The Lord Is My Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
There is within the body of writing in the Psalms verses to be remembered, to commit to memory and to bring to our hearts understanding. There is within the body of writing in the Psalms even an entire song to remember and to commit to the hearts memory that which will be used and needed in later times.
It’s one of the reasons memorizing scripture is so vital a tool to employ. We read a text, a verse, a passage and chapter and find its ready impact upon our hearts and then determine to commit the entirety of that portion to memory, never knowing when it might be called upon and utilized in the greatest of our need.
Psalm 23 is one such chapter.
Its sad and poor employment by the Catholic Church as a dirge at death is a twisted use of this wonderfully encouraging chapter in the Bible. To those who have been sadly exposed to that vile use of the chapter, it may take some time to purge our minds of that illustration. But to those who have never been exposed to such distortion, this song is the greatest joy to the heart and can begin its work in you from the first reading.
Let’s look into this wonderful song and see if there are some precious jewels that can be gleaned from the surface and taken with us in our journey through The Treasury Of David.
“A Psalm of David”
It is not my intent today to frame a four point layout of this chapter. The six verses will no doubt have a voice of their own and I desire only to make that voice all the more audible as the Lord leads me.
“A Psalm of David” is how this psalm begins its song.
So precious is this headline, so revealing is this information to us; it is none other than the Shepherd King himself who has authored this song. Why does that make a difference?
It brings to us the most joyful understanding that here, the shepherd identifies as the peer of the sheep. He writes from the perspective as a sheep and not as a shepherd. Though it was David who led those few sheep in the wilderness, though it was indeed David that led his sheep to green pastures and still waters, safeguarding them with his rod and staff, protecting them and healing their hurts anointing their heads with oil, it is also David who identifies with suffering affliction with them in his life. David himself was led and watched over and comforted, for the Lord was his Shepherd.
But we also see in David the Shepherd King, a sheep, just as we see in Christ the King of Kings, a lamb. Jesus lived among his sheepfold, he lives as a man, he suffered the afflictions of men, the temptations of men and he died as The Lamb.
This exposition is not intended however to push that much further, but to have as the introduction to one of the most comforting Psalms in the Bible, a knowledge that it was written by The Shepherd King, “A Psalm of David”, should bring to us a great respect for the foreshadowing inspiration of this Psalm.
1 The LORD is my shepherd;
There is indeed a limit to my ability in bringing out the value of these five words.
I think of David as the shepherd boy, faithful in his duty and care for them. I recall also the words he spoke to King Saul in justifying his personal training to fight against Goliath;
“Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:”….. “Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them” (1 Sam 17:36, 37)
I think of Christ who speaks of us as belonging to His Father, of his boast in John 17:12, “those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost”. But again, I don’t want to push this much further, it’s just difficult not to see such true links respecting David The King, and Christ who will sit upon the throne of David.
As a Shepherd boy, David’s personal care and protection of his father’s sheep, his leading them and guiding them, his nurture of them each day, David did not have any control over the events that would unfold during his days, David had no command of the enemies of the sheep, no control over the events that would transpire throughout the day, yet he was faithful, and all this while David was but a youth;
What are we to say when it is the LORD who is our Shepherd? How confident should WE be that GOD will care for his sheep? If the sheep of David the Shepherd boy had no fear of danger, beloved how can we fear danger when it is the LORD who is my Shepherd?
This is the Lord we are speaking about as the shepherd and not some mere man, certainly not a “ruddy lad” as the Bible refers to David. If David was seen to care for his sheep, how much more the one who gathers the wind in his fists (Prov 30:4), who spread out the heaves and treadeth upon the waves of the sea? (Job 9:8)
The LORD is my Shepherd!
Who can be a better Shepherd?
Who can be more faithful?
Who can be more caring?
Who can better control the circumstances of life?
Who can better protect his sheep than God?
Isaiah 46, one of the great passages of the Isaiah 40’s, in reminding his Sheep who he is, God speaks to them directly through his prophet Isaiah saying, “5 To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?” (Isa 46:5)
Turn to Isaiah 46:9
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
Let that sink down into you minds and hearts as you consider for just a moment that “The LORD is my Shepherd”, to what do you have the right to fear?
