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The Lord is My Shepherd

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Psalm 23 – The Lord is My Shepherd

1A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Even 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.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Ps 23)

Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most memorized or best know texts of the Bible. It was the first chapter of Scripture I ever memorized... It is one of those passages that is recited by children and oft shared on to those on their death bed as a Psalm of comfort. WHY?

Because of its powerful message that a caring God will meet us at our point of deepest needs. It puts into words, precious, timeless images that transcend culture and time of a Christian’s walk with His Lord.

Let’s be honest! Having a personal relationship with God, the Creator of the Universe is not an easy thing to quantify.

∙ God is not like other people with whom we talk in face-to-face communication.

∙ While God is present, He is not seen.

∙ While God speaks, He is does not speak to us audibly.

∙ While God is always with me, I am not always sure of it.

That my friends, is the beauty of Psalm 23 – It answers the question, “How Do I Relate to God?” not in cold, factual statements, but in images of a sheep’s trust in its faithful shepherd.

And who is this Shepherd?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The word Lord is Jehovah, the personal covenant name of God. As we saw last week it speaks of God’s self-existent sufficiency. It is this name for God that David calls ‘my shepherd’!

We must stop to realize what an astonishing statement this is. In Israel, as in other ancient near-eastern, a shepherd was looked down upon as a lower-class worker. David knew this... as the youngest he got ‘stuck’ with shepherding. He knew the intense 24 hr a day involvement. But yet, that is what David calls Jehovah God, my shepherd!

The self-existent One, the One who needs no other is called our caring shepherd. The implication is that God has taken on Himself a humble, self-sacrificing ministry to us, His sheep!

This imagery of God as shepherd is not just a whim of David...

This imagery is repeated in the NT:

20Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Jesus is equated with being the great Shepherd of the sheep. He is shown to be the One who cares for His sheep. He is the One who equips His sheep.

That is part of the beauty of David’s imagery in Psalm 23 God, the all-sufficient one (Jehovah) is said to be our Shepherd.

Being compared to a sheep is NOT a flattering thing! Simply put, sheep are helpless and downright stupid creatures. They are easily panicked, annoyed and easily weakened. They are unable to defend themselves against predators, in fact they need protection from themselves. Sheep are notorious for wandering off good pastures or away from good water. They will often destroy the good grass that is available because they overgraze. Spurgeon said this:

There is no animal (except a man) that has so many forms of sickness as a sheep has. It may be afflicted in any part of its body, from its feet up to its head... Sheep have a great number of follies. If there is a hole in the hedge, they are sure to find it out, and press through... They are prone to wander and ready for all sorts of mishchief, but they never assist the shepherd in the slightest degree. In this respect, we are just like the silly sheep, yet our good Shepherd supplies all the needs, pities all our infirmities and pardons all the wanderings of His poor wayward flock.

Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol 52 pg 462.

The one good thing we can say about sheep is that they always have a shepherd. David tells us right up front: The Lord is my shepherd;

Not that God is JUST a Shepherd, but that the Lord is MY SHEPHERD.

That is important because sheep are NOT wild animals, they are owned. The owner of sheep take great stock in them and

often sheep are bought with a great price.

That is perhaps one of the reasons we are so comforted by this Psalm. It evokes in us a feeling of security and reassures us that Jehovah God is interested, involved and in control of our lives.

Let’s look at what David, the shepherd King has to teach us about life under our Great Shepherd:

/The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Even 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.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Ps 23)/

1) I shall not want 1-3

rest(2), refreshment(2) , restoration(3), righteousness(3)

2) I will fear not 4-5

protection in trouble(4) , provision (5)

3) I will not fail – return to the house of the Lord 6

1) I shall not want 1-3

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

rest(2), refreshment(2) , restoration(3), righteousness(3)

The nature of sheep is that they are always on the move. The shepherd must rotate his sheep among his pastures because they quickly eat the grass in an area. A sheep’s life consists of constantly moving from pasture to pasture.

