Psalm 22 and Psalm 23

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 5:36 pm by Al

The number 23 follows the number 22. Basic arithmetic. Any five year-old knows this as soon as they learn to count. Apparently I had forgotten how to count when I read the psalms. Psalms 22 and 23 are next-door neighbors, they follow numerically. And they follow one another as the Spirit intended when he led those who organized the psalter in their ordering of the psalms. But somehow I never saw the connection. In fact, I have been reading and re-reading each of these psalms recently, treating them as if they had nothing to do with one another, silos standing beside one another, containing two different, unrelated kinds of spiritual nourishment.

David is the human author of both, but no occasion in his life is provided for either psalm. Placed together, they tell a story of the soul. One poem begins with David in the depths of despair, crying out to God, and the following begins with what is perhaps the most well known picture of peace in all of literature. God far off becomes God near and caring. A soul in despair becomes a soul at peace. The two psalms could hardly begin more differently.

Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are  you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
Ps 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
An abandoning God becomes a God who is a shepherd that takes care of his sheep so well that the sheep has no need. Taken together, as they should be, these psalms give us spiritual whiplash, racketing us from a God who is somehow distant to a God who is near.

Jesus, the son of David, used the opening lines of Psalm 22 on the cross. There may be no more significant cry of anguish in the history of the universe: The Son of God, eternally in fellowship with his father, cries out to him in agony at what appears to be God abandoning him. Why? We know the answer, even if we do not fully understand it: Jesus became sin, he took upon himself God’s wrath, he took the punishment we deserved, and in that moment God the father turned his back on his son and the son died, not at the hands of men, but at the hand of God punishing sin (our sin, not his). Because he carried my sin, Jesus, separated from his father, cried out: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”

But the Father did not leave his son in the grave. The Father, the Shepherd, rescued his son, the sheep, and brought him safely out of the valley of the shadow of death, alive. He raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to his throne in heaven. Jesus experienced to the very fullest both the agony and abandonment of Psalm 22 and the peace and security of Psalm 23. He lived them both in the most extreme way.

And now, Jesus has become the Good Shepherd. The forsaken one becomes the caring shepherd, leading those who hear his voice into permanent pastures of peace. What incredible love! The one who was abandoned because of what we did, does not abandon us. He walked through death’s valley alone, for our sake, but now he does not leave us to walk there alone.

I am now walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But I walk through it hand-in-hand with the one who walked there and emerged alive on the other end. His rod and staff, his CROSS, they comfort me. I know that he will not only walk with me, but will bring me safely into life on the other side of the valley, and therefore I’m not afraid.

Psalm 22? Because Jesus experienced the agony of that psalm on the cross for my sake, as I am in Christ, I will never have to sing it. In fact I cannot sing it. Because, through his Son’s death, God has not abandoned me and never will.

Psalm 23? Because the Father, the shepherd, delivered Jesus from the power of death, as I am in Christ, I can and do sing that psalm. The Lord is indeed my shepherd, and Jesus the Good Shepherd cares for me in every possible way, every day of my life, and through the valley of death.

He even sets a feast for us before our true enemies—sin and death (the residents of the valley)—whom he has defeated. None are worthy of the banquet, that’s what grace is all about, but he grants it to us out of his great love and compassion as we believe.

Blessings, Al


  1. Craig Combs said,

    November 3, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Oh, glory!
    What a breath of freshness to hear of Christ’s care as the Good Shepherd who tasted death for his sheep so we may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

    We are preaching through a sampling of the Psalms right now at our church in Northern Vermont. Some of my folk are new to the idea that all these Psalms point us to Jesus (something I never would have imagined, myself, were it not for Ed Clowney, and Ray Dillard, and the whole company of dear ones who nurtured me along – – – among whom I also continue to number you, with gratitude, for your kindness and help along the way… … no Hebrew scholar, this man, by any stretch, but I preach the Old Testament with confidence and conviction gained in those hallowed halls and passed on through the sainted scholars that bore with me patiently.)

