Psalm 23—Smash Those Coffee Mugs

Green Pastures and quiet waters and Irish hills all come to mind when I think of Psalm 23. But the reality of this little, oft-quoted gem is far from peaceful, European pastoral scenes. The text juxtaposes images that seem dissonant but have to be held together if we’re going to rightfully understand this text. The first is a shepherd leading a flock of sheep somewhere- somewhere that will be like green pastures and quiet waters, somewhere in which my soul will be restored. The second is the valley of death and surrounded by my enemies (who presumably want me dead). In the world of this Psalmist, these aren’t two different worlds. They are one and the same. Our Shepherd leads us into the most difficult and painful of circumstances AND our Shepherd has promised to bring life to our souls.My mother’s bible has the difficult observation written in its margins: “He often leads us where we do not wish to go.” My mother understood this juxtaposition better than most. She endured a great deal of pain as she watched my Father slowly die. He died well, loving his God, loving his family. But he died young and painfully. My mom leaned heavily into this Shepherd God. She found comfort in the promise that this Shepherd God who led her and her sick husband precisely into this valley surrounded by these devastating enemies, was with her, her son, and her dying husband. And while there were tears, there was also incredible joy. Profound joy. I remember the laughter far more than I remember the tears.

Psalm 23 isn’t about Ireland and Coffeemugs and really kitschy art. It is about the profound promise of God. He is our Shepherd. He leads us. He often will lead us where we do not want to go. But it is a journey leading to one glorious destination: the restoration of our souls and the joy of His presence forever.

Jesus was led by this shepherd into a dark valley- the valley of death. He suffered there. He died there. He died there, in our place, and one glorious result of that death is that we can suffer with hope. We will not die here. Our God has become our Shepherd. He leads us to green pastures. He leads us along quiet waters. He will restore our soul.

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