15 November 2012

pastures and valleys [part I]

Quiet Stream Near Rush
{image credit: Doug Wertman}
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters;
he restores my soul.


A little while ago, Jared and I took a brief course on reading and interpreting the Bible (of course, I was sick for two of the classes so that's not very helpful). Anyway, the aspect I appreciated most was when we'd spend the first part of class going over a particular passage of Scripture, word by word, thinking hard about what each little part of the passage meant. I realized that I am in the habit of reading quickly and looking for the "big picture." Not a bad thing, but it can cause me to skim over nuance. That is where a slow, painstaking approach is more beneficial.

So I decided to read Psalm 23 that way and see what I found. Here's a summary of my scribblings on the first few verses. More coming later.


"shepherd": someone who cares for a group. He's been given a responsibility to protect them and so he devotes himself to that job.

"the Lord": the most powerful, the unchanging, the all-seeing one. It's strange that he would become a shepherd, a servant, but there it is-- our shepherd is no underling, he's the king.

"my": I am in the flock. I have someone wholly devoted to my welfare. Also, the shepherd isn't just watching out for someone else's belongings. "We are the sheep of his pasture." He brought us into the fold and is going to guard us henceforth.

"I": this psalm is remarkably personal. The Lord cares for me, not a faceless mass of sheep. He knows my frame and ministers to my soul.

"want": a need or lack. The shepherd supplies all that is necessary.

"shall": an expression of certainty. I am confident that the Lord-- the shepherd-- will meet my needs. No question here about his attentiveness to his flock.

"green pastures": places of abundance, beauty, and safety.

"lie down": we don't just pass on through. We can rest. The shepherd is watching over the flock and we can let go of any fears.

"makes me": this could mean makes it possible (because of his care, I can rest) or makes it obligatory (after all, we stupid sheep sometimes don't want to rest and insist on struggling rather than trusting the shepherd!).

"still waters": life-giving refreshment without storms or waterfalls to alarm us. We can drink as much water as we need. It's a place of renewal.

"leads": we don't know how to get there on our own. I must follow the Lord to find the water and the pasture.

"restores my soul": our weary hearts need renewal. Life inevitably wears away not only our bodies, but our inward selves; they need restoration so they can be healthy once again. The shepherd resupplies the faith and joy we lost along the roadside.

"He": the focus is ultimately less on the places where the shepherd takes us, than on the shepherd himself. All along he has been the real source of rest, peace, and refreshment. He spoke to us through those gives but their power came from him. The Lord restores us as he draws us to himself.

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