When I finally progressed to jogging on the highway instead of the cow pasture (explained in that previous post), the first time I took nearly twice as long as I should have to jog the same distance. Ordinarily, jogging on a firm surface is easier because your feet push off and the momentum is with you instead of all sinking down into the dirt, sand, mud, or grass of the softer surfaces. That was not what slowed me down. What kept distracting me were the things I had passed every day for three years and never seen before.
In a car, you usually see the road, the signs, and possible problems—other cars, animals both domesticated and wild, pedestrians, potholes, discarded bottles, trash bags that fell off other vehicles, boards that might have nails in them, pieces of blown tires. You must look for those things if you want to avoid an accident.
But that morning as I jogged slowly by I found out for the first time that a tiny creek ran through a four foot diameter culvert under the road just past the neighbor by the woods. I discovered a path through those same woods that led to a ramshackle cabin a hundred feet off the road, nearly hidden by the ramrod straight pines. I discovered that another neighbor had a second driveway, much smaller, that led to a shed behind the house. Then as I approached the bridge over the New River, I found a path snaking off to its side, probably used by fishermen looking for bait, or kids swimming in the shallows. All those things had been there the whole time I had, but it was as if I had discovered a brand new place.
That is exactly how I felt after our ladies’ class studied Psalm 23. I almost skipped that one—everyone knows it. We all memorized it as children. If there is a Bible passage in a movie, it is apt to be that one. Why should we include that in what I hoped to be a study of brand new material for most of us? Because it was brand new material, too. I had gotten out of the speeding vehicle passing through it, and had jogged at a slower pace, seeing the details for the first time. We are going to talk about what I found this time and next.
Psalm 23 is classified as a Psalm of Trust. I doubt that David, Ethan, Asaph, Solomon, Heman, the sons of Korah, Moses, or any other of the writers of the psalms actually made a decision to write a particular type of psalm and then followed some carefully laid out pattern. No, the elements and patterns have been analyzed by scholars thousands of years removed from them, but it is interesting that they do follow something of a pattern. For instance, Psalms of Trust (some call them Psalms of Confidence [in God]) tend to view God in metaphorical terms. He is variously called a shield, a fortress, a rock, a shelter, a master [of slaves], and in this familiar psalm a shepherd.
But here is the part I always missed—the metaphor in these psalms is apt to change abruptly, as it does here in verse 5. Suddenly God is depicted as a host. Some of the older commentators do not want to see this change, but please tell me, when was the last time you saw a sheep eating at a table or drinking out of a cup? No, the shepherd feeds the sheep in verse 2: he makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters. Sheep eat grass and drink water, and the shepherd has fed them exactly what they want and need. Now it is the host’s turn to feed his friend in a brand new metaphor.
And notice this, the host in verses 5 and 6 is not just an acquaintance fulfilling the obligations of hospitality in the Eastern tradition. He is a close friend. He takes you into his house not just for a meal but to “dwell forever.” Indeed the Hebrew word for “house” often implies “household.” That last verse could easily and correctly be translated “and I will remain in the family of the Lord forever.” We’re not talking about being a pet sheep in the family, but a human member of the family, someone who eats at the table with the rest of the family, the truest sign of acceptance in that culture.
See what you miss when you just breeze through an old familiar passage without a second thought? You need to get out of the car and walk through it, paying attention to every detail and thinking about every nuance. That’s how you learn new things. And this new thing is nothing compared to the one I will show you tomorrow.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, Eph 2:19.