Psalm 23

Psalm 27:4-6

Luke 15:22-27

John 14:1-4

PJW  When I was thinking about this afternoon, for some reason I had an overriding impression of Psalm 23. And then, following through from the thought of what we can enjoy currently, as believers in this wilderness scene that we are all treading through, we can touch what is eternal and what is of God.

It led me to think of Psalm 27, too. These are both psalms of David, a man of experience. What comes out here, linking with what we were saying yesterday, is that he had a desire and an earnest longing to see more of these wonderful things. He did not just want to look in from the outside; he wanted to enter in to what God would have for him, and to see something of “the beauty of Jehovah” (v4).

I read the other two Scriptures because, whilst many, many readings have taken place on Luke 15 and John 14, there is always something new you can gain, I think, from the truth of the Father’s house. Luke 15, I suppose, tells us what, again, we can enjoy currently. The younger son wanted an inheritance now. He actually came into something, now, that was far better than what he had actually hankered after in the first place.

And then what we read about in John 14 is a future day in many ways. It is something the believer can look forward to. We should not forget that. It is not all current, we have a future. It is the wonderful thing for a believer that he does have a bright future. The wonder and glory of that should affect us now as well. That is why the Lord spoke to His disciples, that the future prospect might also be a current enjoyment.

Psalm 23 is for where we are now.

DJB  Could you give us some outline of Psalm 23? All I mean by that is, what is the progression in it? It begins with pure blessing, and it moves, through trial on the way, to the house of God.

PJW  Well, I would like to hear what you say and what the brethren say. It is a journey, in that sense, as the Christian pathway is a journey. In one sense it is a journey from our initial salvation to glory. But sometimes we need to retrace the steps; not that the Christian goes round in circles! That is exactly what the people of old did in the wilderness. David was a man of experience: he learned things with God. It is only by experience with God, and proving Him, that we actually know more of Him.

DJB  I am just struck by the way that the psalm opens in a very restful and refreshed spirit. But then he comes to the valley of the shadow of death and the presence of his enemies. It is as if the reality of what he enjoys can be put to the test and come through it.

PJW  I cannot speak much of the experience of deep waters, but I do know that those who have been through very deep waters have proved the presence of the Lord in a very special way. And here David knew what he was talking about. And, for the believer, we know that this is the valley of the shadow of death: only One knew what death was in all its horror – the Lord Himself. For the believer it is a shadow. But for someone who has been through that – and there have been records of believers who have been very close to death – they have come through, and the reality of the Lord’s presence is something special. But I think that even in our mundane, ordinary lives, as we go through the bumps of life, we would experience something of what David felt. What actually appealed to me in this psalm, this morning, was, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” So that in the scene of opposition which the believer finds himself in today, there is enjoyment to be had in the Lord’s presence, and we can feast. The breaking of bread – the Lord’s Supper – and all that flows out from it, is something like that. We are surrounded by enemies, in one sense, in this pilgrim way, but in the midst of all that, we can know something of God’s provision.

DHB  All the Scriptures you read seem to be encouraging people in the face of opposition.

PJW  The Lord would have us to be encouraged. The Lord drew near to those two that were on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. They were very downhearted and He brought them to Himself.

GKB  It is remarkable that he can speak about “the valley of the shadow of death,” “mine enemies,” and so on, and yet at the end of the psalm he can say, “Surely, goodness and loving-kindness shall follow me all the days of my life.” It is very fine to see a man – of like passions with ourselves, we could say – triumphing all through those circumstances. In a sense we know something of enemies, and we certainly know something about the valley. But we ought to be able to touch something of the goodness and mercy that God shows towards us.

PJW  That is one thing I was thinking of. Psalm 23 is often used as a comfort psalm. The world, and even the religious world, know “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and it is a comforting sort of psalm. But it is actually much more than that. For the Christian it is not just to get by, get through, but it is actually to know something of the Lord’s presence and enjoy what the Lord provides, do you think?

