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10 Treasures Uncovered in Psalm 23

  • Heath Adamson
10 Treasures Uncovered in Psalm 23

Beyond the many cultures, worldviews, and religious backgrounds of our world is one of the most recognizable and powerful pieces of literature in the world: Psalm 23.

It could likely be the foundation of multiple coffee-shop conversations around the world at any given moment in time—bringing together strangers from foreign places who form lasting and life-changing friendships. I’ve experienced this myself in the Middle East, Asia, the South Pacific, and many other places.

We resonate with the story of the young shepherd boy who watched God bring down Goliath. We hope our stories, too, are written by that same divine hand. We can know and believe that they are. Psalm 23 is more than just poetic magic we attribute to David. The fifty-seven Hebrew words in the psalm suggest it is an invitation to discover God and find truth within its buried treasure—to know and believe that the God who spreads the banquet table and invites us to feast is our true source of comfort in life and death.

Treasure #1—An Original Heirloom

Treasure #1—An Original Heirloom

Though we attribute this psalm to David, what we read was not written with his own hand; after all, the words of Psalm 23 in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are not written in tenth-century Hebrew. David would have recited—or more likely sung—the words that had been handed down from generation to generation. It is curious we have the words but not the music. We are free to compose our own rhythm and tune and attach it to the psalm as we worship and walk daily under God’s watchful eye. 

Treasure #2—Mysterious Worship

Treasure #2—Mysterious Worship

In each of David’s psalms, scribes inserted a few key words to capture the essence of the writing. Some psalms are preceded with “Of David, a Psalm,” while others are introduced as “A Psalm of David.” When David experiences God’s nearness and responds in song and worship, we have Of David, a Psalm. A Psalm of David, however, means David is actively worshiping when God feels far away to him and when his circumstance doesn’t line up with the good God he knows. Psalm 23 is A Psalm of David. What do we do when our circumstance does not line up with what we know to be true about God? We must choose to trust God even if our situation suggests we can’t.

Treasure #3—Royal Rights

Treasure #3—Royal Rights

David was chosen by God to become king (1 Samuel 16) when King Saul sat on the throne of Israel. But when Samuel the prophet asked Jesse to gather all his sons, God chose the shepherd boy who had been overlooked by his father. The one God chose was an afterthought of those closest to him. Embedded deep within us all is greatness and purpose. Though it can be overlooked, royalty cannot be dismissed or made invalid. Some around you may not know it—and you may not be convinced yourself—but when you feel overlooked, know this: you are royalty. You’re chosen by God, whether the world recognizes your divine purpose or not.

Treasure #4—A Mighty Fortress

Treasure #4—A Mighty Fortress

It is when David is possibly about to breathe his last breath on earth that he begins to worship through Psalm 23. He has fled into the wilderness to escape murderous rage. Had I been David, I’d have asked God why he had me sitting alone in a forest in fear, alluding capture, if I had been chosen to be a ruler and king. Our place on earth can keep us from having an eternal perspective. We are unaware of the truth that exists in heaven—of what God is working out for us. Through prayer, faith, and worship, we can begin to see our purpose in God unfold on the earth . . . we can know we are destined for the fortress even when we find ourselves alone in the forest.

Treasure #5—Identity Is Formed in the Valley

Treasure #5—Identity Is Formed in the Valley

The Lord is my Shepherd. Shepherds in David’s time were not permitted to testify in legal disputes as they were considered untrustworthy. According to rabbinic tradition, when Samuel arrived to anoint a king, David was overlooked because Jesse considered him to be his illegitimate son born from an extramarital affair. Still, God is not offended when David refers to him not as his deliverer, warrior, or protector but as his shepherd. David, in a challenging season of life, remembers when only God was with him under the stars at night while he watched over the sheep. David, a shepherd himself—and a child neglected by his father—knew his true position was of one under the Shepherd’s care. He couldn’t forget knowing God before his life became complicated. When we are real in the presence of God in our affection and relationship with him is reverencing God in an amazing way.

Treasure #6—Contentment

Treasure #6—Contentment

I shall not want. David was likely starving to death. As he was a criminal on the king’s most-wanted list with no food to eat, it seems audacious that David would say he wanted nothing! One rabbinical teaching says God came and fed David in the forest where Psalm 23 originated. This explains why David wanted nothing. Though he had many needs, he relied upon God to meet and provide for them. And God did. I love the thought of God coming to meet David in the wilderness to feed him rather than pulling David out of the valley of the shadow of death. How beautiful that God takes us through our valley rather than around it. 

Treasure #7—Peaceful Rest

Treasure #7—Peaceful Rest

He makes me lie down in green pastures. David chose to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

It is all too easy to invert this and walk through green pastures and lie down in the valley. Your valley may be dark, steep, long, and even spiritually arid, but whatever you do, don’t lie down. You will get through it.

The darkness is only shadows—and shadows are evidence of light. God gives us rest when he’s walked with us through the valley, after we’ve feasted.

Treasure #8—An Intimate Presence

Treasure #8—An Intimate Presence

The Lord is my Shepherd. In the first half of Psalm 23, David refers to God as “he” and talks about the green pastures. Yet have you noticed that David begins to change how he describes God’s proximity to him as he worships? David replaces “he” with “you.” A realm of intimacy with God exists, not in the green pastures but in the dark valley. What we consider a spiritual attack could actually be an invitation from God for us to feast. 

Treasure #9—A Comforting Anointment

Treasure #9—A Comforting Anointment

You anoint my head with oil. Your rod and staff, they comfort me. Shepherds often relied on one another during their difficult, nomadic journeys in the dry places. When the sun would set, and it was time to set up camp for the evening, two male shepherds in the male-dominated society of David’s time would converse together.

One shepherd might offer oil to the other, who, in turn, would anoint his own head with it. The visiting shepherd then anointed his family members with the oil, and then they all shared a meal together. As the meal came to an end, the host would approach the visitor with a wineskin . . . and a signal. If the wineskin or cup was filled halfway, the visiting shepherd would know it was time for him and his family to be on their way. However, he would know they were welcome to stay for the evening with their host if it was filled to the brim. Later, as their families slept, the two shepherds would sit together, each with their rod and staff, which were hand-carved with stories of God’s protection. Their rod and staff were for them what a worship and prayer journal is for us today. In the valley, we can’t always trust our feelings. We must trust and believe in the truth of Scripture. Allow God’s rod and staff to comfort you. Let him anoint your head with oil when your enemies surround you.

Let him fill your cup until it runs over. 

Treasure #10—A Celebration

Treasure #10—A Celebration

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. David knew God literally pursued—chased after—him. He knew he would not dwell in the forest nor in the valley nor in the king’s castle but in the house of God. Forever. God is near. God is trustworthy.

He has a seat—and a feast—prepared for you.

Discover God’s presence where you perceive his absence through the mystery and miracle of Psalm 23.

Purchase your copy of Grace in the Valley: Awakening to God’s Presence When He Feels Far Away from your favorite book retailer or learn more about this life-changing book here.

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Heath Adamson, a sought-after speaker, advocate, and emerging author, was saved at the age of 17 out of a life steeped in drug abuse and the occult. He now serves at Convoy of Hope, a global nonprofit focused on God’s compassion and justice, and considers loving the poor and needy a privilege.

Currently a PhD candidate in religious studies at the University of London, Heath seeks to bring audiences from simply knowing about God to experiencing God in life-changing ways. He loves living God’s dream with his wife, Ali, and their two daughters, Leighton and Dallon.

Learn more about Heath at HeathAdamson.com