Bible Study

5. He Makes Me Lie Down

"You can have confidence in the Lord as He reveals His plans for where He is causing you to lie down." by Lt. Colonel Dan Jennings

Verses two and three of Psalm 23 contain a set of four blessings that David attributes to the Lord. While we tend to read them as four short and independent statements, they are best understood as a group. Each statement begins with the Lord causing an action:

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23

Each of these blessings merit careful consideration. We will do just that in the months ahead. This set of blessings opens with a pattern of God’s rest, reflected by the image of sheep lying down in a green pasture. The image conveys a sense of comfort, rest, safety and contentment. It is one thing to wander and graze in green pastures, another thing to settle in, get comfortable and feel safe enough to lie down.

The Hebrew verb Rar-Bas, “to lie down,” is written with a grammatical stem that indicates causation. The Lord causes David to lie down. Nearly every translation expresses this as “makes” or “causes” me to lie down with few notable exceptions. The New Living Translation has chosen to translate this verse as “Lets me lie down.” One recent article which reflects on this passage states that “God doesn’t ‘make’ us lie down, but He offers His peace and contentment every day to those who seek it.” It is clear from the way David uses the verb that he is saying that the Lord is causing him to lie down. Interestingly, this particular verb and its grammatical stem are used almost exclusively in the context of shepherds making sheep lie down. As shepherds like David would know, you do not simply invite your sheep to lie down. There is much more intentionality involved.

We should not think of the Lord making David to lie down as a negative. David does not protest what the Lord is doing to him. In fact, he indicates that it is a blessing. Remember this is part of a set of four blessings.

David indicates that where Lord caused him to lie down is a pleasant place, a place of “green pastures.” Midwesterner like myself often take green pastures for granted. We might filter this passage through our own worldview and envision the grassy hillsides of Little House on the Prairie. The wilderness of the Middle East is remarkably different. Green pastures are a rarity in Israel. This is how another Midwesterner, Samuel Clemens, described the landscape as he observed a herd of Syrian sheep who were “…gratefully eating gravel. I do not state this as a petrified fact—I only suppose they were eating gravel, because there did not appear to be anything else for them to eat.”

The Lord knew when and where David should “lie down.” In the midst of harsh geographical conditions and harsh realities of the moment, the Lord caused David to lie down, to rest and to find peace. You may recall that David wrote this psalm when he was on the run from his enemies. Circumstances were far from peaceful. As for us, even if we are not running from our enemies, we have a poor sense of when and where to stop. The Lord has established in creation a pattern for stopping, for resting and for lying down. The larger pattern is what we know as Sabbath. By His own command, the Lord has caused all of creation to observe times to lie down and rest. The Lord Himself demonstrates this for us by ceasing all of His work on the seventh day, as recorded in the creation narrative in the Book of Genesis.

We can also see the purposeful hand of the Lord at work in the Christmas story in terms of His direction of when and where Jesus was to lie down. Much like the back story of Psalm 23, harsh realities surrounded the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary undertook a difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary was in the late stages of her pregnancy. There was a plot hatching that put this child in serious danger. No one in the town of Bethlehem could muster enough compassion to bring an expectant mother into their home. A plot to kill firstborn males was in the making, due to prophecies of the birth of a Messiah. It is in this hard and difficult world that the Lord determined to send his son Jesus in order to bring peace to a troubled world.

Take note of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7, ESV). The Lord, through his servant Mary, caused Jesus to lie down in this world. Here is how the Irish songwriter and poet Nahum Tate has captured this moment:

The heavenly babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands
And in a manger laid.

In causing David to lie down in the rare green pasture of the Judean wilderness and His own Son, Jesus, to lie down in the green pasture of a repurposed feeding manger, the Lord has purposes in His plans. You can have confidence in the Lord as He reveals His plans for where He is causing you to lie down. He knows just the right place and just the right time for you to stop, to settle in and to lie down. It is possible—and even likely—that through our limited perspective, the timing and conditions may not appear to be ideal. However, the Lord is our Shepherd, he makes us lie down in green pastures.