What affliction can come upon you when it is GOD who is leading you?
Who is it that controls the day and the hour, and the events contained therein?
Who is it that has appointed the times and the seasons?
How are the sheep, who walk in the footprints of Jesus, affected by the weather of the hour? Turn to Psalm 37:23-25 (stay with me in this text)
23The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
Who orders the steps of the good man?
A book titled “My Shepherd Life In Galilee” by Stephen Haboush almost a century ago, speaks of his joy at watching his sheep follow in his footsteps;
“To my joy and pleasure, as I look back upon that delightful morning, I see every sheep in my footsteps. When I saw that, a desire came into my heart to take them onward and upward to higher heights and to greener pastures and water more tranquil.”
The Lord too desires we walk in his steps, those steps “ordered by the LORD”, and when we do so we can imagine how much he too desires to lead us “onward and upward to higher heights and to greener pastures and water more tranquil”, because it is a joy for the Lord to see his Children walking in the light of his word.
But Psalm 37 goes on…verse 24
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
Another faithful picture of the Shepherd, and the Shepherd of shepherds.
There are sheep that fall out of the way, and though they stumble they are not utterly cast down. He lifts them up and out of trouble, he anoints them and binds their wounds, he cares for them and sets them up on their feet again. Beloved, there are indeed some sheep who have long gone out of the way of the Lord, but God pursues them, day after day, year after year; they injure themselves. Just like Sheep, they have gone astray, they have turned everyone to their own way, but they are not utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth them with his hand.
And he can do so, because it is GOD WHO IS THEIR SHEPHERD.
Beloved there is a logical consistency in this regard that we need not fear, if it is God that leads and cares for us, he will lift us up and continue to nurture his own, no matter what comes upon the world around them.
Consider David’s conclusion in the text that follows what he just wrote here in Psalm 37
25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
I shall not want.
What a wonderful Segway into the last part of verse 1
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. David, in all his years and in his great age, and with all the experience his life had witnessed that I would dare say far exceeds anything we have ever experienced, had never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. They had wanted for nothing, never was there a time when the righteous were forsaken and there is never a time when those who trust the Lord as their Shepherd will want for anything.
It was Jesus who affirmed this truth in the Bible. So much that we witness in the Old Testament where confirmed again and again by Christ, not only in what he taught them but also in what he did for them.
We could indeed speak of the table that was furnished in the wilderness by the Lord, as he rained manna from heaven that filled the hearts and the stomachs of his people in the wilderness, as they journeyed from their bondage in Egypt. For forty years “man did eat angels food” we are told in Psalm 78:25.
That was a corporate example and yet also we see personal examples in the Old testament. In 1 Kings 17, we see a woman who had but an handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse who might gather two sticks “that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” But what does Elijah tell her? “The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17:12-14)
Jesus was in a dessert place with his disciples and a multitude of people were with them, they had but five loaves and two fishes, and yet thousands did not want but had much left over, none of them were begging bread, because The LORD is their Shepherd, and they shall not want!
You recall the Lord teach this also do you not? One of the most precious passages in the Bible concerning the comfort the Lord might comfort us from our fears is found in Matthew 6:25-34; It is a wonderfully familiar passage and presents to us in detail that which Psalm 23 gives in general. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want”
Turn there with me, Matthew 6:25-34
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:25-34
What a wonderful truth expounded by the Lord who answers the questions on our hearts. Beloved the promise here is not to the ungodly, it is not to those who do not know the Lord; the parenthesis gives context “for after all these things do the gentiles seek”, in this context the gentiles are the sinners of the world who worry for all these things.
But here is a promise of nourishment, a promise of keeping and care that is only accomplished by the Shepherd of the sheep of his pasture. This is why we “shall not want”, there is nothing that we need that will not be provided to us.
Notice verse 26 in this passage in Matthew;
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
It is clear that the Lord does not dangle food from heaven like a mother bird gives to her young. They are still to forage and to find the food, they are still to work and to obtain for their daily needs. Just as the Scripture also says “… that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” In 2 Thess 3:10, the Lord does not reward the slothful man but the diligent. We are charged to do what we can do and to trust in the Lord for his provision.
