The Lord is my Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: 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: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 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. Psalm 23:1-6
Psalm 23 is such a familiar Psalm; some might even say iconic though I wouldn’t like to regard God’s word in this way. We see this Psalm used at funerals for good reason, as we see God’s comfort and the promise of eternal life clearly taught. And yet the danger is that this kind of familiarity can breed, I won’t say contempt but perhaps complacency.
We know that David had been a shepherd and the Lord possibly draws on this experience to some degree in portraying certain attributes of himself within the text of this Psalm. Regardless of this, we have a wonderful picture of our Lord on which to meditate.
As we know the bible is a revelation from God and the wonderful thing about the Old Testament in particular is that we learn a great deal about the character of God and the nature of man. We see the Lord intervene in the lives of real people [today we see the bible relegated to the realm of fairy tales] and so we are able to learn from their relationships with God; both in obedience and disobedience, in good times and in bad.
We also know from our bible survey, that Psalms is among the wisdom literature. It is the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom; and so in understanding the character and attributes of God our hearts are taught to fear him. This is a good thing because without the fear of God there is no wisdom.
Scripture describes David as a man after God’s heart and for this reason, as we see the story of David unfold in the scripture we are confident that he truly knew the Lord. This is therefore a blessing since we are told that the things which were written aforetime were written for our learning and ultimately, that we might we might have hope in God rather than in a world that offers no hope.
The story of David certainly does that for us; it gives us hope in an almighty yet personal God who cares for our every need. The beautiful thing that we see in this Psalm is that the Lord wants to be involved in every area of our lives.
I have 7 points today which underline the character of God in terms of meeting these needs.
1.The Lord is my Shepherd: Recognizing who the Lord is
“The LORD is my shepherd”v1
Immediately we see that David recognizes who the Lord is. It is because of who the Lord is that the rest of the Psalm ties together; he is his shepherd. This is a good and necessary thing as David also recognises that he needs a shepherd due to his tendency to stray. Without the Lord he would be lost.
We see this in the very last verse of Psalm 119, which is compelling for a psalm which is predominantly about the word of God. The correlation with regard to departing from the word of God and being lost is something David was obviously aware of. We will see this more clearly further on in the Psalm but in short it is God’s word which keeps us connected to him.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. (Psalms 119:176)
By all accounts sheep are quite stupid and very prone to getting lost. Therefore, it is an apt description of humanity also. David recognizes this in himself and acknowledges that it is through the knowledge of God’s word that he would find his way back to God; yet not the word of God only (his word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path) but the Lord himself as David petitions the Lord to search for him [seek thy servant].
We have 3 references to sheep and the Lord (our Shepherd) which are directly applicable to us as believers.
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. (Isaiah 53:6)
This verse begins with the word “all” and finishes the same; pure and simply there is not one person who hasn’t sinned against God. And yet God in his mercy has provided the way back to him.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: John 10:27
In John chapter 10, the Lord clearly identifies himself as the Shepherd. This imagery or similitude wouldn’t have been lost on a people whose culture is intrinsically connected to the raising of cattle.
The beautiful thing about the Lord in this passage, is that his voice is able to be recognized above all the competing voices in our world; more specifically as he speaks to us through his word.
If you know the Lord and have responded to his voice then you will know what I mean. And you will also know that you had strayed and were indeed lost in the worst possible way. Your life was in spiritual danger and it was the Lord Jesus who sought you and saved you. How lost were you; it’s worth thinking about. In reality I don’t think we can truly comprehend the answer to that question but even the slightest comprehension should motivate us with compassion to share the gospel with those around us.
I know, myself that if the Lord didn’t seek to save me, I wouldn’t have found him; at the peak of my rebellion I wasn’t looking for God in the slightest.
The question you need to ask is this: will you allow the Lord to be your shepherd?
Allowing the Lord to be your shepherd requires submission; constant submission:
- Submission of will (either you will or you won’t: ability isn’t the issue)
- Submission of the intellect (we don’t know it all)
We must bow the knee and we bow it twice: Every knee shall bow.
- We bow metaphysically: We were created by an infinite personal God (He is God and we are not)
- We bow morally: we have all sinned against a holy God (he is right and we are wrong)
Because of this reluctance to bow under the mighty hand of God, we are all prone to drift and wander from the loving care and protection of our Shepherd. However, if we wish to avoid spiritual danger, we must submit to him (first) in and resist the devil and his temptations. In submitting to God, we accept HIS word as our authority. This therefore highlights the need to read his word and to know his word.
I’ve said this before and I don’t mind repeating myself; If we don’t remain in his word (and I know this from personal experience), your heart will forget who the Lord is and you will find it harder to recognize his voice.
