Though the Christmas season is filled with joy and excitement for many, it isn’t that way for everyone. As I stated in part one of this series, I have been given the honor of speaking at several gatherings recently that recognize this fact. The first was a Hospice Commemoration service, where families who have lost a loved one over this past year gathered to remember family members and friends who have departed this world. These folks came together to support one another in their shared grief and to hear the words of hope that our All-loving God has for us. The other gathering was similar, where the entire community was invited to a ‘Blue Christmas’ service. Again, people were encouraged to recognize the loss and emptiness this season can bring as loved ones are missed. In both I used Psalm 23 as a means of expressing God’s love and care for these tender and hurting hearts.
I’ve broken this blog into smaller parts (knowing how busy we all can be), to allow you, my friends, the opportunity to read each one in its entirety. Each one has attempted to bring to light the personal quality of the relationship God extends to those under His care. Let’s consider the last two verses of this wonderful Psalm today:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)
Once again, please note the personal way David, the author, addresses God. In the first four verses he recognizes the deeply caring relationship the Shepherd has for His sheep.
Moving ahead to verse five, the table being prepared isn’t like what we would call to mind in the West with linen and silverware. The table referenced in the psalm would most likely be a flat area of ground where the shepherd could inspect each sheep individually. If a wound was discovered during this exam, oil would be poured on it to cleanse it and to promote healing. Saying that this is done in the presence of enemies tells us that we are truly safe and secure under the watchful eye of the Great Shepherd! Even when we think we are most vulnerable, the Lord has us protected all the way round.
David concludes his thoughts in verse six by stating the ‘now and not yet’ promises of God: Saying that surely (which might be better translated as always) goodness and love will follow him all his days is living in the realization of God’s promise to never leave or forsake His children. And writing that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever speaks of the eternal promise of heaven for all those whose faith is in the saving power of God. Though the appearance of Jesus on the earth was still many centuries away, David believed that God was going to provide a way for mankind to be with Him forever. Those of us living on the other side of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have seen this promise come to fruition.
According to the NIV Cultural Background Bible, the metaphor in Psalm 23 of a shepherd was a royal one, with connotations of strong leadership but tender care. I can give personal testimony of having received this kind of tender leadership from the Lord. He has met every need I have ever had. As He cares for the sheep in Psalm 23, I can relate in His watch over me.
Because of this, I have learned it’s ok to be a sheep. I know they get the rap of not being very smart animals, but haven’t I displayed a similar lack of sense in many of my thoughts, actions and words? By acknowledging I have some sheep-like tendencies, I therefore must admit that I need a shepherd to guide me. Sheep, like me, will never make it alone.
I need the loving guidance that God freely provides. Only He can fully heal all my hurts. It is Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this month, who is the Great Shepherd. It is His personal touch that leads us to the pastures He has for us and His personal care that reveals His love. He is our comfort, our protector and our Savior. He takes you personally, I invite you to do the same with Him.