PJC  Sometimes we know from the heading of a psalm, or the context, when it was written or what might have prompted the psalm. But here there is perhaps no clear indication, but you get a definite impression that it was probably composed while he was in the difficult circumstances of being amongst the enemies in the valley of the shadow of death. But he is someone who had a past, a present and a future with God. That is what seems to come through to me as I go through this psalm. He had a definite experience, the past gave him strength for the present, and he also had a future. It links very much with what you said at the outset: in the Scriptures that you chose there is a past, a present and a future.

PJW  And this is in the middle of three psalms which actually outline that. It has been well rehearsed about the Psalms 22, 23 and 24; there was something in one of the magazines recently about the great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd and the chief Shepherd (See Living Water 120). I read another comment which referred to them as the Cross, the crook, and the crown. But they are all to teach us that there is a past, a present and a future. It is what the Lord has done for us, which is Psalm 22, which we carry into the present, and at the same time we have a glorious future, when we shall see the King in His glory (see also Isaiah 33:17).

DHB  With a few troubles in between!

PJW  Well, Scripture is realistic; it does not gloss over the difficulties.

DHB  Oh, no.

PJW  Those that preach a type of gospel that says, ‘Come to the Lord and everything will be fine,’ have no basis for that in Scripture. But what we are promised is that we shall do more than just scrape through; we shall actually come through in triumph. This table that is prepared “in the presence of mine enemies” would speak of how the Christian can enjoy something of God’s presence and the Lord’s presence, especially on the Lord’s Day. I think it is a wonderful thing that we do have the Lord’s Day, and it has been preserved to us. I think that is God’s favour and blessing, that we can, in a busy world, and a godless world, still come together to remember the Lord and to praise Him.

WRT  The great thing about the Shepherd is that He really cares about the sheep. They do not run away. The Good Shepherd protects us, He does not flee when the enemy comes (John 10:11‑12), He remains there to protect us. It gives us great stability that, whether we are experiencing the trials of the way or the joys, the Shepherd is still there.

PJW  We are given everything that we need in our pilgrim pathway. In our day-to-day lives, we have the rod and the staff. Both are needed, I think. But then there is this great provision. I would like to know more about this table. Could you say what it means to you?

DJB  Well, it certainly conveys a food supply, but also presented in a godly and orderly way. That was the Lord’s way of teaching when He was here – He set things out in an orderly way. He was entitled to tell them that “One is your Instructor” (Matthew 23:10). And so, as we speak over the Scriptures and seek that one and another get food, we always want to keep in mind that it is the Lord Who really makes the provision. Do you think that?

PJW  Yes, it is “Thou preparest.” Nothing is forgotten – we have no excuse for wilting or being swamped on our pathway.

DJB  We do not. We do fall, but one of the services of the Shepherd is to rescue those who fall, let alone those who are going astray. Scripture is very compassionate, God is compassionate. He recognises that His sheep do faint. A psalm like this reminds us, as you say, that there is no need to faint, because the resources are there. But you just referred to the rod and the staff, and perhaps they have a bearing upon it. What do they mean?

PJW  I am sure others can say better than I can. Sometimes we need a little prodding in our Christian pathway. Sheep are silly creatures, and sometimes we are too, and we just need a little prod from the rod. But the staff is more what is to lead us, I would suggest. Sometimes we need the correction, sometimes we need the attraction. But it is all with a view to our education. And then, at the same time, we have this provision, as you say, of food, and somewhere quiet to sit down. I think the presence of the Lord is a wonderful thing. One of my local brothers last week referred to Martha and Mary. That was a busy household, but there was a place where peace and quiet could be found. I thought also about the anointing with the oil and the cup running over: there is a surplus, there is no stint here. There is something to be enjoyed now, even in the midst of our circumstances and responsibilities.

