Psalms 23 part 2
A study of the 23rd Psalm
“He Leads Me”
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads 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 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 runs 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 forever.”
Last time we looked at what David meant by the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” as he spoke from a genuine shepherd’s point of view, which made the verse much more powerful.
Now this time we’re going to explore verse 2:
23:2a “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.”
All of the verses in Ps 23 have two parts, so let’s look at the first part of verse two:
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures...”
We notice again that David describes himself as one of Jehovah’s flock, safe under His care. And in this verse he is free from all anxieties due to his Good Shepherd’s protection. Only when we come to this place of rest are able to truly enjoy His peace and enjoy life. It is a place of ease and security.
Now, in real shepherding it is almost impossible to get sheep to lie down and rest unless four requirements are met:
Because of their natural timidity they will refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear.
Because of their frequent friction with other sheep, they will not lie down unless there is peace between them.
They will not lie down unless they are free from parasites or flies, which harass them greatly.
They will not lie down when they are hungry.
So in summary, they must be free from fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger.
And it is ONLY the shepherd that can take care of these four needs. It is he alone that can make them lie down, rest, relax, and be content.
So first, let’s talk about FEAR:
It is a fact of true shepherding that just seeing the shepherd in the field at night will settle a restless flock. There may be dangerous predators nearby but if they know their shepherd is there will settle their fear.
And it’s the same with us. Fear is almost always a matter of focus—what you’re looking at. Just having our eyes turned onto our faithful Shepherd has the effect of settling our fears and anxieties. In another Psalm David wrote of the importance of a right focus:
“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken (with fear or unbelief)” (Ps. 16:8).
Generally it’s the unknown and unexpected that produces the greatest anxiety. It was this very kind of fear that gripped the disciples in the stormy sea. They feared the storm was going to kill them. But it was when Jesus stood up in their midst and their eyes became fixed on Him that He spoke to the storm and brought peace to their hearts.
ILLUS: I was recently talking with someone whose marriage was for all intents and purposes finished, or so they thought. Their mind was full of trouble and fear. It seemed as if their world was caving in around them and all was hopeless.
Then they prayed, and during their prayer the voice of the Shepherd spoke to them. Suddenly faith filled their heart. Peace swept over their soul. A strong sense of His presence gripped them. They suddenly felt that it was not over as they had thought. They have since been in counseling and are making strong progress.
The bottom line is, it is when they sensed the presence of the Shepherd in the midnight hour of their soul that their fears evaporated!
Then secondly there is FRICTION with others.
While a flock of sheep may appear serene and peaceful from a distance, it is actually a place of tension, rivalry, and cruel competition. There is always a “pecking order”—a hierarchy of dominance—about who the greatest among them will be.
Generally it’s an old ewe that winds up being the top boss. She will butt the others into place, driving them away from the best grazing area or favorite bed-grounds.
Succeeding her in precise order, the other sheep all establish and maintain their exact position in the flock by using the same tactics of butting and bullying.
Because of all this rivalry and competition, there is unsettling friction in the flock. The sheep cannot lie down in contentment with all this going on. They must constantly defend their rights and challenge the intruders.
Interestingly, it is when the shepherd comes upon the scene that all this stops. As soon as they see him, the sheep forget their rivalries and stop fighting.
Again, the picture for the church is easy to see. As long as the awareness of the constant watchfulness of our Shepherd over His flock is there, foolish rivalries and jealousies cease.
When we can say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content,” then this foolishness will stop. And it is the Shepherd that makes it possible for us to lie down in peace!
So—The Good Shepherd absolves our fears, settles our frictions, and thirdly, He frees us from harassments.
Sheep, especially in the summer months, can be driven to absolute distraction by a host of harassers—nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies, and ticks can torment them. When tormented by these pests it is impossible for them to lie down.
The poor sheep can be seen up on their feet, stamping their legs, shaking their heads, and ready to rush off into the bushes for relief.
Once again—enter the shepherd. A good shepherd will apply various types of insect repellants to his sheep. He will dip them in tick repellent to free them from their tormentors.
For the shepherd this takes time, labor, and paying constant attention to the condition of his flocks. Always uppermost in his mind is the aim of keeping his flock quiet and at peace.
