# 102 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 23 Not really a tranquil psalm.

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When I started considering Psalm 23 I quoted Brueggemann, who says that “The grip [this psalm] has on biblical spirituality is deep and genuine.” And how true this is. In fact the more I consider this psalm, the more I discover.

I realize that we have only scratched the surface of the incredible truth that “The Lord is my shepherd”, but let us move on to the next statement which David shares with us which is, “I lack nothing.”

Most translations and paraphrases basically say the same thing as the NIV quoted above, for example, “I shall not want.” (KJV) and “I always have more than enough.” (Passion Translation).

As I consider my life, and now over two thirds has been lived as a follower of Jesus, I am so grateful to God for his provision of all of my and my family’s “needs” while living for Him. I guess some could consider that there were lots that we lacked at times, particularly while living a fairly simple lifestyle in Pakistan as missionaries. But, the reality was that we had many “riches” that we would have missed out on if we had stayed home in Australia. “Riches”, such as the privilege of living and learning and growing in another culture and making some lifelong friends amongst the people there. We can honestly say of those days that we always had more than enough, even if we also had some pretty tough times!

At this stage, it may be important to understand what we are talking about when we use the word “needs” and, I think, the Amplified Version helps clarify this in the context of this psalm. It says:

“The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me], I shall not want.”

If we look at this psalm we see all of these 3 “needs” mentioned as follows:

FEED

You prepare a table before me     in the presence of my enemies.   (verse 5)

GUIDE

He guides me along the right paths     for his name’s sake.   (verse 3)

SHIELD (PROTECT)

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.   (verse 4)

But then there is even more, not mentioned in the Amplified version, such as:

REST AND RESTORATION

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.    (verses 2-3)

ABUNDANCE OF LOVE AND GRACE NOW AND FOREVER

You anoint my head with oil;     my cup overflows. 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.   (verses 5-6)

It all sounds very idyllic doesn’t it! But, the reality is, our lives are often not quite as simple as, in a superficial reading, this psalm appears to describe. As we look closer at this psalm, we pick up hints that God’s provision is in the midst of the rough and tumble of real life. As Broyles suggests, this psalm is “a favourite for many, largely because it unveils an intensely intimate relationship with the Lord wherein he provides protection and providence. Yet, as familiar as this psalm is, there is more than first appears. It is not a tranquil psalm, as many assume. We must observe its intent: it affirms what the Lord provides; it does not pretend to report on worshipers’ circumstances. What he provides is peaceable, but the echoes we get of what life may bring our way may be quite disturbing. We may walk through the valley of the shadow of death and we may affirm, I will fear no evil, because we are tempted to fear. We confess, I shall not be in want, because we fear we shall. The confession, he leads me beside still waters, has meaning because many dangers – including my enemies – threaten to sap us of life. He restores my soul, indicates there are times when it becomes weary. Our Shepherd provides for and protects ‘the sheep’ but he does not fabricate a world free from hardships.”   (see references # 4)

So, does the Bible affirm anywhere else that God is able and willing to meet our deepest needs in all the circumstances of our lives? Absolutely! Consider the following:

From the Psalms:

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;     his greatness no one can fathom… The Lord is gracious and compassionate,     slow to anger and rich in love.                                                                                                      The Lord is good to all;     he has compassion on all he has made… 14 The Lord upholds all who fall     and lifts up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you,     and you give them their food at the proper time. 16 You open your hand     and satisfy the desires of every living thing…                                                                                 19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;     he hears their cry and saves them. 20 The Lord watches over all who love him…       (Psalm 145:3, 8-9, 14-16, 19-20)

From the Gospels:

Jesus said:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry…”  (Matthew 6:25-33)

And from Paul’s letters:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19) So, God can be trusted, in the good times and maybe especially in the tough times, to meet all our NEEDS in Christ. As Broyles says, “Our Shepherd provides for and protects ‘the sheep’ but he does not fabricate a world free from hardships.”

Thank you, Heavenly Father, our divine Shepherd, that you understand what we need in every situation and You are able to meet us at these times of need. We confess to not always understanding what we need to see us through in life, but you understand and because you are good you provide. Amen.

