Saturday, January 16, 2010

Getting Reacquainted with Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
(Psalm 23)

Psalm 23 has to be one of the most quoted texts in the Bible. This powerful psalm only contains six verses, but they are 118 words that meet us in times of need.

These words have entered many a sick room. They have been recited at many a funeral. And they have dried many, many tears. But it is our familiarity with this text that may keep us from the daily help this psalm can actually provide.

Today I want us to get reacquainted with Psalm 23. These gentle, yet powerful words that are as familiar to us as the Lord’s Prayer or John 3:16.

Let’s discover what makes this psalm so helpful to all who apply its message?

We begin with Verse 1, which presents the Shepherd.
The authorship of the 23rd Psalm has been attributed to King David. It’s a psalm written by someone who had lived much – sinned much -- and been greatly forgiven.

The most significant word in the opening verse is “my.” From the beginning David establishes a relationship; “The Lord is my shepherd…”

A shepherd is a protector, a provider of food and shelter, and he makes sure that all stay close and are not lost. The sheep come to depend on the shepherd for everything, and he provides it for them because he cares what happens to them. They are valuable to him.

In describing the Lord as a shepherd, David wrote out of his own experience. He had spent his early years caring for sheep.

You may recall that in the book of Samuel, before David was involved in the altercation with Goliath, he was caring for his father’s sheep. David and his ancestors knew sheep and their ways. Now he pictures himself as a sheep.

The comparison between man and a sheep is not foreign to us. Isaiah 53:6 tells us that, “We like sheep have gone astray.” And Jesus also saw people as sheep. In Matt. 9:36, “he was moved with compassion on (the people), because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”

David pictures himself as a sheep, but this sheep has a great shepherd. What does the New Testament says about this shepherd?

• John 10, verse 11, tells us, “He is the Good Shepherd who died for us.”
• Hebrews 13:20, reminds us, “He is the Great Shepherd who is risen for us.”
• And, 1 Peter 5:4 acknowledges that, “He is the Chief Shepherd who is coming for us.”

Verses 1-5 show us how the Shepherd provides for His sheep.

Now that David has established that the Lord is his Shepherd, he says, “I shall not want.” Not just, “I do not want” -- but “I shall not want!”

It is thought that David penned these words in the last years of his life. He had vast riches, but he knew what it meant to want. He wasn’t talking about material gain, but things that matter. He knew that sheep are completely dependent on the shepherd for provision, guidance, and protection. These are things that man needs as well.

David was at a point in his life that he did not want because he had learned that God is enough. He provides us with everything we need. What an awesome God we serve!

In Verse 2, David shows us what the Shepherd provides the sheep. It reads, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” This speaks of good food and rest. There are many verses in the Bible that give a feeling of comfort and peace, but this one seems to go beyond that by showing a picture of heaven on earth.

As you read those words you can almost picture that pasture, with its lush green grass. Grass so soft you could lie down in it and watch the marshmallow clouds float by. The still waters bring to mind a pond in the middle of that pasture. You can imagine sitting next to it, and putting your hand into the water. It is so cool and refreshing.

Sheep love to eat tender green shoots of grass, and they need rest just as we do. They will also only drink from still water, because they are afraid of running water. There can be a stream nearby, but a sheep will not drink from it. Sheep instinctively know that if they get into a running spring that the water will weigh down their wool and they could drown.

Also, note that the verse says, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” The sheep don’t necessarily want to rest. They may want to scamper around the pasture a while, but the shepherd knows they will need rest for the journey that lies ahead. So he makes them lie down and rest by the still waters.

Don’t you know that God sometimes has to make us lie down? How many of you know what I’m talking about? We all have our moments when we refuse to slow down. Our schedules get so crazy that we push ourselves to the max.

If we won’t slow down, I want you to know, that God will make us lie down. He might do it in the form of a health scare, or an interruption in our employment. But, if we don’t take the time out to rest, God will certainly make us.

A shepherd provides his sheep with food, rest and still water because he doesn’t want a bunch of undernourished, stressed out, thirsty sheep. He wants them to remain at peace; or they may begin to wander and become lost.

