It’s a psalm read at funerals and it will probably be read on your death bed. It speaks of the personal, powerful and protective hand of God. But it's not a Psalm for the dead but for the living!
It speaks of the journey of life, the God of Israel, who watches over his people as a shepherd, not just in the good times but in the bad. Its wreaks of assurance and confidence because he the good shepherd is my shepherd.
1. I trust that my Shepherd provides all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. ~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)
This is a very personal psalm, it's not a 'we' psalm but a 'me' psalm. He is My shepherd. This God doesn’t just watch every corner of the universe nor does he just watch over his nation, he watches over my life and yours. A Reminder that Christianity is not just a religion but a personal relationship with God.
King David makes the God of his people, the Shepherd of his Soul. So what does he promise?
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. ~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)
This is not a call to deny your desires, like Buddhism, nor is he saying everything you want you get like a prosperity preacher. The logic is: The Lord is my shepherd and because of that I lack nothing, or as one child said ‘the Lord is my Shepherd I've got all I want.’
We know Jesus is God for a number of reasons
Twice Jesus says in John 10, I am the good shepherd. The act of saying this psalm and meaning it is itself an act of faith. I'm telling God and I’m telling others and I’m telling myself He is my everything. I have many desires but my deepest desires are fulfilled in him and his dear son. The good Shepherd provides for all that I need.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. ~Psalm 23:2-3 (NIV)
For a sheep this is heaven on a stick; green pastures to satisfy the hunger and, quiet waters to quench thirst. He is the source of life. It's why Jesus said…“I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”
Do you know sheep find it hard to lay down if they are hungry or sick or afraid or stressed then they will not lie down? This good shepherd has taken care of all that that is why He refreshes my soul. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who provides all that I need.
To appreciate Psalm 23 let consider the opposite. David Powlison wrote Antipsalm 23
I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need.
Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless.
I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed.
It’s a desert—I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck.
I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
This is life without a Shepherd. Its not a compliment to be likened to a sheep, they are dumb animals, but oh do they trust their shepherd who knows them.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ~John 10:14 (NIV)
Sheep stations in Australia can carry 80,000 sheep. But in the Middle East, you may have 10-20 sheep and each one is known by name. The Shepherd is the source of life.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. ~John 10:27-28 (NIV)
There is an unquestioning trust in the Shepherds voice.
Elisabeth Elliot has told the story of a toddler who was very ill but had learned to recite Psalm 23 on her fingers. Starting with her pinkie she would grab a finger as she said each word of The Lord is my Shepherd. As she said the word shepherd she would clasp her thumb in recognition of the care that God has for her. One morning after a long and hard fight against her disease, the little girl was found dead with one hand clasped around the other thumb. The lord is her shepherd, He has made her to lie down in green pastures. He has led her to quiet waters. Surely she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
That voice takes them down the right roads
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. ~Psalm 23:3 (NIV)
The Good Shepherd guides us down the right paths, down the narrow road where few go but life is found. He leads us away from broad roads where many are on but ends in destruction.
Why does he do it? He does it for his name's sake. All he does is for His glory.
Friend, it's clear from this Psalm that you matter to God the Shepherd of your soul, but it's not about you. We do good to make the good Shepherd look good. We trust our Shepherd when the grass is green and when the valley is dark.
2. I trust my Shepherd to provide full protection.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ~Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
To get to water and green pastures you sometimes walk through dangerous territory. You walk in the valley of the shadow of death where the predators prowl and the enemy stalks. There is good reason to be afraid but David says I will fear no evil.
We all live in the land of the shadow of death, He promises to protect us. He comes not only with a staff to guide the sheep but a rod to thump the enemies. We know that David took on the bears and lions who attacked his sheep. As a shepherd, he risked his life for his sheep, as a sheep he knew what God did for him again and again. The Lord is my Shepherd, I will fear no evil.
I took my grandkids to the zoo and we were at the Tiger enclosure. We could barely see the awesome animal and then it walked right round the enclosure till it stopped and stared straight at my 20 month old grandson. With only 30 cms separating them, he let out this amazing roar and it should have been terrifying, were it not for the protective glass. Jesus is the good shepherd who promises to be with us and protect us.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. ~John 10:27-28 (NIV)
Notice, David goes from talking about God to talking to God. He leads me, He restores my soul, He guides…becomes in verse 4, for you are with me, your rod and your staff will comfort me. What we learn friends, is talking about God must become talking to God. Get into the habit of interrupting your talk about God to talking with him.
