This post is part three of three in of a series looking at Psalm 23. If you haven’t please read part one first: http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/03/23/the-lord-is-my-shepherd-part-1/ In part one I explained the context and what Psalm 23 means. In part two of three today today, we will look at what Psalm 23 has to teach us by exploring life as a pilgrimage. If you haven’t read part two please read this first: http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/03/24/the-lord-is-my-shepherd-part-2/ In part 3 we will conclude our look at what Psalm 23 can teach us by looking at setting a table before us and dwelling in the house of God.
Setting a Table before us
The central image of Psalm 23 is the prepared table, a symbol of honor and provision. The fact that the table is prepared in the presence of my enemies accords with verse 4 about the protection afforded by the shepherd’s rod and staff while traveling through the valley of the shadow of death. It also fits with the discussion of pilgrimage, in which life is lived in the presence and power of god is life lived in a world that is not yet restored to the wholeness God intends. As a result the faithful, though experience divine presence and reward for their faithfulness, are still among enemies.
We need to acknowledge to ourselves and to others that being in Christ does not mean that the troubles, cares, pains and dangers of this world are simply removed from us. We remain in the presence of our enemies. We need also, however to ask and constantly remind ourselves in what ways, day by day, God is setting a table for us in the presence of our enemies.
Dwelling in the house of God
Related to the idea of pilgrimage through a strange and hostile land is the hope to dwell forever in the house of Yahweh, his temple. That house is the end goal of the exilic pilgrimage. It also provides a potent metaphor for the goal of restoring God’s original intentional for the world and its inhabitants that becomes the ultimate hope of both Judaism and Christianity. In the temple the faithful come together in God’s presence to experience unity and communion, wholeness and peace.
How then do we today dwell in the house of God? Is this only a future hope, a sort of wishful thinking? Or can we take up residence here and now? Must we wait until the final apocalyptic consummation of the world, the defeat of evil once and for all? Or is there a sense that our residence in the dwelling place of God is in the face of and in spite of the very real and ongoing evidence of world evil?
As long as we think of the “house of God” as a place- whether in time or outside of time- we are likely doomed to wait in vain for its appearance. As long as we are looking for an experience that takes us out of the pain and uncertainty of living we will not know what it means to dwell in God’s house forever. But as Psalm 23 shows us, dwelling in God’s house does not mean some sort of translation out of our circumstances of pain. Instead it means to dwell with God in the very presence of our enemies! It is possible says the psalmist, to experience the gracious presence of God and to receive the abundance of life he offers in the midst of life as it presently is. That is the already breaking into the not yet.