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1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Even 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.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lordforever. (Psalm 23 ESV)
The Bible speaks of God’s unchangeable truths and they are crucial for the salvation of all humankind and Christian living. For this very reason, we should spend time in studying God’s Word.
Many Christians have Bible knowledge but do not experience God. One important thing is that, Bible study should not just boil down to the attainment of biblical truths and principles. As Christians, we should also apply the learned truths into our daily living as means to experience the validity and power of God’s truths, so that we can be transformed in our Christian character. Also, we should not be the sole beneficiaries but should bless the people around us.
Because of this, the “iEXP Bible Study Method” is developed. “iEXP” (I experience) is an experiential Bible study method which involves four steps. The first step is “i”, which stands for eye, the initial phase is to observe. The second phase is to expound the Bible text. The third stage is to exercise the truths, that is, the application of biblical truths in everyday life. Finally, the last step is the proclamation of biblical principles. It is an act of testifying the truths to others, as means to edify non-believers and believers alike.
1) “Eye” (i)
As for those who study the Bible, they have to pay extra effort in order to understand God’s will, and one of the simplest and effective methods is to eye or observe. The Bereans “examined” the Scriptures day after day (Acts 17:10-11, HCSB), so that they could understand biblical truths. “Examined” is searching or examining carefully. The first step of iEXP Bible Study Method is “i” (which stands for eye”).
By using our eyes, we eye the biblical text carefully. The Bible is written in various genres, such as law, narrative, poetry, wisdom literature and epistles. As the emphasis and the focus of poetry, narrative, prophecy and letter are different, thus the ways to understand and interpret are not the same.
It’s easy to find out that Psalm 23 is a poem. There are 150 psalms and they can be classified as Laments, Hymns, Thanksgiving, Songs of Confidence, Hymns of Zion, Enthronement Psalms, Royal Psalms, Pilgrim Psalms, Wisdom Psalms and Liturgies.
Songs of Confidence
Psalm 23 is one of the Songs of Confidence; in the entire psalm, the psalmist asserts his trust in God.
As we study the text, we should pay attention to the facts about that special occasion.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lordforever.
In six short verses, only “all the days of my life” is related to time.
We should pay attention to the location mentioned in the text, as it might give us clues to cause and effect.
The Places that the Poet Had Trodden On
Yahweh the shepherd led the poet through different places, including:
First, “green pastures” (Psalm 23:2);
Second, “still waters” (Psalm 23:2);
Third, “paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3);
Fourth, “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4);
Fifth, “the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5) and
Sixth, “the house of the Lord” (Psalm 23:6).
What are the main characters in the passage?
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (ESV)
The poet points out Yahweh is his Shepherd and he sees himself as a sheep. In addition, the poet also mentioned his numerous enemies.
What have the main characters said and done? These are the information we should observe.
The Poet’s Needs
The poet points out Yahweh the Shepherd has provided all of his needs (Psalm 23:1).
The Poet’s Journey
When walking through different paths or stages of life, the poet experienced God was with him all the time (Psalm 23:2, 3, 4, 5).
The Shepherd’s Work
The Shepherd not only guides the poet to take the path that he should take, but He also restores or renews the psalmist’s soul (Psalm 23:3). Although passing through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), the sheep is not afraid, knowing that the Shepherd is always by his side. Not only that, the sheep is receiving comfort from the shepherd’s rod and staff. Moreover, in the presence of many enemies, the Shepherd anointed the poet’s head and filled his cup with blessings (Ps. 23:5).
The Poet’s wish
At the end of this psalm, the poet is convinced that God would grant him goodness and unfailing love, and his wish was tolive in the Lord’s house for the rest of his life. (Psalm 23:6).
2) “Expound” (E)
The Apostle Paul urged his young coworker Timothy to handle the word of truth correctly (2 Tim. 2:15), that is, to interpret the Bible with caution. The second step of iEXP Bible Study Method is to “Expound”.
The original Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek. Concerning interpreting the Scriptures, a preacher humorously said, “Regardless of whether you know the original text or not, the most important thing is the context.” A verse can be tied to the whole chapter and the entire book, or even the whole Bible, therefore we should not ignore the context in interpretation.
The Poet’s Experience
In Psalm 23, the poet mentioned the places that he had gone to, so what were these experiences? By paying attention to the context of this psalm, we can follow the psalmist’s thought patterns.
David is the author of Psalm 23. In his life, he experienced a lot of highs and lows. He used to be an inconspicuous shepherd, but for the love of his flock of sheep, he fought off lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-36). As he couldn’t stand the giant hurling insults at God and His people, he defeated this mighty warrior in an amazing way (1 Samuel 17). David was the son-in-law of King Saul (1 Sam. 26:44). Due to jealousy, his father-in-law tried to hunt him down, therefore he had to wander around (1 Samuel 26-27). God elevated David to the king of Israel (2 Sam. 5:4), but due to human weaknesses, he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband indirectly (2 Samuel 11). In his old age, David’s son Absalom wanted to take away his throne, so he had to flee again (2 Samuel 15). By understanding David’s life, we can comprehend the artistic conception of this psalm.