When does David talk to God? At the point when he walks in the darkest valley, when enemies surround.
3. I trust my Shephard who has the power to save
In verse 5 and verse 6 the image changes. This shepherd king now becomes our host.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ~Psalm 23:5 (NIV)
You don’t eat a banquet when the enemy is about to eat you up. Picture marauding hordes of Philistines, alla Lord of the Rings. These are about to attack David and his men, the prophet Nathan whisper in David's ear that God has promised victory. So, David decides to sit down to a banquet with his enemies on the horizon. He is taking his time eating his lamb Kebabs and Tabouli, he then pours himself a fine Israeli red wine and now General Joab is getting nervous "David shouldn’t we get ready for the battle." Yes, yes Joab but hang on I haven’t tried the Baklava, I love the baklava! He will fear no evil why? Because if 'God is for us who can be against us' The victory belongs to God.
Dr. Zahiruddin, a Medical doctor, was abducted by the Taliban in Pakistan 8th Dec 2007. He was chained up in a rat-infested, dark cold room, threatened with beatings and then beheading if he did not convert to Islam. He prayed and fasted each day to his good shepherd to save him. He was eventually released after 25 days. On the last day the Taliban put on a farewell meal for him and as he sat to eat the meal in front of the Taliban he thought of this verse, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
What was Jesus doing the night before he was betrayed, beaten and brutalised on the cross? He sat and ate the Last supper, eating with his friends in the face of enemies, with the enemy of death he was about to defeat, with the enemy of sin that he would pay for, with enemy of Satan he was about to disarm.
It’s because of Christ's victory over the enemies that we read this Psalm to people on their death bed. Confidence in the face of our death; I will fear no evil.
It’s a privilege to come close to a person breathing their last, to lean in and whisper ‘Jesus your good Shepherd says to you. “Today you will be with me in paradise"’ Unlike the atheist doctor whom my friend visited, so afraid to die, he couldn’t let his wife leave the room.
… You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ~Psalm 23:5b (NIV)
It could mean the anointing of the messiah, but I think it’s the custom of refreshment. God refreshes our souls, that is why our cup is neither half empty nor half full, its not even full. My cup overflows…with the Holy Spirit who has poured out the love of the Good Shepherd into our hearts.
This is not a psalm just for the dying it's for the living, It's not for the end of life but for the whole of life…
4. I trust my Shepherd will never stop pursuing me with his love
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ~Psalm 23:6 (NIV)
Are you feeling like someone is watching? You should! Literally it reads
Surely your goodness and love will (pursue) me all the days of my life ~Psalm 23:6
Here is God's unrelenting love. A love that hunts down its victims. You are being stalked by God's love. Seeking ultimate intimacy- anywhere else leaves you empty.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me—except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
In contrast this Psalm brims with confidence
The certainty of statements like
5. I trust the Shepherd's promise of his presence now and forever
The house of the Lord is code for the presence of God. So God has been with him from green pasture to dark valley, from banquet to battles. He is confident in the presence of his enemies. He is confident that he will be in the presence of his God forever. God is not a means to an end it is the end for David.
The privilege of being in Christ is the privilege of being safe in the arms of God. He will not abandon you.
But the promise for those who follow Jesus is this, I will never forsake you. Jesus last words are ‘I will be with you always to the end of the age.’
You’re not alone even in the darkest valley. How long Lord will I feel this way? I feel nothing, not joy or sorrow - nothing.
I was meeting with someone from church who was doing it tough and I suggested they write a psalm to God about what they are experiencing. Here is what they wrote:
I am tired, I am always tired.
How can I feel completely overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time?
I am engulfed by my own thoughts.
Ohhh guilt. I do feel guilt. Guilt because I know you’re my
Father, I know that you are good.
I know that you love me dearly, much much more than I deserve.
I know that you are reaching your arm down to help me out of this pit but I can 't bring my arm up to meet yours.
I can't be bothered. Who even says that?
I can't be bothered to get the help from the creator of the world, my one true love.
I am my own worst enemy.
I am weary and burdened and feel no rest.
I read the beautiful words you write to me.
I know them and trust them.
They just go in one ear and out the other.
Lord, please clear my head to allow room only for thoughts of you.
I don't like it here and I want to get out.
You've done it before Lord. Please do it again.