Word Choice

The three-thousand-year-old song is popular in every continent on Earth. Its original tune did not survive the labyrinth of time but not so its lyrics. They are continuously repeated, recited, requested–often on the deathbed. A person may not know its composer, title, or ancient history but can recall without hesitation its opening five words:  “The LORD is my shepherd.” From that fountainhead flow the song’s succeeding lines, which pour consolation, comfort, and courage into  sick, grieving, and hoping hearts.

When individually emphasized, each of these first five words is like an oasis for a specific craving. As the dry and thirsty soul drinks deeply from the particular reservoir, the mind and spirit are uniquely refreshed:

The LORD is my shepherd

Traditionally, “the” is in a special class of adjectives known as articles (a, an, the). Unlike the other two articles, “the” particularizes the noun it precedes. So what’s coming next is not any Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is one of a kind.

The LORD is my shepherd

When someone calls you by your given name instead of  “Miss,” “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Doc,” “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or such, you have been singled out–personalized. That is what “LORD” (with all caps) is: God’s personal name (not a title). The name “LORD” proclaims, “I am the one and only God from eternity past through eternity future.” The LORD is all in all. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Omnibenevolent. All of God’s nature and attributes are embodied in His personal name, LORD.

The LORD is my shepherd

“Is” stands straight and tall, emanating confidence . . . assurance . . . conviction. No doubt about it! Intrinsically strong and ongoing, this verb functions as the middle link in the sentence chain, connecting the two words on either side of it and giving notice that they can flip sides without losing their meanings.

The LORD is my shepherd

“My” gives the heads-up that the song’s theme is personal. In the King James 2000 translation of all six stanzas, the possessive “my” occurs six times, “me” seven times, and “I” four times. By contrast, none of these words appears even once in the oft-repeated Lord’s Prayer, or Model Prayer, that begins “Our Father” and continues the sense of community to the amen. Psalm 23 from beginning to end is me-centered; that is, self in a relationship with LORD. This is a free-will possession. The LORD who possesses all possesses me.

The LORD is my shepherd

My shepherd is the LORD, and I have chosen the LORD to shepherd me all my life–the One who knows the end from the beginning, has all resources at His disposal, knows me by name.

Having rested at the oases, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15 KJV2000) the magnificent Psalm 23.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David
The Shepherd Psalm

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.

2He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

3He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Yea, 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 runs over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The above translation is from the King James 2000 Bible version. Like my father, however, I memorized Psalm 23 from the King James Version of 1611. And that is what I used when I desperately attempted to stem the tide of manufactured mania. Night after night I called Daddy, a helpless victim of overdrugging at the nursing facility 1500 miles away, and we recited together The Shepherd Psalm before bedtime. One dark night my father chose a word that, much to my chagrin, defined his despair:

     . . . When we reached “He restoreth my soul,” my father said, “He restoreth my sanity.” . . .

     Absorbing the magnitude of what Daddy’s mind must be grappling with now, my brain concluded the worst fear of all. He thinks he’s crazy. (pages 62-63 of Before the Door Closes)

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