The Lord is MY Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
There was once a gathering of famous silver-tongued orators speaking before a large audience. In their eloquent ways they read the Twenty-Third Psalm. A young well-dressed orator stood and in a powerful way, with all the right voice inflection, read the Psalm. The crowd stood to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Following him, an elderly speaker, not as well dressed, hobbled to the podium, and slowly quoted the Psalm. No one stood or cheered, but many wept. The first speaker approached this man and said “Sir, I know the Twenty-Third Psalm, but you know the Shepherd”.
David penned this most quoted Psalm as he reflected on the years of shepherding his father’s flock in the hill country not far from Bethlehem. He notes the similarities of his experience with that of the Lord’s care for His people:
The Shepherd is Personal (vs.1):
In the opening declaration of his song, he views the course of his entire life to be under the Lords care by saying “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Notice the personal tone he takes by using the word “my”. Everything there was to know about David, his shepherd knew, because David belonged to him. In like fashion, Jesus said “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). He also said that he calls his own sheep by name and that they listen to his voice.
David’s relationship with his shepherd was intimate, personal, and real. There was not anything about David that his shepherd didn’t know (See Psalm 139).
The Shepherd Provides (vs.1-3):
David then says, “I shall not want”, which paraphrased sounds like “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.” Sheep were not self-contained or independent from their shepherd’s provision. Without a shepherd to guide, feed and protect them, their lives were not sustainable. The sheep would die for lack of nourishment or be ravaged by the wolves lurking around the pasturelands. The shepherd knows what his sheep need for refreshment, nourishment and health.
David continues by giving four examples of the Lord’s provision: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake” (Psalm 23:2-3). Once again, the shepherd provided them with his constant presence. When the psalmist says “He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me besides still waters” implied is the shepherds understanding of the needs of his sheep. The sheep are not nearly as aware of their needs as the shepherd is. They would drive themselves to utter exhaustion and danger if the shepherd did not force them to stop and rest!
On a practical level, I have experienced this myself and have seen it in other believers when driven too hard even in terms of ministry. When I was a young Pastor, I remember reaching over to pick up a piece of paper on the ground and hearing something pop in my lower back. The Lord allowed me to be on my back for 10 days. I was completely out of commission. I was helpless in terms of all my responsibilities. In that time however, the Lord slowed me down and gave me the rest I needed. He gave me a new plan to reorder my life. Had that forced rest not happened, I would have driven myself to complete exhaustion and burnout. I also received refreshment from the still waters of his word and was able to hear him more clearly again. By the way, the still waters refer to the perfect type of refreshment because the very sound of ripples in the water frightened the sheep. The waters needed to be calm, quiet and thirst quenching. This type of provision offers what David called “restoring our soul.”
We do not know what we really need for a satisfying life, but the Lord does. When the sheep would have been at the point of exhaustion, the shepherd provided exactly what they needed for restoration and rest.
The Shepherd Guides (vs.2-4):
The shepherd led them to “still waters” and “into paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”. Notice that he also guided them through “the valley of the shadow of death”. The shepherd not only gives his sheep what they need, but he takes them where He wants them to go. There are seasons in which our shepherd leads us to restorative situations and relationships, while there are others that are dark, dangerous and uncertain.
He always leads us on the right path for us, one specifically chosen. Notice that David refers to this valley as the valley of the SHADOW of death. This may imply that our trials allow us to experience the brilliance of His presence, and that He protects and leads us through it. I love the words in the hymn “In shady green pastures so rich and so sweet God leads His dear children along… Some through the waters, some through the flood, some through the fire, but all through the blood, some through great sorrow, but God gives a song, in the night season and all the day long.”
As far as his providential guidance goes, we are never far from him, no matter what circumstance we face this side of Heaven, there is divine purpose in each affliction.
The Shepherd Protects (vs.4-6):
Our shepherd protects us on the pathways of suffering. The rod and staff David refers to have a dual function. The staff is used to lead and direct while the rod is used to fight off the wolves or any other potential threats. The shepherd risks his own life for his sheep. David did this years earlier when he killed a lion and a bear with his own hands. The Lord Jesus, our good shepherd, said “I lay my life down for my sheep” (John 10:15).
David then states that the shepherd “prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.” The table represents honored guests and celebration. With predators lurking all around the flock, salivating over their next potential meal, the shepherd serves His flock at the banqueting table of His care. Nothing, including danger itself, separated the sheep from their shepherd’s protection and love (Romans 8:35-39). So, they feasted at their shepherd’s table right in the sight and presence of their bloodthirsty enemies.
The shepherd also tenderly watches over His flock’s injuries and soothe each of them as they happen. If a lamb strayed or a sheep got caught in a thicket of briars and thorns, the Shepherd would apply oil to the wound as a comfort and healing agent.
Verse six culminates with “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” It was a Gospel preacher who said, “God has two huge angels called Goodness and Mercy who follow and protect us all the way into glory!” From the moment the Lord brings us into His flock, through the rest of our life on earth, and on into heaven, His grace will lead and follow us each moment. And we will live with him forever!
So, it is not enough to know the Twenty-Third Psalm (although that is a start). It is eternally imperative that we personally KNOW the Shepherd. Amen!