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The 23rd Psalm
  Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
  November 8, 2020

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Hello everyone. I hope you are doing very well amid the current state of affairs we are going through - emphasis on the words “Going Through.” Today’s talk is on the wisdom of the 23rd Psalm for times such as these. Remember, God loves you and so do I. In love and lights, Bernadette


Take a deep breath and let go of any concerns. Feel God’s caring Presence.  Jesus said: "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Quiet your body and mind and listen as the Christ Spirit within you now speaks those words directly to you. "Come to me all who labor & are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Turn to God’s Loving presence. Leave your concerns and just bring yourself into God’s presence, knowing that in God there are no concerns, worries or wants.  Go to God and let God lead you to greener pastures to rest beside the still waters.  Go to God and let God restore your Soul.

God has given you the gift of life. Return to God and God will restore the life in you to its original state of perfection and Lead you in paths of righteousness for His name sake. And through the valley of the shadow of death. You have no fear for God is with me.  You are not alone. God’s light is dawning in your Soul revealing to you the best path for you to take at this time so that your cup overflows with goodness and mercy and so that you know that you "Dwell in the house of the Lord forever." And Now, let us continue in a state of peace.  Amen.

Psalm 23

Today we are studying Psalm 23 which is one of the best-known passages of the Bible believed to be written by King David. Bible history tells us that David started out as a shepherd boy who became famous for killing the giant Goliath with a stone thrown with his sling shot. He grew up and became King. The 23rd Psalm expresses his personal experience with God. In it he describes what it feels like to be in right relationship with God, which means to always put God first and to see Spirit as the Creator of the world of matter.  Take a look at the words of the 23rd Psalm.

The 23rd Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my Soul: He leadeth me in the
paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

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.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in
the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

As you read the Psalm, can you tell whose viewpoint it’s written from? It’s written from a sheep’s point of view; as though one of the sheep is considering what life is like as a part of the flock with a shepherd watching over it. To understand the Psalm from a sheep’s point of view we need to know some basics about sheep.

1. Sheep lack a sense of direction and get lost easily even in familiar environments. They aren’t like cats and dogs which can usually find their way home. Can you relate to that?

2. Most animals have a means of defense. They have sharp claws or teeth. They can run fast or have an ability to hide. Some have a keen sense of smell, sight, hearing, or great strength.  Most animals have something. Sheep are defenseless. They don’t even have an angry growl. (BAA) Would that scare anything? Their only protection is their shepherd.

3. Sheep are weak and easily frightened. They only find comfort in the shepherd's presence and the sound of his voice at night.

4.  Other animals lick, scrape and roll in the grass to cleanse themselves but not sheep. Without the shepherd to clean them they would remain dirty.

5.  Sheep can't find food or water by themselves.  If left on their own, they will eat poisonous weeds and die. If one sheep eats poisonous weeds, the others will follow and do the same.

6.  Technically, sheep don't own their own wool. They just produce it. The shepherd owns it.

So, now let’s look at the Psalm line by line.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The words “The Lord,” come from the word Jehovah which means the “I am,” the self-existent Being; He who is and is to come, who inhabits eternity, who has life in and of Himself. This mighty being is 'my' shepherd.  In whom do you trust when you are feeling defenseless and frightened? A parent, best friend, or teacher? As important as these people might be, they are part of the flock too. They are also sheep and therefore they can't take the place of the SHEPHERD. Traveling shepherds often combined their flocks in a common pen at night. You might think it would be a problem to separate the sheep again in the morning but it isn’t. The shepherd simply went to the gate and called out to his flock. His sheep recognize his voice and respond to the sound of his voice. They come to the gate while none of the others move. Shepherds give each sheep a name. He recognizes them individually, just as we recognize each other's faces.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”  Sheep will run over each other as they race away from something that frightens them.  The shepherd corrects the problem by catching a sheep and gently but firmly, forcing it to lie down and feed quietly on the grass in front of its face.  David remembers a time he did this as he says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures." When life gets hectic, we must occasionally be made to lie down and forced to rest.

“He leads me beside the still waters”; Sheep are instinctively afraid of running water. A tired, hot and thirsty sheep will stand and stare at the fast-flowing stream until the shepherd steps in, and with his rod & staff, he loosens a few large stones and builds a dam, stilling the current.  Now, quiet waters immediately attract the sheep.  He has literally 'stilled the waters' so his sheep aren’t afraid to drink the water.