Again, a wonderful Segway into the second verse of our Psalm
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
It might be of interest to you that green pastures and still waters are not readily found in Israel.
It is one of the smallest nations on earth and, as a per square km area, has some of the greatest changes of both altitude and weather in the world. Flat green pastures are not commonplace, and still waters are even more rare.
The Jordan river has a change in altitude of almost 1km, beginning on the slopes of Mt Hermon 550m above sea level, to becoming the lowest river on earth where it empties into the dead sea 430m BELOW sea level, some 200km away.
Sheep are fearful of fast flowing currents, and even though the average change is only half a centimetre per meter, this creates anything but still water. There are indeed pockets of still water, but not easy to always get to without first going through the valleys and mountainous regions of this small nation.
So too it is with we sheep. There are times when we are taken through wild terrain on our journey to the green pastures and the still waters.
That terrain has with it many challenges and even dangers on the way and we are called to walk directly behind the Lord for safe keeping. Where his feet tread, all danger is taken out of the way before we follow on, let me explain.
Living in Australia has some wonderful benefits, but understanding some things in the light of scripture with our own experiences is not one of them. Sheep are not led in Australia, they are driven. In fact, driving sheep with the use of dogs and horses is common throughout the world except for the middle east. In this part of the world the sheep are led. The shepherd does not go after the sheep, but before the sheep.
We might ask how that is possible.
Perhaps John 10:27 might help us understand, hear it from the voice of Christ;
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
In his book “My Shepherd Life”, Stephen Haboush writes of what happens when all the sheep of his flock, and the shepherds and sheep of other flocks come together into one big flock.
There is, around the flock, a large corralled area when each Shepherd would take turns watching the sheep overnight. The sheep themselves are all gathered into that one large area, they are indeed a mixed multitude. An Australian herdsman would find this an impossible situation, how can he choose between which are his and which belong to another shepherd? But this is not a problem for the shepherds of Israel.
In the morning the shepherd who desires to depart with his sheep simply calls with his voice the words they are familiar with, to signal to his own to follow him. The sheep hear his voice, and they follow him
When I was in Israel, no matter how much I called out to this particular shepherds sheep, it would not come. The moment that sheep heard his shepherd call, he came. It is in this way and this way alone that the shepherd could lead his sheep.
Beloved he can lead his sheep through the valleys where there is often danger (I will speak to that next time), he could lead his sheep over the mountains, in difficult terrain. He would go before his sheep to ward off any danger to the sheep UNTIL he would come to green pastures and still waters. Our Lord leads us, and if we are to be free of danger by wandering off on our own, we should follow him. Our feet should tread where his feet tread. If the footing was sure for him, they will be for us. Where he leads, we are in safety.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
There is only one time we ever see sheep lie down, and that is when they are well fed. This is of interest, because the journey the sheep travel on still has the ability to nourish them along the way.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Sheep lay down when they have been well nourished and that nourishment comes also on part of their journey.
Don’t think that the journey that you are on in your life has no value for your life. Every part of your life and all that you endure and enjoy is there to nourish you and build you up. There will be a time that you might lay down, but not until the shepherd makes you to lie down in green pastures. It is of interest that our lives are filled with many highs and lows, and few are the areas of genuine tranquility, so too it is with the sheep on their journey behind the shepherd. But if we follow, he will indeed bring us to a place where 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Sheep seem to be the most interesting of creatures in the Bible. We see them both led and not led.
In 1 Kings 22 we have a note of interest for us that the Lord considers respecting a King of Israel. Turn to 1 Kings 22:15
Two kings have come forward to battle against the Syrians in Ramothgilead, Ahab the King of Israel, and diplomatic Jehoshaphat the king of Judah. Jehoshaphat desires that a prophet of the Lord would provide an understanding to the will of the Lord, but Ahab is considered by God to lead a Shepherdess people. Though the people have a King, God sees him as unfit to reign over his people, in fact he sees him as no leader at all and desires that he may fall in battle.
Swayed by the united voice of public opinion, Ahab believed the approximately four hundred prosperity preaching prophets, that he will be successful;
6 Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. 7 And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him?
