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This is one of the favorite portions of scripture in the Bible. Countless people have memorized these verses down through the centuries. It has been a comfort and assurance to Christians for the past 2000 years.
Aesop wrote a fable about a shepherd and his sheep. It seems the sheep were grazing in an area where there was a tree full of acorns. So the shepherd put his coat on the ground and climbed the tree to shake loose the acorns. The acorns fell, as he planned, on his coat below. The sheep were overjoyed with this new treat and came over to consume the acorns. When they were done eating, the shepherd was dismayed to find they not only had eaten all the acorns, but they had also destroyed his coat. He said to his sheep, "It is from your wool that this coat was made, and you have destroyed your own cloth. Now I will have to make another one."
Sometimes I wonder if God, as the shepherd, is just as frustrated with some of the things that we sheep do. He may be, but still he is willing to take care of us as this psalm so beautifully tells us.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
David had been a shepherd before God called him to be a warrior and a king. As he cared for his sheep, no doubt he learned how in so many ways what he was doing for his sheep was much like what God does for us.
Spurgeon wrote, "What condescension is this, that the Infinite Lord assumes toward his people the office and character of a shepherd! ... David had himself been a keeper of sheep, and understood both the needs of the sheep and the many cares of a shepherd. He compares himself to
a creature weak, defenceless, and foolish, and he takes God to be his Provider, Preserver, Director...."
It was the shepherds job to provide for the sheep. The Hebrew word translated "want" is < rsfx;)e> echsar which means lack or have a need. Because God is our shepherd, we will lack nothing all our needs will be met. God is a good shepherd. He knows how to take care of us and protect us. Whenever you feel like a wandering sheep who has gone astray, remember that the Shepherd is out searching for the one lost sheep who had left the ninety-nine. Return to the good shepherd and you will not want. He will be with you and will provide for you.
As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
This verse tells us that God will take care of our everyday needs. Sheep had to have good pasture and water. It was the shepherds job to find new pasture. After grazing for a time, the sheep would eat up all the grass in an area. If they were not led to green pastures, they would soon starve. God feeds us physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. But notice that we have to be willing to follow the good shepherd. We have to be willing to follow the shepherd out of the area to which we have grown accustomed in order to find new pasture. If we stay where we are, we will starve. We must allow the good shepherd of our soul to take us to the next stage in our walk in Christ. We may not like change, but it is essential for our spiritual growth.
Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 49:10, "They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them."
The shepherd also brought the sheep to still waters. Sheep would not drink from running or turbulent streams. The shepherd had to find a quiet spot in the stream where the sheep would not feel threatened. God will bring you to a quiet spot to become nourished and refreshed. If your life is in turmoil and your soul feels tossed by turbulence and confusion, come to the still water of refreshing which the good shepherd is offering you. Come to the streams of refilling and the waters of quietness. Allow the Holy Spirit to calm you and comfort you.
Barnes said, "The idea is that of calmness and repose, as suggested by the image of flocks lying down on the grass. But this is not the only idea. It is that of flocks that lie down on the grass fully fed or satisfied their wants being completely supplied."
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
God restores us spiritually. He is not only interested in our physical well-being, but is much more concerned with our spiritual well-being. As important as food and nutrition is, even more important is it for us to learn to walk in the paths of righteousness. Later in his life David understood this even more when he wrote these words in Psalm 51:10-12, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit."
David had been overwhelmed by the guilt of his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba when he penned those words in Psalm 51. He felt far from God and realized how spiritually bankrupt he had become. Instead of losing all hope, he turns to God and cries out for restoration. No matter what you have done or what you have been facing, God can give you restoration to your soul.
As God renews you, he will teach you how to walk in paths of righteousness. This may seem like a long and tortuous process, but remember God knows the path and will lead you down it. All you have to do is follow the shepherd.
Barnes comments, "The feeling expressed in this verse is that of confidence in God; an assurance that he would always lead his people in the path in which they should go.... This he will always do if men will follow the directions of his word, the teachings of his Spirit, and the guidance of his providence."
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
The two items mentioned here were use by the shepherd to guard and protect the sheep. The club was a heavy stick with flint embedded at the top. This was used as a weapon against predators. The shepherds staff, with the crook on the end, was seldom used as a weapon. The shepherd would use it to guide the sheep back on the path or into the pen, and sometimes he would use the hook at the end to pull back a wandering sheep or bring a wayward lamb to its mother for feeding. The sheep were secure in the protection of the shepherd.
