Is the 23rd Psalm a command to rest?

Monday Musings for January 14, 2019

Good morning, Musers,

The word “Musings” in my Monday Musings’ title was especially apt this week as I revisited the 23rd Psalm. What can I say? It’s highly musable! But does it contain even a hint of a command? I don’t see one… but I was asked to look anyway.

One of my presuppositions about this psalm was that it might be the most well-known Scripture in the world. But Dr. Hugh Ross, president and founder of Reasons to Believe, set me straight on this.

Ross travels around the world proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this process, he has come in contact with thousands of people from many different cultures — and do you know what Ross says is the most well-known Bible verse hands down? Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Apparently, this chunk of the Judeo-Christian Scripture has some staying power.

I was hoping that the most well-known verse might be John 3:16 (for obvious reasons), but I had my money on Psalm 23… and perhaps the psalm would have won if we just sampled the US. I go to a lot of funerals, and Psalm 23 shows up a lot… but so does the Lord’s Prayer, John 14:1-3, Romans 8:35-39, Isaiah 57:1-2, Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 ….

So, is Psalm 23 mere spiritual pablum that we use at funerals? Or is it part God’s lively and mighty word as the Geneva Bible claimed back in 1599?

“For the word of God is lively, and mighty in operation, and sharper than any two edged sword, and entereth through, even unto the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, and of the joints, and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts, and the intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, Geneva Bible 1599 [GNV]).

I’m going with lively and mighty… although a pastoral passage will necessarily have a more peaceful tone than the apocalypse. As to today’s question, the 23rd Psalm brings us comfort through poetry while the Ten Commandments are… well…  commanding.

All Scripture is useful (2 Timothy 3:16), but not all Scripture is of the same genre. It is designed to say different things in different ways — especially to its primary audience. So, although every word in God’s word reveals things God wants us to know, not every word commands an action. The 23rd Psalm tells us why we should rest in God; it’s just not a command to do so.

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