23rd Psalm - For your Names Sake
Psalm 23 v 1 – 3
God you are my Shepherd, I shall not want
You make me lie down in green pastures;
You lead me beside still waters;
You restore my soul,
And leads me in the right paths, For Your Names Sake.
The 23rd Psalm, written by the Shepherd-King David while he was being shaped in solitude and lonely places (tending sheep), is one of the most widely used of the Psalms. It’s an ‘all of life’ Psalm, and as such can mirror our lives in any particular context as well as reflect moments over the entire course of our Journey. The Psalms in fact were the Song and Prayer Book for the Nation of Israel as they were formed into the People of God in amongst the surrounding nations of the day.
These first three verses offer great hope and promise of comfort, provision, nourishment and healing. I call it my ‘Walking Psalm’, and invariably when I reach a certain stretch of the country road that I frequent I find myself offering it as a Prayer of Gratitude; ‘…Thank you God that your are my Shepherd…’, a Prayer of Comfort; ‘…You are my Shepherd…’, and a reminder to God; ‘Because you are my Shepherd…’, (just in case God forgets!?). On a recent walk I came across two cows sitting, watching me, ruminating, in fact just ‘being’ without a care in the world. I called out a friendly ‘Kia Ora’, took a photo and we each went about our own business.
These magnificent creatures that we farm at great rates of knot to satisfy our thirst and hunger know how to be that which they are created to be. Us humans however tend to get sidetracked involving ourselves in a myriad of activity that often distracts us from our real purpose in life, which is to ‘be human’, image bearers, stewards of the earth and representatives of the Divine.
Verse 3 of this beautiful Psalm ends with the words, For Your Name’s Sake. Usually I ruminate on all of the other phrases, and gladly receive whatever it is that God would like to give me to make my life more comfortable, but these words I tend to gloss over. Why are they here, almost hidden in this passage that seems to be written for my sake?
I got reading a book over summer by Old Testament Professor Walter Bruggemann, ‘Hopeful Imagination.’ In it he comments on the story and offers reasons for the exile of the nation of Israel, the ruin of their city Jerusalem and the destruction of their Temple in 587. He does this by offering three lenses by which the story can be viewed, through the eyes of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It was Ezekiel’s perspective that caught my attention as he also borrows the same phrase from Psalm 23 v 3, ‘It is not for your sake that I will act…let that be known to you.’ It seems that Israel was not acting according to God’s plan, and had somehow moved away from their very specific purpose of representing God to the nations. And through no fault but their own they had experienced the destruction of the everything they held dear that defined their nationhood.
God, the ultimate Shepherd King of course heard their prayers, and brought them back from exile, but not, according to this verse because of anything deserving they had done, rather God had a reputation to keep. God’s interest was in ALL people, ALL nations. The task at hand for Israel at that time was to represent God.
GOD ATTENDS VERY CLOSELY TO US, AND GOD IS ALSO FREE FROM US - Bruggemann
This phrase both challenges and humbles me, as I consider my human task as a divine representative. I can partner with God, or not. Either way I am still assured of the love of the Great Shepherd, but with or without me, God will do what is purposed, for the sake of God’s own.