76 Sermons on the Old Testament

25 The Twenty-Third Psalm.

The 23rd. Psalm is the one that is best loved and remembered of all the odd 150 psalms that we possess, before mention is made of those which have been brought to light through the recent Dead Sea Scroll discoveries. It is the one that is most concise, most poetic, most inspirational, and this means not only for the Hebrew people, but for all others where the Old Testament is a part of religious heritage.

Twenty - Third Psalm

I am here, Jesus:

The 23rd. Psalm is the one that is best loved and remembered of all the odd 150 psalms that we possess, before mention is made of those which have been brought to light through the recent Dead Sea Scroll discoveries. It is the one that is most concise, most poetic, most inspirational, and this means not only for the Hebrew people, but for all others where the Old Testament is a part of religious heritage.

This 23rd. Psalm is also the one that best represents David and what he means in Old Testament religion. It has been closely associated with him through the ages because he has been the one who more than any other reminds us of the peaceful, bucolic life which was his as shepherd and which many of us seek and have sought but cannot attain because of the vexations, frustrations and turmoil of material existence. It is a dream, an ideal, and some of us have an idea, somewhere in one's mind and heart that, eventually, that ideal will become tangible and that man will at some time lie down and rest, at peace with himself and his God.

This feeling of peace is a perfume which seems to come forth from the words of the Psalms and it owes its fragrance to an absolute and undying faith in God. However in the Old Testment will one find a stronger burning faith in actual life than that which David manifested in his times of woe and affliction, and made possible the fiber of his life and strength which he drew and absorbed through prayer and faith in the Father, and it is the 23rd. Psalm, with its simple, straightforward words, which provides that overwhelming sense of sincerity and links it so irresistibly to David the Shepherd, and to David the King, unafraid of enemy and death alike, because,

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. (23rd. Psalm, verse 4).

This inner feeling that knew the presence of God -- not within David's soul -- but all about and at his side, summarizes more than anything else the great truth of the Hebrew religion, that the God of Israel was alive and present with David, helping him in his trials and seeking to straighten his paths because David had acknowledged Him, and strikes a deep and reverberating chord in the heart of everyone who has faith in the Father and trusts with complete trust that as God was present with David and helped him, so it is with him and that God is close and lighting the way for him to go forward in the march of life.

And as David knew that the soul lives on, because he believed that Saul did communicate with the departed Samuel, and because his faith in God gave him an insight and an assurance of afterlife which lesser believers cannot grasp nor understand: David was convinced that God would welcome him into the other world of life, set a table before him, such as conceived out of his own experiences, and anoint him king of the Jews there as he had been ruler of the Hebrew nation on earth:

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. (23rd. Psalm, verses 5 and 6).

The beauty and inspiration of the 23rd. Psalm then, are incontrovertible and enduring, and I know that you all realize that this is so, but I want you to know more about this psalm. I am going to tell you that the first three stanzas are not of David's pen, but, while they are close to what we feel to be David's feelings, yet they are the product of later ages. These opening stanzas of the Psalm read:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still water. He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, for His name's sake.

No, David did not write this, but we feel that he must have because we think that David must have felt in such a mood many times. Actually, David never could have conceived of God as a shepherd, for the simple reason that he could never imagine God to be in a situation such as he had found himself, and because, to David, God possessed the sublimity and majesty of the creator of the universe. It is only with the prophets that this idea of God and His relationship to Israel became established. It first appears In Isaiah, Chapter 40, verse 11: He shall feed His flock like a shepherd . . . and again In Jeremiah, Chapter 23, verses 3 and 4: And I shall gather the remanant of my flock . . . and I shall set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them.

The three verses of the psalm also reflect the inspiration of Ezekiel, the prophet of the Exile: In Chapter 34, verses 11 - 14 and 15; we read:

For, saith the Lord, Behold, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out . . . and feed them . . . And I will feed them in a good pasture . . . and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel . . . I will feed my flock and cause them to lie down.

How close this is in contents and language, though not in conciseness of style nor rhythm, can very well be seen from the opening stanzas of the 23rd. Psalm: which I have just quoted above.

Now to continue. David is perhaps the outstanding example of the Hebrew who prays the Lord to lead him in the path of righteousness, as he did, for example, in Psalm 5, where verse 8 reads: "Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness." In the 23rd. Psalm, verse 3, however, yet another phrase has been added here which takes us to a later age: "for His Name's sake," and this is something I wish to explain.

It was Ezekiel alone who preached that God would restore the Hebrew exiles from Babylonia, not because of any repentance on the part of Judeans, but because God would not suffer His name to be used as a reproach by Gentiles. Ezekiel saw the pagans scorning the God of Israel because the Hebrews had been defeated and exiled, asking them ironically where was their God who had permitted such a disaster to overtake His people. Hence Ezekiel felt that God would protect His own name (or reputation) and show the pagans His power by restoring to His people what He had taken from them as punishment for sin. There are many expressions of this type in the Book of Ezekiel.

With this, I now want to tell you that I preached the 23rd. psalm during my ministry when in Palestine, with the Divine Love of the Father as the fulfillment of the righteousness sung by the psalmist. This psalm can be interpreted, of course, as it has been, first as the nostalgia for the countryside and its tranquility away from the cams and vexations of city life. It means that longing to be alone with God's creation so as to have a chance to shed from one's soul the crassness of the earth plane and its activities, and in the retreat of nature commune with God and purify one's heart.

But it also has a more spiritual interpretation. The still waters and the green pastures to which the Shepherd leads his flock are the Torah, the books of instruction in God's ways, which have been and still are the essence of the Jewish religion and, as the way to the moral and ethical life, cannot be surpassed. Thus, says the psalmist, the man filled with the spirit of righteousness need not fear death, and while here we do not have any consciousness of a resurrection such as taught by Christianity, yet there is wonderful faith that man's soul survives death and exists in a place prepared for it by the Father. I made mention of this in my teachings, referring as I did to the many mansions of my Father. The psalmist had great spiritual insight when he concluded the psalm with the vital words, " . . . and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

When I taught this psalm, I taught that the green pastures and the still waters were the divine food and drink through which the soul could achieve not merely restoration, but transformation into a divine soul. I preached that the pastures and waters, or food and drink, to which I referred as the bread and waters of eternal life, were really symbolic of the Father's Love, which was available to all those who would partake thereof through sincere and earnest prayer. I preached that not merely purity of soul was involved, enabling man to achieve the human perfection of soul and the highest place in the spiritual heavens, but that when the psalmist wrote:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want;

those words meant that I could have my everlasting fill of His substance -- His Divine Love -- and that my soul could be fed throughout all eternity through and by His Love.

And when he mentioned the preparation of a table in the presence of my enemies and the anointing of "my head with oil," it meant that I was to be the spiritual king, Master of the Celestial Heavens, and that any act against me in material life would not avail and that come what may I would accomplish my mission, which I did when it came into my soul, bringing the Father's Love into the soul of mankind and making available to mankind His Divine Love and life of the soul forever. I did not see in the phrase "in the presence of my enemies," any indication of vengeance for what these might accomplish against me, although I know that such was the intention of the psalmist, against me, although I know that such was the intention of the psalmist, but I could see in it the hope that these enemies would eventually in spirit life understand their mistake and atone for it by seeking the Father's Love and loving him whom they had previously pierced.

Jesus of the Bible
Master of the Celestial Heavens

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