A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me(Ps. 23:1-6 NIV)
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
When the prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint the new king, they held a special family gathering. All of Jesse’s sons were there except for David the youngest boy. Because he was the youngest and the least important, he had been given the job of shepherd. In Israel, as in other ancient societies, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got the unpleasant assignment. Shepherds had to live with the sheep 24 hours a day, and the task of caring for them was unending. Day and night, summer and winter, in fair weather and foul, they laboured to nourish and guide, and protect the sheep. Who in their right mind would choose to be a shepherd?
Yet for all that, Shepherd is the very metaphor that the Lord chooses to use to describe himself. ‘When you think of me and my care for you, think of a shepherd’s care for the sheep’. As King David looks back over his life, he remembers the days and nights of constant care and commitment that he gave to the sheep, and he easily relates this to the care that he has experienced from the Lord. The days and nights of constant care and commitment was exactly what he come to know concerning the Lord.
It has been suggested that David wrote this Psalm in later life, looking back, reflecting on all the way that the Lord has led him. My experience of listening to people talk about scripture is that the appreciation of this Psalm grows and develops with time. The longer our walk with God has been, the more the simplicity yet the profundity of these six verses burns a place in our hearts.
Joel Beeke describes this Psalm as a special, experimental, and deeply spiritual meditation. He says it is a jewel of pure gold among the many jewels of Scripture. It is a pearl Psalm, unsurpassed in richness, tenderness, and beauty.
The appreciation of this Psalm comes from years of feeding upon the word of God. Those who appreciate this Psalm most are able to say with Job
…I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.Job 23:12 NIV
When you have used the divine library of God’s holy word as a touchstone to examine your life, then that sacred word breeds and feeds grace within your lives through the special mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.
- In James we see that the Scripture is a mirror to dress by,
- Paul in Gal 6 says that the word is our rule to walk and work by,
- In Ps 119: 9 the word is water to wash with
- In Luke 24 it is fire to warm us
- It is food to nourish us Job 23:12
- It is our sword to fight with in Eph 6
- It is our counsellor to resolve our doubts and fears in Ps 119:24
Having walked this way and been fed by God through his word there is something deeply experimental and experiential about coming to such a Psalm as this and reflecting over a life lived and saying “The Lord is my shepherd”.
The story is told that a great orator stood to recite the 23rd Psalm. The well-trained voice filled the auditorium and was a fine presentation. Quite spontaneously one old man stood with tear filled eyes and stumbled through the same passage with his rough untrained regional accent. The great orator was moved to say, “I know the Psalm, but this man knows the Shepherd”.
This old favourite Psalm is a comfort to older believers, but it is also an incentive to those just starting out in their walk with God. It sets before us the possibility of a confidence and trust that comes from faith in God and a life lived with God at the centre.
We all face very uncertain futures at the present time. At the moment you stand on the shores of your life looking out on the uncertainty of what the uncharted seas of your life will bring. There is only one stable anchor for life, only one rock on which to build that life and that is with the Lord as Shepherd.
God has made known to us that he can be thought of as a Shepherd. The knowledge of God and the experience of walking with God are there for the grasping. But life can be so easily frittered away with ambitions and pastimes and careers that are quite legitimate, and the potential for us to grow and develop with God slips through our hands like sand disappearing between our fingers. If you realise your academic potential, your business potential, all your goals in life, but fail to experience the truth that the Lord is my Shepherd, then you have failed, completely irrespective of whatever accolade society may heap upon you. Invest now in faith and belief in God, that pays dividends in this life as well as in eternity. Getting converted or saved is only a beginning, there is a walk of salvation ahead of you, and the more the man and woman of faith you become, then the more precious the knowledge of this Psalm will be to you.
As we exercise faith, grace allows the truth of God’s word to be bound to our hearts. By faith we learn to live in, and upon and out of the word of God. The word of God teaches us the best way of living, the most noble way of suffering and the most profitable way of dying.
As we look in more detail at this well known Psalms I want to divide it into two and consider two portraits of the Lord
- The Lord as the divine Shepherd v1-4
- The Lord as the divine host v5-6
1 The Lord as divine Shepherd
What makes this such a precious revelation and experimental discovery in our lives is the ability gained from a walk of faith that enables us to say “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Yahweh is my Shepherd. The covenant God, the warrior God, is my Shepherd. Look at who believers are calling my Shepherd. The big God, God Almighty, the God who says and he causes it to be. The God who appoints nations to be, who brings down nations, who directs the affairs of the world and causes the whole of creation to function. The God who makes covenant and keeps covenant – that is the God who is my Shepherd. When we say the Lord is my shepherd, we are saying that the Lord is my protection and provision.
As a consequence of the fact that the Lord is my Shepherd we can say, I shall not be in want. I suffer no lack.
In John 10, Jesus declares that he is the good shepherd, the good shepherd who gave his live for the sheep. It cost a great deal in Bible times for a person to be a shepherd. It was weeks of isolation, loneliness, hardship and inconvenience. Yet no-one paid a higher price that Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep. For us to be able to say ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ cost Christ his life. We are his by redemption, he is ours by faith.
Spiritually if we are left to ourselves, we will be in great want, but because the Lord is my shepherd we are not in want of any spiritual thing. The experimental aspect of the knowledge of the Lord as shepherd is gained as the Lord leads us into three regions. From these verses we see that the Lord leads us into rest, work and sorrow.
