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Psalm 23 is of course one of the most familiar of all the Psalms. It is has been memorized by children and adults alike. It has been quoted, used in sermons at both funerals and weddings, and even pressed into music from classical to gospel. 

Why is it so popular? What makes it have such wide and universal appeal? The image of God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament as The Shepherd is one of comfort and security. Both Jews and Christians alike have utilized these six verses throughout the centuries.  

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.


2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.


3 He renews my strength .He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.


4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.


5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.


6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 NLT


Today we are going to do our best to understand what it means to have God as our Shepherd. David the Psalmist writes from his own knowledge as a shepherd and builds in all the characteristics that any good shepherd would exhibit. I am going to rely heavily today on some of the thoughts of Phillip Keller in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. 


My fear is that most of us never gain this view of God; this concept of being our Shepherd. I have a feeling that most people view God as more of a mob boss than they do a shepherd. Often we tend to view God the Father through the lens of our earthly fathers, which does a great disservice to the character of God. For today it is my hope that we can view God differently. That we can come to understand what it means for Him to be our Shepherd on a daily basis. To understand this clearly we must also assume the role of sheep and understand what that means.  


It was no accident that God choose to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and humans is similar in many ways. Our mob instincts, our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. I know I have mentioned this before but I thought this video of kids showing sheep at the fair might be very helpful to understand how frustrating and toilsome it can be to be a shepherd. 


Video


Lets break it down into three sections with the Shepherd as our focus. 


  • He is an awesome Provider


You dont get a better opening line then the Lord is my Shepherd. Lets look at the first three verses of this Psalm. 


1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength .He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.


The Lord here refers to God in all three of His entities. The psalmist is referring to God the Father, the author and originator of all that exists. It was in His mind first, that all took shape; God the Son, our Savior and artisan and Creator of all that exists. God the Holy Spirit is God the agent that presents these facts to our mind and our spiritual understanding. 


Not only does David declare that God is his shepherd but he says with great emphasis, I have all that I need. Interestingly enough when you study the life of David the author of this Psalm you conclude that he cant be talking about physical or material needs. David knew wealth and success but he also knew pain, rejection and suffering. 


We must keep a balanced view of life and understand that the greatest men and women of the Bible experienced great personal challenges and adversity. Based on what the Bible says we must conclude that when David writes I have all that I need, or I shall not want, that he is not talking about material or even physical wealth. 


Contentment should be the hallmark of the man or woman that is under Christs shepherding care. I have known wealthy, highly intelligent people that were absolutely miserable and I have known some of the poorest and uneducated that were filled with joy and peace. This contentment or lack thereof is always rooted in whether or not the person has surrendered lifes affairs to the Great Shepherd. 


From morning to night the Great Shepherd tends His flock. He will go to no end of trouble to supply the sheep with the finest grazing, the richest pastures, and ample food in the winter and clean water. He will provide shelter from the storms that come and protection from enemies. He will keep an ear and eye open even in the dark of the night. 


This is why in John 10 Jesus said these words: 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. John 10:11 NLT

It is critical to our contentment that we know the Shepherd of our souls. 


As an Awesome Provider, God allows us to enjoy green meadows and peaceful streams! The psalmist writes, He lets me rest. . . The fact is sheep wont rest unless four requirements are met. 


  • They will refuse to lie down unless they are free of fear. (Sound familiar?) 
  • They will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others. 
  • They will not lie down if tormented by flies or parasites. 
  • They will not lie down if they feel the need for food. 


What we take away from this picture is that all of these things are provided by the Shepherd. The sheep are dependent upon the shepherd for these conditions to be met. When Phillip Keller was a young shepherd leading a flock of sheep he found out early on that there was no substitute for his presence for the sheep. When he was visible they were calm and settled. When you and I are in an intimate and daily relationship with Jesus Christ we see the Great Shepherd and even when dangers are near we are not afraid. 


When friction or frustrations come into our lives we are to be reliant on the Good and Great Shepherd to heal us through the power of the Holy Spirit; It is this Spirit of God that creates in us a sense of healing peace and rest.  


He leads me beside peaceful streams   How critical is water to an animal? Without water sheep become restless and look for waters sources on their own. This often leads them to drink from polluted streams where they pick up internal parasites and other diseases. Anybody see any correlation to people? 


This is why Jesus stated emphatically in Matthew 5, Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst after righteousness; for you will be filled. In Jerusalem Jesus cried out one day, If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 


There were three sources for water in Davids day: dew on the grass, deep wells and springs or streams. If the weather was not too hot sheep could go for months without actually drinking because of the heavy dew on the grass. The good shepherd will make sure the sheep have access to this early morning dew on the grass.


More often than not those that are the most peaceful, most confident and best able to cope with lifes complexities are those that rise early each day to feed on Gods word. It is in the quiet early hours of the morning that we are often led beside still waters. One comes away from this time of reflection, mediation and communion with Christ with a sense of satisfaction and a preparedness to face the day. 


Let me ask you something: Where do you go to find a source to quench the thirst of your soul? People will go to great lengths and spend piles of money (often that they dont really have) to find something to satisfy them. 


The ancient prophet, Jeremiah put it very bluntly when he declared, My people. . .they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13


It is the hardest thing to watch people pursue all kinds of things to satisfy the thirst they feel deep within them. Let me assure you that no amount of drugs, alcohol, or sexual adventure will satisfy the thirst within you. You will spend your life looking for satisfaction but it will not be found anywhere but in the Great Shepherd and Awesome Provider Jesus Christ. 