# 101 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd. No worries!!

lost sheep

“The Lost Sheep” by Alford Usher Soord (1868 -1915)

After my last post on Psalm 23 I received a message from some friends in Korea. They are home on leave but were planning to return to their ministry this week but their visa has yet to be granted. They wrote:

“Thank you for #100 post. It is very encouraging, because we were worrying about our next step. Our visa has not yet been granted. We will need to change our flights on Monday. We need wisdom from God.”

They then conclude:

“The Lord is my shepherd. No worries!!”

So, why the use of the imagery of a shepherd (for God) and sheep (for us, his people) in this psalm? Well, it is not unique in the Bible. In fact, it is used often.

I think it is helpful to understand that the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were nomadic shepherds (as, of course was David’s) and when Jacob’s family were moving to Egypt to join Joseph (who was second in charge to the land), it tells us that Joseph said to his family:

 “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ …Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen”

But then comes a surprising statement:

“…for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”  (Genesis 46:31-34)

So, why would that be? Well, we don’t really know. Maybe political, social or religious reasons. But whatever reason, the humble shepherd was not considered to be imagery that could be ever used for God in certain societies, except in Israel. And here is was used often as something they understood very well.

In fact, Jacob, in blessings Joseph’s sons speaks of “the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day”. (Genesis 48:15) and later, when blessing Joseph, he spoke of his son as the who had remained strong through difficulty, “because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you.”  (Genesis 49:24-25)

So, right from the beginning of the people of Israel, God as their divine Shepherd was understood.

In a prayer of Asaph in the Psalms, the writer says:

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,     you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,     shine forth  before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might;     come and save us.

 Restore us, O God;     make your face shine on us,     that we may be saved.  (Psalm 80:1-3)

Then in Isaiah the prophet speaks to his people and says:

“Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,     and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him,     and his recompense accompanies him.

And then continues with a very tender description of this “Sovereign Lord” as the One who,

…tends his flock like a shepherd:     He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;     he gently leads those that have young.    (Isaiah 40:10-11)

Like me, I’m sure that description of our God as a shepherd has been of great comfort to many people ever since Isaiah wrote those words thousands of years ago.

For me it was 1979 and our family were just about to move out in obedience to undergo training for what we believed was God’s will for us, and that was to serve God overseas. Although my wife had more experience than me, I had never left my home town, let alone lived in a foreign land, and I was overwhelmed at the responsibility of leaving all that was familiar and ‘secure’ and moving with our family into the unknown. Our children were then only 1 and 3 years old. As I prayed about my concerns to the Lord, Isaiah 40:11 came to mind and I knew it was ok. 38 years later we can now look back and see God’s hand upon our lives. Not only were those two toddlers “carried close to his heart” but two more who arrived later on as well, and He did indeed “lead us” with our young family. What a privilege to know and serve such a loving caring Shepherd!

But, it is also in Isaiah 63, a prophecy concerning the “suffering servant” (fulfilled in Jesus) that we see the imagery of sheep used for God’s people, and sadly, we are likened to lost sheep:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,     each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him     the iniquity of us all.     (Isaiah 53:6)

When we then turn to the NT we see the story of Jesus, the Messiah, and, in a revelation of his Divinity, Jesus takes on himself the OT imagery used of Almighty God and says of himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11)

As we then look back at Isaiah 53, we find that Isaiah had prophesied the solution to this dilemma of lost sheep, again using the sheep imagery, but this time not speaking of God’s people but God’s Son. He says:

He was oppressed and afflicted,     yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,     and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,     so he did not open his mouth.

John the Baptist understood this when, seeing Jesus, he proclaimed to his disciples “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  (John 1:29)

So, the Shepherd became the Sacrificial Lamb laying down his life for us, his lost sheep!

So, considering all this, the words of Psalm 23:1, “the Lord is my shepherd” takes on even greater significance that when David wrote them.

Jesus also said of himself:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 14:10)

Give thanks today if you are known by Jesus as one of his sheep, and if you are not sure, then talk to Him about it. Acknowledge him as the good shepherd and the One who gave his life for you to bring you into his “sheep fold”. (John 10:16). Then you will be able to confidently say, like my Korean friend, “The Lord is MY shepherd. No worries!”

