A Psalm for the Living

Have you read the 23rd Psalm lately? Okay, you may have looked at the words, but have you really thought about it? Have you ever become curious enough to dig into it to understand some of its life applications? Let’s read it (KJV), then look at it line-by-line.

IMG_2642The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The LORD is my shepherd. The Shepherd is never in doubt as to who belongs to him. And nothing can take us from Him (Romans 8:35-39).

I shall not want. I will have no lack in my life. All my needs (not talking about desires) will be met.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. I will live in peace. I will not have strife in my life for I trust the Shepherd.

He leadeth me beside the still waters. Through the Shepherd’s guidance, I will stay out of trouble and be safe.

He restoreth my soul. If I go astray, disobey, or sin, the Shepherd restores our relationship when I repent.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The gentle Shepherd doesn’t push – He LEADS me in respectable and conscientious living which honors Him.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Even though I go through rough and dangerous times, even though I have severe trials and hardships, I will not fear because the Shepherd is by my side watching over me. The Shepherd allows hard times in my life for my benefit. If everything went peachy-smooth all the time, I would never learn to trust him.

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The Shepherd uses the staff to rescue, guide, and correct me; the rod is used for my discipline and to beat off predators and enemies.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. In the middle of both earthly conflict and spiritual battles, the Shepherd provides everything I need for both this life and in the next life. He never leaves me and shows me how to gain the victory. But I have to watch and listen.

Thou anointest my head with oil. The Shepherd has chosen me for a specific purpose or function, and promised that He will enable me and empower me to fulfill that purpose.

My cup runneth over. My life is complete. I am filled with blessings, friends, joy, and with confidence in the Shepherd that He will do all that He said He would.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. I will live righteously, and will show mercy to all those around me so that they, too, can learn to live for the Lord.

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. I will live for the Lord, worship Him, and praise Him my entire earthly life, then throughout eternity.

After some study, I identified something that seemed to be missing from the Psalm.DSCN9839B There is an unspoken condition that is inferred after “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Many “sheep” who belong to the True Shepherd may not be enjoying all the benefits that this Psalm lists because they don’t understand or may not be aware of this unspoken condition. What is it?

Please read this next line several times: We must continually stay close to the shepherd and obey him. When sheep wander off, they can get hurt or killed because the shepherd can neither protect nor provide for them. The shepherd trains the sheep to follow him. He does not drive his sheep; he leads them. Therefore, the sheep must watch and stay close. As the sheep cooperate, all the shepherd’s love, care, and benefits are available to the sheep. But we must stay close to Him.

If we have truthfully accepted the leadership of the Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in our lives, this Psalm is applicable for us while we live! Then, if we have stayed close to the Shepherd, the Psalm is ever more comforting at the end of our earthly life. And the totality of its promises is guaranteed in heaven.

The Older Brother

I have heard the story of the Prodigal Son many times and something always seems to be missing. Maybe it’s the culture; I don’t know. Can you explain it?  [The story is found in Luke 15:11-32. Please read it.]

     I appreciated the reader’s question, for the main point is normally overlooked.

     As a background, Jesus taught according to the culture of the day and often used common illustrations from everyday life. For example, He spoke of rocks (rock of our salvation); water (living water); and food (bread of life). He also used parables to teach lessons, such as the sower and the seed (accepting or rejecting truth); the narrow path to heavenly rewards and the broad path to destruction (eternal life in heaven or hell); the mustard seed, and the weeds among the wheat (kingdom of heaven); and of course, forgiveness and acceptance (the prodigal son).

     The parable of the Prodigal Son has also been called many things; among them: The Lost Son, The Prodigal Father, and Restoration. But here are three cultural concepts to help us understand the story.

     Note: “Pharisees” in this article refer to only hypocritical Pharisees – not to all Pharisees.

  1. Normally a child receives an inheritance at a parent’s death. To ask for ourPICT0306B inheritance prior to death reveals a rebellious, selfish, and/or an immature character. It also reveals disdain for the parents. Dr. Ken Bailey lived and taught in the Middle East for over forty years and said that for a person to ask for his inheritance prematurely was tantamount to wishing his father to be dead; and the request would never have been granted. This suggests that the story may not have been historical; but, as was common with rabbinical teaching, was a spontaneous story or narrative to address a specific situation.
  2. Pigs were considered the lowest of unclean animal, and it was unthinkable for a Jew to live with and feed them.
  3. The father represents God and forgiveness, while the older brother portrays hypocritical rejection.

     Keep in mind that Jesus told this story in response to the Pharisees when they accused Him of eating with sinners. Therefore, we realize that the younger son represented the sinners (tax collectors, harlots, beggars, etc.) whom the Pharisees rejected, while the older brother represented the self-righteous folk (including some Pharisees, well-to-do Rabbis, Sadducees, et.al.) who were accosting Jesus.

     Let’s speed through Jesus’ word-picture: the young man obtains and squanders his wealth; a regional famine hits the land; the man sinks into the slough of despair and eats pigs’ food; he is rejected by his former comrades; in humility he comes to his senses and asks to return home; the father prepares a feast as he would for an honored guest; the son is restored to full son-ship; and the older brother has a conniption.

     Now we slow down. These Pharisees were not interested in the redemption of the lower classes—either into society or into heaven. They were interested only in promoting their own importance. This is validated in Matthew 23:23 where the Pharisees made sure that people knew they tithed even on vegetable seeds, but they didn’t live up to the Mosaic Law. They were overtly concerned with justice and equity, but they were blind to God’s desires and the people’s needs.

     With the Pharisees’ focus on their own status and prestige, they could not understand when Jesus told them the most important commandment was to love the Lord God with all our heart (which incorporated the first four Commandments), or the second most important which was to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (which incorporated the last six Commandments).

     The climax of the parable is that the older brother (representing ungodlyPICT0556 Pharisees) was angry when the father (representing God) forgave and honored a brother (representing low-class sinners) who had totally “blown it” in life. The brother thought that the young kid should be punished! 

     The main point is that punishment had already taken place, repentance had been made, and the brother needed reconciliation to family and society. It was the older brother who needed to change his outlook on life. 

     Conclusion: let us humbly forgive, accept, and restore those who have repented. Let’s never reject those who do not match up to our status in life.