1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength .He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.


Cast down This is an old English term for a sheep that has turned over on its back. Its feet are in the air and it is a pathetic sight as it lies there frantically struggling to stand up. If the shepherd does not arrive within a reasonably short time the sheep will often die. 


This makes us understand Psalm 42 in the old English version when the writer cries out, Why are thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God. . . 


He will renew your strength and guide you along right paths, brining honor to His name. 

Doesnt that sound like a great way to live? 


Our Great Shepherd is also an attentive protector. 


  • He is attentive Protector


4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.


Depending on the season of the year, sheep were moved from the low country to the high country. This often entailed long walks in dangerous areas but it was part of life. You would want to get the sheep to the mountains in the summer and close to home in the fall and winter usually driven back down by the snow of higher elevations. It is in the valleys that storms often sweep down from the mountains and threaten to overcome the flock! 


But the psalmist says, Even when. . .  


In the Middle East, the rod and staff were critical tools for any shepherd. Young shepherds would spend hours practicing throwing their rods which were a small club. With this club or rod they could accurately dispatch any threats that would come near the flock. Sometimes this rod was used to redirect a wayward sheep. When a sheep would begin to stray away from the flock or head toward a poisonous bush the rod would be thrown skillfully to send the animal back in the right direction! Many scholars would say that the Word of God is a rod in our life. 


The staff is not like a shovel to those guys you see out along the road sometimes. The staff is not just something to lean on. While the rod suggests authority the staff suggests longsuffering and mercy. 


Let me give you three uses for a staff in shepherding: 


  • The staff would help create community. Often the shepherd would reach out with his staff to bring a young lamb close to its mother. Sometimes he would use it to draw a sheep close to himself for examination and care. 
  • The staff is used for guiding: It is not for beating the animals but the staff is gently laid alongside the sheep and just enough pressure is applied to guide the sheep back onto the path. 
  • The staff was used to pull sheep out of dilemmas they would fall into. All too often sheep will wonder away in pursuit of some wayward clump of grass and sometimes would get stuck in a crevice or find themselves unable to climb out of the some stuck place. Do I even need to make the point here?  How often do we need our Lord and Great Shepherd to pull us out of some dilemma of our own making?  


4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.


A feast (or table) in the presence of my enemies.  The shepherd takes the sheep high into the mountains and there on plateaus or tables would be the finest summer grass made luscious by the winter snow. There in front of all other animals and enemies to see the sheep would graze peacefully knowing that they were protected. 


You and I may be drawn away by our own lusts as the bible suggests but it will only lead to death and destruction. When we learn to trust and follow the Great Shepherd of our souls we find our cup overflowing with blessings. 


Oil was applied to sheep to keep the flies and pests away. The continual anointing of the Holy Spirit in our life is a biblical concept that you cannot escape. How important it should be to us every day. It is incredibly significant that David says, You honor me by anointing my head. 


Can I just remind you one more time that it what you fill your head with is critical to the rest of your life? Be aware and vigilant so that the filth of this world is not voluntarily dumped into your heads and minds by listening or watching or reading stuff that is not pleasing to God. 


Philippians 4: Dont worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience Gods peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from meeverything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:6-9, NLT


  • He is an active Pursuer 


6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

You want at the end of your life to be able to look back and see the hand of God in all you did. Because of our connection the Great Shepherd we leave behind us this goodness and mercy. Because we experience Gods goodness and unfailing love we extend that same grace to others. 


Sir Alfred Tennyson wrote in one of his great classic poems, "The good men do lives after them."

     

Keller remembers: On one occasion two friends spent a few days in our home while passing through en route to some engagements in the East. They invited me to go along. After several days on the road one of the men missed his hat. He was sure it had been left in our home. He asked me to write my wife to find it and kindly send it on to him. Her letter of reply was one I shall never forget. One sentence in particular made an enormous impact on me. "I have combed the house from top to bottom and can find no trace of the hat. The only thing those men left behind was a great blessing!"


Is this the way people feel about me? Do I leave a trail of sadness or of gladness behind? Is my memory, in other people's minds, entwined with mercy and goodness, or would they rather forget me altogether? Do I deposit a blessing behind me or am I a bane to others? Is my life a pleasure to people or a pain? 


As a sheep is contented with its shepherd and secure in the peace he provides the Psalmist exclaims at the end of this Psalm with equal passion as the opening line: I will dwell or live in the house of the Lord forever. 

 

Would your really want to live anywhere else? 


God, as the Great Shepherd pursues us actively and calls us to follow Him.  More important than anything else is that you know the Shepherd. 


Ask yourself these questions today: Do I really belong to Him? Do I really recognize His right to me? Do I respond to His authority and acknowledge His ownership? Do I find freedom and complete fulfillment in this arrangement? Do I sense a purpose and deep contentment because I am under His direction? Do I know rest and repose? 


References to Jesus as a shepherd

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 He said to his disciples, The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  Matthew 9:36 NLT

14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15 NLT

We are going to sing a new version of an old song that has been in church hymnals since Fanny Crosby wrote it in 1875. 

He is an awesome provider; He is an avid protector; He is an active pursuer! 

Closing remarks: 

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from? 14 And I said to him, Sir, you are the one who knows.

   Then he said to me, These are the ones who died in[a] the great tribulation.[b] They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

 15 That is why they stand in front of Gods throne and serve him day and night in his Temple.
   And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. 16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. 17 For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:13-17 NLT


Benediction: Now may the God of peacewho brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood
21 may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him.
      All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.