The alternative to being a submissive sheep is to be rebellious, self-willed goat. At the end of the age the Shepherd will stand with the goats on his left and the sheep on the right; which side will you be standing on?
Scripture presents an alternative to the Good Shepherd: “the idol shepherd” referred to in Zechariah 11:17. This shepherd cares not for the flock but for himself.
And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces. Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.
Some commentators suggest that this is prophetic of the anti-christ; regardless of whether or not this is the case; it certainly is an anti-christ system. At the end of the day, it is the blind leading the blind and both fall into the pit.
The point is this: who do you want to follow?
[When we reject the shepherd we reject his protection]
2.The Lord is my resource
“I shall not want” v1
David again demonstrates his intimate knowledge of his Lord. He knew he could face a future (shall) fully confident that the Lord could and would meet his every need; I emphasize need because anything other than that, would be covetousness. Strictly speaking, to want means to lack and so there is contentment in acknowledging that it is the Lord who would provide. His provision would satisfy; it would be sufficient to meet that need.
It is in relationship with the Lord that we discern the difference between greed and need. As we see in Psalm 84: it is to those whose walk with the Lord is upright that receive from his hand.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
To walk uprightly means to follow God’s commandments and so the added blessing is that we can enjoy his provision with a clear conscience; knowing that every good and perfect gift is from him.
The last verses of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians offer us an insight into the issue of both want and bounty; giving and receiving.
As I alluded to before: to want or lack can be difficult to distinguish; especially given our tendency toward sin and greed; particularly the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes. We are constantly bombarded by the media and advertising with the message: must have this, must have that. [Sometimes it’s good to turn the TV off]
It is important to get this area of our lives right since covetousness is in many respects a form of idolatry; [we saw what happened to Achan in the Book of Joshua] and so we know that it is regarded as serious.
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Philippians 4:11-12)
Paul tells us that he has learnt the secret of contentment and I dare say, this is something that the Lord wants to teach us all. In order to learn this lesson, we need to be able to see it from both perspectives. And so, as Paul says, the Lord instructed him to both ends of the spectrum: full and hungry, to abound and to be in need. In this way we can be both the giver and receiver; this is the secret of both contentment and a fruitful life. It also shows us that there is a purpose for every season.
In verse 13 we read:
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13)
In the context of our passage we see that was the Lord who enabled Paul to both abound and to suffer need. If we remember the words of Jesus in respect to the rich ruler, he said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. Yet he also said that all things are possible with God. And that’s the wonderful thing about God’s grace; it teaches us how to live holy lives.
Finally, in verse 19 we have this promise and with his promise comes this grace to trust his promise.
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
With such a promise we can confidently pray for the Lord to meet our needs; knowing firstly that the reason we might be in need is because we haven’t sought God to meet that need (we have not because we ask not as we read in James) but also being careful not to ask amiss (or for the wrong things). Unless something is truly from the Lord we can well do without it.
I think it is a sad indictment to us as believers that we are sometimes more focussed on personally fulfilling our own needs rather than trusting in the Lord and the promise of his provision. As believers we can often be self-sufficient rather than be God dependant.
[When we reject the Shepherd we reject his provision]
3.The Lord is my rest
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters”. v2
It is amazing in this verse that we have such a picture of tranquillity and yet we know that David’s life was anything but tranquil at times. The first thing we notice is that it is the Lord who causes him to rest; HE makes him lie down and HE leads him. In that place of rest, we see refreshment. The Lord sustains him both with pasture (food) and water. By virtue of our faith in Christ whoever believes in him shall never hunger or thirst.
David knew the wisdom of being still; this meant trusting in who he knew God to be and thus abiding in him. Again; it is only because David knew God and had learnt to trust God, that he could be still and obey that prompt (and receive the grace) to rest in the Lord.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalms 46:10)
Similarly we see elsewhere in the Old Testament several instances prior to battle where the Lord commands the people to “stand still” and see the salvation of the Lord.
“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” Exodus 14:13
To be able to trust the Lord in this fashion affords the believer great peace and rest.
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
The ultimate rest that anyone can enjoy is of course salvation. The manner in which a person is saved is often at the end of a prolonged period of unrest. This could be the unrest caused by a continued and unfruitful search for happiness and meaning in life in one form or another: money, relationships, job success etc.
It is only when we truly come to the end of ourselves and the end of that search that we can find that rest for our souls. As Jesus so wonderfully says “come unto me and I will give you rest”. But as the scripture says we must cease from our own work and whatever it is that is providing that temporary satisfaction and perhaps the easing of conscience.
