Thursday, October 31, 2013

Psalm 23:1 – The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want

Ps 23:1 - The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Psalm 23 is a psalm by King David. 

How do we handle such a statement in Scripture? This is NOT a promise by God, nor was it a declaration by God.  It is a declaration by a man; NOT just any man, but one declared by God as the man after His own heart, and he was a shepherd when young, who looked after his father’s flock.

It is important we have some knowledge of the Bible characters if we want to more appropriately, understand words, prayers, exhortations, exaltation or declaration they made, in Scripture. 

Firstly, there is no way one can have such understanding, unless he goes through big blocks of Scripture, chapters, books, and even the entire Bible.  Many of us spend time reading novels and story books or go see movies, but we do NOT read the various stories in the Bible or the accounts in Scripture; we have to do that, we cannot just pluck singular verses from Scripture, and then claim this and that.  I am NOT saying we cannot memorise and quote singular verses; I am saying we have to have the correct understanding of the verses, and for that, it is necessary for us, where appropriate, to have the context in which the verses are found, even who (the Bible characters) were involved, what kind of persons they were, even their stations in life, even some understanding of the culture involved may be necessary. 

Secondly, we can start off, by reading the accounts in Scripture like we are reading a novel or story book, but over time, we must advance to be studying the accounts/stories.  The Bible is the “manufacturer’s manual” for us to maneuver through our Christian life, and to gain understanding of God and His ways, and to found our hope, faith, and love, solidly.  We must NOT neglect the Bible.

Thirdly, we can learn from the study and exegesis of contemporary  disciples (generally us, scholars, pastors, teachers, ministers and preachers, and strongly word-grounded believers), but we need to be careful to know, if possible, the theological slant of these individuals, and, most importantly to verify what we heard or read against the Word.  Be like the Bereans who checked the Apostle Paul’s teachings against the Word (Acts 17:11).

I have read against this Psalm 23, a writing that said to the tune of “we have to bear in mind that such words, prayers and declarations of individuals in Bible are like those of any believers we have (today) who could be praying incorrectly, asking for the inappropriate things, and having the wrong understanding of things”.  This is a wrong way of teaching people on how to handle the many words, prayers, exaltation and exhortation by characters in Scripture.  Scripture was inspired by God, and God allowed what were written for purposes known to Him; we have to believe that writings inconsistent with His purposes were excluded. 

Because things happened a long time ago, and so, there are things we do NOT understand, since often much details were NOT recorded; we sometimes, unless given revelation by the Spirit of God, have to admit ignorance.  We can fill in the gap, in exposition of Biblical accounts, but the fundamental rules must include (1) we state our assumptions, and (2) whatever were assumed, they must NOT contradict in any way what were already unambiguous in Scripture.

The LORD is my shepherd
As said in the preamble above, this Psalm 23 was by King David, a man after God’s own heart, and he was a shepherd when he was young; and this verse 1 is a declaration by David.

David said that the LORD was his shepherd.  The word “LORD” as in the OT, refers to Yahweh or Jehovah or the Father God.  It was NOT referring to the Lord, Jesus, in particular.  In the NT, we find that the Lord, Jesus, Himself, spoke about Himself as being the good shepherd (John 10:14 - "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--. 

From the doctrine of Trinity or Triune God, we can understand that Father God is God (the Father), Jesus is God (the Son), and the Holy Spirit is God (the Spirit of God or Spirit of Christ).  And so, it is alright to say the LORD is my shepherd, or the Lord is my shepherd  (Similarly, what is said of the Lord, Jesus, concerning He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, also applies to the LORD or God the Father or simply, God).

Generally, the Lord, Jesus, was NOT manifest in the OT time; although my belief is that certain people of the OT were given revelation of the Lord (Jesus), including His coming to be the Saviour and Lord. In my separate exegesis of Psalm 16, I talked about it, Psalm 16, as being David’s profession of faith in the LORD, as well as his profession of faith in the Lord, Jesus; you can read it here: Ps 16 – King David’s profession of faith.

What is significant is that the same shepherd-sheep metaphor was used in both OT and NT to depict our walk with God. 

Shepherd-sheep metaphor
Verse 1 tells us one of the most fundamental ways the Christian life is meant to proceed!  Because God is our shepherd, we shall NOT be in want.  Expressed in this way, “The LORD (or Lord) is my shepherd, I shall NOT be in want”, the understanding is to be that, it is NOT about the one who leads us or our leader, has given us outright, everything we would desire in our life.  We have everything we need, NOT as we have them, outright, as in they are in our hands, but we have them IN CHRIST JESUS/LORD.