“He restores my Soul.”  Sheep have a bad habit of wandering off. When one sheep wanders off, others will follow and become easy prey. As night approaches, the shepherd counts his sheep and realizing one is missing, he immediately goes out to find and 'restore' that member of his flock. Occasionally, a young sheep gets into a habit of wandering off. When it occurs too often, the shepherd, lifts the lamb, holds it close and abruptly break its leg. He then makes a splint for the broken leg and binds it. He also makes a sling in which he carries the once wayward lamb on his chest and near his heart. Thus, the wayward lamb learns a bitter lesson. It learns to depend completely upon its shepherd during its period of restoration.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness.” There were many paths - some were made by wilderness beasts, some by robbers and armies, even some by the wind. They all looked alike to the sheep. All the paths looked like the real path. The Palestinian shepherd was a master of the art of reading tracks and always led them along the 'right track.' “For his name sake.” The shepherd's reputation was at stake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of death.” This literally translates "The valley of dark shadows or deep darkness." This is referring to the density of trees in the mountain regions that blot out the sun. I am originally from Pennsylvania. In my early twenties, I lived in Virginia with my two young children. When I lived there, I would drive north through the Appalachian Mountains to go home to visit my parents. The trees there are so dense that when you travel on a valley road, it appears dark--at mid-day. In the days before automatic lights, I had to turn my car lights on to see the way home. I was always glad to get off that road before true darkness came because it came with such dense fog that it was impossible to see your hand in from of your face. As a child and in the days before street lights, I remember my daddy getting out and walking in front of the car while mom drove so that we could get home.

“I fear no evil; for thou art with me.” Early in the year flocks grazed in the lowlands, but as the sun melted the high mountain snow, the shepherd would lead his flock to better grazing land along narrow and dangerous paths past rapidly flowing waters of snow melt. There were always jagged rocks, coiled snakes and predators lurking in the shadows.  The good shepherd knows how to deal with every circumstance.

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”  The rod was an oak club about two feet in length used to defend the flock against wild beasts. The head of this rod was round, usually whittled from the knot of a tree--into which the shepherd had pounded sharp bits of metal.  A skillful shepherd not only swung the club to smash the head of an attacker, but he could also hurl it like a missile over the heads of his flock to strike a wolf, lion, bear or thief.  The staff was his crook, which was bent or hooked at one end and used for prying a sheep loose from a thicket, pushing branches aside along a narrow path, pulling wandering sheep out of holes into which they had fallen; and beating down high grass to drive out snakes and wild beasts.  Like the rod, the staff, was a symbol of the shepherd's power and strength to protect the sheep.

“Thou prepares a table before me In the presence of my enemies.” When a shepherd takes his flock to a new field, he first inspects the field for vipers, small brown adders that live underground.  Adders frequently pop up out of their tiny holes and nip the sheep on their noses causing an inflammation which can and sometimes does, kill the sheep.  So, the shepherd first inspects a new field for these small holes. When he finds one, he takes out a bottle of thick oil and raking down the long grass with his staff, he pours a circle of oil at the top of each viper hole.  He then spreads the oil over each sheep's head.

“He anoints my head with oil.” The vipers can't attack because their smooth bodies can't pass over the slippery oil. Oil on the sheep's head acts as a repellent. The smell drives the serpents away.  In a very literal sense, the shepherd prepares a table before me “In the presence of my enemies.”

“My cup overflows.”  When there were no streams, a shepherd quenched his flocks thirst beside a well. Wells are rare in the wilderness and some are very deep, as much as a 100 ft. down to the water.  The shepherd used a long rope with a leather bucket at the end that held less than a gallon, to draw the water, poured it into large stone cups beside the well.  He could spend hours doing this for his sheep and only the most merciful shepherds would keep the cups filled to the brim.

“Surely goodness & mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The shepherd is there in the green pastures and in the valley of shadows and always knows what's good for 'me' even when I don't.  A shepherd for the whole of life.

“And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The loyalty and devotion of the good shepherd to his sheep was common knowledge in the ancient Near East.

The #1 interest of the Good Shepherd was to supply his sheep with everything needed for its well-being. And here at the end of the song the SHEEP is saying that in return he will make following the lead of the Good Shepherd his #1 interest.

David knew what it meant to be a good shepherd and knew God as the Greatest Shepherd and was determined to be the most devoted member of the flock of humankind.

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