Although the main point of this passage is Solomon’s request for wisdom, we also see some early warning signs of the trouble to come. Verse 1 notes that Solomon made an alliance with Egypt. Egypt! The site of four hundred years of bondage for God’s people. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, described Egypt as “that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it” (Isa. 36:6).
Verse 1 goes on to say that Solomon sealed the alliance by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. While forming alliances through marriage has long been a common practice among world powers, God explicitly forbade His people from marrying foreigners because of the danger of apostasy (Deut. 7:3-4). It wasn’t about mixing races but mixing faiths. This was the first of many foreign wives who would ultimately lead Solomon into idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-4). How sad that Solomon didn’t ask for wisdom before he made these two mistakes, although, as we will see, even God’s gift of wisdom was not enough to overcome Solomon’s sin.
When do you typically seek God’s wisdom: before or after you’ve already made up your mind? Why?
In this section, we see Adonijah, the eldest son of David, make a selfish and transparent bid for power by asking for a woman associated with David to be given to him as a wife. In the ancient world, a new king’s power was validated when he took the wives of the former king. Adonijah’s request was not merely to obtain a spouse but a brazen attempt to grasp the throne. We might miss this nuance, but Solomon didn’t. He saw through this power play, and Adonijah paid for it with his life.
In contrast to Adonijah’s self-centered actions, Solomon would not ask God for anything self-serving when God invited him to ask for anything he desired (3:5). Eventually Solomon would be led astray by his own wives later on in his reign, as he struggled to use his wisdom (see 1 Kings 11:1), but here at the outset, he was more interested in displaying God’s justice to the people than he was serving his own interests.
What does the world see when they look at your life? Do you display your own ambitions or do you display God’s character?
David’s dying words to Solomon signal a transitional point in the life of Israel: David’s reign primarily being characterized by war and Solomon’s as an era of peace. First, David’s words echo the covenantal charges given to Joshua (Josh. 1:6-9) as well as the description of the ideal man in Psalm 1: Be strong and courageous (1 Kings 2:2); honor your obligations to the Lord and walk in His ways (v. 3); walk faithfully before God and there will always be one of your descendants on the throne of Israel (v. 4).
Second, David trusted Solomon to exercise wisdom in some matters of justice. These were timely and precarious matters pertaining to individuals who negatively affected David’s reign and public influence, and the beginning of Solomon’s reign seemed to be the appropriate occasion to address them. Of note in this passage is the way David counseled Solomon to deal in wisdom with his enemies.
Interestingly enough, even after Solomon executed David’s enemies, God would commend Solomon for his request for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (3:9), a request where avenging his personal enemies was not a first priority but second to serving the good of his people (3:11). Accordingly, wisdom is not opposed to justice, and true justice is a display of God’s wisdom.
When has someone trusted you to act with wisdom concerning something important? Why should we not pit wisdom and justice against one another?
In describing Himself as the good shepherd, Jesus made an interesting contrast between Him and a hired hand (vv. 12-13). A hired hand, Jesus contended, was not reliable because he didn’t care about the sheep. And why should he? They wouldn’t be his sheep. So if a wolf came along to snatch a sheep, the hired hand would not risk his own life to save that sheep. Instead, he would run off and likely plead his case later to the owner of the sheep of how much danger he had been in.
But Jesus is no hired hand. He is the good shepherd because the sheep are His. He owns them. He loves them. And that is why He sacrificed His life rather than preserve it.
We need to see Jesus for who He truly is, but it cannot stop there. We also need to see ourselves for who we truly are. Do you? Do you see yourself as the beloved sheep you are? Do you understand that Christ’s love for you is fixed because you are His and He is yours? Jesus is no hired hand who will run off and abandon you. And neither are you some random sheep.
How can you tend to see yourself incorrectly at times? Why?
There are times when we are keenly aware of our need of the almighty strength of God’s arms. We need His power to sustain us. Perhaps we are facing a situation that overwhelms us. Perhaps we are facing down an adversary that we know we cannot beat. In these times, we scan the horizon for our Rescuer to step in and bring His full strength to bear. This is what is in mind in verse 10.
But there are also times when we need God’s strong arms not for their strength but for their comfort. We need His love to lift us up. Perhaps we feel alone. Perhaps we have failed yet again. In these times, we fall to our knees and long to feel the embrace of our loving Father. This is what is in mind in verse 11.
In this coupling, we are reminded of the great character of our God. Our powerful Creator is also our gentle Father. He is always there for us, always knowing what we need, and always ready to provide whatever that is in that moment.
How have you experienced God’s power and love when you needed each?
