Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Psalm 23 - The Righteous One's experience of the leadings of the Shepherd.

After the conflict of the preceding Psalm, and its bright glimpse of triumph, we might have thought that such an ode as we find in Psalm 24 wouild have immediately followed, leading us to survey the scenes of victory anticipated by the sufferer.

Instead, we suddenly find ourselves in the quiet peace of the quietest valley that imagination could paint; where is seen One walking by his shepherd's side singing - the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not lack.

The arrangement seems intentional; the soothing after the exciting, the stillness of the still waters after the fury of the tempest, the calm of rural peace before the engrossing and enrapturing of the Mighty One's dominion.

It is like the pause of Milton's angel -
"As one who in his journey bates at noon,
Though bent on speed, so here the Archangel paused,
Between the world destroyed and world restored."

And, besides, it is most suitable that between the conflict finished successfully in man's behalf and the glorious issues of that conflict, as seen from the throne of dominion, there should interpose a view of that state of soul toward the Father in which the Head and his members pass through their wilderness.

The Church has so exclusively (we might say) applied this Psalm to herself, as almost to forget that her shepherd, that Great Shepherd, once needed it and was glad to sue it. The Lamb, now in the midst of the throne ready to lead us to its living fountains of water, was once led along by his Father.

He said to his disciples, yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me (John 16:32).  Was not the burden of his song - the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not lack (v1)? When he said, John 10:14,15, I know my sheep and am known by mine, as the Father knows me, was he not saying: I lead you as my Father leads me?

Try every clause, and every syllable will be found applicable not to David alone, but to David's son, to the Church and to the Church's Head. If v1 sings, I shall not lack, it is just a continuance of the testimony of Moses in Deut 2:87, the Lord your God - knows your walking through the wilderness these forty years, and has been with you, you have lacked nothing. Christ and his Church together review their wilderness days and praise the Lord. The song of the Lamb is not less complete than that of Moses.

The occasional retreat to the Sea of Galilee, and desert places, and the Mount of Olives, furnished Christ with many such seasons as v2 celebates: he makes me lie down on pastures of tender grass. His saints know so well that it is his intent to do this in their case, that the Song of Songs asks not: do you make your flock rest at noon? but only, "where?"

As the Lord of the Ark of the covenant (Numbers 10:33) sought out for Israel a place to rest, so did the Father for his true Israel - that Prince with God - giving him refreshing hours amid his sorrow; as it is written, "He is at my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore did my heart rejoice" (Acts 2:25)

In temptation seasons, or after sore conflicts with man's unbelief, the Lord "restored his soul" (v3); that is revived it with cordials, even as he does his people after such seasons, and after times of battle with their own unbelief.

When in the hour of trouble and darkness he cried: what shall I say? the Father "let him in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake" glorifying his own name in his Son as we read in John 12:27.

It was not once only (though especially as the Garden and the Cross drew near) that hsi soul was in the valey of death-shade (v4). But he passed all in safety; even when he came to that thick gloom of Calvary.

He who led Him through will never leave one of his disciples to faint there. The rod and staff that slew the bear and lion, made David confident against Goliath; so do we obtain confidence from knwoing how our Shepherd has already found safe way through wolves and perils.

In v5, the table and the oil and the cup might be illustrated in Christ's case by the day of his baptism, the shining forth of his glory, by such a miracle as Lazarus' resurrection, the light of the Transfiguration scene, as well as by the meat to eat which the world did not know, and the rejoicing in spirit as he thought upon the Father's will - in which all blessings the sheep still share from time to time, getting occasional exaltations, and moments of joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Even those scene of woe, the essence of whose anguish is expressed in Psalm 22, did not make the Master doubt that "goodness and mercy will follow him" til he reached his home, his Father's house, with its many rooms.

Shall any member doubt his persevering to the end? Loved to the end with the love that first loved him, til he becomes a guest forever in his Father's house?

What is the House of the Lord, the true Bethel, where the ladder is set between heaven and earth? The Tabernacle was a Type. The antitype Christ spoke when leaving his few sheep in the wilderness and amid wolves, he said: in my Father's house are many rooms (John 14:1,2). It is New Jerusalem.

He is gone to the right hand of the Father to gather in his elect. Then at length to raise up their bodies in glory, that they may enter into the full enjoyment of that House in the kingdom prepared for the blessed of his Father.

Fear not, then, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom - and if so, you must be kept for it; goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, bringing up the rear of the camp, and leaving no straggler to perish.

It will be then that every sheep of his pasture will fully know and use the words of thsi Psalm, which sets forth with inimitable simplicity - The Righteous One's experience of the leadings of the Shepherd.

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