DJB  This psalm is intensely personal. But as we are speaking, I cannot help thinking that when we come to the New Testament, there are some very remarkable references to the flock of God. The Lord Jesus spoke about the flock. He has appointed shepherds and teachers for the care of the flock. It is one way of looking at all the Lord’s people. Indeed, Acts 20 speaks of shepherding the assembly of God (v28). It seems that shepherd care is needed for the whole company. What do you think about that?

PJW  As we would expect, it is expanded in the New Testament, although there is a reference to the sheep of His pasture in the Old Testament. We are the sheep of His pasture, we belong to Him (Psalm 100:3; see also Psalm 95:7). In the Christian company there are shepherds and teachers. Would that there were more!

DJB  Yes, I sometimes feel we are a little stronger on the teaching side than the shepherding side – but I may not be right in that.

PJW  It may well be. There are not many fathers either, which is another thing (1 Cor 4:15). These are other provisions of the Lord, these gifts and offices, to help the whole flock. And we are the “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Thank God that the flock is larger than we think! But we do, in God’s ways, experience something of the little flock as well. And the wolves are out there. Paul was very aware of that fact in Acts 20. The grievous wolves were out to get the sheep of the flock (v29), and so he leaves some encouragement and some warnings for that reason.

And then, there is the ‘anointing my head with oil,’ which may be a reference to the Spirit and the cup of joy. I would like to know more of joy in present circumstances. The apostle says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and then, in case we did not hear it quite right, he says, “Again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4).

DJB  Yes. And then he goes on to say what that means in practice, because he is in prison. He says, “I have learnt in those circumstances in which I am, to be satisfied in myself. I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound” (Phil 4:11-12). It was a very profound Christian experience, written from prison.

PJW  And I think in a day in which materialism is so strong in the world (but it affects God’s people as well), that is a very poignant lesson: to be satisfied. Only someone who is bound up with Christ can really write those words. Our satisfaction is in Him.

PJC  The oil and the cup running over are specified, and they are things that we can rely on and be sure about. The gift of the Holy Spirit, and the joy that results from that, is something that is always available to us. I was thinking that there is a little mystery about what is prepared on the table. The way that the table could be prepared would be different for each of us. The Lord knows just what is needed in those circumstances. But the result is the same for everyone. The Spirit is there, and the cup running over is the result of what the Lord provides, but the way we get there might be different for each one of us.

PJW  It is an individual thing, as has already been said, but it just struck me that, amidst all of this, the believer can have this wonderful enjoyment. And then he says, “I will dwell in the house of Jehovah for the length of the days.” That may be future. I think we should know something of it now, though. In coming into the house of the Lord – I know we do not take that to refer to coming together, exactly; some companies do – we would desire to enjoy relationships with divine Persons, and to know the Lord’s presence. Is that right?

DJB  Yes. In principle, we are always in the house of God down here, because we are part of the assembly which is here. But David had a definite sense of going up to the house of the Lord. There was a time when his experience could function, and the gatherings of the Lord’s people, especially on the Lord’s Day morning, are an opportunity for all that we have by way of the knowledge of the Lord to come into expression. Do you think that?

PJW  I think that is right, and that is why I read in Psalm 27. We are always in God’s house, as you say, and we cannot opt ourselves out of the Church, because we are part of the Church, the assembly. But, again, there is something akin to the thought that I was trying to convey yesterday, maybe in feebleness: there is a desire here with the psalmist, and it would be wonderful if every believer had something of this impetus and desire. It is good when believers do corporately come together. We read yesterday about two or three being gathered together unto the Lord’s name. It is not without significance that the apostle has to warn believers not to forsake the assembling of themselves together (Heb 10:25). It is obviously a danger. It was a danger then, and it is a danger now, with all the cares of life. But the psalmist says here, “One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life.” That was a prayer, it was a desire of the heart. I think he enjoyed something of it.

PJC  David had that desire, to build the house of Jehovah, as well, that he passed on to Solomon (1 Chr 28:2,6,9‑10,20). That was something he always looked on to. He also mentions the tent, here. I wondered if you could say something about the two aspects: the house and the tent.

PJW  “In the secret of His tent,” are you thinking?

