Psalm 23: Beyond Sentimentalism

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #9 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

I don’t like sentimentalism when it comes to faith or religion. I’m not particularly drawn to schmaltzy illustrations the pull on heartstrings without substantive truth at the core. I’m not unmoved by a heartwarming story, or a heroic tale. I am not unmoved by pain or beauty. But I am skeptical of emotional manipulations. So I’ve had to overcome a certain negative bias against this psalm. For whatever reason I used to think of this as my grandmother’s psalm. And I looked down on this psalm as if she didn’t have anything to teach me about God and faith, comfort and love. I confess this as a sin of arrogance and pride. For this psalm is not only a sentimental favorite of many. It’s also a beautiful profession and expression of faith.

The psalm begins with a profession of faith. David professes his belief in God’s grace, provision, protection, and mercy. God provides for all his needs, he professes. God leads him to good places of refreshment and rest, peace and comfort. David was a man of war. He was a leader. He was a ruler. He was large and in charge. But he was not above expressing appreciation for peaceful repose, gracious provision, and merciful leadership. This is the first part of this psalm (v. 1-3).

Then comes an expression of faith. David begins talking not about God, but to God. He talks to God about death and fear. He talks with God about enemies and honor. He talks to God about protection and comfort. He talks to God about honor and abundance. In all these conversations, David is telling God that His presence, honor, guidance, and protection sustain and delight him.

David ends with a declaration of confidence and joy of being in God’s presence forever. This is not sentimentality. This is substance, faith, hope, and a recognition of David’s need for and delight in God. This psalm is a worthy prayer for the most gentle and humble grandmother and the greatest and mighty king. I suspect you and I would fall somewhere in the spectrum between those two examples.

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