Psalm 23 is well-known and beloved by many people. This beautiful Old Testament poem is meaningful to people of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith. It’s a poem that helps preserve language from a bygone era. Its six verses are often memorized and recited from the King James Version of the Bible:
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 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.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
(Here is a PDF of the Psalm in three different translations. Download it and use it in your personal devotion time.)
What part of the Psalm speaks to you today? This is the kind of poetry that you can read day after day and hear something new spoken to your heart.
Two parts of this Psalm have been especially meaningful to me in recent weeks. First, the pivot at verse 4. Did you notice that the Psalmist goes from talking about God to talking to God?
That’s a poignant lesson for me. I spend a lot of time talking about God, but that’s meaningless if I haven’t spent time talking to (or with) God.
Second, the Psalm says God prepares a table for me where I least want to sit—in the presence of my enemies. This is a poem of good news and restoration (green pastures, still waters, paths of righteousness, etc.), so what’s this talk about enemies?
The Psalmist envisions a table where enemies can sit together in peace. This tells me the love of God is so abundant that God can restore me individually, and in relationship with others.
I wonder, who are my enemies? Are there people who consider me an enemy? Have I treated people with political views different from my own as if they are my enemy? As I awaken more to the need for social justice, do I see oppressors as enemies? Have I thought of people who practice other religions as enemies? (On that note, isn’t it interesting that this Psalm is beloved by people of all three of the major monotheistic faiths?)
What would it be like to sit at God’s table with those I have treated as enemies, and with those who have regarded me as an enemy?
I serve in The United Methodist Church. One of my favorite moments in our weekly worship service is when I offer the sacrament of Holy Communion to every.single.person. We have an open table because we recognize that it is God’s table, not ours.
It’s the kind of table that God has prepared for those who would otherwise be enemies.
It is the table that brings us together to receive God’s own self, that we might be changed by our experience. As we are changed, sacramental moment by sacramental moment, the world is changed, too.
My prayer, and my hope, is that ultimately everything will be renewed and we will all sit at God’s table together. As we sit there, formerly enemies, we will understand God’s abundance—truly understand it—as our heads are anointed with oil and our cup runs over.
What about you? Do you love the 23rd Psalm? What is it saying to you? Do you talk to/with God at least as much as you talk about God? Do you know who considers you an enemy? What would it be like to sit at the table with them? Tell me about it in the comments, in an email, or on Facebook.
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