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Psalms 23:2: Strengthening Our Faith in Uncertain Times

Feb 14, 2018

בִּנְא֣וֹת דֶּ֭שֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי עַל־מֵ֖י מְנֻח֣וֹת יְנַהֲלֵֽנִי׃

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to water in places of repose;

bin-OT de-SHE yar-bi-TSE-ni al-mei me-nu-KHOT ye-na-ha-LE-ni

Psalms 23:2

“Life is full of transitions. Things just don’t stay the same. For most people this causes stress. Transition can be scary. Even when we are happy about it, it is stressful. When things are changing we have uncertainty about how everything will work out. But whether we like it or not, the truth is that stability is fleeting. Things change all the time.

As people who have faith in God, transitions in life are an obvious call to prayer; to trust in the Lord. How many times have I been going through a transition and turned to Him, “Please get me through this, God.”

Psalm 23 verse 2 contains an important message for faith in times of transition.

“In the beautiful pastures He lays me down; towards waters of tranquility He leads me.”

Beautiful pastures. Tranquil waters. This verse seems anything but stressful. Nothing scary here, right?

It’s true that two verses after this the Psalmist will be walking in the valley of the shadow of death, but for now everything seems just fine.

Now look more closely at the verse. I have always been struck by the order of the two halves of this verse. “He lays me down… He leads me.”

“He lays me down,” means that I am at rest. I have reached the destination. I am where I am meant to be. “He leads me,” is different. “He leads me” means that I am in motion; in transition.

Shouldn’t the images have been reversed? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Psalmist to first write, “He leads me” and then “He lays me down”?

I’d like to explain the deeper lesson of this verse by comparing it to a series of scenes in the book of Exodus.

Exodus 15:22-26 tells the story of the people of Israel as they have just begun their journey into the desert after the great miracle of the splitting of the sea. Israel travels for three days into the desert and can not find water. They then arrive at a place where the water was too bitter to drink. The people complain to Moses. He cries out to the Lord and the Lord shows Moses how to sweeten the waters. Neither Moses nor God got angry or rebuked the people for their complaint. They were thirsty. They were scared. The Lord provided.

The verse immediately after this scene states:

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. (Exodus 15:27)

Notice the specific numbers of springs and palms. Why doesn’t Scripture simply tell us that they came to a place of abundant water? What significance is there to the fact that there were exactly twelve springs and seventy palms?

These numbers should be clear to us. Twelve springs for the twelve tribes of Israel. A spring for every tribe. Seventy palms for the seventy elders of Israel. Scripture is telling us the number of springs and palms to highlight the fact that the Lord provided the perfect resting place for Israel. It was custom made for them! After the crisis of water, by bringing them to this perfect place, God tells His people, “Have no fear. I am with you.” That God is with them on their journeys is the message of the springs and palms of Elim.

The problem is that the people of Israel did not get the message. They lacked faith.

Immediately after the custom-made oasis of Elim, they again found themselves in crisis.  This time it was food.

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community comlained against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:1-3)

Rather than say to themselves, “Well, based on what we have just seen at Elim, there is no doubt that the Lord will provide for us. Clearly, He must have a solution in mind for our lack of food,” they lost faith. Notice that they “blame” the departure from Egypt on Moses. They have forgotten that it was God who took them out! They certainly don’t believe that God will provide for them.

What happened to the lesson from Elim? Did they forget the twelve springs and seventy palms? Did they forget the perfect provisions that the Lord provided?

The answer to this question in the message of our verse in Psalm 23.

There are times when the Lord provides everything for us exactly according to our precise needs and wants. And then there are times when our firm footing is shaken, and we are in transition or even crisis. There is a tendency to think about God a lot more when we are in trouble than when all seems right with our lives. When we are in crisis we cry out to God in prayer; we make commitments to Him; we seek Him. But what about when things are fine? What about the “Elim” moments in our lives? Are we as engaged in relationship with the Lord when everything seems just perfect as we are when our needs are acute?

The more we acknowledge God’s hand in providing for us when things are good, the more strength of faith we will have when times are difficult. Elim gives us strength.

In times of uncertainty and transition the true way of faith is to say, “Lord, I know from past-experience, when times were good and stable, that You were with me. If You were with me then, I know that You are with me now.”

Now let’s look at our verse again, this time with new understanding.

“In the beautiful pastures He lays me down; towards waters of tranquility He leads me.”

If I fully recognize that it is God who lays me down in beautiful pastures; that He was with me in my restful time of stability, then I will take that faith with me into the times of transition when I am on the move. I will trust that He is leading me towards waters of tranquility.

Sometimes we are at rest. Sometimes we are in motion. Sometimes we are at the destination. Sometimes we are on our way. We must draw strength from God’s blessings upon us when things are stable to strengthen and guide our faith in times of change.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation and is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast

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Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 23

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