God will protect us even when we are facing the valley of the shadow of death. As Psalm 46:1-3 tells us, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult."
Sometimes the most difficult times come to us when it is dark and when we are alone. It seems the darkness of the night can sometimes bring darkness to our soul. But God has promised to get us through these dark times. One person was having difficulty getting to sleep worrying about all his problems. He finally found rest when he determined instead of counting sheep, he would go to the Shepherd.
What valley are you going through? What shadow of death are you facing? God is protecting you and seeing you through. Notice this verse tells us "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." There are times when we may have to go through dark times and face fearful events in our life. During those times its important to remember that God will protect us. We need not fear.
Spurgeon remarks, "To walk indicates the steady advance of a soul which knows its road, knows its end, resolves to follow the path, feels quite safe, and is therefore perfectly calm and composed."
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
God sets a table of his blessings before us. We are invited to come to his table and have fellowship with him. John Wesley wrote, "Thou furnishest me with plenty of provisions and comforts. ... Thou hast given me a plentiful portions, signified by the cup, given to the guests by the master of the feast." Too often we are distracted from the Lords table by looking at our problems, our doubts, and our enemies.
Throughout scripture, oil represents the presence of the Holy Spirit in lives of believers. God has sent his Spirit to us to minister to us, to strengthen us, to help us. Jesus promised in John 14:16-17, "And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you."
God says that there is a table prepared for us. If we would come to the table, we will find that our thoughts will be anointed by the Holy Spirit and we will be overflowing with Gods presence. But we dont come. Why is that? It is because we are too distracted by our troubles. God has promised that even in the midst of trials and turmoil, a table is prepared for us. Come to the Lords table. He will feed you abundantly.
The Treasury of David exhorts us, "May we live in the daily enjoyment of this blessing, receiving a fresh anointing for every days duties. Every Christian is a priest...and we must go day by day to God the Holy Spirit, that we may have our heads anointed with oil. A priest without oil misses the chief qualification for his office, and the Christian priest lacks his chief fitness for service when he is devoid of new grace from on high."
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
What a wonderful promise of faith and trust David makes in this verse. He has learned that no matter what dark shadows he is facing, God will change the darkness into light. He declares, "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Do you believe this? Have you learned this truth from God yet? No matter what may confront us, God can turn the worst situation into good.
Stedman points out, "Davids desire was to go back to the tabernacle and to worship there. Gods mercy and kindness ought to evoke the same response from us. We worship not in a tabernacle, but, as Jesus said, in spirit and in truth. ... When we see that the good Shepherd does feed us and does lead us and does protect us, our response ought to be worship...."
Part of the reason for Davids optimism was his commitment to Gods house. In our modern society, we try to discount the importance of weekly worship in church. We like to think that we can find God on our own terms, in our own house, in our own way. Although it is true that God is not confined by the four walls of the church building and in fact God makes his dwelling place in our heart, the sad fact is that when we neglect attending the house of God, we find our spirits lagging. We discover that we are easily distracted away from prayer, Bible study, and sharing our faith. We learn that we need the support and fellowship of other believers to encourage us and to uphold us in prayer.
Your Christian walk is so much easier when you commit to be in church as often as you are able. Remember, we make time for what we think is important. Let us make time to worship in Gods house. Our time spent in the Lords house down here is simply preparation for an eternity spent in the Lords house in heaven.
This study on Psalm 23 © 1999 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version © 1971, A. J. Holman Company
Spurgeon: The Treasury of David, vol. I, pg. 353, MacDonald Publishing Company
The parable of the Lost Sheep is found in Luke 15:4-7
Barnes Notes on the Old Testament, Psalms, pg. 210, Baker Book House
Barnes: Notes on the Old Testament, Psalms, pg. 211, Baker Book House
Spurgeon: The Treasury of David, vol. I, pg. 355, MacDonald Publishing Company
Wesley: John Wesleys Notes on the Psalms
The Treasury of David, vol. I, pg. 356, MacDonald Publishing Company
Stedman: Psalms of Faith pg. 95-96 © 1988, Regal Books