David indicates that with the Great Shepherd as his shepherd he would not want. God makes sure that his sheep are well cared for with no needs.

Notice the things that the Great Shepherd provides for us:

Rest, refreshment, restoration and righteousness – our greatest spiritual needs in this life.

A) rest. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

Look at the awesome imagery of David... what more ideal or restful scene is there than a sheep lying down in rich meadow grass beside still waters with a protective Shepherd standing by?

Interestingly sheep will often only lie down when they are made to by their shepherds. They are such a frightened unsatisfied lot that they will only lie down when ‘made’ to and they feel very comfortable with the situation and circumstances around them:

The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very makeup, it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down, unless four requirements are met.

First, due to their timidity, they must be free from all fear. Next, because of their sociability, they must be free from friction with others of their kind.

Third, they must be free from flies or parasites if they are to relax. Lastly, they will not lie down unless free from hunger. And it is only the shepherd who can provide release from all anxieties.

To this scene of rest David add the statement: 3He restores my soul.

B) restores. The Shepherd restores my soul. Just like a good Shepherd, God restores us in a variety of ways depending upon the situation.

• He gives us comfort and restoration from His Word by feeding our souls when they are faint. Just like a pasture, God’s Word is too be our constant source of nourishment.

• But God’s restoration is not always what we might ask for...

Consider David... when he was trapped in sin how did God restore David? He sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke him for his sin so that David could confess it and be restored.

• God, as the perfect shepherd, is able to restore every sheep that falters or falls, gently or sternly according to our need!

C) Righteousness. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The final way that we do not want: is that the Shepherd leads His sheep for His name’s sake.

Sheep are prone to follow the crowd along the well worn path which causes it to quickly turn into a worthless rut with no nourishment. But a good shepherd will lead his sheep down a different path. David calls it ‘the path of righteousness’. This is what Christians find as they trust and obey God’s Word. This is the advantage that Covenant kids get by being shielded from the garbage of the world. This is the benefit we get by Christian fellowship.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. David’s attitude is one of contentment. Just like Paul wrote in Romans 8:32:

31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Ro 8:31-32)

Is that your attitude? Is your attitude one of confidence in God and His shepherding care?

Consider example of Abraham vs. Lot Gen 13

Strong confidence in God’s provision vs. choice...

• God has enlarged the flocks of Abram & his nephew Lot such that they needed to separate into different lands

• Abram sacrificed his right as the elder to take the 1st choice of lands: If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Ge 13:9)

• Lot chose the most fertile land - that next to the most sinful cities of the Land.

• Abram trusted God and took Canaan. Who trusted God? Lot took the small view and trusted what he could see. Abram trusted God and trusted His care and provision.

• God rewarded Abram’s faith with a great promise of blessing (provision)

What about you? Are you like Lot? Are you complaining and grumbling? Are your eyes on the area around Sodom and Gomorrah? Are you more focused on what is immediate and worldly in gratification?

2) I will fear not 4-5

protection in trouble(4) , provision (5)

4Even 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.

protection in trouble(4)

These lines are perhaps most quoted near the time of death or trouble. But let us be encouraged by David’s imagery.

The imagery is that of a shepherd taking his sheep from the lowlands to the high summer pastures. The journey is necessary as the sheep pass through the valleys between their normal pastures. It is in these valleys that wild animals lurk and flash floods can quickly create dangers.

But David identifies that he fears no evils FOR YOU ARE WITH ME!

What is the Shepherd’s means of care???

You are with me and your rod and your staff they comfort me!

The staff is the symbol of the Shepherd’s authority:

with it he keeps order in the flock

with it he grabs hold of the neck of wayward sheep

The rod is the Shepherd’s weapon:

with it he beats off the wolf and smashes the heads of snakes

A good shepherd also uses the rod to get the attention of disobedient and unruly sheep.

