OPENING: There are
words that stay with us. The first, simple words that started
your relationship—the last words your father said as you drove
away—the words of a song that come to you as soon as the music
begins. You’ve repeated and relived those words countless
times and they will never grow old. You would be glad to tell
someone the story that makes those words so important.
While all of the Bible contains words to be
remembered, perhaps the Psalms are the easiest for us to retain.
They are usually brief and even one verse can stand by itself. They
are part of the most important days of our lives. You remember your
grandmother’s funeral service whenever you hear Psalm 23. And they
tell us the words we hope to hear from God but which we could never
invent on our own.
Our three part study will take on three
aspects of the Psalms as those words we can’t forget. We will
look at the way the Psalms speak in a distinctive way of
reinforcing the message. Then we’ll ask for God to give us
exactly the words we want to say to him and the words we want to
hear from him. Finally, we will turn to Psalm 23 and ask, “What
more do you want?”
Let’s start with words that we repeat.What
words do you have to repeat, either to yourself or to others, over
and over again? Does it work well to say the same exact words
over and over, or do you try to change them a bit each
STUDY: READ PSALM 1 AND PSALM
One of the hallmarks of Hebrew poetry such as the Psalms is the
love of repetition and contrast. Say the same thing twice or
three times, but make it a bit different each time. Say something
and then say it again by giving its extreme opposite. This
love of repetition and contrast is found throughout the Psalms but
we will see it in Psalms 1 and 27 as examples.
First, there is repetition. Look at Psalm 1:1, surely an important
verse as it begins the 150 Psalms to follow. It states simply that
the man who has nothing to do with sinners is blessed. We could
simply say that. But the Psalmist says it with beautiful
repetition. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel
of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the
seat of scoffers.” We see three different, related words to
describe the evil ones: wicked, sinners, scoffers. But
most interesting are the three verbs used. Discuss it this
When your mother told you to have nothing
to do with the wrong people, what would have made her most
upset: seeing you walking with the wrong people, standing in
one place with them, or sitting down, perhaps at a meal, with
My guess is that seeing you walk with, or even through a group of,
the wrong people would be upsetting to Mom. But watching you stop
and linger with them, that’s even worse. And if she saw you sitting
down with the very ones she warned you about, sharing lunch, that
would be too much for Mom. So we have a similar progression
Now look at the rest of Psalm 1 for other repetitions in vv. 2,
3, and 5. How do they succeed in saying the same thing but
with a forward step each time?
Turning to Psalm 27, we see even more repetition within single
verses and with pairs of verses. Look for the direct
repetition in single verses such as vv. 3, 4, 5, and 6. How
do these verses individually speak of a distinct point but amplify
it with the second line? For example, in v. 4, we find out
the one thing that is sought but we then are given the actions that
go with it. We want to live in the Lord’s house—location—and we
want to gaze on his beauty and inquire of him—our actions that go
with the location.
How is the ending of Psalm 27: 14 an especially significant
place for repetition with the theme of waiting? What is it
about waiting that requires that we be told twice or more to
Now let’s see contrast. With contrast, the Psalms reinforce
the point that was just made, just as repetition does. But contrast
does the reinforcing by showing a consequence for an action or the
failure to act. For example, your parents told you over and
over what to do—repetition—and then in the next sentence, they also
told you what would happen if you failed to follow these
directions—Do this…, or else…. As you remember these
directions, which was more effective: the repeating of
instruction or the warning of the consequence of
Psalm 27:1 is a great combination of both repetition and
contrast. Read this verse and see how the Psalmist puts
himself in between the two extremes, God and his enemies.
How do we have both repetition and contrast in this one
verse? See how we have a similar pattern in v. 3.
How is this contrast between our trust and our enemies something
different and much more reassuring than a simple: “Do
Contrasts come not only within single verses but also between two
or more verses. Return to Psalm 1 and the contrast of the righteous
and the wicked. Notice that the righteous person is like a
tree, v. 3, with a perfect place next to the stream and so it bears
fruit in season without fail. We expect that the wicked will
be the contrast.
If the righteous are like a fruitful tree rooted by the stream,
what would you expect would describe the wicked?
I suspect we would next see a dead tree, or at least a tree with no
fruit. That is the simple opposite of fruitful trees.
But if we imagine the wicked to be only a fruitless tree, perhaps
we would give them more time, invest hope in the future fruit, and
work around it.
But what is the image of v. 4? Chaff is the outer husk of the
grain which is removed by threshing. Even rubbing grain with your
hand will remove that outer husk. In modern farming, chaff is
removed in the combine as it marches through the grain field. Chaff
is then blown out the back of the combine along with the large
parts of the grain stalk. The chaff is carried off by the wind,
utterly useless. The farmer might gather up in some way the
remaining straw or stalk, but the chaff is too light to stay in a
row and too useless to care about.
