Priceless treasures of propositional truth reside in divine Scripture. Priceless, because their value exceeds anything this world has to offer. Treasures, because such truths enrich the soul, infuse life with supreme joy, and produce contentment no amount of earthly treasures can supply. For over 57 years the Bible’s most familiar texts have found their way into my heart and mind. From the start of my Christian life my teachers asked me to memorize those verses. More than 50 years of ministry involved turning to those texts again and again–citing them, sharing them, asking others what God says through those verses.
As precious as those verses have become to so many believers, we too often look at them superficially and seldom take time to dig deep into their wording and meaning. We have devoted ourselves to their message. Certain of their truthfulness, we do never ask if we really understand them completely. The goal for this series can be stated as follows: To subject the most familiar verses to all the specialized tools of original language exegesis for the purpose of exposing their most intimate and detailed elements and applying those truths to what we believe and how we live.
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . . That first childhood prayer eloquently voices the simplicity of trust in our heavenly Father. When I prepare for bed, even today, that prayer comes to mind. As we mature and grow, becoming painfully aware of the dangers, fears, pain, and sorrows of life in a fallen world, the words that leap to our mind and lips switch to “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Most people (even non-Christians) have come to treat the 23rd psalm almost as a magic spell to recite when they face their greatest trials. Be it on the frontlines of battle as a soldier or sitting at the bedside as a loved one’s life slips away–“The LORD is my shepherd . . .” We seek its comforting thoughts and allow ourselves to take the role of the endangered lamb cradled in the protective arms of the Shepherd.
The priceless treasure too often overlooked in Psalm 23’s opening verse consists of its very first word, “Yahweh” (“the LORD”). This title for God stands high above all other names. This is what He Himself terms His “memorial name” (Exodus 3:15). The Levitical priests affixed a gold medallion engraved with “Holy to Yahweh” to the high priest’s turban (Exodus 28:36). In the future Kingdom the priests will write “Yahweh” upon certain items to keep Him before His people’s eyes, in their memories, and in their hearts (Zechariah 14:20, 21). “Yahweh” exists as God’s covenant name–the name by which He identifies Himself when entering into a covenant relationship with His people (see Genesis 15:7; Exodus 6:6–8; 20:2). In other words, the name representing His relationship to His people.
The divine name “I AM” (Exodus 3:14–15) possesses an affinity to the name “Yahweh,” because they are both derived from the same Hebrew verb (hayah, “be”). Many Bible scholars and theologians believe the name stresses the eternal nature of God—He is and was and is to come (cf. Revelation 1:4, 8).
In addition, the Scriptures associate “Yahweh” with providing the substitutionary sacrifice for His people—as testified to by Abraham when God provided the ram as a sacrifice in place of Isaac (Genesis 22:8, 14). Interestingly, the Hebrew word chosen in Genesis 22 for “provide” is the same word translated “see” (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). The God who is ever present sees all things; and, the God who sees all things provides for His people.
Therefore, the first word of Psalm 23 enables us to understand:
Our Shepherd is Yahweh—the eternal, ever-present, all-seeing God who provides our needs.
The relationship Yahweh has with each believer is personal (“my Shepherd”).
His tailors His provision to meet each believer’s needs individually–yesterday, today, and forever.
Our Shepherd not only cares for us individually as the sheep of His pasture, He provides one sacrificial sheep as our substitutionary sacrifice.