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:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. (verse 5)
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (verse 3)
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:
3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom… 8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. 9 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:
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.