Summary: The 23rd Psalm is one of the most beloved in all of Scriptures, especially of those with a few miles on the odometer of life. I suspect that the older a person gets the more he falls in love with the psalm. I think I know why!
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Family Classics Series
The Blessings of A Long Life
Introduction: The 23rd Psalm is one of the most beloved in all of Scriptures, especially of those with a few miles on the odometer of life. I suspect that the older a person gets the more he falls in love with the psalm. I think I know why!
There are some things in life that are only fully appreciated with a few years under your belt. Longfellow, the poet, expressed it like this:
Age is opportunity no less Than youth itself, though in another dress
And as the evening twilight fades away, The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 4.)
Though one’s eyes may dim with the years, some things become clearer. That’s part of the reason Scripture can say that “gray hair is a crown of splendor” (Prov. 16:31). Or why the Lord would tell Abraham that he would live to a “good old age” (Gen 15:15)
The words were written by David, the second king of ancient Israel and the greatest of that nation’s leaders. All future leaders would be measured by the standard of David. He was a shepherd, warrior, and musician. Bible students speculate about when David might have penned these immortal words. Perhaps, he composed the words as a young shepherd, watching his father’s flocks. He could have written the poem as a musician serving in the court of King Saul. Maybe they reflected his sense of gratitude for the Lord’s protection during one of the difficult periods of his life. He had many. Early in his life, David became a wanted man when the King became jealous of his popularity. Later while he was king, his own son launched a rebellion that forced David to flee for his life.
But I tend to think that David wrote these words much later—in old age. He died in his eighties after a prolonged period of infirmity. I tend to think that because the words express some of the lessons that only those who lived a long life can really know and know well.
These words are a poem or song. Ancient Hebrew poems were shaped a bit different than what we are familiar with. But it does have a definite poetic form. I think it is written in style common to many Bible poems. The six simple verses form an intentional repeated pattern. The first and the last verses express parallel ideas as do the second and the next to the last. The heart of the poem comes in the middle verses. The ideas of the song go 1-2-3-3-2-1. It ends where it began.
The Psalm talks of sheep and shepherds. But it is obviously about something more profound. It is about a God who knows us, cares about us, and never, ever abandons us, no matter what! Most of all, I think these words express what those who have lived long and well know by personal experience—what the years teach us about God. God is faithful all the time! In His Presence; In his Provision; and In his Protection.
Note how verses 1 and 6 express this. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. … 6Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” God is faithful in his presence!
God will never abandon us, no matter what. It takes years to learn that. Only a man or woman who has been through some hard times really understands that. Before that we are tempted to think that God might not be capable of seeing us through hard times. Younger folk are more prone to give up on faith when difficulty comes, but most older folk have learned better.
James probably had some gray hair when he wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brother when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (1:1-4).
Isaiah 46:4 says, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
No matter your age, you deserve to know—God is faithful and dependable. God is faithful when I need him; when I know I need him and even when I don’t know how much I need him.
Listen to how the second and next to the last sections express it. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. …5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” God is faithful in his provision.