Lord Jesus, you said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” Thank you that today, all around the world, you are drawing people to yourself. May they willingly say ‘yes’ to you and know the joy of belonging to that “one flock” for all eternity. Amen.

# 100 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd and that is all I want.

Shepherd

I can’t think of a better psalm to consider in my 100th Post than Psalm 23. It is described as being, “next to the Lord’s Prayer…the most familiar passage of scripture” (Williams), “a favourite for many, largely because it reveals an intensely intimate relationship with the Lord” (Broyles), “a song of confidence or trust in the Lord…[which] opens with perhaps the most well-known and well-loved words in the book” (Longman) and “the best loved psalm in the book!”  (Wilcock). In fact, Wilcock also writes, “Only a vandal, surely, would want to take to pieces” this beautiful psalm, although he does just that, but promising “to put it together again, having shown in the process that it is even more special than we thought.” As well as this Brueggemann adds, “it is almost pretentious to comment on this psalm. The grip it has on biblical spirituality is deep and genuine. It is such a simple statement that it can bear its own witness without comment.” He calls it a “psalm of confidence” and says that “It recounts in detail, by means of rich metaphors, a life lived in trustful receptivity of God’s gifts.”  (see references #’s 38, 4, 30, 5 & 2)

 

So, if you have time right now, sit quietly, read this psalm and soak in the wonderful truths contained in these words of David, worshiping the Lord as you do.

 

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.     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. 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 your goodness and love will follow me     all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord     forever.

 

There is no doubt about it, God was very real to the psalmist. Is he this real to you?

 

Amongst my many books on the Psalms I have one called “God Alive – Studies on Psalms” by Rev Dr Theodore Williams (1936-2009), from South India, who was described as “a well- known Bible expositor and an experienced missionary statesman” in India. The book, he says, is “not a commentary” but is based on a series of sermons he preached on the Psalms at his church in Bangalore from January 1975 to August 1977. He has some very different and useful insights into the Psalms, not the least Psalm 23. Here are some to begin our study of this great Psalm.

 

Writing about the words of verse 1 he says: “The little girl who said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd and that is all I want’ has given us a good lesson.” He continues, with God caring for us we have nothing really to be worried about, in fact, “Do you know that the man [or woman] who worries himself sick over his personal necessities is a practical atheist. He behaves as though God does not exist.”

 

The author then suggests that verse 1 reminds us that we can trust God to meet all our needs. “This is God’s answer to anxiety. Our part is commitment.” He continues, “He is our Shepherd, and our dependence must be on him alone.”

 

On verses 2-3 he emphasizes God’s activity in our lives. Consider these truths:

 

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.

Williams says: “God restores and strengthens the inner man. This is his answer to inadequacy. [Our part] is acceptance of our needs and of God’s provision.”

 

On guidance, he writes concerning our “world of moral confusion” and certainly things have not improved since the 1970’s when he spoke on this psalm. He says, “We need wisdom. The good news is that God guides us in righteousness for His name’s sake…He leads us in right and straight paths…This is God’s answer to confusion. [Our part] is submission.”

 

Moving on to verse 4, we read about God’s protection even in the midst of “darkness” and he reminds us that “our security is not in our environment…but in our Shepherd…our confidence is in the fact that He is with us…This is God’s answer to fear. [Our part] is trust and obedience.”

 

And finally, verses 5-6 remind us of the hope that we have in God. He quotes “an old preacher [who] said, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd…and more than that, he has two fine sheep dogs, Goodness and Mercy. With him before and these behind, even poor sinners like you and me can hope to reach Home at last’…This is God’s answer to despair. [Our part] is confidence [in Him].”

 

So, in summary, the reason the little girl was able to say,  The Lord is my shepherd and that is all I want, was because in Him, our Good Shepherd, as revealed to us in Psalm 23, we find the answer to our anxiety, inadequacy, confusion, fear and despair (and much more). What more do we need!

 

Father, this indeed is a remarkable psalm. Full of truths that inspire us to follow you closer, know you in a deeper way, love you with all our hearts, minds, and strength. Teach us to trust you in all the circumstances of our lives, as the psalmist did, and to no longer live as “practical atheists”! Amen