(1) He leads us into rest
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,Psalm 23:2 NIV
From the hot noontime blazing sun and from the awful glare of the desert heat where every stone burns the foot that touches it, we are led to a little green glen with a quiet river and the shade of a great tree. He brings us under the shadow of his wing. A place to feed and drink. God has brought us into a rest for our souls. The rest and the refreshment is placed first in this Psalm. We’ll not be able to rise up to walk with God until we have learned to rest in God.
Resting involves appropriating on a daily basis the truth that Christ Has died for us. Fanny Crosby, the hymnwriter desired such an appropriation when she penned the words:
Jesus keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain
Free to all a healing stream – flows from Calvary’s mountain
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever
Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
The consequences of this rest and refreshment are the restoration of the soul, where the inward man, by the inward feeding upon God, is constantly renewed. The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 4 tells us that we have entered that rest by faith. Our spiritual lives are to be constantly refreshed by constantly taking God at his word. God is engaged in an ongoing work of giving us rest. God constantly makes us to lie down in the green pastures of his communion, he constantly leads us beside quiet waters. These quiet waters are deep, and we can only plumb the depths of that communion as we rest in Christ. And we rest in Christ by the constant placing of our faith in Christ. We miss out on a great deal of our spiritual rest by having hearts of unbelief.
But in the mercy and lovingkindness of God, the soul is then led by the Holy Spirit still further. The rest is not the end of our Shepherd’s guidance,
(2) he leads us to work for him.
He guides along the right paths for his name’s sake.Psalm 23:3 NIV
The joy of the Lord is not just for our pleasure and fulfilment. This rest is to fit us for work and the work of the Lord in turn sweetens the rest. On the mount of transfiguration, the disciples did indeed want to build a home that they could remain there, but they were thrust back into the plains to work for Christ. A single eye for the glory of God means that even our comfort and joy in religious exercises will be subordinated to the doing of the Father’s will. Joy in the Lord is the strength gained in the rest but joy in God is the strength to rise up and work for the Lord. Works of righteousness necessarily follow the restoration of the soul. We are justified not by works, but we are justified for works.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Ephesians 2:10 NIV
We work for the Lord not to obtain assurance or acceptance or forgiveness, but we work for the Lord because we have already rested in the Lord. First the restored soul, then the paths of righteousness.
(3) The Lord will lead his people through sorrow
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.Psalm 23:4 NIV
The apostle Peter tells of the path of suffering that is the inevitable lot of the Christian. Just as Christ suffered in this world, so too shall we. The apostle Paul cries out for more of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and that knowledge involves sorrow
I want to know Christ– yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,(Phil. 3:10 NIV)
The darkest valley does not just mean the dark approach of death but any gloomy valley of trial and weeping. We all at some time or other have to go through such dark experiences. It is noticeable that the Psalmist places the sorrow out in the future in front of him. As he looks back and reflects, it is not the past sorrow and trials that stick out in his memory but the fact that the Lord is his shepherd. That is what dominates his recollection of the past. It is this that stays him for the future. Come rest, come work, come sorrow, the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. I will fear no evil, whatever lies ahead. To the Christian heart there is the conviction that God will be with us. The hand that guides us into the darkest valley, will guide us through it and up out of it.
There are many guides in life that offer this solution and that solution and course of action for life. They will offer suggestions to guide you, but they leave you alone in the dark valley. With Christ you are never left alone. We have one who is qualified by knowledge and experience to aid us because he has walked that way of the darkest valley of death. But he also has the power to protect and provide for us because he is Yahweh, the God who keeps covenant by coming along side and fighting the battles for his people.
But not only is the Lord the divine Shepherd providing and protecting and guiding through life but he has established himself as divine host
2. The Lord as the divine host
God is considered as the host, and we as the guests at His table and dwellers in his house. It is what the covenant of Scripture is about, bringing us into a place where we enjoy dwelling with God.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.NIV Psalm 23:5-6
Even in the midst of strife, indeed in the very face of the enemy, God prepares a banquet. The condition that we enjoy now can be described as an abundance, our cup overflows. Goodness and love follow me. The word translated love (hesed) is covenant love is lovingkindness. Goodness and covenant love will follow me. The word translated follow is much more aggressive that merely follow, it means pursue, the goodness and love of God will pursue me all the days of my life. It will chase after me.
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Philippians 1:6 NIV
As God plays host to his people in this life it is but a meagre foretaste of the life hereafter – The Psalmist exclaims
I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.Psalm 23:6 NIV
All the sorrows and joys of the journey and the rest down here maybe do not always make sense, but great will be the recompense of the Lord’s people who have faithfully persevered in faith, for they shall see the Lord and will dwell with him and he with them. He shall be our God and we shall be his people and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
God provides for us here in the presence of our enemies, it is wilderness food we get, manna from heaven and water from the rock. We eat in haste, staff in hand, and standing round the meal. But yonder in the house of the Lord we will sit down with the shepherd, we will sit at the table of the master, we’ll have had the pilgrim dress removed and put on a royal robe because we will be sons and daughters of the king. Far off, and lost to sight, are all those enemies who opposed the work of the Lord. We fear no further change, because we will have gone into the presence of the Lord to dwell with him and we will go out no more.
Lord help us return today to the chief shepherd and overseer of our souls. Restore our commitment to serve him. Lord lead us to rest, to work and through sorrow. We thank you that our shepherd is the good shepherd who gave his life for us. We thank you that our shepherd who plays host as he feeds us today will be the great shepherd and host in eternity. We pray and praise in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen