the BIG story: Psalm 23

Bernhard Anderson has best expressed the value of the Twenty-third Psalm when he wrote,

No single psalm has expressed more powerfully man’s prayer of confidence ‘out of the depths’ to the God whose purpose alone gives meaning to the span of life, from womb to tomb.

The Shepherd

Phillip Keller has written a book on Psalm 23 entitled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, which has many helpful insights. He writes from the background of growing up in East Africa and later making his living as a sheep rancher for about eight years. However as Keller points out,the vantage point of the psalm is from the perspective of the sheep, not that of the shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

When David spoke of the Lord as his shepherd, he thought of Him not only as his provider and protector but also as his king. Because God was David’s shepherd, he lacked (wanted) nothing. Through the ages Satan has attempted to portray God as a begrudging giver who only provides when He must. For example, Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1), Jesus’ temptations (Matt 4:1-11), and in the warning of Paul concerning the doctrine of demons (1 Tim 4:1-4).

Our whole advertising culture is “want" based. But David tells us that to have God as our shepherd is itself to have everything we want. Him we need nothing else (Ps 73:25-26). But with God as his shepherd David did not have everything he could possibly desire or possess. As David’s shepherd, God provides him with rest and restoration. He does this by supplying him with the necessary provisions of food and water. Rest is certainly related to the required physical provisions of food and water, but rest is also related to restoration.

For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God (Ez 34:11-15).

While a shepherd provides his sheep with food, rest, and restoration, God provides His sheep with his Word and Spirit, which are the principle means of giving spiritual nourishment, rest, and restoration.

Guidance is recognised as another task of the shepherd. He leads his sheep to places of nourishment and rest (v2), but he also leads them in the proper paths. God’s guidance is more than leading us in the “right path”; it involves his leading us in “paths of righteousness.” And he does so “for His name’s sake”, for the sake of his reputation. God’s reputation as seen by his care of his people. Yet the “paths of righteousness” are not always peaceful paths. We are never promised there will be no evil. Only that we may “fear no evil” (v4).

The host

No greater security or comfort could be obtained by a traveller in the ancient Near East than to be offered the hospitality of a home. It was understood that this was a provision of shelter and food, but even more it was a guarantee of protection from harm. The table prepared in the presence of David’s enemies was the host’s public announcement to them not to attempt to molest David in any way. The amount of security which any host could provide depended upon his prestige and power. The abundance of his provisions indicated that he was a prosperous, powerful, and generous man. To have the hospitality of such a host was to be secure indeed!

Most significantly, David is not a guest for a few days at the home of his gracious host; he is a permanent part of this household. There is an old Greek saying that goes something like this: “A guest is like a fish … After three days, he stinks.” To be a guest in God’s house is not limited to three days. David is assured that he will “dwell in the house of the Lord” forever.

The Saviour

In order to become the Good Shepherd, Jesus first had to become a sheep—the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). Every person who is one of God’s flock (by personal faith in Christ) is individually cared for as one of God’s sheep.

Sometimes we eel that God only cares about us when everything is going well. That God is with us only when we are lying in grassy meadows alongside restful waters. Once we find ourselves in a dark valley, we can question the presence and the care of the Shepherd. In fact, in times of distress, God’s care and keeping is more certain than ever.

God cares for us individually, but normally that he cares for us through others. When human shepherds fail us, we may begin to question the concern of the Good Shepherd. Let us learn that God Himself never fails us, never leaves us, and never will forsake us!