Our God is a pursuing God. We run. He chases. Over and over again. We see this most clearly, perhaps, in the Book of Jonah. Jonah ran in the opposite direction God had ordered him to go. God thus chased Jonah down and brought him to repentance so that he might be used in God’s plan to bring others to repentance as well.
What was it that led God to chase Jonah down? David answered that here in Psalm 23. It is God’s goodness and faithful love, often translated as “mercy.” It was for Jonah’s own good that he ended up going to Nineveh. It was love that chased him down. God would have been quite unloving to allow His prophet to run from Him—the greatest good—and live in disobedience to Him. So the storm God threw at the boat was good, and the fish He sent to swallow Jonah was good—because they were each used by God to bring Jonah back to where he needed to be.
That is what God does for us too. He chases us when we run. He throws storms our way. He delivers us in ways that might seem like anything but kind acts of His love. But whether we see it or not, God’s goodness and faithful love always run beside us.
How have you experienced God chasing after you?
Small words have quite a bit to say, such as here in verse 4. Notice David’s assumption of going through the darkest valley, not “if” he would. That’s not an unimportant difference.
David, or more precisely God through him, was teaching us something quite important in this idea. Trusting in Christ does not shield us from danger, pain, and adversity. In fact, the Bible has more to say about how these things will increase, not decrease, because of our faith. We need to understand this. We need to accept this. We need to embrace this. God uses our difficulties for His glory and our good. And David shared one way He does: In these dark times, we can find ourselves more desperate for God and more aware of His presence. Yes, the valleys are dark, but God is with us, carrying His rod and staff. In His presence and in His power we find peace.
What has God taught you and how has He brought good through times of adversity you have experienced?
Here we see David say that he had all that he needed (v. 1). Although there is no settled view as to what David’s situation was when he wrote Psalm 23, the truth of the passage remains applicable and steadfast despite the bleakness of his circumstances. Consider, for instance, one possible context for the writing of this psalm: David on the run from his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15–16). One of the last things we would expect to hear him say was that all of his needs were met. Instead, we would expect a psalm seeking to understand where God was during this time and when He would step in and provide David with a need that he lacked: peace with his own family.
But in this scenario we see the importance of distinguishing our needs from our desires. God has promised to supply all our needs (Phil. 4:19), but not all our desires. Peace with family was one of David’s desires, a noble one even, but it was not a need. And sometimes God will not give us our desires even if they seem to be good desires and even if we have the best of intentions for wanting them. The reason is simple: because our desires don’t always align with God’s will. Our desires, as good as they may seem, are not always what will bring God glory, nor will they always bring us good. And so, God, our loving Father, will withhold these desires from us when needed.
However, there is a time when God has promised to give us our desires. Here is what David wrote in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Notice that this is not an unqualified promise. There is a condition, and it is an important one. Only when we delight in the Lord, when the gospel is in the process of transforming us and we are fixated on following God’s will and seeking His glory, only then will our heart’s desires be given. Why? Because then our desires will align with God’s.
What are some of the desires of your heart? Are they in line with seeking God’s will and bringing Him glory?
Sin and forgiveness form a direct relationship. The higher one goes, the higher the other must go. The lower one goes, the lower the other must go. If we fail to see the weight of our sin, we will never see the beauty of God’s forgiveness. Conversely, the more we understand the gravity of our sin, the more we will grasp the greatness of God’s forgiveness to us in Christ (see Matt. 18:21-35).
David penned Psalm 51 after Nathan’s confrontation of his sin. We see in the psalm that while David may have believed he had gotten away with his sins, they had plagued him and destroyed his joy (vv. 8,12,14). Even through all of the anguish of sin and its consequences, God reminded his servant David of the delight of grace.
For those of us who have trusted in Christ, we too can experience the same. While we continue to sin and often face its consequences, we can always rest in the grace of God made known to us in Christ. As we grow in our understanding of the depth of our sin, we also grow in our understanding of the marvelous beauty of God’s grace.
How have you experienced the depth of God’s forgiveness and grace recently?
Nathan told David that the son born through his sin with Bathsheba would die (v. 14). But that did not stop David from pleading with God for the child’s life. When David’s son became ill, David fasted and prayed to God for days. But when the child died, David got up, washed, anointed himself, changed clothes, and worshiped God. After, David returned home and ate.
When his servants saw this, they asked David about his behavior; they expected David to fast after the child had died, not before it. David did not complain to God that His actions were unfair. Neither did David attempt to barter with God for the life of his son. Instead, David threw himself on the mercy of God, recognizing that the Lord might be gracious to him. In this we see an example of the proper posture for our pleading with God—for ourselves or others. We don’t plead with God as some form of manipulation; we plead in humility, trusting in the character of God and ready to worship Him no matter the outcome.
What are you pleading with God for today? What is your posture?