Faithlife Sermons

7-12-2020 The LORD is All Psalm 23

Psalms Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:38
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Once, a Sunday School teacher asked her class, “How many of you can quote Psalm 23?” Several students raised their hands, including a little girl who was only four years old. She stood up and declared loudly, “The Lord is my shepherd. I got all I want.” She had the words mixed up but understood the message perfectly.
Most everyone has heard of the 23rd Psalm even if they can’t quote it correctly. It’s a poem and has been called the sweetest psalm ever written. Abraham Lincoln read it to cure his depression, and President Bush read it publicly to calm our nation’s fears after 9-11. It is the psalm that calms the soul.
Since this psalm is so familiar, we’re in danger of missing the depth of its meaning. Because its setting is in the world of sheep and shepherds, many of us can slide right past its richness. The Bible refers to us as sheep nearly two hundred times? This is not usually a compliment because sheep are smelly, stubborn, and prone to wander.
Psalm 23 is an individual psalm of trust. Psalms of trust arise out of some trouble that the psalmist has experienced, although we cannot always determine specifically what it was. Yet through this experience the psalmist (King David here) has learned to trust in the Lord. Sometimes these trust psalms include a petition, and a vow to praise God, but Psalm 23 contains neither. As one commentator says, it is “radically a psalm of trust.”
This incredibly beautiful poem that has captured the hearts and imaginations of Jews and Christians alike over the centuries has traditionally been divided into two strophes, each controlled by a metaphor. The first likens the Lord to a shepherd and the psalmist to a lamb (23:1–4), and the second describes the Lord as the host and the psalmist as a guest or king (23:5–6). I would prefer to see the first strophe under the metaphor of the divine Shepherd and the lamb, with the second strophe as a reflection on the divine Shepherd and the king, giving us the following simple outline:
1. The divine Shepherd and the lamb (23:1–4)
2. The divine Shepherd and the king (23:5–6)
Psalm 23 ESV
A Psalm of David. 1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even 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 overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The theology of this psalm arises out of the practice of life, the practice of the lowliest of occupations, shepherding sheep. David was a shepherd in his youth. However, he writes it from the perspective of sheep grazing and gazing at their caring shepherd.
In the broad outline of the Bible, it is not an exaggeration to say that this imagery is a hint of the incarnation of God in human flesh. That God would condescend to the level of a shepherd is remarkably assuring, and a clue that he would humble himself and take the form of a servant (Phil. 2:5–11). Isaiah too saw the shepherding aspect of Yahweh’s nature and reassured Israel that: [(Isa. 40:11)]
Isaiah 40:11 LEB
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arm, and he will carry them in his bosom; he will lead those who nurse.
In the context of the Old Testament, the imagery of the Lord as Shepherd generally carries the corporate notion that he is Israel’s Shepherd, but in Psalm 23 the Lord is David’s personal Shepherd.
The metaphor of shepherd to ancient kings and gods was common practice in the ancient Near East. Even Isaiah calls the Persian king Cyrus the Lord’s “shepherd” (Isa. 44:28).
Isaiah 44:28 LEB
who says of Cyrus, ‘My shepherd,’ and he shall carry out all my wishes; and saying of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be rebuilt,’ and the temple, ‘It shall be founded.’ ”
The metaphor carried the dual notion of authority and compassion.
The New Testament picks up the imagery of God as Shepherd, and Jesus applies this image to himself in John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd.” While this application may be more closely connected to Ezekiel 34 than Psalm 23, the significance is that the image belongs to the language of the incarnation and the loving care of God in Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews remembers Christ as “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20), and Peter calls him “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4).
This psalm not only contains the metaphor but also references the functions and equipment of a shepherd. “Green pastures,” “quiet waters,” “the darkest valley”—these are pictures of security and protection that the shepherd provides for the sheep. The picture of the shepherd would also include a rod attached to a belt to fight off animals of prey, and a staff in the shepherd’s hand, to provide support and to shake olives from tall trees for the sheep
There are at least three primary activities of the Shepherd that I want to look at with you this morning: 1) The Shepherd Provides; 2) The Shepherd Protects; and 3) The Shepherd Preserves