For the believer:
Life is busy and sometimes busier than it needs to be. We touched on this several weeks ago and learnt that when we don’t put the Lord first, we often give the Lord our left-overs and this includes our time. If the Lord is to be a very present help in our time of trouble, we need to learn to rest in him and be still. It is in that stillness that we are able to meditate on his word. It is then that we can experience the peace that surpasses understanding. The more we know God, the more we are able to rest in him and enjoy that peace.
This peace is a product of trust.
[When we reject the Shepherd we reject his refreshment]
4.The Lord is my restorer
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”. v3
Without a doubt, David knew the forgiveness of God; we see this in Psalm 51 with regard to his confession in the matter of Uriah the Hittite and his adultery with Bathsheba.
When the prophet Nathan confronts David, he says that David had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. In other words, he had given God a bad name. Therefore, it is HIS name and HIS righteousness that David sought to uphold; his (just as ours are) righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
In this psalm we read:
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (Psalms 51:2-4)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
Again, I emphasize that as David points out: it is HE that restores and HE that leads. David would have appeared to be a man competent in himself and his own abilities; if it were possible to achieve right standing before the Lord through his own efforts, I am sure he could have. He wasn’t short on bravery (he had slain his tens of thousands) and he wasn’t deprived of good looks. And yet throughout the Psalms he gives the Lord all the praise and all the glory: is it any wonder that he declared to have a heart after God. Scripture gives us a great example to follow.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
It is through the Lord Jesus that the forgiveness of sin has been made available to us. And it is through the forgiveness of sins and our spiritual rebirth [you must be born again] that we are restored unto God. This is something that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of.
The word restored is such a beautiful word in the context of salvation. Firstly, we were dead in our sins and on the scrap heap and secondly, we were alienated from God and his promises. Now we are restored; our spirits have been made alive and our relationship with God has been restored.
In our modern society we are brainwashed; even bombarded by moral relativism and statistical ethics (following a moral middle ground). There is no concept of moral absolutes. Everyone is content to do what is right in his own eyes. We saw this recently with the so-called marriage equality vote which was nothing more than opinion poll. This is what society’s moral standards have been reduced to.
As believers we have an absolute standard and a path to follow. This begins with our commitment to follow him.
As we read in Proverbs
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
We must remember that it is his path and his righteousness. It is for his namesake and it is our witness for him. Our purpose as believers is to reflect his glory; remember we are commanded to be holy even as he is holy.
[When we reject the Shepherd we reject his restoration]
5.The Lord is my Reassurance
“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”. v4
David was no stranger to dark times; and yet through those dark times he saw the Lord working in his life and experienced the Lord in ways that he would not have otherwise experienced.
Psalm 27 is a beautiful example of this and shows that in dark times it is the Lord who was his light.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalms 27:1)
One of the greatest promises in the bible is this: I will never leave you nor forsake you. David came to know this and the truth of this was demonstrated in many ways.
David’s confidence and assurance wasn’t only in times of trial but also in times of disobedience. Some of those dark times were in fact, as a result of his own disobedience. He refers to the rod and the staff; it is with the staff that the Lord guides and rescues but it is with the rod he corrects.
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.(Proverbs 13:24)
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
We see this (chastening) illustrated in several places during David’s life; particularly in 2Samuel when he disobeys the Lord by conducting a census of the people.
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man. 2Samuel 24:14
David trusted God to such an extent that he would rather suffer punishment directly from the Lord than from man.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
As believers we will go through dark times; times where we don’t completely understand what God is doing in our lives. The greatest blessing as believers is the knowledge that there is a purpose to our suffering. We are guaranteed trouble in this world and yet we are also reassured that Jesus has overcome the world and through him we also overcome.
Again, we can also be encouraged that the Lord will never leave us (thou art with me) and his perfect love casts out fear.
This is where we need to rely on God’s word to get us through those dark times (his word is our light); both in terms of comfort but also for guidance.
In regard to chastening, we are reminded in Hebrews chapter 12.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (Hebrews 12:4-8)
As believers, we’re not perfect; but we are being perfected. This is why the Lord will allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin and disobedience. Obviously it would be better not to succumb to temptation. But as I said earlier; sheep are stupid and we sometimes need to be taught the same lesson more than once. It is important to recognise the lesson we are being taught.
It is in our own best interest to endure chastening and correction in whatever form it takes. If the Lord completely left us to our own devices our lives would be an absolute disaster.
It’s important therefore to be able to discern what the Lord is doing in our lives. Don’t be under the illusion that as follower of Christ that you will not have to endure suffering; as some brands of Christianity like to teach [this is the feel good variety].
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
(2 Timothy 3:12)
[When we reject the Shepherd we reject his comfort and guidance]
6.The Lord is my Rewarder and my Reward
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over”. v5
Again we are reminded by David, of God’s goodness and provision in his life. We see the truth of this in 1 Samuel. In this particular episode in David’s life, he was being pursued by Saul and in fear of his life. Even in the direst of situations we see God’s provision.
