The Lord is My Shepherd
In the Psalms there are many metaphors and images for God – and while each metaphor has something in particular it is emphasizing, the primary metaphor in Psalm 23 is perhaps the most most personal & intimate of them all.
You’ll find the more distant image of king, or deliverer; or you’ll find the less personal metaphor of rock, or shield.
But – Shepherd – a shepherd lives among sheep, knows sheep, cares for the sheep, is everything to his sheep. He is theirs, and they are his.
And there’s a reason that Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved Psalms of all; because it shows us what life looks like when we know God as “my Shepherd.”
v1: “The Lord is my shepherd.”
He could say that the Lord is a shepherd. He could say that the Lord is the Shepherd. He could say that the Lord is our Shepherd. In fact, that would be the most natural way to understand the shepherd imagery, because, no shepherd has just 1 sheep, but shepherds have flocks.
And, that would be a legitimate truth, but that isn’t what the Psalmist is trying to emphasize – and we see that with that little, but precious, word, “my”.
He says, the Lord is my Shepherd.
This Psalm, shows the confidence, and trust, and peace, that fill a life which looks to God, not just as a shepherd or the shepherd or not even only as our shepherd but as my shepherd.
The first question – before we go any further – the first question for each person here to ask, is this: Is God my shepherd?
Because, you can’t know God by association. Knowing God, brings new and good and necessary associations by becoming part of the family or flock of God – but you can’t know God by association. You can only know him directly. Personally. You can only know him as “my” shepherd.
Maybe you grew up in a Christian home: A wonderful blessing, which opens the door wide for so many divine privileges and blessings to flow to you; Or Maybe you are a church member: but you are content to say the prayers and sing the songs but let other people actually mean those prayers and sing those songs – you know that God is the shepherd of the people around you, but, you still need to ask, “is God my shepherd?”
Maybe you know lots of doctrine: You know that God is likened to a Shepherd, and you could explain and understand all the theological ramifications of that; by know what it means that God is a shepherd; But, you still need to ask, “is God my shepherd?”
Maybe you’ve experienced tough times in life: And you turn to God in when times get tough because you want out of that, but when life is easy you ignore and neglect and forget him – because maybe God is your lifeguard, but you still need to ask, “is God my shepherd?”
Even for people in ministry: It’s possible to be in love with the mission of Jesus, but not be in love with Jesus; it’s possible to point others to the shepherd when you yourself haven’t come to the shepherd yet. And you still need to ask, “is God my shepherd?”
Story of recitation of Psalm 23: Great oratory skill; thunderous applause; But then an old priest came up after and read the Psalm very simply; from his heart. And afterwards, no applause, only silent tears from those who heard.
And, when the first person was asked why the different responses: “I knew the Psalm; He knew the Shepherd.”
This second reader, had experienced the green pastures, the quiet waters, and the dark valleys, and knew what it meant to know God as his shepherd through those times.
Knowing the Shepherd, not just knowing about him, knowing him personally; having tasted of the green pastures he leads you to; having drunk of the quiet waters he provides; having been led along the paths of righteousness, having experienced his being with you through the dark valleys of life; knowing the shepherd, changes a life – no matter what’s going on in that life – it gives what you what you need and so enables you to respond to whatever is going on in life in a way that is different from a life that doesn’t know the shepherd.
Because, if God isn’t your shepherd, then, you aren’t his sheep; and so all the benefits of this shepherd aren’t yours. And they can’t become yours until you come to him, and give him your life – make him your all – look to him for everything and find everything in him; until you call him “my” shepherd;
Many people want the benefits of the Shepherd, without actually knowing, and without actually following, without actually giving themselves to, the Shepherd – but you can’t – you can’t separate the benefits of the Shepherd from the Shepherd himself, because the primary benefit is him.
v1 – “I lack nothing” – and the reason he lacks nothing, is because God is his shepherd.
not because of what God gives me; but because we have God – The Lord is my Shepherd – and because of that, I shall not want.
He gives us many good gifts, but those who are his sheep know his is the author and giver of those, and that knowing him is the greatest of any gift.
What the Shepherd gives, and what that results in:
Provision (results in contentment); Guidance (results in trust)
Provision, which results in contentment: v2
God cares for his sheep, and he gives them what they need.
The imagery here, is certainly God’s abundant provision –
v5 – metaphor changes from shepherd to host – a table of feasting, anointing oil, overflowing cup
God’s abundant blessings in his life. God’s overflowing goodness to him.
And – this is a Psalm of David – and at times in David’s life, David knew lack and want; but he knew that God would give him what he needed, and that even in his lack, his cup was overflowing because he knew God – he was a child of God – he was beloved by God.
