Pursued by Love

Pursued by Love (Sheep running)

by Erin Bird

Let’s continue with our series in Psalm 23. This week we are going to look at the first part of verse 6:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,”

Chased by Nice Enemies?

Remember back in verse 5 that David was sitting at a table in the presence of his enemies? According to the NET Bible study note on verse 6, the word “follow” in Hebrew should actually be translated “pursue” or “chase,” and usually the word is used in Hebrew literature to reflect the actions of an enemy.

But it isn’t David’s evil table-mates that are chasing him, it is “goodness and mercy.” Interestingly, the word translated “mercy” can also be translated as “loyalty” or even “devotion.” In other words, David is saying that God loves him so much that God’s goodness and loyal-devoted love pursue him no matter what.

running sheepThis is good news! No matter what is happening around you (COVID-19, lost job, health crisis, etc.) or in you (anger, sadness, confusion, worry, etc.), God is right there pursuing you with His love. And we see that pursuit perfectly in Jesus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

At Riverwood, we talk about being a “Jesus-follower.” But maybe to follow Jesus is to realize He is following you. What a comforting thought to think that no matter where we go and no matter what is happening to us, God’s goodness and loyal love shown through the gospel is pursuing us each and every day we experience.

May you rest today in the knowledge that God is with you, and His goodness and mercy are chasing you all the days of your life.

Look for the Blessings

By Erin Bird

Last week in our blog series on Psalm 23, we made it to verse 5, which says:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Because we looked at the first half last week, let’s talk about the last two lines this week: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

God Gets Messy

In verse 5, David switched the language from pasture land (verses 1-4) to house language. Rather than talking about grass and still waters, David painted a mental picture of lounging at a table (while in the presence of enemies) as God prepared a meal.

David continues the imagery by talking about oil and cups.

Oil

In David’s day, it was customary to greet a guest to your home by putting oil on their head. Some biblical references give the idea of pouring the oil (such as Amos 6:6) while others give more of the imagery of a dab of oil (such as Luke 7:46) onto the person.

But why oil? Well, I think there were several reasons:

  • The people in David’s day enjoyed the scent of oil. Just like you might light a candle in your house before guests arrive, the anointing of oil upon someone’s head might have brought a pleasant scent to the room’s environment.
  • Oil was thought to have healthy medicinal qualities to it. To dab someone’s head with oil was to wish good health upon them.
  • Oil was somewhat expensive. To pour oil on someone’s head would be a sign of abundance, as if to say, “I have so much oil, I can lavish some upon you because you are important to me!”

So if putting oil on someone’s head was a sign of abundance, David keeps the idea going when he talked about his overflowing cup.

Cups

The standard drink at a meal like the one David is describing in verse 5 was wine. Like oil, wine was slightly more expensive than everyday items, so it, too, was given to guests as a sign of abundance and letting your guests know how much they matter to you.

Yet David doesn’t just have a full goblet of wine– his cup overflows! In the presence of enemies who wish harm upon him, David watches God continue to bless him, not just with a greeting of oil, but by pouring out so much wine that David’s cup overflows. That’s how much God loved David.

So as David sits in the presence of his enemies waiting upon God, He sees the blessings. He’s been touched with oil. He has an overflowing cup. He can see that even in the presence of evil, God’s blessing is still upon him.

Blessings & Viruses

Right now throughout the entire world, there are people panicked. Some healthcare workers are pulling double (and even triple) shifts. Hourly waged workers are wondering how they are going to pay their mortgage as their places of employment close temporarily. Parents are trying to figure out what to do with their kids who have had school put on hold. And the news about governmental responses to the virus seems to keep changing every hour.

But what if we stopped looking at the presence of our enemy (the COVID-19 virus), and pulled a David by looking for the blessings? What if we shifted our attention away from that which wishes us harm to what God has already abundantly provided? What if we…

  • stopped to realize the forced seclusion might allow us to finally spend time in the Scriptures?
  • saw the time at home with our children as an opportunity rather than a burden?
  • realized this was the perfect opportunity to serve an elderly neighbor?
  • picked up the phone and called someone we haven’t connected with in a while?
  • realized that no matter what happens with this virus, Jesus is still the King who died on the cross for our sins, and nothing can take that away?

So may you actually find rest this week in the abundance God has given you in the midst of these uncertain days. May you have a change of perspective because of God’s goodness shown to us through Jesus. And may you look for God’s blessings in these crazy times.

Protected by Perfect Violence

Protected by Perfect Violence

By Erin Bird

Let’s jump back into our series on Psalm 23.

Last week, we looked at the first part of verse 4 which says:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:4 ESV)

Since we stopped at the phrase “for you are with me,” let’s pick things back up with the last two lines.

Weapons of Mass Comfort
A wise shepherd would almost always have had a rod and/or staff with him while out in the fields with his flock. While I suspect a shepherd would have used his staff as a walking stick, that wasn’t its primary purpose. One purpose for these tools was to get a particularly stubborn sheep to move. But another major purpose for these pieces of wood were as weapons to fend off predators.