Our Shepherd wants us to experience comfort and peace as well. When we let Him take care of us we have no worries. It is when we wander off on our own, and try to fend for ourselves, that we run into problems. The food doesn’t taste as good. The water tastes more bitter than sweet. We find it difficult to rest. And, we can become weighed down and drown in the rushing river of life.

Next, David tells us in Verse 3, “He restoreth my soul...” Webster’s dictionary defines the word “restore” as, “to bring back to or put back into a former or original state.”

You know sheep aren't the smartest animals in the animal kingdom, so left to themselves sheep often wander off, get lost, and open themselves up to all kinds of danger. A good shepherd will climb mountains and search valleys, until he finds a lost sheep, and brings it back home with much celebration.

Our Shepherd is no different.

There are times when all of us are not the brightest crayon in the box. We wander off the "right paths" too. We get spiritually lost, and we expose ourselves to all kinds of danger. At the very least we get distracted by the thorns and holes we encounter along our journey to the point that we miss the turn. We go left when we should have turned right.

But, there is one Good Shepherd who will go in search of us when we go astray. He too will restore us to the fold with much rejoicing. It is God’s nature to restore that which is lost.

Now that the sheep has been restored, it is time to move again. The shepherd has mapped out their grazing for the day. He may take the sheep back over the same range, or to a new grazing ground. The sheep do not worry, because the shepherd’s guidance has been good in the past and they have faith in the future because they know he has their well-being in mind.

Sheep are known to be obedient followers, wise enough to follow one who will lead them in the right places and in the right ways. Our Shepherd is not telling us to go these paths alone. He leads us down these paths. He guides us along the way. Turn to your neighbor and tell her, “He guides us.”

Then, He doesn’t lead us down just any path. In Verse 3 David writes, “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness...”

What does that mean? It means walking in uprightness and right standing with God.

When a person is counted as being righteous by faith, he is regarded as a righteous person or accepted as a righteous person by God because of his faith. Being righteous before God is not an achievement; it is a relationship.

A shepherd also has a special relationship with his sheep. The sheep trust him and follow him down the path because they have faith in him. It is important for the sheep to follow the shepherd. After all, he is the one that knows where they are going.

When we allow our Shepherd to guide us, we have contentment. However, when we choose to sin, we go our own way, and we cannot blame God for the problems we run up against.

Our Shepherd knows the “green pastures” that will restore us. We will reach these places only by following Him obediently. Rebelling against the Shepherd’s leading is actually rebelling against our own best interests. We must remember this the next time we are tempted to go our own way rather than the Shepherd’s way.

Verse 3 teaches us that the Shepherd leads us down these paths, “…for his name’s sake.” He doesn’t do it just for the sheep’s sake. The Shepherd does not work for the sheep. It’s not all about us. It is all about God’s glory. It is to the honor of our great Shepherd that we should be a holy people, walking down the path of righteousness.

Now as we travel down this path that our Shepherd has laid out for us, we are lead to a valley.

In Verse 4 David penned the words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me...”

It is important to notice that the word “though” means “even though,” or you could say “despite the fact that.”

Even though I walk through the valley… Did you see the assurance right at the beginning of that verse?

Even though -- no matter what I may be facing -- no matter what may lie ahead – even though I’m going to walk through this valley… What? I will fear no evil… Why? I will fear no evil, because God is with me.

Now look at that verse again. This verse doesn’t just read, “…through the valley of death,” it reads, “…through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Think about this for a moment. Has a shadow ever hurt anyone? If you try and touch a shadow you find it has no substance. So many folks are running from shadows; things that have no substance.

• They are afraid of the shadow of the unknown.
• They are afraid of the shadow of what has happened.
• And, they are afraid of the shadow of what may happen.

They are afraid to travel further because they are afraid of the shadows. But, think about this for a moment -- there are only shadows where there is light. There are only shadows where there is light. Know that Christ is the Light. We need not fear the shadows, because Christ is right there lighting the way.

Next David writes, “…thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod for protection against anything that might try to harm the sheep, and he uses his staff to guide the sheep. God doesn’t run away when our enemies threaten to devour us. It’s comforting to know that God defends us, and guides us in the right direction that will keep us out of harms way.

Once we have made it through the valley, David tells us, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” For the longest time, whenever I read this passage I thought about a great feast laid out on a long table – sort of like in those movies about King Henry VIII. I imagined that God had prepared that great feast for me, and my enemies could only sit by and watch as I dined on all that good food. How many of you have thought something similar?