How is this a most striking contrast then between the fruitful,
well-rooted tree of the righteous and the wind-blown useless chaff
of the wicked?
God speaks to us with repetition and
contrast. Read many of the Psalms in the upcoming days and
notice these two qualities at work. Ask yourself three
questions as you read.
When the Psalmist repeats himself, what is telling me that is
so important that it needs repeating?
What is new in the second line, the repetition that I would not
have seen before?
When the Psalmist creates a contrast, what does the second,
opposite line show that I would not have seen
Blessings to you as you read the Psalms and hear the repeated words
of God and his willingness to make his message clear in these two
THE WORDS WE CAN’T FORGET
UNIT TWO: GIVE ME THE RIGHT WORDS
It would be so helpful if
someone gave you the words to say, wouldn’t it? You have to
make the right impression on someone—a job interview, for
example. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a script that
guaranteed success? You would have to mean the words, of
course, but that’s not the issue. You mean well already. You just
don’t know what to say.
Let’s start with those times when you need the right
words: When would it be helpful to have exactly the right
words to say?
Do you more often need the right words when things are going
well or going badly? Do you need words to help you say, “I
love you.” or to say, “I’m sorry?”
In the Psalms, we have the right words to say. And, we have
the right words to hear, the words we need but could never
invent. God says both of these for us and hands us the whole
of the Psalms for us to use. In this part of our study, we’ll
see how Psalms 51 and 103 provide us the very words for our needed
conversation with God.
STUDY: READ PSALM 51 AND PSALM
Did you choose the “I’m sorry” option in the discussion
above? If so, I bet you’re not alone. We would like
someone to give us the words to apologize. Notice how many
Valentine’s Day cards are apologies, especially for husbands to say
to their wives. “I know I don’t say it as often as I should,
and I forget all that you do, but …..”
Valentine’s Day cards are one thing but confessing our sins to God
is another level. How are we going to sum up all that we have
done? What words could we say that won’t simply anger God all
the more? Here is where we need someone to tell us the words
David is the perfect person to do this for us. Here is a man
after God’s own heart and yet a man who is completely undone by his
adultery and murder through the affair with Bathsheba. How
could he fall so far? His words certainly take in also any
fall that we have experienced.
How does Psalm 51:3-5 make it clear that David is confessing
more than a mistake, more than just a bad day?
Why is there no mention of Bathsheba or Uriah in these words of
These are words for us each to say, words that put no blame on
anyone else. There is no hint of explanation or excuse. But
now, as we noted in our first study, the Hebrew love of contrast
comes next as David goes from confession to the hope of a new
Read Psalm 51:7-12. First, what wonderful examples of
repetition do you see? Why might these words of forgiveness
and hope be a natural time for repetition?
Since David confessed a life-long sinfulness that reached to
the core of his being, vv. 3-5, how is there a matching and even
greater hope in vv. 7-12?
These wonderful words of hope are our words to God and we’re
thankful to have them. But if a card is merely sent and read,
that’s not enough. We need words of forgiveness. So we
have them with Psalm 103. Here we have the words of God’s own
promise of forgiveness
Read Psalm 103 and note especially the
promises of forgiveness. If David’s sin lies deeply within his
being, beginning with his very moment of conception, Psalm 53, then
how is there a matching expansiveness to God’s forgiveness?
See the images of age and youth in vv. 3-5.
Notice the physical dimensions to forgiveness in vv.
11-12. If our sin lies deeply within us, why is forgiveness
shown to have this separation of east/west and heaven to
But our worry might involve also time and especially the
frightening future. How does v. 10 take care of our worries
about the future being darkened by our sins?
In the end, we need a timeless image of forgiveness, one closer
than the distant heavens and a place beyond our horizons. Why
might v. 13 be the best reassurance of forgiveness?
APPLY: What a relief it would be to
have exactly the words to say, either in a relationship, a job
interview, or in our prayers. Turn to the Psalms for those
words that express your confession and then be reassured by God’s
own promises of forgiveness.
Look to Psalm 51 to fill in the ending of these sentences:
Lord, I am so far from right. It’s not just mistakes and it’s
not someone else’s fault. I did all this and it’s been going on for
Then move on to the cry for forgiveness, again using the words of
Psalm 51 to finish this thought: But Lord, I can’t stay
like this. Can’t we start over? Can’t I be different
than I am now, more than I’ve been? Lord, here is what I need
Finally, hear the promises of God with his own words in Psalm
103. Finish this sentence with the words of forgiveness from
Psalm 103: Lord, with you, there’s forgiveness so
complete I can hardly imagine it. But you promise that when you
THE WORDS WE CAN’T FORGET
UNIT THREE: WHAT MORE DO YOU
OPENING: How does someone say, “What
more do you want?”
