God has many names and each one gives us an insight into His character and nature. Today we are going to explore God’s name: “Jehovah Shammah” - God is there, God is present. This name for God is found at the very end of the book of Ezekiel In the Old Testament in the bible (48:35) In this series we are using the 23rd psalm to help us to reflect on His different names. Of course, David, the Shepherd King wrote this psalm, which is probably, the best know of all the psalms.
The fact that David was once a shepherd, got me thinking about an unexpected encounter that happened whilst on holiday in Wales back in June of this year. Wales is known for many things, but two come to mind when I think of that holiday: sheep and very large hills!
My wife Sallyann and I were staying in a place called Tywyn, which is on the Cardigan Bay Coast about 12 miles north of Aberystwyth. A couple of days before we were due to come home we decided to walk south along the beach to Aberdovey, around 5 miles away. After exploring the town, which doesn’t take very long, I looked at the OS map that I was carrying and suggested an alternative way back across the hills; the very steep and challenging hills. Sallyann wasn’t so sure but I said, “What could possibly go wrong?”
The next 45 minutes or so were indeed very challenging because we were climbing steeply, but I was confident that we were following the footpath that was the dotted line on the map. And then, well I wasn’t so confident, and the reason was that we had arrived in a field with no obvious way out! Now I have always said that you can’t really ever get lost, because all that you need to do is retrace your steps, and this we did to a point where I was certain that we had turned left when we should have gone straight on. And this proved to be the case, because, after more climbing, we eventually reached a road, a point that I could clearly identify on the map. (Or so I thought!) However, after walking up this particular farm track we reached a crossroads, and to tell the truth, I really was not sure at all - whether to go right, straight on, or left.
We needed help, we needed guidance, we needed someone who knew exactly where we were, who we could trust, and who also knew the way to where we wanted to go. As we were scratching our heads and turning the map this way and that to try and pinpoint our position, a shepherdess appeared. It seemed to us that one minute she wasn’t there and the next she was, just nine or ten paces away. She came right up to us and asked if she could help. I showed her the map and pointing to the road that we had just walked up asked her which it was? As she was peering at it, I realised that it was unlikely that had ever used an OS map, why would she? After all, she had explained that she was born and bred in those hills and so she probably knew, if not every blade of grass, then every path, tree, and boulder. And sure enough, when we told her where we wanted to go, she described exactly the route we should take, and within 50 minutes or so, we were back at sea level, on the beach and heading for Tywyn.
I think that we all have times in our life when we feel lost in one way or another, and we need help and guidance. It might be that a relationship has ended, perhaps someone close to us has died, and we feel completely lost. Or maybe a close friendship is not going as we had hoped, and we’re not sure what to do about it. It could be that, for whatever reason, our finances seem to be spiralling out of control, and we don’t know how to address the situation. Perhaps our health has deteriorated and there doesn’t seem to be any medical intervention that will improve it. These are times when we need help, when we need guidance, and when we need someone who knows exactly how we feel, someone who we can trust to tell us what to do next.
David, the shepherd who became king, certainly knew about such times as these. He wrote about half of the 150 psalms that we find in the bible, and if you read these you will discover that he had many ups and downs in his life. However, when you read psalm 23, you get the distinct impression that God was there with him, that he knew that God was present: Jehovah-Shammah:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
As I said, we know much about David’s life from the psalms, but we have even more information about him from several other books in the Old Testament: 1 & 2 Samuel, and the first 2 chapters of 1 Kings. We learn from the book I Samuel chapter 16 verse 13 that the priest and prophet called Samuel anointed David before he became king, when he was still a shepherd, “and the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power.”
It was this power, God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, that gave David the confidence to write, “He leads me, He guides me, You are with me even in the shadow of death.”
Would you like to have the confidence that David clearly has that God is there for you in all circumstances, to help you and to guide you? Well you can, but how can you ensure the presence of the Holy Spirit, what must you do? This is exactly the question that was asked of the apostle Peter by the people who had supported the crucifixion of Jesus. In the book of Acts chapter 2 and verse 37 he replies to the question, “What must we do?”
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
God is omnipresent, He is present outside, everywhere, but if you want Him to be there for you inside and have His presence in your life, then you need to repent, be baptised and receive the Holy Spirit.
Does this mean the end of all difficulties, problems and hardship? No! However, what it does mean to you and anyone else that follows the path that Peter tells you to, is that when you need help, when you need guidance, and when you need someone who knows exactly how you feel and someone who you can trust, God is there, God is present (Jehovah Shammah) – always, and that’s a promise. I know this to be true, because I speak from personal experience, and others in our church can do the same.
Do we always feel that God is there for us, that God is present? No, not always. Sometimes, God feels more distant and less present, but that isn’t because God has left us, or moved away. It’s because we have allowed other things to displace Jesus at the centre of our lives. Or perhaps we have slowly drifted away from God: we don’t go to church as often as we used to, or we miss going regularly to our small group.
When I feel that God is not as close, I read another of David’s psalms that reminds me that God is always there, whatever the circumstances and wherever I go: (Psalm 139 verses 1 to 10)
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Jehovah Shammah – God is there, God is present – always! That’s a promise if you accept by faith what Jesus did on the cross, repent, are baptised and receive the Holy Spirit.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Can you think of a time in your life when you really didn’t know what to do next? What were the circumstances? How did you move forward?
2. Do you think that there are any lessons to be learned from reading the psalms?
3. When you read psalm 23, do you agree that you can sense David’s confidence, and indeed certainty that God was present in his life? If you do think that, why?
4. Have you read about David’s life in the Old Testament Books of 1 & 2 Samuel, and the first 2 chapters of 1 Kings? There are a number of lessons concerning God’s presence in David’s life; what are they?
5. Were you aware of the verses in the book of Acts Chapter 2 that describe how to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Is this something that you have done? If yes, what difference has it made in your life? If no, what are your reasons for not doing so?
6. Have there been times when you have felt that God is not there or present? Is this because you have drifted away from God, or allowed Jesus to be displaced at the centre of your life?
7. Read psalm 139 slowly and prayerfully. Repeat once a week.