In the same way, our Great Shepherd delivers us from harassers. We are often “bugged” by different things. Worries, cares, disappointments and doubts, fears and conflicts.
So our Shepherd anoints us with oil—the gracious Holy Spirit and the mighty Word of God. These are like spiritual insect repellants that bring peace to our troubled hearts and calm to our agitated minds. When we turn to Him and simply say, “Jesus, this is beyond me—I can’t cope with it—it’s bugging me—I can’t rest—please take over.”
As a real shepherd applies the repellent to his sheep, our Shepherd applies His anointing oil that brings healing, soothing, and deliverance!
So the Good Shepherd calms our FEARS, settles our relational FRICTIONS, drives away HARASSING thoughts, and finally, He takes care of the HUNGER issue.
Sheep will not lie down when they’re hungry. Their impulse is to get up and go in search of food, anxious that they might not have enough.
This is where the phrase comes in, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
It is a fact that many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid areas. Most breeds of sheep flourish best in this sort of terrain. But in these same regions, green pastures are hard to find.
Hence, green pastures must be cultivated, which requires tremendous labor, time, and skill. The shepherd has to clear out rocks, tear out old brush, roots, and stumps; plow deeply and carefully to cultivate the soil.
If the shepherd doesn’t do this, his sheep will not be well fed and will not lie down.
Likewise, our Good Shepherd must do some clearing as well. When we are saved He immediately goes to work clearing our lives of rocks of stony unbelief. He breaks up the soil of our hard, proud human heart. He then sows the seed of His own precious Word, which, if given half a chance, will produce the green grass of peace and contentment.
He then waters the seed with the rain of his Holy Spirit. We are His garden, He is the Gardener. We are His sheep. He is the Shepherd!
The ultimate result of the Shepherd’s work in us is a life of quiet overcoming, of happy contentment flowing from confidence in His management. Unfortunately, far too few Christians fully enjoy this!
The second part of the verse says:
23:2b “He leads me beside still waters...”
The body of a sheep is composed of about 70% water. Without enough of it, it’s strength and vigor quickly fade. Hence, it is essential that their shepherd provide plenty of good, clean water.
We human beings are the same, but not just regarding physical water. The human soul has a need for the water of the Holy Spirit given to us by God.
When sheep don’t have enough water they become restless. If they don’t find good, clean water, they will compromise and drink from polluted pot holes containing parasites and disease germs.
In exactly the same way, human beings that don’t know Jesus (and sometimes those that do) will seek out bad water to quench their spiritual thirst. They turn to false cults, drugs, alcohol, illicit relationships, false philosophies....any one of a number of things that promise water, yet contain spiritual parasites that bring destruction.
The only water that satisfies the soul is from Our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who one day stood in a crowd and cried out:
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him” (John 7:37-39).
How sad that so many drink from the pot holes of polluted water when the real thing, the true living water, can be found in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ! As Jeremiah the Prophet said, “My people...have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (2:13)
Jeremiah says that the false cisterns people turn to for spiritual water are broken. Any source other than Christ will always end up broken. Broken dreams, broken hope, broken expectations, and broken lives result from the wrong cisterns!
Now, how then do we Christians access the water of the Spirit? Interestingly, a sheep can go months without actually drinking water if he has green pastures to feed from, because the rich grass is covered with dew in the mornings.
Likewise, when Christians graze each morning in the rich grass of God’s word, the natural by-product is the dew of the Spirit that is upon it! David said in his very first psalm, “Blessed is the man...whose delight is in the law of the Lord (God’s Word), and in his law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water...” (1:1-3)
The Word of God ALWAYS waters the soul! It breaks in upon our hungry spirits with divine light, drenched with the dew of God’s Spirit!
And also prayer (which is fellowship with the Good Shepherd), and worship (which is adoration of the Good Shepherd) release within us the flowing waters we so desperately need to drink from.
These are the watering holes our Good Shepherd leads us to! When we faithfully follow Him we will find that He is faithful to provide the sustaining water of His Spirit we need to stay healthy and strong.
Let’s stand and read together:
He makes me lie down to graze in rich, green pastures of His Word; He leads me to the still, calm waters of His life-giving Spirit!