Unit: Psalms (Part 2)
Theme: Godly Heart
Lesson Text: Psalm 23; Psalm 27
Supplemental Text: Joshua 1:9; Hebrews 11:6, 32-36
Aim: Wait in faith on the Lord; be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_November20_2022.
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By Mark Scott
When we think about being strong and courageous, our minds of course drift to Joshua, the faithful spy and successor of Moses. As he took the baton of leadership from Moses, God reminded him more than once to be strong and courageous in leading Israel (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, and 18). But King David also challenged Israel to be like Joshua—without naming him—and he did so in two very familiar Psalms (23 and 27).
A Heart That Is Strong and Courageous Lacks Nothing
Thanksgiving week is a good time to affirm that many of us lack nothing. We have so much. And beyond that, we have a good God who acts as a shepherd and a gracious host. That is what this most famous of all psalms celebrates. At least three things make this psalm so familiar and popular. First, it pictures God as a shepherd (an image familiar to King David). Second, the psalm is used in all circumstances (including funerals). Finally, the psalm underlines David’s confidence about gaining victory over his enemies and experiencing enjoyment in the presence of God.
The shepherd made sure his sheep lacked nothing. The verbs (makes, leads, refreshes, guides, prepares, and anoints, along with the implied verb, protects) underline the thoroughness of the shepherd to provide. Interpreting the imagery of those verbs demonstrated how the shepherd nourishes, restores, leads, honors, protects, and inspires confidence.
Green pastures are hard to come by in Israel. When the shepherd found such a pasture, he ensured that his sheep would enjoy the rest and nourishment they needed. Rushing waters from vicious rivers or flooded wadis could endanger the sheep. This shepherd ensured his sheep could safely drink and not be washed away in strong currents. Taking the right paths to the next feeding ground mattered in Israel. The darkest valley (i.e., valley of death) was a frightening valley west of Jerusalem. This shepherd led his sheep out of scary places. The rod and staff are the shepherd’s tools to guide the sheep in those paths.
The shepherd of the psalm also is a host. He prepares a table (a most natural result of living in a shame and honor culture that cared deeply about hospitality) and shows the common courtesies of anointing the guest’s head with oil (though David may have been thinking of Samuel anointing him as king) and making sure his cup is always full (another common ancient Near East custom). David existentially felt God’s goodness and love (chesed). This made his desire to be in God’s presence (house of the Lord—tabernacle and/or heaven?) all the greater. Dark valleys, evil, and enemies cannot deter David being strong and courageous for his shepherd.
A Heart That Is Strong and Courageous Is Fearless
In this Psalm, David was fearless over his enemies and his troubles, fearless over his future, and bold enough to ask God for favor. God is not only a good shepherd, but he is also a light and a stronghold (fortified place). David was confident of that, so he was not fearful. In the first verse, two different words are used for fear. The first means “terrible” or “dreadful.” The second (afraid) means “to be in awe” or “to shake.”
David was fearless of his enemies (a form of the word for evil, thus evildoers in the English Standard Version). These enemies were called by other names in the psalm (evildoers, foes, army, and false witnesses). These enemies did everything in their power to destroy David. They advanced against David to devour him. They besieged (pitched a tent against) David. They brought war against David. They spouted malicious accusations (breathed violence) against David.
But David knew his enemies would stumble and fall. His heart would not fail, and David would be confident. Even though his enemies would surround him, David would sacrifice with shouts of joy and sing and make music to the Lord.
David also fearlessly pleaded with God for things (cf. Mark 11:24; James 1:6). More than anything, David wanted to be in God’s presence (dwell in the house of the Lord, gaze on God’s beauty in God’s temple, be sheltered by God in his sacred tent, and secured by him on a rock). To be in God’s presence meant to seek his face. David desired God to be his helper (a form of the name Ezra). He desired not to be forsaken.
The psalm ended similar to how it began—with great confidence in the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (current or future?). David called his people to wait and be strong in the Lord.