A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

Shepherds have uniquely valuable insights into this most beloved of Bible passages.

It was almost Christmas as my young family and I left for church from our town house in Bad Kissingen, Germany, a few miles north of Schweinfurt. A middle-aged German couple lived next door, and one day I asked the wife if they attend church, and what were their holiday plans. She replied that she and her family had attended services occasionally long ago, and were planning a quiet Christmas. Hoping to encourage her to go back to church, at least for Christmas, I mentioned that the Bible has some wonderful passages and asked her if she had ever heard of the 23rd Psalm. “Der Herr ist mein hirte!” she shot back, “Of course! Germans learn that as children. Do you think we know nothing?” I apologized for my inadvertent insult, but couldn’t help thinking about Psalm 23 as cultural classic versus Psalm 23 as living truth. My neighbor memorized Psalm 23, but showed no sign of living it. Followers of Christ must know it, and live it.

God uses the research, experiences, and insights of other Christians to help us see into the Scriptures. Much of the Bible is written in the language of farmers and herders. The 23rd Psalm is a beautiful, symbolic description of our Father’s care for His people through a shepherd’s eyes. As a professional shepherd and the author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Philip Keller shares some valuable insights, which I have included.

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Song of Songs – The Mystery and Majesty of Human Love

A commentary on the Song of Solomon

Interpreted for centuries by most Jews and Christians as an allegory about the love of God for His people, modern commentators hold that this is a story about human love, which secondarily reflects the perfect love between God and His people. Though God is never mentioned, His presence permeates the book. There is widespread mention of the wonders of His creation as well as the constant restraining (and liberating) presence of His moral code. Notably, in the Song of Songs the woman did most of the speaking. It is magnificent poetry with extensive use of olfactory imagery. Remarkably, it never mentioned having children as the purpose for marriage. Romantic love was beautiful and desirable for its own sake.

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Commentary on Proverbs 31

The ultimate passage for Christian women and their families, Proverbs 31 is not a call for despair, but for delight. 

Mother’s Day is an ideal time to consider the importance of mothers. The classic passage in the Bible on this topic is Proverbs 31. This scripture is beautiful and appropriate, focusing first on the excellent mother (vv1-9) and then on the excellent wife (vv10-31). The first woman described was the mother of a king and she gave him wonderful words of wisdom. The second woman described had children, but it was in her role as a wife, more so than in her role as a mother, that she was praised.

My daughter attended a college conference last week which featured a special workshop for girls entitled “Am I Enough?” This is a question that everyone asks, but the pressures on women, especially in the Church, are intense. Even a study of Proverbs 31 can make women feel inadequate as no woman can hope to be as perfect as the model portrayed in these verses. However, the theme of Proverbs 31 is not that there are perfect women but those who embrace their relationships, to their children, to their husband, and ultimately to their God, are to be praised. They will succeed as fully as the women portrayed in these verses.

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Work in Proverbs

Work is a gift from God to give meaning to our lives. Pity the man or woman who doesn’t do any, regardless of how rich or poor. 

Our family was at the marina yesterday morning getting our sailboat ready to go into the water for the sailing season. Decks needed to be scrubbed, the cabin needed to be cleaned, rigging needed to be checked, and the tires on the trailer, having gone flat during our unusually cold winter, needed to be repaired and changed. It was a family affair, with everyone pitching in to do what they could even when they didn’t want to; like when two of my daughters cleaned the anchor locker. Enjoying the cool breeze and warm sunshine while we worked, another boater walked over and asked how I got my whole family to help with the boat; he had to do all of his boat work alone. It is a common sentiment; we often see whole families enjoying their boats but generally see only adults, usually men, working on them.

In 1978 the movie “Thank God it’s Friday” lauded the last day of the work week and in 1981 the band Loverboy sang “Everybody’s working for the weekend”. More recent and more sinister, nearly 150 police officers and firefighters in New York City were arrested for faking post-traumatic stress disorder related to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack so that they could get government benefits and get out of work. Thus some of the most admired people in the country used one of the most horrific events in our history to cheat taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars each. God made man to work, and yet so many want to avoid it.

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Wisdom in Proverbs

Wisdom is truly better than gold, so why don’t we want it as much?

If there is one concept which is associated with the book of Proverbs, it is wisdom. In fact Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon fall into a genre of the Bible known as the Wisdom literature. Other ancient civilizations such as Egypt also had “wisdom literature”, which generally included sayings from teachers considered wise in their cultures. Hebrew wisdom literature is contrasted with Greek wisdom literature in that the focus of the Greeks was a stronger family or society while the focus of the Hebrews was to obey God.

Our first task is to define wisdom. Dictionary.com defines wisdom as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology describes wisdom using Biblical terms. In the Old Testament wisdom (חָכְמָה chokmah) connotes human skills (building – Exodus 28:3, warfare – Isaiah 10:3, or ruling – Deuteronomy 34:9) or human insight (Ecclesiastes 1:13). As such, the misuse of such wisdom is condemned (2 Samuel 20:22, Isaiah 29:14).

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Suffering and the Book of Job

We all suffer, and many of us suffer most of the time. How can we live despite the pain?

The Background of the Book of Job

Uz was the first born of Nahor, brother of Abram (Genesis 22:20-21). Since Terah, the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran, lived near Ur of the Chaldeans, it is likely that Uz did as well. Job was probably a child of Uz, living in the lands of his father. Alternatively, the “Land of Uz” could have been near ancient Edom in modern day Jordan. Notably, Genesis 31:53 refers to God as “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor.” Since Job was not a child of Abraham he was by definition a Gentile, and the Book of Job is therefore the only Gentile book in the Old Testament. Given the timing it is likely that Job was a contemporary of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson.

Some argue that Job is not history but rather a fable. Bible writers treat Job as history (Ezekiel 14:14, James 5:11) and there is no reason for modern readers to behave differently. Job may have been written by Job in his later years. If so, it is the only Old Testament book written by a Gentile.

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