In fleeing from Saul he came to a place called Nob where he met Ahimilech the priest and asks: [1 Samuel 21:3-6]
Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present. And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women. And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.
So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away. 1 Samuel 21:3-6
It’s interesting that on this particular occasion we have literal bread placed on a literal table and a literal enemy in their midst; Doeg the Edomite who turns spy for Saul.
The Lord Jesus also makes mention of the above incident (in three of the gospels) when taken to task by the Pharisees because his disciples (being hungry) picked corn on the Sabbath. This emphasises God’s desire for mercy and not sacrifice.
[When we reject the Shepherd we reject his promises]
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Psa 37:25
It is good to remind ourselves with respect to God’s goodness; as the scripture says: “my cup runneth over”. His blessings are not meagre but abundant: both his physical blessings and his spiritual ones (especially his spiritual ones). His love has been lavished on us through Christ.
Remember that it is the Lord who prepares the table for us and it is his hospitality that is being extended to us. “He has brought us to the banqueting house and his banner over us is love”.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
(Song of Solomon 2:4)
The fact that it is in the presence of our enemies, makes us realise that we are accepted by him: WHY? Because we are accepted in the beloved and this acceptance came by God’s grace and not because of our own merits. Therefore we do not give ourselves permission to gloat in respect of our enemies; since we are commanded to love them and do them good.
And so a far greater responsibility falls on us as believers to extend that same hospitality to others and especially those of the household of faith. We are charged with visiting the sick and imprisoned, give food to the hungry and water to the thirsty and take in and clothe the stranger.
We do nonetheless have this promise as we see in the gospels and it is a reassuring one.
Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel’s sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
In the above passage, the Lord promises to bless the believer who forsakes all, through the generosity of other believers. This of course is not to detract from our eternal reward which is in heaven. We seek his kingdom first. The ultimate reward for a life lived in faith is the Lord himself because HE is our portion.
7.The Lord is my Redeemer
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. v6
David tells us that God’s goodness and mercies aren’t “one off” occasions and that he could rely on them throughout his entire life. There were many instances in his life that illustrate this:
His battle with Goliath
Numerous escapes from Saul
His escape from his son Absalom
God’s mercy was so prevalent in his life that we see it referred to as “the SURE mercies of David”; this is the mercy which extends beyond the grave. Remember that God is the God of the living, not the dead.
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
There are things in life which are uncertain and one of these is wealth and riches; in these we are not to trust. But in the goodness and mercy of God; this we should trust: every minute of every day.
In expressing his desire to dwell in the house of the Lord forever we know that it was also David’s great desire to build the Lord an earthly dwelling, even though he knew that it could not contain him.
Nevertheless, David’s ultimate joy and comfort was the assurance of his salvation (to dwell in the house of the Lord forever). We know this confidence was evidenced throughout the Psalms. He also knew that he would see the child which Bathsheba bore to him through adultery.
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” Rev 5:9
We see a glimpse of redemption here in the book of Revelation.
- We see the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
- We see him receive the worship due to him by those who are recipients of his mercy.
How much mercy has been extended to us through the Lord Jesus and continues to be extended to us as he advocates on our behalf before the Father? We shouldn’t take this for granted. His mercies are new every morning.
Just as David speaks of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, we are comforted to know that the covenant that God makes with us is also an everlasting covenant. You cannot lose your salvation.
[When we reject the shepherd we reject his salvation]
As I alluded to at the beginning of this message; it is vitally important to our walk with the Lord to know him more and more intimately each day. The more we know him, the harder it is to sin against him. The more we know him the more we can know his will for our lives.
Psalm 23 paints such a wonderful picture of our Lord and as the Spirit of God breathes life into each word and we meditate on its truths hopefully we are drawn into a deeper knowledge of our Shepherd and his care over all areas of our lives.
We see this laid out in each of the verses; remember that the bible is a book of contrasting opposites and so we are left to choose between those opposites:
- His Sovereignty vs our self-will
- His provision vs our self-sufficiency
- Spiritual mindedness vs worldliness
- Faith vs fear
- A life of grace resting in the Lord vs a life of works and business, resisting the grace of God
- Eternal life vs eternal damnation
In Psalm 103 we read the words, “forget not all his benefits”. In Psalm 23 and indeed many of the Psalms we do see the benefits of a life committed to the Lord.
My prayer is that this message encourages a desire to know the Lord more intimately. We are charged as believers to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour. This we are taught leads to a fruitful life: something worth pursuing.
David tells us “The Lord is my Shepherd”, and so there is one last question to ask:
Is he your shepherd too?
Let us pray