We have to understand that the shepherd gave nothing of the sort that the sheep could be now on their own able to find the green pastures or the quiet waters (as said of, in verse 2).  Figuratively speaking, no maps were given or no (electronic) chips were given that the sheep could press some buttons, and they would be automatically be moved to the green pastures and quiet waters; or on the press of a button, be transformed with an impregnable suit.  The sheep with a shepherd has them, green pastures and quiet waters, protection, and all; she has them IN THE SHEPHERD.  The sheep has them BY FOLLOWING THE SHEPHERD.

Mean what you say
Too often, we say thing, or make statement, but we do NOT mean what we say.  Or at times, this is expressed as “We do NOT walk the talk!” 

Since “The LORD (or Lord) is my shepherd, …” was expressed here, by David, who was a man after God’s own heart, and who was a shepherd of his father’s flock when he (David) was young, we can safely say in making that declaration, David knew fully well what he was declaring, and he meant what he said.

Do you mean what you say, when you call Jesus, Lord?  I have read writings that said, that Jesus, He is Lord, you and I, do NOT necessarily have to hold him to be our Lord!  One hyper grace community even said that when we enter into salvation, we are holding Jesus to be our Saviour only, Lordship NOT included; this is clearly apostate! 

When you enter into salvation, Jesus is your Lord and Saviour.  It is prevalent, across times, even perhaps, more so, in present times, people don’t mean what they say:  We (and that, I include myself) call Jesus, Lord, but we often, do NOT obey; we call our superiors at our work, boss, but we do NOT take their instructions and wishes at heart, and we call our parents, father and mother, but we do NOT try hard to listen to them, or care and provide for them when they have aged.  Disobedience is so prevalent; rebellion is so widespread.  It is NOT just we worship other gods, besides God, that, that is rebellion; disobedience is rebellion, and rebellion epitomizes evil. 

When we call Jesus, Lord, do we mean what we say?  When we say He is our Shepherd, do we mean what we say?  King David knew what he meant when he used the word, “LORD”, and he knew what he meant when he said the LORD was his Shepherd.  Yes, we can take Ps 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in a powerful statement of what we can expect in our lives as a believer – “I shall NOT be in want”. If the statement to you, has been coming in as “nonsense declaration” or “it doesn’t apply at all – “it does NOT work””, it is NOT because David was a "half-baked" believer who knew NOT the LORD and prayed or declared “nonsense” or wrong thing.  It is that, perhaps, you have NOT been walking your declaration – that He is your Lord and He is your Shepherd; or you lack the understanding of what is represented in the shepherd-sheep metaphor (like what it was explained above - NOT only we got to live out {NOT in mere words} our lives holding Him as our Lord and Saviour, it is also that He is leading us, NOT that He had given everything outright that we can lead ourselves, without Him). 

For example, if you have expected much things as being “you having them outright”, things would be “aren’t true” for you, because the metaphor implied more to the opposite – much things given to you, aren’t given you outright, but it is that you have them, IN CHRIST JESUS, and just as the sheep would need to follow the shepherd, you need also to FOLLOW the Shepherd, the Lord or be WITH Him, to avail yourself to them.

“I shall not be in want.” (v1b), is contingent upon your living out your declaration of ”The LORD is my shepherd”.  Mouthing, “Lord, Lord”, does NOT necessarily carry any weight (Matt 7:21-23).  Scripture is clear that mere words are NOT enough (eg. Love in words is NOT enough [1 John 3:18]); all three, the heart, the words, and the actions, must be in agreement, and be in agreement with God or pleasing to God.  When you truly have Jesus as your Lord, and have Him as your shepherd, you can truly be in a position of “I shall NOT be in want”; you will lack nothing you need (or want, if that’s what you prefer to use; for when you are truly following the Shepherd, your want is only (your) need, and your want will NOT be frivolous desires!).

Need always to be in submission
I cannot stress enough that we need always to be in submission to the Lord; we can never be arrived, NOT in this lifetime, anyway.  Micah 6:8 tells us that we are expected to be walking humbly before our God.

Chances are that teachings that promote you to think you are arrived, they are heretic.  All teachings that explode the “I” as in the “ myself”, or “ will do it my way” or “Independently”, and suppress the “O” as in the “Son, Jesus”, “Others, needed, or Others, to be considered”, they are suspect. 

We are ready when the Lord said we are ready; and we can be ready for some assignments, but NEVER ready for all; we need to be submissive to be led by the Shepherd; and in NT time, be led by the Shepherd, by His Spirit (the Holy Spirit), we say.

