
This incredibly simply but profound phrase, “You are with me,” is the centerpiece of this psalm. Literally, in the Hebrew, there are 26 words before and 26 words after this phrase. The entire psalm points to the truth that God is, indeed, with us, at the center of our world and our lives. This phrase also marks the change from referring to God to addressing God directly. It is unclear whether or not the poet intended this word count or grammar occurrence to point us to the center. I tend to think the poet, and the Holy Spirit, did.
But this psalm of trust mirrors the hopes of our own hearts, that even though we walk through the darkest valley, the “valley of the shadow of death”, as some learned it, God is a part of our very core. Our perspectives are transformed, our souls are restored, knowing that God is with us.
Shepherding God, you tend to us with comfort and care, and we ask that you continue to grow our trust in you. May we always be assured of your presence, and may we strive to be you presence of joy and life in our world. Amen.