PJC  Yes, and, “I will offer in his tent sacrifices of shouts of joy.”

PJW  The people of Israel in a wilderness setting; that was the way they approached God. It was the temporary dwelling place. I suppose in a sense we do come together in the wilderness – it has often been said, and it is good doctrine, that we break bread together in the wilderness. I used not to understand what that meant, but I think I now understand a little of what it means.

DJB  Well, what does it mean?

PJW  Well, practically, we are drawn out from the world. We are surrounded by what is worldly, we are on a journey. We are remembering the Lord in His death in a scene where He was crucified. It says, “Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8). So we are publicly coming together in the very scene where He was rejected and crucified. We must not forget that. He was not crucified in heaven, if I can reverently put it that way; He was crucified on this earth. It is in that very scene that we come together to remember Him. But then we realise that He is not here any more. He is not on the Cross. He is not in the grave. He is risen and ascended. From that point on we are transported into another world. Does that explain it?

DJB  Yes. I remember many years ago a brother asking me that question, and I really had no idea of the answer but, like you, I think I understand it a bit better now. The verse in 1 Corinthians 11 helps, “For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord, until He come” (v26). We do not exactly announce the risen life of the Lord, although we come into it. But what we publicly state is that this is where our Lord was crucified.

PJW  And also it means, I suppose, that we realise that we have died with Him here, and that we have no more part with what is here because we are identified with Him. So from that point onwards we can enjoy something of what is new, after we break bread. We had a series of readings about why we do certain things. Why do we break bread and then move on to the service of praise? Why do we address the Lord, and then the Spirit, and then the Father? These are good questions to go through. We do not follow ritual, exactly, but there is an order; there is a general upward way. After remembering the death of the Lord, I think we are free to enjoy something of what is beyond this scene and time altogether.

DHB  In the world men remember the death of their heroes. That is as far as they can go. Our Lord has risen, and that is the difference.

GKB  And so there is an aspect in which we leave the sin question, and all that we are naturally, behind on the Lord’s Day morning. We do not want to be occupied with that. From a certain point we move on even from the Lord’s work on the Cross, to be occupied with Him where He is.

PJW  I think that is right. I think it is something you appreciate as you get a little older and learn a little more of what the Scriptures say. We do not want to be occupied with ourselves. The Church of England service refers to ‘us miserable sinners’ and all that sort of thing. But the point is that we are here to remember Him: “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Remembering Him, we realise that He is not here any more, He is a glorified, risen Man. That is why it says, “that I may … behold the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire of Him in His temple” (v4).

DJB  Do you think that has anything in common with, “We all, looking on the glory of the Lord”?

PJW  I am sure it does. That is in the context of contrasting the old with the new. In 2 Corinthians 3 the apostle is saying that the old has been done away with, and the new has come into existence. It says, “We … are transformed … from glory to glory” (v18). I would like to know more about that.

JPW  I thought about Jonah. You spoke of David passing through the valley of the shadow of death, and I was thinking of Jonah. He says, “My prayer came in unto Thee, Into Thy holy temple” (Jonah 2:7). But regarding what you said yesterday, in connection with enjoying life, I know someone who says they are quite sure of where they are going, on the basis of Christ’s finished work; but I had a concern to bring before them that there was something else, that the Lord Jesus loves us from the glory, the same as He loved us when He died for us – I just like to put that present love of the Lord alongside what you said yesterday. But I am following what you are saying, and I have thoughts about it.

PJW  Can we share them? The love of the Lord is a wonderful thing. It is something that should be present and current.

JPW  I am joying in the eternal life: His present love. There is something more than being safe and sure. It started with that tract, ‘Safety, certainty and enjoyment,’ and the three classes: first class, second class and third class.

PJW  Yes, indeed. The safety and the certainty are important, but it is the enjoyment that would link in with what we are considering.

JPW  When you spoke yesterday about desiring more, the Scripture came before me, “He gives more grace” (James 4:6). It seems to me that that is something we could desire more of – grace.