But as I studied this text, I learned David had something quite different in mind.

Remember that David is talking about shepherds and sheep. You wouldn’t normally see a sheep sitting at a table. Would you?

The sheep are constantly moving. They have moved from the home ranch, passed through the valley, and now they are moving up the mountain toward the high ranges, to the table, or the tableland as it is called. A tableland is a broad level elevated area. We are more familiar with the term mesa or plateau.

A shepherd, before moving the sheep to the tableland, would go out and survey the land to see what had happened over the previous winter. He had to know where the water was running. He had to know if any pools had formed. What kind of growth was beginning to show? He would check for poisonous weeds, and dens of predators, like wolves and such.

He would prepare the table, or the tableland, for the sheep. The sheep thrive on this table because of the love and care of the shepherd.

David has illustrated for us how our Shepherd leads us into higher places and a more advanced stage of experience, righteousness and holiness. In John 14:2, Jesus tells us, “…I go to prepare a place for you.” We have nothing to fear because the Shepherd has prepared a table for us.

Throughout this Psalm, the leading thought is that of the shepherd’s love and care for his sheep -- God’s love and care for us. Now the day draws to a close and the sheep head home.

David tells us in Verse 5 that, “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over...” What does this mean?

As the sheep return home the shepherd stands at the gate. He carefully inspects each sheep as they pass one by one before him into the fenced enclosure. He has a supply of ointments that he uses to doctor on the sheep who may have a scrapped knee or been scratched by thorns. If one is simply worn out and exhausted, he anoints its face and head in oil.

Then the shepherd takes a cup and dips it into a large stone jar of water. It is brought out – never half full but always overflowing. The weary sheep is allowed to drink until refreshed. That is what David meant when he said, “My cup runneth over.”

For us the meaning of this message is simple. In the Book of John, Chapter 10, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture … I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.”

Once we accept Jesus as our Lord, Savior, and Shepherd, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit. This anointing heals and refreshes us.

Then we are permitted to drink from the cup that is overflowing – the water that Jesus told the Samaritan woman about at the well. In John 4:14 He said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” We can say his mercies and goodness are such that our cup overflows, all our needs are fully supplied.

Yes, we can see why David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...”

What a wonderful thought – goodness and mercy following me all my life. They follow me:

• On the good days as well as the bad
• During the work week and on the weekend
• On rainy days as well as bright sunny days
• While I’m young and when I’m old
• When I’m feeling good or completely worn out
• They shall follow me three hundred and sixty five days a year.

Charles Spurgeon said that goodness supplies our needs, while mercy blots out our sin. He called them the twin guardian angels at our back and beck.

Finally, Verse 6 prepares us for Eternity.

The sheep has come full circle -- past the green pastures and still waters, through the valley, up into the tablelands, and now he has returned to the home ranch. The sheep is content, happy and at peace. Can you say the same?

In this final verse David writes, “…I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

What does “forever” mean? It means “without end.” It means continuing to eternity. We are promised that we will dwell in God’s house from now until forever. What more do you want?

What about your forever? Are you prepared for eternity?

So, exactly what does all of this mean to you and me? Looking at the full picture we find, we have provision and protection in the form of the Lord Jesus who is our Shepherd. We have peace, rest, renewing of spirit, mind and body. We have relaxation, food and drink that never go away. We have protection from our enemies and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Not only is the Lord involved in your life, He is also caring for you. We are to give Him our concerns, worries, and cares. God wants us to enjoy His peace and rest. He will walk with us through whatever it is we are going through at the time. We need not fear the shadows or our enemies.

You know … some people sit down and make long lists of goals they want to accomplish in their life. They may want to be rich – successful – famous -- or all of the above. But, I want you to try and achieve a higher goal – a goal that will last not just a lifetime, but an eternity.

Write this down as the number one goal on your list – “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

It’s not a hard goal to achieve. David was a powerful king, but he knew that God was enough. So make the decision to change not just your life, but change your forever. Those green pastures and still waters can be yours if you just make it up in your mind today to start following the Shepherd.

May God Bless You!

1 comment:

  1. This exposes and reveals alot to me about this psalm.thanks.God bless