Ahab is not happy of obtaining a second opinion on the matter, he’d rather stick with majority opinion. But he says to Jehoshaphat;
8 There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. (1 Kings 22:8).
It seems that contrarian opinions were just as unpopular then as they are now. Nevertheless, Micaiah the son of Imlah was sought for and found, and being encouraged to be nice and speak the same things as the other prophets, he obliged saying “15 Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.”
Ahab however, suspecting Micaiah was only telling him what he wanted to hear, pressed him for the truth;
16 And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? 17 And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace. 18 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?
King David however was the Shepherd King, his training was in the caring of sheep a big part of his life growing up, he knew how to nourish them and how to lead them, they trusted and followed him and Israel as a nation undivided, prospered. But we not only see sheep led and not led, but also see them both follow and go astray.
They followed David the King, and they followed also his son Solomon, but they would not follow Rehoboam, the son of Solomon and the kingdom fell apart.
In Isaiah is found the famous passage;
Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;
That is our way, that describes you and I. That describes us all at some point in our lives. Not only did we not have a shepherd to lead us, but we had also gone astray and turned every one to his own way.
The last verse in the book of Judges says;
“…there was no King in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes” and this describes us all at one time or another.
3 He restoreth my soul:
Says our text in verse 3,
And Isaiah 53:6 concludes with how our souls has been wonderfully restored;
Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
That beloved is the manner in which our soul has been restored. The Shepherd of the lost sheep of the world had the iniquity of his sheep laid upon him. He took that which would otherwise have come upon us.
It was the shepherds of Israel that endured the greater trouble in leading their sheep. The charge of the sheep was simply to follow, it was the shepherd that had cleared the path along the way, they used their rod to smite serpents in the path, David fought the lion and the bear as a shepherd, and “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” (1 Pet 5:8)
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
In his book “My Shepherd Life”, the author goes on to talk about a conversation with his uncle who asks him what he thinks of the clean white coats of the sheep of his neighbor. As a boy, the author recalls thinking they are well cared for and looked after.
His uncle then asks what he thinks of the fat sheep of another neighbor, the author responds that they are well fed. The uncle then tells the boy, if you feed your sheep and bring them through with wonderful white coats of wool, you will obtain a great name in this land. It is not the sheep that gain the name, but the Shepherd who cares for his sheep.
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake
It is the name of the Shepherd of shepherds that is glorified by bringing you through and having you lay down in green pastures and beside the still waters. It is his name that is at stake, not yours. God has promised to lead you, the Lord is your shepherd and you are charged only to trust and follow him. He will lead you in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake
I am given, as a commitment for the rest of my life, to be an under shepherd of the Lord for you. You, this local Church, are my life for the rest of my life and I am charged to bring you through these turbulent times.
Those of you who are listening from another church, your pastor is charged as your under-shepherd and he WILL give an account for you. If you find him faithful to the Lord, trust him and do all that you can to be a part of those things he sets up for your nourishment and growth.
The faithful under-shepherd can NOT drive you, so he CANNOT force you to take part in prayer meetings and bible studies or anything else; he can only lead and make any nourishment available.
David could not have all his sheep walk in his steps and the path he beat out for their safe travel, your pastor can’t force any of you to take part in any of those efforts he undertakes for you. Yet he is charged by the Lord to help lead you through this life and should desire to do so that CHRIST may be glorified and enjoyed by you.
If the work your Pastor does is faithful to the Lord and in accord with his word, it is then JESUS name that is lifted up and glorified, people will hear that name of Jesus Christ lifted up in praise. If you do not believe your pastor faithful, tell him his error and if still dissatisfied, find another under-shepherd that will lead you toward those green pastures and still waters the Lord has prepared for you.
But do not blame your Shepherd if you will not be nourished by the provisions he provides you.
The Shepherds Psalm has applications that abound, but the one that is most evident of all is the realisation of that first infinitely wonderful verse, ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want’
When you comprehend what it means to know that God is the one who leads, nourishes and provides for you, two things naturally occur;
- Humility: It is not you who ultimately provides for you.
- REST: It is trusting in the Lord alone and resting in his provision.
Follow in the footprints of the Shepherd of shepherds, just as the David the Shepherd king did, and he will lead you to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth you beside the still waters