Do you remember this joke from a few years ago?
Everyone Knows Dave
Dave was bragging to his boss one day, “You know, I know everyone there is to know. Just name someone, anyone, and I know them.”
Tired of his boasting, his boss called his bluff, “OK, Dave, how about Tom Cruise?”
“No dramas boss, Tom and I are old friends, and I can prove it.” So Dave and his boss fly out to Hollywood and knock on Tom Cruise’s door, and Tom Cruise shouts,
“Dave! What’s happening? Great to see you! Come on in for a beer!”
Although impressed, Dave’s boss is still skeptical. After they leave Cruise’s house, he tells Dave that he thinks him knowing Cruise was just lucky.
“No, no, just name anyone else,” Dave says.
“President Obama,” his boss quickly retorts.
“Yup,” Dave says, “Old buddies, let’s fly out to Washington,” and off they go.
At the White House, Obama spots Dave on the tour and motions him and his boss over, saying, “Dave, what a surprise, I was just on my way to a meeting, but you and your friend come on in and let’s have a beer first and catch up.”
Well, the boss is very shaken by now but still not totally convinced. After they leave the White House grounds he expresses his doubts to Dave, who again implores him to name anyone else.
“Pope Francis,” his boss replies.
“Sure!” says Dave. “I’ve known the Pope for years.” So off they fly to Rome.
Dave and his boss are assembled with the masses at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square when Dave says, “This will never work. I can’t catch the Pope’s eye among all these people. Tell you what, I know all the guards so let me just go upstairs and I’ll come out on the balcony with the Pope.” He disappears into the crowd headed towards the Vatican.
Sure enough, half an hour later Dave emerges with the Pope on the balcony, but by the time Dave returns, he finds that his boss has had a heart attack and is surrounded by paramedics.
Making his way to his boss’ side, Dave asks him, “What happened?”
His boss looks up and says, “It was the final straw… you and the Pope came out on to the balcony and the man next to me said, ‘Who is that on the balcony with Dave?’
We love this joke because how could any regular, everyday type of person (like us) be friends, real friends with Tom Cruise, President Obama and even Pope Francis?
That's exactly how I feel about this first line of Psalm 23. The Lord is my Shepherd. Yes, these words are a powerful conductor of peace and comfort. But they are much more than that.
I'm not trying to go full-on nerd here, looking at the original Hebrew, but it's actually important. The key word here is "Lord." When the Bible writes this word, all in capitals, LORD, it means the name of God, that God himself uses YHWH. In English, we translate that as "I am." It is the holiest, most sacred word in the Hebrew language. So holy, that it is not ever spoken or written, not even today. So holy that the scribes who would copy the Bible in ancient times would wash their bodies, put on clean clothes and use a brand-new instrument every time they copied this word. So holy that, even in modern Hebrew, the verb "to be" and all of its conjugations are never used.
Believe it or not, I took Hebrew in college - as a first-semester freshman. The teacher was a brilliant, passionate and beautiful Israeli woman. She knew 12 languages! One day I asked her why we never used this verb. I'll never forget her answer. She stood up tall and with great passion, she said to me,
"We cannot say 'I am!' We are here for a moment and then - gone! Only God can say 'I am'."
We have such a different idea of God today. To the ancient Hebrew people, he was the King of Kings, master of the universe, the Lord over all. He was the invisible power that brought all into being. He was beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. He wasn't the kind, loving, gracious heavenly Father that we know him as today.
But he was to David!
Obviously. The entire 23rd psalm is all about the kindness, love, help, understanding and compassion of God. So, how did David discover this? How did he transcend his culture's most powerful value and become intimate friends with God?
By carefully examining a number of verses concerning David's birth, childhood and place in his family, we discover the following:
- David's birth was surrounded in some sort of scandal.
- He was rejected from his birth
- He was mocked by his brothers
- He was not included as a full member of the family
Can you relate to that? I sure can. Childhood circumstances may differ but did you feel put down, rejected and maybe even hated? David was an amazing person with great talent and abilities. (And so are you!) He would become Israel's greatest king. But his family didn't see him at all. I believe David experienced extreme loneliness.
If you read through the story of David from the point of view of his connections with others, you will be amazed at how highly he valued love and friendship. David deeply desired real relationship and when it was not to be found, he found it in God.
Imagine that it's late at night, David has just chased away a wolf from the flock. The sheep are slowly quieting down. But his spirit is troubled; feelings of rejection and worthlessness are surging up inside of him. Maybe he's all alone again because his brothers left him and all went to town or home or anywhere without him for the hundredth time. He lifts his eyes to the magnificent star-scape above him and cries out his pain to the universe. And God answers him.
He answers with love. And kindness. And that warmth of intimacy, that someone knows and actually cares about you, spreads through David. The sadness leaves and joy fills him up. He picks up his little harp he carries everywhere, (because you never know when a song is going to strike you) and he strums a bit. Emotion is welling up inside of him.
"The Lord, the LORD is my Shepherd."
The LORD, the great God of the universe, deeply desires to be your shepherd, too. Would you like that? Would you like to hear his voice, feel that love and kindness and experience that he knows you, he cares about you?
Open your heart, lay down your defenses, let go of your demands and cry out your pain.
Though I have researched and studied deeply into the language, faith and culture of the Tenakh, or what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, I am not a scholar or even an "expert." I claim no authority. While doing extra study on the name of God, I read many articles by scholars and experts. The understanding of these four letters, YHWH, goes very, very deep, with many tendrils and tributaries. My hope is to share just a peak of the fullness of what lies beneath the surface of the scriptures. I have great respect for the Jewish faith, language and people.