4 Knowing God (4)

Vladimir was a courageous pastor in a communist country. He had been tortured for his faith for 13 years. Below was an excerpt of his fight to keep faith alive in prisons and in his communist homeland.

It started with starvation. The feeling of starvation – like the feelings of love – are impossible to describe. My daily food ration was two slices of bread and six tablespoons of “soup” which was really flavored water, slimy and putrid. The diet was carefully and scientifically designed to barely sustain life. The prisoners called it “The Death Diet”. It consisted mainly of water and was enough only to maintain a weak pulse. At the same time, it was enough to stimulate the gastric juices, causing one to feel hunger more acutely than if he had nothing to eat at all. I had three interrogators, each one working an eight-hour shift. This allowed them to keep up the physical and psychological torture 24 hours a day. I was ordered to stand facing the glaring white wall at a distance of eight inches and to keep my eyes open – wide open. My interrogator began to shout – 

“You must not move one inch!” “You must not close your eyes for one moment!” “You must not shift your weight!” “You must not move a muscle!” “You must not…You must not…..” After only a few moments my eyes burned like hot irons were in them. It is terribly painful and yet when I merely blinked, my interrogator struck me across the side of my face. “Tell me about your spy activities!” “I am a pastor. I have worked for Christ all my life. I have never spied.” The interrogator gave me another blow to the side of my head. The time from midnight to morning was the worst. I had now not slept, not eaten, not moved for four days. They took special delight in catching a twitching muscle or a blinking eye as an excuse for a blow. My hunger left and deep thirst took over. The blood began to settle in my legs and they began to swell up. My lips were dry, cracked and bleeding. On the tenth night I saw a reflection in the window, I saw a horrible emaciated figure, legs swollen, eyes like empty holes in the head, with a long beard covered with dried blood from cracked, bleeding and hideously swollen lips.

My numbed mind slowly absorbed this fact and tears came into my eyes. Suddenly, I felt crushed, so alone, so by myself. I felt as Christ must have when He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I couldn’t weep tears, but my body heaved with unwept tears. Then, in that moment of total, crushing hopelessness, I heard a voice as clear and distinct as any voice I have ever heard in my life. It said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you…..” (Adapted from Tortured for His Faith by Haralan Popov)

Your initial response

Close your eyes and imagine that you were Vladimir, how do you feel? Did you ever have this desperate cry to God?

Psalm 23:1–6

1The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 

2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 

3he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 

4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 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 your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.(Psalm 23:1–6 NIV) 

1) “Eye” (“i=Eye”)

iEXP Bible Study Method

1 Draw a question mark at the place where you have difficulty of understanding.

2 Who is the author of Psalm 23?

3 Who is Yahweh (the Lord)?

4 Who are the enemies of the poet?

5 When did the poet have the above experience in his life?

6 Please number the places that the poet mentioned in ascending order.

7 What kind of place is the house of the Lord?

8 What is the meaning of anointing one’s head?

9 Use a highlighter to underline all of the words about “the Spirit” in this passage.

10 Put a circle next to the newly found insight.

2) “Expound” (E)

iEXP Bible Study Method

1 As humans, we do lack of something, why does the poet say he doesn’t lack anything?

2 Why did the poet call the Lord his shepherd?

3 What is the meaning of restoring one’s soul?

4 Why could the rod and staff of the shepherd comfort the poet?

5 What do the analogies of green pastures, quiet waters, paths of righteousness, the valley of the shadow of death, the presence of my enemies, and the house of the Lord imply.

Psalm 23:1

The name of the one and only true God is Yahweh (The Lord), meaning “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:13-14) God made a covenant with the Israelites and He promised to treat His people with love, compassion, patience, fidelity, and forgiveness (Exodus 34:6-7). The poet was Kind David. When he was young, he was a shepherd of his father’s flock. Although he came from a lowly background, God raised him up to be the king of a nation. The shepherds are the leaders, companions, guides and providers of their flock. (Ps. 23:1). David could understand the intimate relationship between a shepherd and his flock well. In David’s life, he continued to experience God’s care, provision and protection; consequently, he came to conclude that he lacked nothing (literal translation). As Yahweh is his shepherd forever, David experiences that he has everything he needs (paraphrased version).

Psalm 23:2

Sheep are timid animals. They will not lie down when they are unsecured. When approaching fast-flowing waters, they will become fearful. By employing pictorial words, David wrote down his past experience. When David was a young man, King Saul chased after him and tried to kill him, and it came to an end when his fierce enemy died on the battlefield (cf. 1 Samuel 19-31). God not only cast away David’s fear, He made His servant lie down or sleep peacefully during the reign of terror of Saul. Moreover, David experienced the abundant and unceasing provision of God as if he were a sheep grazing on green pastures.

Psalm 23:3

Shepherds lead their sheep to still waters. Not only could the sheep drink, they could rest and cleansed themselves as well. For His name’s sake, the Lord not only granted David new strength, He guided David to walk in paths of righteousness. In David’s life, he experienced God was the provider of his soul.

Psalm 23:4

A “rod” is a heavy weapon and flints are often embedded into it. When ferocious beasts come to attack his sheep, a shepherd will use a rod to protect his sheep. A shepherd’s “staff” is not a weapon and it is about six feet in length. It was often used to help control the sheep in rough terrain. In essence, a “rod” is a symbol for protection, and a “staff” a symbol of guidance.

Psalm 23:5

Anointing was done not only as a part of the ritual in connection with the coronation of kings and at the installation of the High Priest, but also as an act of courtesy and hospitality toward a guest. As sheep find food among the thorns and thistles, they could be scratched as a result. Sheep are not only timid, but they are very tame as well; hence, they can easily become the targets of attack. God granted David a banquet of abundance and it included a cup overflowing with His goodness. As David faced his enemies, he could still be safe and sound. This picture was a portrayal of God’s amazing provision and protection.

Psalm 23:6

God made a covenant with the Israelites and promised them goodness and love. The “house of the LORD” is a symbol of God’s presence and rule. David firmly believes God is faithful and keeps His covenant, and for this reason he strongly believes that he can be with the Lord eternally. The Temple was not in existence in the era of David, and people worshipped God in the tabernacle. The tabernacle was “the tent of meeting”, and it is where people met God. When the poet thought of God’s presence in the tabernacle, and where he could fellowship with the Good Shepherd continually and intimately. In simple terms, it speaks of an “Everlasting fellowship” here (Psalm 23:6). 

Conclusion

David wrote of his past experience and his heart’s desire in Psalm 23. There are three important aspects here:

1 David experienced God’s care, provision and protection in the past.

2 When David faced threats of death, he could feel the presence of God.

3 David firmly believed that God would be good and faithful to him, and he could enjoy eternality after death.

3) “Exercise” (X)

iEXP Bible Study Method

1 Determine to connect with the Lord more in my daily living and experience that I can lack nothing in Him.

2 When facing difficulties in life, I am determined to experience the presence of God through prayers and faith.

3 Hold firm to the biblical truth that the Lord is my personal shepherd, and connect with Him in my daily life.

4 Grab the opportunity to share with someone after you have experienced the care, provision and protection of God.

5 As we don’t lack anything in life, stop using others’ wealth, achievement and status to compare with yourself.

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”.

iEXP Bible Study Method

After finished studying the text, try to apply the truths to your daily living, family life and church life, and pray that you will experience the truthfulness and power of God’s Word. Grab the opportunity to share your experience with non-believers and believers, in family altar, small groups and social gatherings, as a way of witnessing the power of the gospel to non-believers and edification of believers.

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