We see the athlete atop the podium clutching their gold medal, a broad smile covering their face, eyes sparkling. Unless we personally know them (or others like them), we don’t see the pain-etched grimaces, the rain-sodden training, the iron-willed discipline of diet and denial, the countless hours perfecting technique.
All we see is the sweetness at the end. The cost is hidden from us.
So it is with an old familiar song—Psalm 23, or ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’. It has brought comfort and encouragement to many over the 3000 years since it was written.
Yet the sweet comfort of Psalm 23 comes at a great cost. And nowhere is that cost set out more clearly than in the preceding Psalm which starts off with the poignant question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Psalm 22 is an astonishing prophetic portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth written 1000 years beforehand, even hundreds of years before the Persians and then the Romans developed crucifixion. It is accurate right down even to the detail of the gambling for his garment.
I was reading both psalms this morning and something struck me which I had never noticed before. Virtually every line of comfort in Psalm 23 is paralleled by a line of cost in Psalm 22.
Consider the truths which are possible and the cost of them:
• He is always ‘with me’ [23:4], because He was forsaken [22:1]
• He is with me in the valley of death [23:4], because He Himself entered it alone [22:1]
• I am provided for in the midst of my enemies [23:5] because He was abandoned to his enemies [22:12,13]
• My cup overflows [23:5] because His cup was empty and he cried “I thirst” [22:15]
• I have everything I need [23:1] because He had everything taken from him [22:18]
• I lie down in green pastures [23:2] because He was laid in the dust of death [22:15]
• My soul is restored [23:3] because His soul was given over to the sword of judgment [22:20]
• I will fear no evil [23:4] because He is the one who has been surrounded rather than me [22:16]
• Goodness and mercy will pursue me closely all the days of my life [23:6] because He took my faraway-ness and my forsakenness fell on him [22:1,11]
• I can say ‘forever’ [23:6] because He said ‘forsaken’ [22:1]
Psalm 23 is the answer to the Son of God’s haunting question captured in Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The answer is: so you and I could say, “The Lord is my Shepherd”.
However, these sweet truths are not automatic. We need to turn to the saviour of Psalm 22 before we get the blessings of Psalm 23. We need to acknowledge that we were far off and deserved to be forsaken forever, and ask him to pay the cost to rescue us and to provide us with all of this rich comfort.
And if you’ve done that—next time you find yourself singing Psalm 23, remember Psalm 22 and consider the cost.