Think of the waiter at the
restaurant. How does he ask, “What more do you want?”
How does your grandmother ask it? She has made everything
imaginable already, but is willing to bring out one more dessert if
needed. If you want something more, she probably has it
Is this a question that is said briskly? Is it said with an implied
answer of, “Nothing, nothing at all. It’s all perfect.” In
that case, you don’t really want to hear the question at all.
In our study today of Psalm 23, this will be our theme. God
asks us, “What more do you want?” He gives us a foundation as
the Good Shepherd and we might imagine that is all. Who could
ask for more? But he has far more in mind and this small
Psalm captures the four stages of his care. We might bring each
stage on by our simple question, “What more do you want?”
STUDY: READ PSALM 23
In Psalm 23, we begin with the expected essentials of life. A
shepherd is caring for his flock and providing the green pasture
and still water that we might consider our daily bread. What
a great picture of God that he wishes to be known as the One who
provides for his people. We might see this also in the Gospels
where all four Gospels record the miracle of the feeding of the
5000. This is the only miracle recorded in all the Gospels
and it is likely repeated to emphasize the care of God and his love
of providing for us.
Who do you know lives to feed others and care for their
Why is this care so meaningful for them—a joy and not a
How is this like the care God has for us in Psalm
When have you especially yearned for green pastures and still
waters in life?
What more could we want? We have daily bread and the other
necessities of life, delivered in the relationship with a good
Shepherd. But imagine him asking us, “What more do you want?”
He means it—what more do you need? Well, there is one other
We need our souls restored. Read verse 3 again. After
we are feed and housed, physically provided for, there are still
our souls. They are aching and sore, cast down with regret
and fearful of the future. If you ask us, Lord, we would say,
“Could you heal my soul, renew my heart?”
Of course, his answer is “Yes.” Notice that it is both
restoration and guidance and that he does this not for our sake
How is the forgiveness that we see in Psalm 51 and Psalm 103 a
good foundation for this restoration of our souls?
When we are forgiven and know that he doesn’t treat us
according to our sins, Psalm 103, how are we then ready to follow
in new paths of righteousness?
It’s a lot to ask—the restoration of our souls. But how is it
possible to be restored, given that God does this for the sake of
his namesake, for the sake of his Son?
That covers our bodies and souls. What more do you
want? We can’t ask this but God does. What more is there for
which we can ask? Life is taken care of, but then there is
death. Lord, you’ve fed us and restored us. But we can see the
chasm of death. What can you do with that?
Verses 4 and 5 are his answer. God cannot simply feed us and
even heal our hearts, only to lose us to death. What a short, sad
shepherding that would be. So he gives us hope with these two
verses. We notice that death is rightly understood as the shadow
and valley that it is. We see it as a dark end, a final
cliff. But the Psalm says that it is more shadow than
substance, and a valley which is the middle ground between two high
How is it possible to see death as a shadow—frightening but not
in itself a wall or a cliff but only the dark unknown between life
and life eternal?
We stand here on one side of the valley, high upon this
life. Death is the valley we face, but since it is a valley,
what is then on the other side of death, equal or even greater than
We are glad to have these perspectives on death, a shadowy
valley. But it gets better with v. 5. God doesn’t merely send
us off into the shadow with a reassuring word, “You’ll be
fine.” He says, “I’m going with you.” What a gift that
we could never ask for!
How is it unthinkable that God would ever enter into death and
truly experience it?
And yet, how is Good Friday the wonderful proof that God has
walked with us already, not as untouched observer, but knowing the
full experience of death?
So what more do you want? We already have all the care we
need, our souls restored, and the promise of his walking with us
through death’s shadow to the other side of the valley and the life
that is waiting there. And yet, God would ask us, one more
time, “What more do you want?”
We are naturally curious about what the far side of the valley will
be like. It’s not so much a request as just wondering. So we
could ask, “When we get past the valley of the shadow, what’s it
like on that far, high hill?” And God says, “Let me tell
How do verses 5 and 6 give us just enough
information on the eternal life to come?
Notice how we have returned to our first
theme of abundant food, but now we are people and not sheep.
What relationships do we find in place in vv. 5-6?
We end with v. 6 and the promise of
goodness, mercy, and dwelling with God. After all the abundance
possible in heaven, why are these qualities the key more than
unimaginable quantities of heavenly goods?
APPLY: So what more do you
want? After this fourth step, if God were to ask us, “What
more do you want?” I trust we would immediately say,
“Nothing! We’re good. Thank you!”
When do you need to remind yourself of the
four steps of God’s shepherd-like care?
We likely focus most often on the green
pastures and still waters. What benefits come from
remembering that most of the Psalm is about more than our food and
Blessings to you as you are one of the lambs the Shepherd cares
for. Blessings on you as you dare to remember his promises
and hear him ask, “What more do you want?”