    Sometimes, some of them struggle with the methodology — these are the ones who have been trained to stay in the literal and stick to the moment and thus not see the forest for the trees.
    But I find with true believers, no matter their previous orientation, that when they once see Jesus laid bare in all his splendor (by the work of the Spirit in spite of the limitations of the preacher), then, well, the sheep know his voice, and their hearts begin to burn like the disciples on the Emmaus road.

    I am still praying for you, and am happy to find you dying well…the last great witness of all God’s children before they join their voices to the mighty chorus of the ones who came before.
    Keep the faith, Al, for Jesus’ sake, and frankly for ours. We need the encouragement so desperately.

    If it is all right with you, I want to copy your comments from Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 and share them via email with some of my folk.
    Thanks for helping me help them.
    Still yours in Christ alone,

  2. Islandgirl said,

    November 4, 2006 at 10:52 am

    What a wonderful way to show God’s love and grace through all of this-I pray that I will always remember this whenever I am faced with something that I think we can not get through, or maybe be able to share this with others-to show them God’s peace and unfalling love through it all.

    Thanks for sharing you heart with us, and I look forward to reading many more of your awesome revelations that you receive from God.

    Thinking and praying for you and your family often!


  3. Jennifer White said,

    November 4, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Thank you for painting this picture for me Al.
    May His face shine upon you, we love you. Jennifer

  4. John Oliff said,

    November 5, 2006 at 7:07 am

    Thank you for being an example of God’s ever caring grace! As I read this our daughter (Rylee, 7 mts) is sick and we are waiting for results. This has caused me to pause and remember that the God of glory always watches over his lambs. Grace and peace


  5. Ron said,

    November 5, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    My prayers (public and private) grieve that you will be leaving us in a time when we need veteran wisdom and love, yet rejoice that you will sing Psalms (of praise only?) to God, while Ben testifies to the grace of God to sinners, in the land of the living with the Everliving One. Time spent now with you is precious, yet will be equally precious when eternity stretches before us. You have taught us well, and teach us yet.
    ron & judi

  6. Mark A. Stone said,

    November 6, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Thank you for such a word of instruction. I, too, have never seen the connection between Psalm 22 and Psalm 23. A more complete picture of Christ’s work probably can not be seen anywhere else in the Old Testament. We continue to pray for your family, your health, your comfort, and your productivity.

  7. Laurie Hartman said,

    November 6, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    Dear Groves Family,
    Continuing to think of you with fondness. Love the pictures!!!
    Don’t have much to say. Just, I love you guys and continue to lift you before our Father – who does walk with us.
    Amen – Laurie

  8. JoAnn Stracuzzi said,

    November 6, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Al and Libby,
    Keep writing.Your words continue to point us to Christ with ever new insight. Ken and I have experienced the grace that you speak of so beautifully. When Carmen was dying we felt that Jesus personally tended to every detail of our needs. We never felt we were delegate to His administative assistant. Instead He worked out details in ways that were more than we imagined. God’s promises are true and one day we will meet Him face to face. That bis our great hope. What a Savoir.
    Give our love to all.

  9. barbarafinlay said,

    November 12, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Dear Al,

    Thanks so much for sharing your reflections on the psalms with us. You have so encouraged my soul tonight as I reflect again on what Jesus my great shepherd has done for me and what He has in store for me. Oh the joy of knowing Him and being held safe in Him in life and in death, just can’t find words to express the joy of being His child.

    I have been so humbled over the past months reading your blog site and so encouraged as have so many others. I just pray God will continue to use you and encourage you in the days ahead that He has sovereignly ordained for you.

    We pray that you will continue to know the joy and peace and comfort of the Good Shepherd hour by hour. Our thoughts and prayers are continually with you and Libbie.

    love Barbara

  10. Fred said,

    November 12, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks, Al.

    True … and all too easily forgotten.

    I once heard a [clever] preacher say:

    Ps 22 The Suffering Shepherd
    Ps 23 The Good Shepherd
    Ps 24 The Great Shepherd

    Glory–everlasting, eternal, & unending–follows all things and everything for those who are in Christ. Amen.



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