Of course, we do fail from time to time, but we must repent, and return to the shepherd-sheep relation.  David, for example, did fail: he went independent; he thought he could take things into his own hands when he had become king of Israel and was at the liberty to be resting (from all his hard work of fighting, etc).  We should NEVER (and I do find it hard to do), for a moment, think that we could blind-side the Lord; once we have made that salvation commitment that He is Lord, He is always Lord; you and I, cannot “box Him off”, even for a moment. 

It ever happened to me, concerning business, a brother’s company business (he is the sole owner); when I tried to say the ways of the Lord must be taken into account, I got this reply in my face, “It’s business, you-know!”  Is God only in your church life? Family life?  NOT in your work or business life?!

The Lord, He is the Lord of all, the Lord of all the world, even when some do NOT recognize Him as such; but for all who profess that He is their Lord, then it is He is Lord of all, in all of their lives, personal, family, church, work, and recreation etc.; all of life.

Is there a NT Bible example of one who tried to go independent?  Yes, it is in the Parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11:32), where the younger son wanted to be given outright all that he desired/wanted – his share of inheritance.  The older son was NOT (yet) given outright, his portion; his everything was still under the father who still led the older son, in the parable. 

Some preachers, overly grace ones, talked about the prodigal son as NOT having to repent or acknowledge the error of his ways, and everything became well again for him; it is NOT right.  The son was repentant, acknowledged the error of his ways, and wanted to return to the submission to the father.  In fact, he said he did NOT mind to be as just a hired man under his father, for he said if he returned in submission (like a hired hand), he would NOT be in want, anymore. Now, the older brother was upset with the treatment the younger brother had, on his return, and said that he disobeyed NOT, and was in lack (and he worked hard, too):

Luke 15:29 - But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.

The father replied:
Luke 15:31 - “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

You see, the older brother, according to the father, did have everything, only that the all the things was in the father.

You can look at the Parable of the Return of Prodigal Son from many angles; one angle is this:  the younger son (the prodigal son) no longer wanted to subscribe to “The LORD (FATHER) is my shepherd; I shall not be in want”, but later realized he was wrong, and returned; and the older son did NOT realize enough that he was NOT in want, even though he has held onto “The LORD (FATHER) is my shepherd”.  Both the sons did NOT epitomize the right posture, which is to truly have the Lord as our Shepherd, AND have the faith that the Shepherd, He, would take of all of our needs, in His time.  When it is the right thing, have the faith to ask!

Nothing is outright-meh?!
I am NOT saying that God did NOT and will NOT give what you need.  Indeed, certain “things” were given us, all of us (even non-believers were given something, as men, the pinnacle creation of God).  But it is NOT everything for the rest of our mortal life is given us, outright.  And something is given us, as we go along.  And we are to be possessing the faith to ask, when it is the right thing to ask, and the time to ask.

If you still do NOT get the picture, the exodus (journey) of the Israelites to the Promised Land clearly illustrated this (every believer should know the Exodus; read about it if you don’t, yet).  It is we walk or travel with God, and what we need, He will provide, when the need arises.  Most of the time, it was and is to be like that, although it is possible that He may send the portion for tomorrow, “just for tomorrow”, but NOT to “settle you for good”.

If you still do NOT get it, I give you a plain illustration: God does NOT ordinarily give you your desired multi-million dollars which could settle you for life – so that you work no more, just bask in grace or be carefree or be idling! (Our God is a purposeful God; even His grace is for a purpose; given NOT so that you could idle!)

“God as the shepherd” metaphor points to the shepherd or leader is able and knowing, and the sheep would just follow him, and trust him to, each day, lead them, the sheep, to get what they need for the day (and at times, the next).

When Jesus, in the NT, reiterated this metaphor (in John 10:14 quoted above), He was intent to say He is the best shepherd (good there, is good, absolute); and He ginosko-knows (knowing from personal experiences or know in a personal way) His sheep, and His sheep ginosko-know Him (the sheep, if indeed were His, would know Him, the Lord, in a personal way, and this would include how He deals with them, as they follow Him).  Are you ginosko-knowing the Lord, more and more, by the days?

Do you walk the talk when you declare that the Lord is your Shepherd?  When you are truly regarding the Lord as your Shepherd, do you know and have the faith, that you shall NOT be in want?

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall NOT be in want (Ps 23:1) is a powerful epitomisation of how Christians are to live out their lives.  We are to adopt it; we may struggle, though, at times.  How true, without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Heb 11:6 reads, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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