If you are into hunting or martial arts, the idea of weapons probably doesn’t bother you. In fact, they might excite you! But let me remind you, these weapons are in the hands of the shepherd, not the sheep. In other words, these weapons are for your Shepherd to wield, not you.

But perhaps you are on the other side of the spectrum and are uncomfortable around guns or knives. You turn the channel when an MMA fight appears on your TV screen. So to hear that God wields weapons makes you uncomfortable. You aren’t alone. Many people in our culture don’t like to think about God’s wrath.

But imagine a mother watching a strange man walk up to her child and swing his arm back as though to smack the toddler. Would you expect the mom to passively observe this abuser hurting her child? Or would you expect “mama bear” to jump into action?

Like a mother toward her child, God the Good Shepherd passionately and fiercely loves his sheep. So when the lions of life come to attack, God the Protector jumps into action, using His “rod and staff” to protect the sheep.

So when a lamb looks up at the Shepherd and sees weapons in His hands, the sheep doesn’t quake in fear and run away. Rather, it takes great comfort, knowing that if a predator comes his way, it will be run off by the rod and staff of his Shepherd.

When God Doesn’t Act
Now, let me acknowledge there is great evil in our world. There are monsters who sexually prey upon children. There are liars who cheat people out of their hard-earned money. There are people who cruelly discriminate because of skin color, education level, gender, or more. Because of sin, horrible acts have been committed against other humans. If you have had horrendous evil done to you, I am truly sorry.

But just because great harm may have been done to you emotionally, physically, or spiritually, doesn’t mean God was absent, unaware, or too slow. Just because the wolf got in a swipe on the sheep doesn’t mean the shepherd was away running an errand or just didn’t care. Most likely, the shepherd was yelling at the wolf and on his way before the sheep ever realized what was happening. Just look at the life of King David.

If you are unfamiliar with David’s story (the guy who wrote Psalm 23), you need to know that at one time in his life, he had a tyrannical king named Saul trying to take his life. Saul knew God had chosen David to replace him, so Saul sought to stop God’s plan and kill David himself. In his fear and running, David cried out to God like you and I would, yelling “God, where are you?!” (See the previous psalm, Psalm 22, for an example.)

And yet, David knew that even when facing evil on this earth, his God was still a Good Shepherd. He trusted that in the ultimate end, justice would be served by God. And that hope brought David comfort.

If you have been hurt or abused or shunned, I am SO sorry for what you have faced. But may you take comfort in the knowledge that God isn’t done. His “rod and staff” will bring ultimate justice and protection, whether in this life or the next. May you trust your Shepherd and know that his fierce love for you has already brought wrath against the sin of our world through the cross and will be completed at the end of all things. May you take comfort in the perfect violence of God.

Deep Restoration

By Erin Bird

Let’s continue our series on Psalm 23. This week, we come to verse 3, which says:

“He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.”

Sweet Restoration

The first phrase in verse 3 is short, simple, and sweet. “He restores my soul.” Due to its brevity, you might be tempted to move on to the longer phrase. But let’s take a moment to look at the first part bit-by-bit.

First, think about the word “restore.”

This word assumes something is broken. If you read through many of the psalms that David wrote, you will see he was quite aware of his sin and general brokenness.

If you aren’t willing to admit your own brokenness apart from Christ, you can’t be “restored.” To be “restored” acknowledges you aren’t all put together yet.

Second, who does the restoring?

“He” does. Who is He? As we’ve already seen, Psalm 23 is about the Lord being “my” shepherd.  So the “He” in verse 3 is God.

This is important to realize. Too often, we think WE have to work to clean up our act. We mistakenly believe we need to make ourselves stop swearing so much, or stop spending money so recklessly, or stop gossiping at work, or stop looking at people with sexual lust before we can come to God. But King David tells us it is GOD who does the work of restoring us. We just simply come to Him as a lamb comes to his shepherd.

Third, what is restored?

According to David, our “soul”is what God restores.  According to Skye Jethani, when David uses the word “soul” in verse 3…

“We should not limit the word soul to mean the non-physical self, as if God cares for only part of us. “Soul” is often used in the Old Testament to mean life or the whole person.”

As a good shepherd and loving Heavenly Father, God doesn’t care only about your spiritual state. He cares about all of you.

Restored to Walk

Now, let’s look at the second half of verse 3. David says that God restores us so He might lead us in paths of righteousness. And why does He do this? Two reasons:

1. Our Sake

The gospel tells us that without Christ, by default we have broken and imperfect lives. Our souls are split, our spirits dead, and we are lost and separated from God. Without God sending Jesus to be the Perfect Lamb sacrificed in our place, we would remain separated from Him. So it was out of love for us that God sent Jesus so we might be restored.

2. His Sake

But David shockingly points out in verse 3 that God’s restoration of us wasn’t simply for our sake, it was actually for His name’s sake! God actually finds joy in restoring you through the gospel. He is glorified when one of his lambs is healed and restored. It brings honor to Him and causes His reputation to radiate throughout history and cultures.

So if you are feeling broken today, run to God. Let your Good Shepherd restore your soul, first inwardly, then outwardly, knowing you will not only find comfort and joy in the arms of your Shepherd, but He will have joy holding and restoring you as well.

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