Remember the words in Heb 12

5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Heb 12:5-7)

Comfort you say?

We should draw great comfort that we have a Loving Shepherd that rules over His flock and protects with His All-powerful might! Yes, we will fear our Shepherd, but we will reverently fear Him as a loving and caring Shepherd.

protection by provision (5)

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Commentators stumble over this next verse – it almost seems that David has switched imagery from that of a sheep to a banquet. I think Philip Keller in his book, A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23 captures this imagery in v5&6 best: he sees it as the Shepherd has taken his sheep to the high table-lands or mesas for cool summer pasturing.

In his book, Keller talks about how shepherds often go ahead and prepare these ‘mesas’ (mesa is table in Arabic) in advance by removing physical hazards, poisonous plants and driving away predators.

I can’t help but come back to the imagery our Jesus put forth in John 14:

1“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way to where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14:1-6)

Jesus, the great Shepherd has gone to prepare a place for us. He has literally gone to 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Do you rest confident in that fact? That Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us? This world is NOT all there is?

And What is our confidence?

3) I will not fail – return to the house of the Lord 6

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is David’s confidence: Because the Lord is My Shepherd I will not fail!

Every true Christian can be confident that they will arrive safely in heaven, the place of final, full blessing!

Don’t you love how the imagery of the sheep’s tablelands and the wedding banquet have been blurred in these last two verses.

And that my friends is the real lesson of Psalm 23. We have the Great Shepherd who has provided salvation for His sheep. He will make sure the sheep get to the great banquet of heaven – that is sure!

27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (Jn 10:27-28)

But there is a question that we all must ask...

Is David’s Lord, Jesus Christ your Shepherd?

Can you recite the Psalm personalized?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Even 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.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Ps 23)

Jesus applied the imagery of this Psalm to Himself! He intends for His sheep to apply to themselves.

It is only through Jesus, that we can know God as our Shepherd.

9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (Jn 10:9)

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (Jn 10:11)

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (Jn 10:14-15)

It is ONLY through Jesus, the Good Shepherd that we become one of the sheep, the saved, the redeemed. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep and because of His work they are secure!

Jesus is NOT a hired servant, but the owner of the flock who purchased us with His own precious blood. It is through faith in Him who shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins that we are identified with His flock – faith in Him as our Savior brings us all the benefits of His saving and shepherding work.

So allow me to talk to the sheep as an undershepherd:

We have a shepherd who paid a great price for his sheep!

We have a shepherd who will NOT abandon us!

We have a shepherd who will use His rod and staff to comfort us

We have a shepherd who will take us through trials

Our shepherd has not shirked the task of preparing green pastures and providing refreshing waters for us...

But you can lead a horse to water... but can you make Him drink?

Some sheep whine and complain that they can’t find sweet soft grass, others complain they are thirsty...

The key to living as a contented Sheep is to know the will of the Shepherd:

Not that difficult. Just as the Psalm says: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

God has revealed his Will for us as His Sheep!

You have it – I would boldly submit that 95% of God’s Will is clearly laid out for you in His Word.

• Children – if you are disobedient to parents, you can’t expect God to give you wisdom concerning your next step

• Parents, if you are not raising your children with the truth of God’s Word as the ultimate guide then we can’t expect our children to not go their own way

• Husbands – if we are not truly seeking to love our wives as Christ loved the church and being willing like Christ to sacrifically serve them then how can we expect a peaceful home?

• Wives – if you are not seeking to humbly respect and submit to your husbands and pray for them then how can you expect contentedness and blessing?

• Workers – if you are not being careful to allow only edifying talk out of your mouths and doing all of your work as ‘unto the Lord’ then how can you expect God to provide for you?

Just like sheep we do things OUR way. Then we expect the shepherd to bless it. But that is NOT the way to become a contented sheep. The truly contented sheep follows the shepherd and trusts HIS provision.

When you can’t sleep, talk to the Shepherd, Don’t count sheep.

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