When someone refers to me, either in jest or seriously “You’re a bit of a sly dog” is that because I have paws, a tail and slink around? Of course not! They are using a figure of speech termed a metaphor. It’s a descriptive use of words which define one thing and applying it to another person or situation. This must be the case in here in psalm 23. What use does a sheep have for a cup? A trough perhaps but a cup! David must be applying a full cup to how he feels when experiencing the care of the Shepherd. The cup surely is a description for his heart’s gratitude to his Shepherd. Was David looking back over what he wrote and realised how fortunate he was. Something about the ‘oil being poured’ must have stirred the emotions.
Consider the ‘cup’ as being a metaphor for the heart. As David reflects upon the faithful care of the Shepherd an overwhelming sense of gratitude arises. The psalms, are often the expression by the various writers of their feelings at that moment. This is why we still find them to interesting and authentic. In fact, we can find ourselves and our situations already recorded. As we are considering the rejoicing, not the burdened heart let’s see some reasons for this overflowing pleasure.
In psalm 4 is having some difficult people trying to dishonour his character. His sanity’s security is safeguarded by his confidence in the God who hears. “You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” David is enjoying a relationship with his Lord that thrills him with more pleasure than having a party after harvest. Living a godly life within a community and working among and with others can stir up animosity. Unless our hearts are filled with a sense of the Lord’s pleasure, constantly, we will be drained. Remember the promise of the Lord in John 7:38? He wants your life to be a waterfall. That is, out of your life Jesus wants His people to know they are overflowing with ‘Living Water.’ He was referring to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. What is the purpose of this overflowing relationship? So you and I can provide the spiritual thirst quenching water of God’s grace. I guess that would make us a ‘cup’ in the hands of the Shepherd.
Sometimes our full and flowing heart makes us burst out in song. The more creative may even write out words and melodies to how they feel. David is one of the most prolific at this. Psalm 108:1 “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody.” The cause of David’s joy was the Lord’s faithfulness and victories over Israel’s foes. For all of David’s weakness his heart is wonderfully expressed in “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.’ When such a longing permeates our faith relationship with the Good Shepherd surely our ‘cup overflows.’ He knows we need both the oil of anointing for our failures so that we can, in a sense, return the favour. That’s what appeals to me about the cup. It is ‘my cup’ a.k.a my heart, that is overflowing. For what purpose? That the One who has lead me, cared for me, protected me, stood by me might receive my praise and gratitude.
Others might hear what I sing, shout, say that’s okay. But my heart is for the Lord. However, there are times when only the angels hear it with delight and the demons shudder with displeasure. Whatever the scenario, we honour the Lord for He is good and His compassion never fails. One of the amazing facts about a full heart is it isn’t limited to those in pleasant pastures. It is the wonder seen in men and women in difficult, unsafe and distasteful circumstances who praise the Lord. The writer of Proverbs 15:15 makes this observation and its effect. “All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.” How can they maintain that? Only through a knowledge of their Good Shepherd and where He will ultimately take them. Where is that? “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ Psalm 16:11.
That we will consider next week from psalm 23:6.
©Ray Hawkins March 2016.