I. The Shepherd Provides (vv.1-3)

God provides for us through a relationship. Look at the first phrase of verse 1: “The Lord.”
Psalm 23:1 LEB
Yahweh is my shepherd; I will not lack for anything.
The LORD is my shepherd
YHWH — the personal name of God! The Name “YHWH” was the first name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM.” Israelites considered this name too holy to be spoken by human lips. It was so revered that it was only pronounced once a year on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the high priest in the most holy place of the Temple.
David says the great “I AM” is “my” shepherd. The word “is” is in the present tense, meaning the Lord is David’s shepherd at that very moment. And “my” is the possessive personal pronoun, which shows how personal God is.
The LORD as Shepherd of Israel occurs several times elsewhere— even in the Book of Psalm-- but here He is David’s own Shepherd.
The very suggestion that YHWH is David’s Shepherd would lead him personally, as YHWH had led Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness, supports that even ancient Israel— as early as David’s day, had a sense of individual personality, not merely corporate, as just the nation Israel as one unit. God looked on Israel as a corporate people, and on individuals as persons, and his concern encompassed both.
There is a Jewish saying that all Jews should celebrate the Passover as if the Lord took each Jew by the hand and led him or her out of Egypt.
We Christians have inherited this marvelous view of personhood from Judaism—that it was both corporate —the church as one unit, and of course, individual—and to celebrate our personal redemption at Calvary.
Psalm 23:1 LEB
Yahweh is my shepherd; I will not lack for anything.
I will not lack for anything
Left to themselves, sheep lack everything but with a good shepherd they have everything they need. When we have the Lord, we lack nothing.
If Jesus is your shepherd, everything else is secondary. We could say it like this: “If the Lord is my shepherd, then I shall not want. If I am in want, then I’m not allowing the Lord to be my shepherd.”
Psalm 23:2 LEB
In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by quiet waters he leads me.
He makes me lie down
Notice He “makes” me lie down. Sometimes the shepherd had to institute forced rest periods for a sheep by folding its legs in such a way that it would become almost paralyzed for a short while and therefore had to lie down to get much-needed rest. A sheep cannot properly digest their food unless they lie down. Today, we’ve all been made to rest with the stay at home orders. No matter how much we didn’t want it, everything closed for a time and so there was nothing to do but stay home. Consider now that our Great Shepherd has slowed us all down for a reason during this season.
Where does He make us lie down at?
Psalm 23:2 LEB
In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by quiet waters he leads me.
The “quiet waters” (lit., “waters of rest”) the “place of rest”
Psalm 23:3 LEB
He restores my life. He leads me in correct paths for the sake of his name.
The verb “restores/refreshes”, alludes to the shepherd’s retrieval of a stray or endangered lamb. The word occurs also in Isaiah 49:5 to speak of the Lord’s bringing Jacob back to him. It also means to “bring back to a former or normal state, to renew or revive.” As a Hebrew idiom it refers to repentance. David knew all about the need to be renewed because he had committed adultery and murder.
Psalm 23:3 LEB
He restores my life. He leads me in correct paths for the sake of his name.
in correct paths
Its literal meaning is “paths along which one does not lose one’s way.”

The leading of the Shepherd

John Calvin tells his own story in the preface to his Commentary on the Psalms and tells us of how God led him to Geneva against his will.
At age twenty-six he had already published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, one of the greatest theological works of the Christian church, and he was on his way to Germany, where he intended to isolate himself in study and writing. En route, however, he stopped to spend the night in Geneva. When William Farel, a leader of the emerging Reformation church in Geneva, heard that Calvin was in town, he went to see him and asked that he remain in Geneva to help the new Reformation church. Calvin resisted, and he tells the story like this:
And after having learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits, and finding that he [Farel] gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement and the tranquillity of the studies which I sought if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance when the necessity was so urgent.
Thankfully Calvin did stay in Geneva, pursued by God’s “goodness and love,” and changed the history of the church and the history of Western civilization.
Psalm 23:3 LEB
He restores my life. He leads me in correct paths for the sake of his name.
“For His Name’s Sake”
God’s leading of his people “for his name’s sake”indicates that
(1) God has acted on behalf of his own reputation (see Ezek. 20:9, 14, 22), and in accord with his own nature, and
(2) Israel was totally dependent upon YHWH. Theologically speaking, when God acts in his own best interest, it is simultaneously an act in Israel’s (and our own) best interest.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God will perform his will on earth just as he does in heaven, and this will be the “kingdom of God,” the best state of life that could possibly happen: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The goal of redeeming grace is to bring humanity into perfect agreement with and practice of the will of God. Thus God’s action “for his name’s sake” is the best thing he could do for David and for us.
God not only provides for us through delightful times, He protects us through the dark seasons of life.