PJW  Peter ends his letters by saying, “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). That is an injunction that Peter wanted to leave with his brethren. I think that is a very good exercise, and I would judge that you can probably grow in grace only as you grow in the knowledge of Him. The two things go together.

WRT  David had a view of the future, because he speaks here about the Temple. The Temple was not built at this time. The Ark was in a tent in Jerusalem.

PJW  Yes, we have alluded to the fact that the Temple had not been built, and God was quite definite that David was not going to build it because he was a man of war (1 Chr 28:3). He had blood on his hands, in that sense. There is no questioning David’s desire to provide for the Lord. I suppose that is the answer, really, and it is something that is the answer for every Christian, every believer. Psalm 23 is what the Lord has provided for us, but then we should provide something for Him.

GKB  So David never challenged God over that question of actually building the house, but he said, ‘I will go just as far as I can,’ supplying all the materials, gathering up all that was necessary so that Solomon could get on with the work (1 Chron 29).

PJW  But even then, with all that David provided, he said, “Of that which is from Thy hand have we given Thee” (1 Chron 29:14). He realised that it all came from God anyway. But I would like to have the single-mindedness that David has here, “One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after.”

JPW  Simeon and Anna were in the house of Jehovah every day.

PJW  They were indeed. They really had the light of these things in their hearts – rather like Caleb, really. They had it in their hearts. Actually, I nearly read the passage in Luke, when the Lord ascends into heaven, and they “were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 23:53). That was a transitory time before the assembly was set up, because the Spirit had not come – but there was joy there. They were happy to be there in the knowledge that Christ was risen and glorified. And here, in Psalm 27, it says, “To behold the beauty of Jehovah,” and then – I know there is the tent, which is a slightly different thing, but – it says, “Sacrifices of shouts of joy: I will sing, yea, I will sing psalms unto Jehovah.” Praise and worship the result of all this.

JPW  What you said earlier about progression in the service of God is very interesting, because brethren avoid having any laid-down order because of what we came through, but it is clear from Scripture that, “According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth” (Psalm 48:10). And the Scripture for progression is that one in Ephesians, “For through Him we have both access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18). And that is what JND highlights in his introduction to the hymn book: that we should get through to the Father, and that really takes us into the full knowledge of God.

PJW  Well, in one sense there is a grand destination.

JPW  It is right, is it not? What is said – when brothers do not wish to have any order laid down – is that the Lord is the Minister of the sanctuary, and He will guide it just how He wishes and we dare not lay hands on it. But we know it is right to progress, and come on to the experience of being sons of God. We know it because we have experienced it so many times.

PJW  It is a whole subject, the service of praise, as we call it. I just mentioned how it does progress from the breaking of bread. It ends up here with praise and singing, and I think that is another thing – that the believer, as a result of going through these experiences and having some sense of current enjoyment in divine things, is able to engage in praise. David was the sweet psalmist of Israel (2 Sam 23:1). He knew what it was to sing. When the Lord was here, He sang (Matt 26:30). It is a good thing to sing, is it not?

DJB  Yes. I think a psalm has a particular connection with what comes out of experience. We are told to speak to ourselves “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as if there is some degree of distinction between them (Eph 5:19). It is good to come before God with something fresh – I have often thought about the beginning of Psalm 40, “And He hath put a new song in my mouth, praise unto our God” (v3). It is a psalm that actually bears, first of all, upon the Lord Jesus Himself. But there are a good many references in Scripture to a new song: something which is fresh and by way of a new composition. “I say what I have composed touching the king” (Ps 45:1).

PJW  And they sang a song after they crossed the Red Sea (Ex 15). By the time we get to the end of the Scriptures we find there is a song being sung. But I think Christians are almost unique amongst the faiths, if I can put it that way, of the world, in being able to sing. It is something which is uniquely special to Christianity. It is born out of experience with God – our response, really.

JPW  Is that why we do not have an organ?

