May 3, 2020

Psalm 23

Salvation is of the Lord. From the beginning to the end, God is the One who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He is the One who justifies us; that is, to declare us righteous before Him on the basis of the all sufficient sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is also the One who works within those whom He has justified to progressively bring about what is pleasing in His sight. As Paul stated in Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” It is God who stirs the desires (to will) within His people as well as provide the enablement (to work or do) to perform what is pleasing to Him. In the same way, the writer of Hebrews praises God for this work:

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the Great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”                                                                              Hebrews 13:20-21

Jesus Christ our Lord is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep. He is also the Great Shepherd who watches over and enables His sheep to do what is pleasing in the sight of God. In the three psalms known as the Shepherd’s Trilogy; we see the three fold work of God for His people. In Psalm 22, He is the Good Shepherd who suffered on behalf of others as the substitutionary sacrifice and was raised from the dead as a confirmation that He had accomplished eternal redemption for all who trust in Him. Now in Psalm 23, Jesus Christ is depicted as the Great Shepherd who is daily caring for His sheep. Then in Psalm 24 we have the declaration of the work of Christ in the future when He returns to the earth to establish the promised kingdom. 

Without a doubt, Psalm 23 is one of the favorite psalms of God’s people and one of the few psalms that even nonbelievers know and enjoy. This psalm was written by David as a praise and thanksgiving song. In this psalm, David depicted his settled confident dependence upon the Lord who faithfully cares for His sheep. As the youngest in his family, David was given the responsibility of caring for his father’s sheep. From his own background and experience, David knew what was the responsibility of the shepherd as well as the condition and characteristics of sheep. Sheep are defenseless and dependent upon others to protect and provide for them. So it is for us as God’s people. Thankfully, we have the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, to watch over and care for us each and every day. 

Psalm 23 expresses the intimate and faithful care of the Great Shepherd for each one of His sheep. In this song of praise, David first expressed the Lord’s Provision for His sheep in verses 1-3. Recognizing the vulnerability of the sheep to predatory animals such as bears, lions and wolves, David affirmed the Lord’s Protection of His sheep in verses 4-5. The song ends with the joyful thanksgiving for the Lord’s Provision for His sheep in verse 6. How good and faithful is the Great Shepherd to His sheep. He is the One who has established an eternal relationship with His own that will bring them untold joy forevermore. Look at how David expressed this wonderful relationship in Psalm 23:  

“The LORD is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me besides quiet waters

He restores my soul;

He guides me in the path of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death,

I 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 have anointed my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

David began this psalm with the declaration that the personal God, Yahweh (Notice the word LORD is all capital letters indicating that the Hebrew term used by David is that of the personal name of God), is the Shepherd of his life. He addressed God in the very same way in the last line of the psalm. David knew he would be in the presence of the LORD forever. This confidence of David was based upon the fact that he could say “the LORD is my shepherd,” not just that the LORD is a shepherd. Everything in this psalm indicates the genuineness of this relationship. David is not merely talking about a religious idea or ritual that he was practicing; but David was speaking about his personal relationship with the Lord who comforted and cared for him daily. If I am one who is trusting in the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep, then He is the One who is my Shepherd as well. Like David, I have a relationship with the One true God and can rejoice that He is the Great Shepherd daily caring for me.

In Texas and other parts of the United States, we are most familiar with sheep and cattle being driven. Which one of us has not seen the western movies depicting the romanticized cowboy involved in a “cattle drive” to get these animals either to market or a better pasture? But that is not how it was done in David’s day or how it is done in that part of the world today. Shepherds did not “drive” their sheep. They went before them and led them. The sheep were familiar with the voice of their shepherd and they follow him. Even as Jesus Christ stated: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.” (John 10:27) This same truth is in Psalm 23. The Great Shepherd leads His sheep to green pastures and has them lie down at undisturbed waters so they are not frightened or agitated. He cares for them so that every need is met. They shall not want. 