II. The Shepherd Protects (vv.4-5)

When we come to verse 4, we see a couple changes. In verses 1-3, the sheep are in the sunshine, in verse 4, they’re in the dark.
Psalm 23:4 LEB
Even when I walk in a dark valley, I fear no evil because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Notice how the pronouns for God change. In the first half, King David is worshipping the virtues of the Shepherd, using “He” and “His” to refer to YHWH. When we come to the second half, he speaks to the Shepherd more personally: “You are with me, your rod and your staff…you prepare…you anoint.”
When times were tough, God became more real to David. Have you experienced that?
Psalm 23:4 LEB
Even when I walk in a dark valley, I fear no evil because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
walk in a dark valley” — “valley of the shadow of death,” KJV
The literal meaning of the valley imagery is a valley where the danger of death lurked because of robbers and wild animals. One commentator identifies it geographically as “a path that runs between two cliff embankments.” In other words, no quick way out. But we walk “through” the valley. We don’t have to stay there. We must keep walking through this pandemic infested world. In one sense, the dark “shadow” of something is more ominous than what it represents. On the other hand, the shadow of, say a fierce dog, cannot possibly bite us, and the shadow of death cannot harm us if we stay close to the Shepherd. When there is a shadow there must be light somewhere near.

Overcome by the shadow of death

The great American preacher Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, whose first wife died of cancer, leaving him with three children under the age of twelve. On the day of the funeral, Barnhouse and his family were driving to the service when a truck passed them, casting a large shadow across their car as it went by. Turning to his oldest daughter, who was deeply grieving the loss of her mother, Barnhouse asked, “Tell me, sweetheart, would you rather be run over by that truck or its shadow?” Looking at her father, she replied, “By the shadow, I guess. It can’t hurt you.” Speaking to all his children, he said, “Your mother has not been overridden by death, but by the shadow of death. That is nothing to fear.”16 This response of Dr. Barnhouse is a great reminder to all of us that as Christians we have nothing to fear in death. Jesus has overcome the grave; he has conquered death and sin. His victory is our victory!
Psalm 23:4 LEB
Even when I walk in a dark valley, I fear no evil because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
for you are with me”
The conjunction and pronoun “for you” begins the sentence to emphasize the Lord’s presence. David can deal with the valley of the shadow of death because he can say, “you are with me.”
Psalm 23:4 LEB
Even when I walk in a dark valley, I fear no evil because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
“your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The rod was used as a weapon and for discipline, and the staff for support.
Psalm 23:5 LEB
You prepare before me a table in the presence of my oppressors. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.
You prepare a table
Some suggest David is switching metaphors to that of a gracious dinner host. This might be true, but he could be using an expression to describe what a shepherd does to “prepare a pasture.” Ideally, the best place for the sheep to graze is on a flat mesa, or tableland. Before letting the lambs romp around, the shepherd would inspect it for poisonous plants and make sure there were no predators prowling around. The sheep can eat even though there are enemies nearby because the shepherd is doing His job.
This reminds me of the young boy who was messing around during dinner. After being warned several times, his parents finally told him he had to eat by himself at a tiny table in the corner. When he sat down, his dad reminded him to pray before he ate. He closed his eyes and prayed, “Bless this food that I eat in the presence of my enemies.”
Psalm 23:5 LEB
You prepare before me a table in the presence of my oppressors. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.
You anoint my head with oil.
The anointing with oil, while included in times of pleasure and joy is here more likely an allusion to David’s elevation to the throne.
the last part of verse 5:
Psalm 23:5 LEB
You prepare before me a table in the presence of my oppressors. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.
…My cup overflows.”
An overabundance, or a “state of overflowing.” It may be that a dinner host of his day who would serve drinks in cups and fill them to the brim. This was a common way to tell guests that they could stay as long as they wanted. But when a cup sat empty, the host was hinting that it was time to leave. When the host really enjoyed the company of the guests, he filled their cups until the liquid ran over the edge onto the floor. God loves to lavish His blessings on us as Ephesians 3:20 says:
Ephesians 3:20 LEB
Now to the one who is able to do beyond all measure more than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work in us,
The Shepherd Provides, The Shepherd Protects, last:

III. The Shepherd Preserves (v.6)

What could be two of the most comforting attributes of God-- especially when we’re walking through the valley of the virus?
Psalm 23:6 LEB
Surely goodness and loyal love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will stay in the house of Yahweh for a very long time.
goodness and loyal love
The Hebrew word translated “surely” carries here the nuance of exclusivity: “Only goodness and love,” excluding the King’s enemies! The word picture is that of “goodness and love,” rather than his enemies, benevolently pursuing King David for his whole life. The result is the psalmist’s dwelling in the Lord’s house continually.
Psalm 23:6 LEB
Surely goodness and loyal love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will stay in the house of Yahweh for a very long time.
“loyal love” is a covenant term sometimes translated as “mercy” — it is fitting because it is loyal love not to give us the punishment we deserve for our sins—that’s mercy!

So What?

As we look at this psalm we see two pictures of the way God guides our lives. The first is found in that memorable clause, “he leads me beside quiet waters” (23:2b). In that picture, metaphorically speaking, the shepherd is in front, and the sheep are following him to the quiet waters. That is a common picture of the shepherd leading the sheep, the shepherd in front and the sheep following.
But we have to admit that a lot of times we do not follow very well. As sheep, we get distracted by things on the right and on the left, rather than looking at the Shepherd. That is where the second picture is so important, and so graphic. “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (23:6).
Something has distracted the sheep, and the Shepherd, personified by “goodness and love,” has dropped behind them, and they pursue us “all the days” of our life.
Isaiah uses this kind of imagery too. He speaks of Israel on her way home from Babylonian exile. They arrived in Babylonia in the first place by meandering from side to side along the moral path, and not keeping their eyes on the Shepherd. When the Lord brought them back home (about 536 BC), they could hear him behind them saying, “This is the way; walk in it” {(Isa. 30:21)}
Isaiah 30:21 LEB
And your ears shall hear a word from behind you, saying, “this is the way; walk in it,” when you go to your right and when you go to your left.
—more pursued than led. Isaiah combines the two metaphors in Is 52:12 to describe that awesome and treacherous journey of the exiles on their way home, and he promises that the Lord will go “before you” and will also be “your rear guard.”
Isaiah 52:12 LEB
For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for Yahweh is going before you, and your rear guard is the God of Israel.
In this case the Lord was their Vanguard and Rear Guard.

So What?

In Conclusion:
We may emphasize the fact that life’s circumstances sometimes force us to follow God where we would not normally have gone, and those circumstances turn out to be the voice of the Lord as he drops behind us, to use the metaphor, and “goodness and love” gently drive us home, saying, “This is the way; so walk in it.”
Do you know the Shepherd? If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, you are spiritually dead. You cannot be revived, but you can be reborn as a new creation.
You can be reborn & enter a relationship with Him right now by praying this prayer…
Lord, I’ve been straying for a long time, living my life my own way. I confess I’m a sinner and I repent from how I’ve been living. Jesus, thank You for dying as the Lamb of God on the cross, shedding Your blood to pay the price for all my sins and for rising from the dead on the third day. Thank You for Your goodness and for Your mercy which have been pursuing me. Now, I surrender to You by asking You to save me from my sins. Come into my life so that I can become one of Your sheep and dwell in Your house forever. Enable me to stay close to You, my Shepherd as you feed and lead me by providing, protecting and preserving me, all for Your name’s sake. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer, would you tell a friend and then send us an email at so we can give you some material to help you grow?
May God be with you until we meet again.
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