Sunday, February 7, 2016

Is 'I shall not want' pious fantasy?

In my English translation of this psalm there are 120 words. What becomes evident, although before this time I’d not thought about it, only two people are featured! It is the ‘sheep and the Shepherd.’  Implied is a third person to whom the ‘sheep’ is talking in verses 2 and 3. The ‘sheep’ is highlighted by the use of ‘I, me, my’ 15 times. The Shepherd is highlighted by ‘you, yours’ 5 times. The fact of another is indicated by the mention of the Shepherd as ‘He’ or His’ to this unknown one.
Fishermen on Ghana's coast 

What is all this saying to us? The writer is revealing his relationship with and his dependence upon the Shepherd. The fact of someone else being in the ‘shadows’ makes me think this is a testimony. Was David encouraging such a person to join him in the Shepherd’s sheepfold? This is the privilege those of us who know Jesus as the Good Shepherd also have. It is especially true of men and women called to be ‘under-shepherds’ to Christ. According to 1 Peter 5:1-5 they have a responsibility to care for others and set them an example, especially to the youth, of godly leadership.

Gate of No return where slaves were
shipped across the seas from Ghana.
As I read verse 1 I have to make a confession. I find the second section difficult to fully agree with. Why do I write that? Is it out of my own circumstances across the years I find it hard to 100% agree? Not really. Living in Australia and enjoying its Christian heritage I’ve had it easy. I, with my wife and family, know the love and provision of the Lord Jesus and His people. What unsettles me about ‘I shall not want’ is that many of God’s people around the world are in ‘want.’

Does this make David’s testimony to us invalid? Is it merely a personal matter written before his desperate escape from Saul’s murderous intent and pursuits? Is this psalm primarily about a spiritual relationship divorced from everyday matters? No! Then how do we piece it all together? When we read the New Testament we find the early Church was suffering in Jerusalem from a severe famine. How was this ‘want’ (need) met? By Churches outside Judah. When Paul was in prison and in need how was that met? The Philippian church sent what he needed. (Philippians 4:10-17) This principle is still be faithfully expressed by many congregations around the world through Christian groups.

However, it would be fair to say some of God’s people die without this section of the psalm being theirs. How do we answer that? What would their response likely to be? I can only offer Paul’s words. One comes from Philippians 4:12: “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learnt the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” How did Paul handle this? In the following verse he explains it. How unfortunate it is this verse is plucked out of its context and applied to other issues. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” To me, such and attitude points to what the psalmist was aiming at when he wrote, “I shall not… ” is a statement of trust in the Shepherd.

Put that also in the context of 2 Corinthians 4.1-18 where Paul shares his experiences. He and his companions endured some rugged times, as recorded in the book of Acts also. In verses 1 and 16 he writes “we do not lose heart.” How was that possible? How do our family of faith in severe circumstance remain faithful to the Lord? Because they know their Shepherd! They know what He said about taking up the cross. They know that He, Jesus, warned them about the suffering to come. As with the suffering church through the centuries they saw beyond the shame, suffering, losses to something far great. “Even though our nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us and eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) That passage then goes on to tells us about our home in glory – our eternal sheepfold with the Shepherd, Jesus.

To be continued.

© Ray Hawkins Feb 8th 2016

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