Friday, 1 November 2013

“Come, Let Us Reason Together.”

Special Guest Post By: John Stones

Psalm 23


1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 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. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I have been a Local Preacher for 45 years now and over the years a worrying trend seems to have taken place – that is that the Old Testament has been pushed into the background.  This, I believe, has left us the poorer for a rich source of inspiration and re-assurance is being ignored.

There are many reasons why we need to be grounded in the Old Testament – Jesus was, so was St Paul - in fact between the two of them and other New Testament writers, they quoted the Old Testament over 1,500 times.  Both Jesus and the other writers assumed we are familiar with the scriptures because their listeners and readers were – so they often didn’t feel the need to explain what they meant when they referred to them – Why was Jesus so infuriated when He saw the way the temple forecourt was being used?  What was the importance of the song that Jesus’ mother sang when she discovered she was pregnant? Why was it so wrong that Mary Magdalene dried Jesus feet with her hair?  What was the importance of a Messiah for the Jews – and why didn’t they acknowledge Jesus as Him? If you know the Old Testament background you will be amazed!

We all love a good book, I’m sure – but if you pick one up – say an Agatha Christie mystery – where do you start to read?  The last few chapters?  You won’t solve the crime that way!  No you need to read from chapter 1 – so you have all the background!  The Bible – although you can just read the Gospels or browse through Acts or the Letters – but you cannot receive the full joy of seeing the wonderful mystery of God’s amazing love unfold before your eyes!

This morning we are having two very different Bible Readings – Psalm 23, we have just heard, and Isaiah 1: 1- 20, which we will hear just now.  The first, a song-prayer, thanking and praising God for His care and protection.  The other – very different!

Rejoicing in the love, which God has showered upon him, David is confident as he sings his testimony to the Lord’s faithfulness throughout his life.  He pictures the Lord as the caring shepherd by using some common ancient Near Eastern images and progressively unveils his personal relationship with the Lord in several phases:

1.            David’s Exclamation – “The LORD is my shepherd!”  And as he shares the care that has been 

·        “I shall not want!” - All my needs have been met!

·        “He makes me lie down in green pastures!”

·        “He leads me besides quiet waters.” - He takes me into a place of safety!

·        “He restores my soul!” - He looks after my spiritual needs!

·        “He guides me in paths of righteousness!” - He looks after my future.

2.     But the Lord knows and understands that the world in which David lives is not ideal:

·     “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” – perils and dangers and difficult times are always going to be present in this imperfect and threatening world and The Lord does not promise that they will never happen – for they will!  And He tells us they will! But, He, the Lord, also promises that He has made provision for this!  David lists the weapons a shepherd uses to protect his sheep from the wolves and lions – and David speaks from experience!

·    “Your rod and your staff” - in South Africa we would call the rod a “knob-kierrie”. I think the English equivalent would be a “cudgel”? And His staff would be the shepherd’s crook – the hook end can, with skill, be used not only to pull a sheep closer to the shepherd, but by twisting it around the neck or leg of a predator, break bones!  In times of difficulty, when things are tough and us men try to come through them OUR WAY the Lord will gently and carefully use the crook to pull us to His side so that He can give us that special bit of care we need – but are sometimes reluctant to ask for!  And David’s shepherd is just such an expert!

3.      David’s shepherd is far more than just a protector – He is also a provider.  But not only a provider in good times – but in times of impossible hardship – as when facing those who would oppose David and would do him harm.  Not a quick snack from Mc Donald’s, but a full banquet – with a table and a white linen tablecloth!

        He “anoints my head with oil” - anointing has a two fold meaning – physically if you are in a hot, dry climate to have soothing oil poured onto your head brings relief from the sun – but being anointed in the Bible is synonymous with being blessed!  And the Lord loves to bless His flock!

Samuel anoints David, the shepherd boy, to be the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16).

        And that anointing is not a one-off event – because David adds that these blessings will: “Surely goodness and love follow me all the days of my life!”

        “Surely” – needs a little help here!  We have changed its meaning from “It will definitely happen.  You can be ASSURED that it will take place!”  To the very feeble meaning we have given it, which is that there is doubt that it will happen but it might or of course it might not!  (MIGHT is another word which has been diluted!)

