Hope and reassurance are at the heart of Psalm 23. This beloved Psalm is decidedly more about life in the now than it is about life after death. It’s rooted in the real-life circumstances and experiences of a real shepherd in Middle Eastern Palestine, tending sheep that required constant attention, and where ample pasture and water could be hard to find. Tending flocks meant venturing about widely in search of life’s basic necessities for sheep—not in sprawling flat and fertile fields, but on rocky hillsides with sparse vegetation that cause us westerners to wonder how in the world shepherds could raise sheep in such a place?! Yet even in such circumstances, the Psalm writer testifies, the shepherd found abundance for the sheep. And likewise, our heavenly Shepherd does for us exactly what the shepherd does for the sheep—provides food, water, guidance, protection, and care in so many ways.
The Psalm ends with the assurance that “goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The “house of the Lord” may be a reference to the Temple, or it may refer to some other special sanctuary that one regularly retreats to for close contact with God. In any case, “the house of the Lord” brings a communal dimension to this Psalm that is usually only heard individualistically. The house of the Lord is not a house of one, but a house for many. The Psalm reverberates with personal assurance, but assurance is ultimately experienced in the community of God’s people…in the house of the Lord.
Though the Psalm is rooted in real-life daily experience, it is not a far stretch for us to also consider it as a reflection of hope and strength coming from the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus identified himself as the good Shepherd (Jn.10) who sustains life even after death. We look forward to resurrection life beyond the grave, the ultimate house of the Lord to be dwelled in forever.
Perhaps that heavenly sanctuary will be something like visiting grandparents when we were children. If we are fortunate, we have fond memories of trips to the home of grandparents. Their homes were large in love, stocked with special treats, blessed with succulent meals, favored with cousins and loads of fun. It was different in some ways from our own home, one without problems or homework, one where chores were optional, a special place of unconditional love…a place one wanted to dwell in forever! Perhaps God gives us such places in our memories to help increase our longing to dwell in God’s eternal home when the reign of God is complete and full. “The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days; O may Your House be my abode, and all my works be praise. There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come; no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Yes! Like a child at home…or at our grandparents home!
Phil Kanagy, pastor
May 6, 2020