So it is that God cares for His people today. He feeds and cares for His people. He provides them with a peace, even in the most difficult of times. He refreshes and restores the inner self (soul) of His people so they have a resource within to face whatever may come. He is the One who guides His people in the paths of righteousness; that is, the way of life that is for their best good and in keeping with the standard God has for them. God’s people are not perfect; but they are being led by the Lord in their daily lives. In other words, God’s people will be different and live differently from those who do not have a personal relationship with Him. And why will this be so? God does it for “His name’s sake”. The reason God’s people have genuine spiritual desires and listen to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ is because God’s reputation is at stake. He as the Great Shepherd of the sheep that is at work within every one of His own,  transforming and changing them more and more into the image of Christ. As the apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” If salvation was your doing or my doing; if it was the work of man – then there is no guarantee that one will walk in the paths of righteousness. But salvation is of the Lord! The Great Shepherd is guiding every one of His sheep in the paths of righteousness for His own honor and glory. If the LORD is my Shepherd, then I am being guided in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 

David declared that the LORD not only provides for His sheep; but He also protects them. Even when one of the sheep was walking in the valley of the shadow of death, the presence of the Great Shepherd brought calmness to the fearful sheep. Today, individuals often understand the phrase “the valley of the shadow of death” to refer to the last enemy each one must face, death itself. But this Hebrew phrase is referring to something much more than just facing death in our final hours on this earth. It is a phrase that means that one is a place of extreme danger where death seems to be almost certain. Leading the sheep through the Judean hills, there were places around the rocky cliffs that were covered with dark shadows. Who knew what predators might be lurking in those shadows to harm the sheep. But the Great Shepherd was there leading His sheep. He has the rod to beat off their enemies and the staff to pull the sheep back to safety if needed. So it is with our God. He has promised to never leave nor forsake His sheep. He is the One who keeps us from harm. He is the One that has promised that no one can ever snatch any one of His sheep from His hand (John 10:28). The Lord is the One who upholds and preserves His people. 

As the Lord faithfully watches over His people and protects them from harm, He also abundantly provides for them even in presence of their enemies. We live in a world that is not a friend of grace. The Lord Jesus made it very clear that His people would face difficulties and opposition while in this world. In the Upper Room Discourse as recorded in John 15:18-19, Jesus warned His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” We are living in enemy territory. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (I John 5:19) Yet, the Great Shepherd of the sheep is the One who keeps everyone who is born of God so that the devil can not snatch away any one of His sheep. (I John 5:18 and Romans 8:35-39) While keeping each one of His sheep, the Great Shepherd is that host who so lavishly blesses His people each day. The table is filled with bounty and the anointing oil is poured over the head of the recipients of God’s grace as if for one who is an honored guest at the banquet. No one can ever out give our God. He gives, and gives and gives again. “My cup overflows!” Truly, the people of God are so richly blessed in Christ. 

But the best is yet to come! God’s people are showered in the goodness and covenant love of the Great Shepherd. Some English translations have “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” Others have “Only goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life.” Rather than trying to determine which English translation is a more accurate reflection of the Hebrew text, one should recognize that both English translations grasp a part of this mind boggling truth. The term translated “mercy” or “lovingkindness” is the Hebrew word חסד (Hesed) meaning “covenant faithfulness” or “covenant loyal love”. The idea is that God’s people are in a covenant relationship with the Lord. In His matchless grace, God has made His people the recipients of the unconditional New Covenant. When we participate in the Lord’s Table or Lord’s Supper, we are reminded of this glorious truth and reality. “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood.” Those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, have been placed in an unbreakable covenant or contract with the One True God. God has done the work to make them acceptable to Himself and He remains faithful to His covenant promise to His people. As the people of God, we can know without a doubt that it is certain (surely) that God will deal with us in His goodness and covenant faithfulness. In fact, He will never deal with us in any other way. It is “only” the goodness of God and the loyalty of the Lord to His covenant promises that are the portion for God’s people. 

And when our days draw near to an end in this temporal world, God’s people have the undeserved blessing of being in the presence of the Lord forever. “And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Time will soon be swallowed up with eternity. The future is very bleak for those who have no relationship with Yahweh, the personal covenant keeping God. But for those who can say: “The LORD is MY Shepherd”; how rich and beyond comprehension is their future. They will dwell in the presence of the One who has showered them with His covenant love and goodness in this life. They will be with their Great Shepherd, the Living God, of whom it is said: “In Your presence is the fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

Thanks be to God that the Great Shepherd is the One who provides for and watches over each one of His sheep as He safely leads them into eternal glory.  

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”                              Jude 24-25

Soli Deo Gloria!