Do you look at the context of a Bible verse when you read it? Often, I think we read a verse and accept it at face value. The more I write, the more I find myself digging deeper to understand the meaning behind something. When we know the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, the whole meaning can change. As I participated in a Bible Study called “That the World May Know,” by Ray Vander Laan, the context of a famous Bible passage changed my thinking. Let’s look at what I learned regarding the 23rd Psalm.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even 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.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
This beautiful passage was penned by David. The poetic thoughts bring peace and comfort to many people, especially at times of significant loss. As I read it, I picture walking beside a babbling brook with lush green vegetation all around me. Life flows smoothly, and I want for nothing. But is that the message David is trying to convey to us? Does following God mean we will experience an easy life? Let’s dig a little deeper to understand the context of this message.
I want to focus on the second verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” First, let’s begin by looking at the landscape from these Biblical times. Just like the land where the Israelites wander for forty years, most of the area is a barren desert wilderness. Not a place you think about when you hear of green pastures. Yet, these barren hills are the very place David tended sheep as a young boy. So what does David mean by green pastures?
As Ray Vander Laan explains, springtime brings a small amount of moisture to this desert area. This allows small tufts of grass to grow up around the rocks that hold in the water. The hillside might still look barren to the naked eye, but small patches of green sprout up upon closer examination. The picture below shows a close up of these green areas. There is not an abundance of grass. But, there is enough for the herds to grab a mouth full before they move on the next clump of grass. My header photo shows a flock of sheep grazing in one of these areas. So, what does this kind of green pasture mean for our faith?
Why Dos Context Matter?
Before I learned the context behind this verse, I pictured a field covered in lush vegetation. And that image meant I had plenty of everything I needed. So if I have everything I need within my reach, do I need God? Instead, when we see David’s version of green pastures, we see God grants just enough for the moment before we move on to the next moment. David’s understanding of green fields shows us how God provides for our needs with just enough for the moment. David’s version requires us to be dependent on God to provide instead of relying on ourselves. We also learn that in a desert, we thirst for water. Likewise, God wants us to thirst for Him in the same way.Hard places in life cause us to turn to God. When we have everything we need, we push God to the side. God will provide for you. Click To Tweet
Learning the context behind Psalm 23 changed my way of thinking about these verses. In fact, the whole study by Ray Vander Laan taught me many new things. Being in the desert is a hard place for any of us. But, hard places in life cause us to turn to God. When we have everything we need, we push God to the side. So, when you think about these verses, remember the desert and how God will provide for you.
Dearest Heavenly Father. Thank you for teaching us through the Bible. Help us understand Your message instead of seeing the words the way we want them to read. Let us seek you in the desert times of our lives as well as in the good times. Lead me to Your green pastures, so I know You will provide. Thank you for the comfort of the scriptures. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Yvonne M. Morgan, author, blogger, and speaker.
Matthew 28:19 “Therefore, GO and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
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