Some verses are very difficult to understand, but we can find clues from the other books of the Bible before making reasonable inferences and giving explanations. Since the sixty-six books of the Bible are linked together, thus Scripture interpret Scripture is very important.
The Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 NLT) In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus shows that He is the good shepherd, who lays down His life for the world.
David’s Good Shepherd
David testified that God had looked after him and provided all of his needs. When we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, we would have a better understanding of Yahweh the Shepherd.
Some Bible scholars have spent their entire life studying the original text and the Bible. When interpreting the Bible, we must refer to the commentaries of scholars who believe in the Bible, so that we can explain the Bible more accurately.
In Green Pastures
The “green pastures” are the rich and lush pastures. Shepherds had to lead their flock around to graze on pastures, but the supply of Yahweh the Shepherd was definitely not seasonal, but it was regular and sufficient.
Beside Quiet Waters
The Good Shepherd leads the psalmist to quiet waters. By means of this imagery, we can identify with the peace and security that the poet enjoyed.
“He renews my life” (HCSB)
“He renews my life” is a picture of “spiritual renewal.” Yahweh the Shepherd not only forgives the sins of human beings, but He also provides forgiveness and peace to them. This is the lifelong experience of David.
“He leads me down the right paths for the sake of his reputation” (NET)
Paths of righteousness can be seen as right paths. Since the psalmist belongs to the Lord, God will lead him to the right paths. Based on this intimate relationship, God ensures His people will walk the same way that He wants to go. For His name’s sake, the Good Shepherd must lead His flock to the right paths.
“Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (NLT)
Shepherds used hooked staffs or long crooks. If a sheep was on the verge of going astray, a shepherd would use his crook to catch the animal by the leg. Very likely, a rod is prod, that is, a metal-tipped poker. When David was a shepherd, he used such a weapon to fight off lions and bears (1 Sam. 17:34-36). A shepherd can also use the rod to tap on the back of a sheep, so that it would turn to the right path. Yahweh the Shepherd uses His staff to guide His people, and He also uses His rod to protect us; these two things are the symbols of His double protection.
“You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” (NLT).
The Israelites would anoint the foreheads of their guests and it would add a fragrance to the room. In the presence of the enemies of the psalmist, God not only granted him blessings, but He also let his opponents know that he is a VIP of God.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV)
There was no temple during David’s years, and the Israelites worshipped God through the rituals of the priests and the Levites at the tabernacle. Although David was not a Levite, his wish was to be with God in the tabernacle forever.
3) “Exercise” (X)
The greatest commandment in the Bible is to love the Lord wholeheartedly and to love humankind (Mark 12:29-31). This is what Christians should exercise on earth. The third step of iEXP Bible Study Method is to “Exercise”, that is, to exercise godliness. Applying the biblical truths to our daily living is the ultimate goal of Bible study.
After understanding God’s will, Bible readers or Bible students should experience God in their daily lives, so that they could deepen their relationship with the Lord.
The psalmist testifies to the readers that the supply of God is sufficient. We should also aspire to experience God’s physical and spiritual care in our daily lives.
When we call ourselves Christians, have we indeed experienced the grace and peace of forgiveness that God has given us?
Protection of God
Yahweh the Shepherd surrounds the psalmist with His double protection, thus we should pray for more of His guidance and protection.
Through Bible study, we come to know human problems and weaknesses, and we should beware of committing the same mistakes like the Bible characters. Owing to human weaknesses, we inevitably hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally; therefore, we must practice mutual forgiveness. In terms of interpersonal relationships, we should edify and care for one another selflessly, in accordance with the biblical teachings.
Should not Make Enemies
Christians should not make enemies, but living in the world, there are always people who do not like us. Since we are the followers of Jesus Christ, many people would hate us for no reason.
God’s Gracious Hands
Before his enemies, the psalmist perceives God’s grace. Can we see God’s grace when others treat us badly?
After each Bible study, non-believers could apply the biblical truths to their lives in order to experience whether these truths are true or not. Moreover, they could experience that God is true and alive. Consequently, they would accept God’s saving grace. As for Christians, these truths would encourage them to devote themselves to God once again. Also, these Bible principles would further develop their character. Last but not least, these truths could also be the cornerstone and the principle of their service.
The Lord is the personal shepherd of the psalmist and ours as well.
Faith is personal, so believers should experience God on a personal basis.
4) “Proclaim” (P)
By applying the biblical truths to their lives, believers would experience God. When the Bible students experience God and His truths, they should follow the example of the early Christians of testifying to non-believers and believers boldly. By means of speech, we witness to non-believing friends and to edify believers alike. The fourth step of the iEXP Bible study is “Proclaim”.
Testify to non-believers
Based on the content of Psalm 23, Christians can testify to non-believers that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who died for all humankind.
Testify to Christians
Psalm 23 is a Song of Confidence. The psalmist testifies to the readers how he trusted and experienced God. When living in the world, even Christians with strong faith would have moments of weakness. We should encourage one another when we have experienced God’s care and protection.