PJW  In the New Testament our praise is from the heart. But we should be able to sing, and it is a good thing when we come together, to sing. We start our occasions with a hymn, and that does set us together.

DJB  It would have been an extraordinary experience to join the Lord in the song in the night He was betrayed.

PJW  It says, “And having sung a hymn” (Mark 14:26). What do you think that song was?

DJB  Those who know about these things suggest that it was one of the Psalms, about 116 to 118. It was the Jewish tradition to take up those psalms. But the spirit in which it was sung with the Lord would have given them a foretaste, anyway, of “In the midst of the assembly will I sing Thy praises” (Heb 2:12).

I hope you will just give us a little on Luke 15. In spirit we have been having it already.

PJW  I hesitated to read this, because I was thinking more of Psalm 23 and how David could really enjoy currently what the Lord had provided, and of what he could provide for the Lord in Psalm 27. But if we want to know something about enjoyment, the Father’s house, we have to read Luke 15. As I said by way of introduction, the young man wanted what was material, but in the end he actually got far more than he bargained for, which is surely the case for every believer. What a scene this is! I did not want to dwell on the going away and coming back, exactly, but just to consider the Father’s house. The calf has been killed, the robe has been given, the ring has been put on, the sandals have been put on, and it says, “They began to make merry.” It does not say they finished, because I think, in God’s presence is “fulness of joy,” “pleasures for evermore” (Ps 16:11). We do touch something of what is indestructible.

JPW  Is that connected with the last verse of the chapter, which implies resurrection? “Thy brother was dead and has come to life again.” It links with resurrection, does it not?

PJW  Well, it certainly does. We all were dead in trespasses and sins, and we know Someone Who has quickened us. And we are not brought back to where we were before: it is to something entirely new.

JPW  And the Father was doing right, too. That statement is most important, “It was right” (v32); the righteousness of it – I love that piece.

PJW  As has often been said, neither of these two sons really knew the father’s heart at the outset, but the younger man learned it, just as David in Psalm 23 had learned it. The elder son – I know this is a parable, it is not a true story – we do not know if he ever did learn it, although if this speaks of Israel and the Gentiles, then Israel will come into blessing in a future day.

GKB  The repentant son would have been content with something much, much less, a place ‘downstairs’ (v19). As you say, he had no realisation of his father’s heart, of what was the fullness of the blessing that God had in mind for him.

DJB  The only way that any from Israel came into the blessing in the Acts was by taking the ground of the younger son. “What shall we do, brethren? And Peter said to them, Repent” (Acts 2:37‑38). It is very striking that these three parables all come out of that one statement, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (v2). It makes you wonder what those who sat down with the Lord got for their souls just by being together with Him, you might say, at His table. In Matthew’s house that was Matthew’s table (Mark 2:15), but the Lord would have authority at the table, and those that sat down with Him would have received something for their souls.

PJW  And it was all in Him, really. Someone referred to that Scripture yesterday, and I think that is very telling, “Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life” (John 5:40). The Pharisees, I suppose, would have searched the Scriptures in their own way. They would know even where to look, but they would not come to the Lord; whereas the tax gatherers and the sinners came to Him.

There is the music and the dancing. Well, I do not know too much about that, but it is a sphere of joy. In Psalm 27 we had the joy; here we have the music and the dancing in the Father’s house.

DJB  Perhaps you could just tell us what you had in mind in reading John 14.

PJW  Only that it is something that is future, “In My Father’s house there are many abodes.” But the Lord was concerned that we might know something of that now. It is a future day, but we are to enjoy it now. That prospect should keep us going. That was my thought.

DJB  That is the future. The present comes a little later in the chapter, “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you” (v18). I think it has often been said that the first part is His coming for us, and the next part is His coming to us.

PJW  And that is something else that I have learned a little of. I used to think verse 18 did mean when the Lord comes for us. But again, through a little experience, I have come to realise that He comes to us as we gather together, and that is what we have been saying, that even in this scene we can come to Him and He comes to us.

24 November 2013