4.     Verse 6 says: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever!”  The Hebrew word for dwell can also be interpreted, as “I will return to the house of the Lord for ever!”  Whichever way it is taken, David is expecting to be in the Lord’s glorious presence forever!

        And guess what?  If you Love the Lord – these promises include you! For this psalm pre-echoes the promises that our Lord Jesus made when He told us that He is the Good Shepherd and we are his sheep!

But have a second lesson to hear!

But this shows a very different aspect of what our relationship with the Lord can be!

This reading shows what happens to the sheep that do not obey the Good Shepherd!


We have moved on in time from the Rule of King David to the Rule of Jotham and Ahaz and Uzziah – a mere two hundred years and a very different scene greets us!

The Kingdom of Israel that David and Solomon had formed that stretched from the Red Sea up to the borders of present day Turkey– and included what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and northern Iraq had vanished. In fact Israel had vanished! 

The Promised Land had been divided in two by Solomon’s sons into the Northern Kingdom – known as Israel, and the Southern Kingdom – known as Judah.
 In three generations David’s Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed.

·        David was committed.

·        Solomon had compromised - by allowing foreign gods to be worshipped.

·        Rehoboam and Jeroboam had turned from God to worshiping foreign idols and … Chaos resulted!

Three Generations and Chaos ensued!

Commitment, compromise, … CHAOS!

How had this come about?

The history of those times seems frighteningly familiar!

The rulers of Israel had forsaken God and formed liaisons with foreign nations and started to follow their customs and worship their gods.  Instead of trusting God when He promised to protect them from invading nations, they had formed allegiances with them and paid tribute to them to keep them from attacking Israel.

The Kings married foreign wives and adopted their form of worship, 2 Kings 16:2 tells of one such king:

Ahaz was twenty years old when he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years.  Unlike David his father, he did not do right in the eyes of the Lord.  He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

And despite the threats and pleadings and warnings of the Lord sent by His messengers:

Elijah,          Elisha,         Jonah,          Amos,          Micah,          Hosea, and Joel – the rulers of Israel had ignored His messengers and they had turned away from The Lord Almighty, The God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob!

And He turned away from them!

And He allowed them to be destroyed!

The Northern Kingdom was destroyed - totally destroyed – the land was made desolate.

The Lord allowed the Assyrian Empire to wipe the 10 tribes – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh & Ephraim – vanished!  Never to be seen again. For they would not heed His messages to them.
Jehu, king of Israel, bows before Shalmaneser III of Assyria, 825 BC

And now the LORD sent Isaiah to call the surviving two tribes, those of the Kingdom of Judah, – Judah and Benjamin to:

“Come, let us reason together.”

But His call was in vain - Do you remember from your Sunday School days how King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel brought the evil religion of Baal worship into Judah? Remember how Elijah confronted the priests of Baal and showed that they were false? 

But the worship carried on.

And so the Lord sends Isaiah to remind them what had happened to their neighbours – and offers an alternative:

“Come, let us reason together.”

Without, giving too much away – the Land of Israel had to wait until 1948. Nearly two and a half THOUSAND YEARS later – before it was restored to the Jews!

I know two things about history - We are told that history repeats itself.  And we all know that the only thing man learns from history is that man never learns from history!

The Lord is saying to us  “Come, let us reason together.”

And , so today the countries, who once were God-fearing – and were blessed have turned their backs on the Lord!

Aren’t the people of this land turning away from the worship of Jehovah the One True God to worship at the altars of Greed, Consumerism, Self-Indulgence?

Haven’t the values that the Bible teaches been thrown away? And yes for the  last two generations been untaught?

So what is the Lord meaning when He says

“Come, let us reason together.”

He wants us to come into His presence and listen to Him.

To sit at His feet and learn of Him.

He wants to share His love , He wants us to understand why He weeps for the people who are disobedient and He wants us to understand that there is judgement tempered with mercy for all men.

Why would we not want to be in the kind of relationship that David wrote of in Psalm 23,  his heart bursting with love for the Lord?  And the joy of being washed as white snow! And to have the assurance that “Surely goodness and love follow me all the days of my life!”


John Stones
John Stones is my Dad! He is a retired teacher and a local preacher at Christchurch Mudeford Lane Methodist Church in Christchurch, UK.

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