Last night at Barnett’s Pub I taught on Psalms 23, 24, 95, and 139. These are my top four favorite psalms (Since I make the curriculum, I can whatever I want!).
You may have seen my provocative Facebook updates and Tweets from yesterday in which I claimed Psalm 24 is way better than Psalm 23. I made that claim only because I believe it’s absolutely true.
Psalm 23 gets all the air-time. It’s the LeBron James of the Psalms (flashy, but can’t ever seem to win it all). Sure, it’s got these wonderful images of the Lord leading us to green pastures and still waters, of protecting us with his rod (a weapon used to chase off wolves) and staff (a tool to reel sheep back into the fold). Plus, we have this image of a table spread before us in the presence of our enemies. Any Episcopalian immediately thinks of the Holy Eucharist. Okay, okay – Psalm 23 is great, but it’s just so overused.
Psalm 24 doesn’t begin as meekly as does Psalm 23. Psalm 23 begins with this quaint little phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Psalm 24 has no time for small-minded aphorisms, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” God is not a personal shepherd here, but the ruler, creator, and redeemer of all creation. Plus, I love the call and response in Psalm 24 – originally, this psalm was probably used as a song for entering the Temple for worship. Since I believe worship is the primary act of the Christian, this psalm is very important in my spirituality.
Psalm 95 is the old entrance psalm for Morning Prayer. In seminary, I went to Morning Prayer every day. It isn’t shocking then that this psalm has become tattooed on my brain. Biblical note: the end of the psalm mentions Meribah and Massah. That is where Moses struck the rock and water flowed out for the Israelites (Exodus 17).
Psalm 139 contains some of the most poetic language in the entire psalter. Evening Prayer in the Episcopal Church often begins with verses 10 and 11: “If I say, ‘ Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,’ darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.”
Verses 12 and 13 were important to me immediately after I was diagnosed with diabetes. I was tempted to think that my body was broken, that for some reason God had made my flesh faulty and corrupt. But I was drawn back to these words: “For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” True, this psalm didn’t explain why I developed diabetes.
But this psalm gave me the words to express myself. I wasn’t abandoned or wordless – “Indeed there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether” (Psalm 139:3).