How is God my shepherd? A fresh look at Psalm 23

I’d like to share some fresh insights from Psalm 23. It’s a well know part of Scripture and when something is well known, we can tend to glance over it quickly and miss the rich promises of God contained therein. So please read on and I hope you will be refreshed!

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want anything. The word want means need or lack. Literally the word means that we will not be in lack of anything. Now, in this day and age we all need something, even if it’s not material need it may be an emotional or spiritual need. The point is that “the Lord” who loves us more than we can ever realize, is our personal and able Shepherd. The One who created ALL things is taking care of us. The amplified says it this way, “The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.” We run over this first verse way too fast. It’s God almighty, creator, provider, the one who sent Jesus to bring us back into fellowship with Him for eternity, who is walking before us, feeding us, protecting us and doing it with perfect skill and ability. It’s not some god made with human hands or intelligence who is watching over us and taking care of us. It’s the God who describes Himself as love – perfect love that casts out all our fears, who is our shepherd.

“He make me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul…”

Isn’t it interesting that right after declaring Himself our Shepherd, He tells us the first thing on His mind is rest. And it’s a rest that is full of good food, good drink and something even more valuable than that, a sound mind that is healed from its wounds and restored to completeness. The amplified says, “He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self)…” Sometimes when life gets hairy and confusing, we need (on a daily basis) to get quiet and lie down. When we don’t stop and get still, it’s really hard to recover from anything. When we lie down, it means we can’t be running around crazy. But look at where He brings us for this rest – to a place of abundance and a place where exactly what we need for that moment is available! He could just bring us to any place of rest, but no, God brings us into rest with such supply that we will not lack even in our resting!

I’ve read before that sheep won’t drink from water that is rushing by. They only like to drink from water that is still. Perhaps the moving water scares them a little. How God is concerned over our hearts even in a restful place. He alone knows how stressed we get and that when stressed out, it’s very hard to rest or even see Him through the turmoil we get into. He knows we need restoration too. He is well aware of the daily grind our culture breeds. But here it is our soul He is concerned about along with our bodily needs. I think it’s very interesting that the first order of business with God is rest because He knows in rest comes restoration. That doesn’t mean we have to go on vacation (we all know even vacations aren’t necessarily restful) or lay down every day. But it means that He wants to bring us into rest. You don’t have to have some internal willpower to rest so you can be restored. It’s that He will bring you into restful places. When you enter that restful place, know that it is His work that brought you there. Accept it as a blessing.

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

Out of that rest, comes great guidance. These paths in Hebrew are circular paths. I once saw a photo of a small hill in Israel where a well worn path could be seen going up the hill by a circle and going slightly uphill on every pass. Going straight up is way too hard. Sometimes in life it feels as if we’re getting nowhere and fast. All our efforts seem to just go around in a circle and we get frustrated because we have not reached our goal (the top) yet. But a wise shepherd knows that the sheep need to eat on the way up and that they walk slowly and going up the hill in circular fashion is best for them. It makes me think too, that these are paths He has chosen for us. It’s His righteousness (not ours because we have none apart from His given to us in grace) that leads us. It’s His name (not ours) that will accomplish everything we’ll ever need in this life. And He has graciously, freely given us His name, His authority and His power that comes from His name. It’s not that the sheep just sit back and do nothing. They still have to walk to the pasture, walk to the water and get their mouths in there and drink. They still have to follow the Shepherd. But it’s a restful obedience! Someone wisely told me once, that when you feel striving coming over you, stop – for the striving is not from God. It’s a built in warning system that we may be going in the wrong direction. Stop and rest and ask the Lord for His guidance. Allow His peace to rule your decision. We often think today that unless something is hard, it can’t be from God. Just the opposite is true! His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11).

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me…” Here it is in the amplified, “Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me.”

God admits that life is hard many days. He knows first hand about those valleys in our lives because Jesus went through the worst possible valley for us. He knows how fearful hard times are and doesn’t blame us for being fearful. Too many people feel such guilt for feeling afraid. May His peace erase your guilt because He knows all about your deep inner fears today. Fear can take us to a deep pit, and fast too. We all want out. We don’t like the darkness and the fears that darkness brings. In fact, we hate discomfort and uncertainty in any form. But here, God Himself promises to walk with you, to protect, to provide what you need right in the valley, and to bring you out of it. Even if evil seems to be pressing from every side, He is promising that with Him present, you won’t fear the evil. If we keep our eyes on Him who is leading us, we can confidently face the things before us and not be afraid of them. God is so much greater than anything here on earth. He conquered death for us so even death is nothing to fear.

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

I read once that the Shepherd uses his rod and staff to correct the sheep. That he might poke them to get them back into safety, or use it to suddenly pull a sheep out of danger. That left me with a feeling of almost punishment. I didn’t find it very comforting. But recently the Lord turned me around on this and showed me that this rod and staff were used for keeping predators away – there is where the comfort lies! If a wolf were prowling around, he would use those tools to get them away from the flock. He may have to get the sheep farther away from danger, but not with cruel or shocking hits on the head, that is reserved for the enemy. So rest easier today knowing that God Himself has weapons He uses with perfect skill to keep danger away from you.

The next verse makes more sense following the heals of what I just said. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” Right in the middle of your crisis today, He is making room for you at His table. Right in the midst of those who may want to ruin your reputation, your work, your family, your marriage, He is providing for your needs with a cup to drink from that is running over with His provision. Sheep need oil on their ears, eyes and noise to keep the flies away. How personal of God to know those areas of your life that may feel embarrassing or humiliating. Allow Him to touch you and keep even the unseen and seen enemies away from you.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Surely – this means that it is something you can count on 100%. It’s not “maybe or sometimes” but totally and fully for real, all the time. David was so confident in God’s love and care for him he proclaims it to us today, that with Him as our shepherd, goodness will hunt us down, chase after us in such a way that even we cannot stop it from coming after us. That’s what “follow after me” means. It’s like His favor will run after us, not walk or meander or perhaps follow us. No, it’s certain and it’s abundant! If you know Jesus, your eternity is settled forever. You will dwell in His house forever. Let forever sink deep into your soul today. Forever He is your shepherd and all these promises are yours today – freely receive all that the Good Shepherd has for you!

 

 

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