How is the Lord My Shepherd? #108 #Psalm23
Happy Four Weeks in Quarantine, everybody – maybe your quarantine has been less than ours? Our Bible readings today are Leviticus 19, Psalms 23 and 24, Ecclesiastes 2 and 1 Timothy 4.
For many people in the past, Psalm 23 was almost as popular and well-known as John 3:16. I am not quite sure that is the case for younger generations, but my generation of church kids was frequently exposed to this Psalm, and for good reason – it is one of the most comforting passages in Scripture! Let’s read it and then come back and discuss it. (We’ll add Psalms 24 in the reading too, but mostly focus our discussion on 23):
The Lord is my shepherd;Psalm 23
I have what I need.
2 He lets me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.
The Shepherd metaphor is abundantly used in Scripture. In modern society, it is considered an insult to call people ‘sheep,’ or ‘sheeple,’ but it does not appear to have had the same connotation in Bible times. Human shepherds could be men or women (Rachel, wife of Jacob, was a shepherdess), and though it was not necessarily a high-level job in society, many of the Old Testament’s prominent people (Abraham, Moses, King David, Jacob, Abel, the prophet Amos) were shepherds at some point. As we see above, God is a shepherd of his people, and Jesus, in John 10, identifies Himself as ‘The Good Shepherd.’
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. 13 This happens because he is a hired hand and doesn’t care about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep.John 10:11-15
In Ezekiel 34, God calls to account the leaders of His people, chastizing them as bad shepherds:
34 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock? 3 You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fattened animals, but you do not tend the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd; they became food for all the wild animals when they were scattered. 6 My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them. 7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 8 As I live—this is the declaration of the Lord God—because my flock, lacking a shepherd, has become prey and food for every wild animal, and because my shepherds do not search for my flock, and because the shepherds feed themselves rather than my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord!10 “‘This is what the Lord God says: Look, I am against the shepherds. I will demand my flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves, for I will rescue my flock from their mouths so that they will not be food for them.Ezekiel 34:1-10
This gives us great insight into HOW the Lord is our shepherd. He had appointed human leaders and priests to take care of His people, but they were neglecting their ‘sheep,’ and only taking care of themselves. So God says He is going to do their job, which includes: strengthening the weak, healing the sick, bandaging the injured, bringing back the strays and seeking the lost. Charles Spurgeon has some great insight into this passage, so let’s turn to him and read his verse-by verse commentary:
I hope we all know this Psalm by heart; may we also know it by heart-experience! It is a sweet pastoral song just suited to our Sabbath evening worship. There is here no din of arms, no noise of war; but there is a delicious hush, only broken by the gentle tinkling of the sheep bell. God give us that sweet rest to-night!
Verse 1. The LORD is my shepherd;
All true rest begins with Jesus, as all the comfort of the sheep is provided for them by their shepherd.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” Is it so? Can you look up, poor defenceless sheep, and say, “The Lord is my shepherd”?
Then comes the blessed inference:—I shall not want.
I do not want, I cannot want; I never shall want with such a Shepherd as I have. He will provide for me; more than that, God himself is my provision. All I need I have, for “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” I cannot provide for myself, but I shall not want. Famine may come, and others who have no God to go to, may pine and perish; but in the worst season I shall not want, for “The Lord is my shepherd.”
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
I am so weak that I even need God’s help to enable me to lie down; but “He maketh me to lie down.” Yes, the rest of the soul is so hard to attain that nobody ever does reach it except by the power of God. He who made the heavens must make us to lie down if we are really to rest. What delightful rest it is when we lie down in his pastures, which are always green! Did you ever find them dry? Our Shepherd makes us not only to feed, but so to feed that we lie down in the midst of the pastures. There is more than we can eat, so the Lord makes a couch of it for us: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:”
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
There is, first, contemplation: “He maketh me to lie down.” Then there is activity: “He leadeth me.” There is also progress, and there is provision for our advance in the heavenly way: “He leadeth me.”
He leadeth me beside the waters of quietness; not by the rushing torrents of excitement, nor by the place of noisy strife. “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.”
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Not, he drives, or drags; but he himself leads, going first to show the way. It is for me to follow, happily to follow, where “He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
He restoreth my soul:
He can do it at once. He restoreth now. He is a restoring God. “He restoreth my soul.” He brings my wandering spirit back when I forsake his ways; and having done that, he leads me, even more carefully than before, for a second time we have the psalmist’s declaration, “He leadeth me.”
3, 4. He leadeth 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:
Though death’s shadow hovers all around me, and damps my spirit, though I feel as though I must die, and cannot bear up under present trial any longer, “Yea, though I walk,” for I do walk, I will not quicken my pace, I will not be in a flurry, I will not run for it. Though death itself shall overshadow me, I will keep up my walk with God. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” There is none, therefore I will not fear any. We often feel more afraid through our fear itself than through any real cause for fear. Some people seem to be ever on the lookout for fear where there is none. Do not you see any, nor let any enter your heart; say with the psalmist, “I will fear no evil:”—
For thou art with me;
Should a sheep fear when the shepherd is with it? What cause has it to fear if that Shepherd is omniscient, omnipotent, and full of tenderness?
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thy rule and thy correction: thy rod [of correction], with which I sometimes am made to wince; thy staff, with which I am supported. These are my comforts; why should I fear?
Are you drinking in all this precious truth, dear friends? Are you feeling it in your soul’s deepest experience?
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
There is a fight going on, and there are enemies all around. You do not generally have tables set in the hour of battle; but God keeps his people so calm amid the bewildering cry, so confident of victory, that even in the presence of their enemies a table is spread with all the state of a royal banquet. “Thou preparest a table.” There is a cloth on the table, there are the ornaments on it, and there are all the accompaniments of a feast: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” They may look on if they like; they may grin, they may wish they could devour, but they cannot sit down at the table, and they cannot prevent me from sitting down at it. Let them blow their trumpets, let them fire their guns: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” It is the very perfection of security and repose that is here described. I know of no expression, not even that of lying down in green pastures, that is more full of restfulness than this: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”
Thou anointest my head with oil;
At some feasts, they poured perfumed oils on the heads of the guests, so God will leave out nothing that is for the joy and comfort of his people. “Thou anointest my head with oil.” You shall have delicacies as well as necessaries; you shall have joy as well as safety; you shall be prepared for service as well as preserved from destruction.
My cup runneth over.
I have not only what I wish, but I have more; not only all I can hold, but something to spare: “My cup runneth over.” If this is the case with your cup, dear friend, let it run over in thankful joy; and if you have more of this world’s substance than you need, ask the poor and needy to come and catch that which flows over.
This is another of the psalmist’s inferences, and a very sure one. He does not say, “Perhaps,” but, “Surely”—
Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
Here is a prince of the blood royal of heaven attended by two body guards,—goodness and mercy,—which keep close behind him. These are the grooms that ride on the horses of salvation: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.” “Goodness”—to provide for me; “mercy”—to blot out my sin. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me,”—not only now and then, but, “all the days of my life.” When I get grey-headed and feeble, and have to lean heavily upon my staff, these twin angels shall be close behind to bear me up, and bear me through.
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Even while I am here in this world, I will be—
“No more a stranger or a guest, But like a child at home,”dwelling with God; and by-and-by, in the fullest sense, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
I always compare this Psalm to a lark. It begins on the ground among the sheep, but up it goes till you may hear its blessed notes echoing among the stars: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” It has its nest in the grass of the green pastures; but it flies up like the strains of sweetest music rising even to the skies: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” God grant that this may be the portion of every one of us, for his great name’s sake! Amen.