He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want or all that we want.
And so, certainly this provision of God would include material needs – that he as our Shepherd feeds us with actual food, just as in the Lord’s Prayer our Heavenly Father provides us with our daily bread –
Such that we can be content with what he has given us – but that we don’t allow his provision of material things to get in the way of our commitment to him.
“There is nothin into which we more easily fall, than into a forgetfulness of God, when we are in the enjoyment of peace and comfort and abundance…But David, mindful of God, recognizes that these benefits are what God has given to him, and so makes them ladders by which he may ascend nearer to God.”
And, so the result is contentment when God has provided for what we need, even if we don’t have all we would want.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 “But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
But Godliness with contentment is great gain.
But, because of the context I think that it primarily is thinking of spiritual needs:
Because, these things serve to restore his soul.
That, just as man does not live by bread alone, but from every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD – So the green pastures and quiet waters aren’t only material things –
but, it is what our souls need for refreshment, and strength, and renewal.
Food for the soul; the bread and water of life –
The truth of God which sustains us through life, the word of God which is our spiritual food.
Without which, we starve!
Through which, God nourishes us, strengthens us, grows us.
Is that your attitude towards God’s word? That without it, you starve? Without it your thirst is parched, you’re sapped of strength, you’re utterly dried up?
God the shepherd leads his sheep to lie down in these green pastures – because while in the ancient near east green pastures would be seasonal, and so the sheep would have to keep moving on form place to place, with God the Shepherd leads his sheep to a place of abundance where there is perpetual and abiding lushness – so that the Sheep don’t have to keep searching but can stay and lie down and find rest for their weary souls.
And, certainly God has provided us with abundant spiritual food through his word – which most of us have at least 12 copies of in each of our homes; but have we learned to lie down and feast upon it? Or, do we seek and search for sustenance elsewhere – in what in the end, is only barren wasteland which can neither satisfy for sustain us? Which leaves us hungry, empty; which at best is a mirage the desert that looks like an oasis but when you dive in it’s only a mouthful of sand.
Do you feel spiritual hunger in your life? Do you have a spiritual thirst in your life? Desires deep within you that aren’t fulfilled by the things of this world?
Let me answer that for you: You do! Your perception of it may be stronger or weaker, but it is there. And the longer you live, the more undeniable it is – that as you go through life trying to fill that hunger, and the best you can do is distract yourself from it – but Jesus fills that hunger – God leads you to his green pastures to feed and fill yourself – his truth – his word – and in that word we find Jesus the lover of our souls whose amazing love and grace fills us to overflowing cups. Past capacity.
In him we see (Ephesians 3) how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – his love that surpasses knowledge – his love that fills us up to the measure of all the fullness of God – and only a love like that can satisfy your spiritual hunger and thirst, and give rest and refreshment to our weary souls.
No person can love you like that. Nothing that this world has to offer can fill you like that.
And, so nothing can give you the contentment that God’s truth and love can give.
Contentment that enables us to lie down, and not keep searching – not be driven by the fear of missing out on something – because we know that if we have God in our lives we can’t miss out on anything because nothing this world has to offer compares to him; or not be motivated by believing the grass is greener just on the other side of the fence, so that we never sit and rest, but keep looking to the next thing to fill us up and satisfy, but once we get to that next thing it lets us down and so we think – oh, wait, it’s that next thing, right there on the other side of that fence; but that is no different.
Spurgeon: “I may not possess all that I wish for, but I shall not want. I have all things and more; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
Provision (results in contentment)
Guidance (results in trust, rather than fear) – vv 3&4
He leads me down the right path –
Sheep left to themselves, left on their own, wander; go astray; get lost; vulnerable; don’t find a meal they become a meal.
But God as our shepherd doesn’t let us simply wander through life; he doesn’t leave it up to us to find our own way – which, would be leave us to be lost – he shows us the right path to take; he leads us onto that path; and he walks that path with us.
Not a guide who gives us a map and sends us on our way; but a guide who is with us every step of the way…. doesn’t just wish us luck and hope we make it, but walks with us whether it’s on the path or in the valley – he keeps us from straying; he keeps us from despairing; he is with us every step of the way until we reach our final destination.
Right paths – or paths of righteousness – straight paths, as contrasted frequently in the wisdom literature with crooked paths.
Straight paths are the paths of God that are right & righteous & good; Crooked paths are the paths that are evil & unrighteous.
Right paths lead to life; Crooked paths lead to death.
But, certainly, God’s right paths sometimes appear wrong to us. Sometimes, God’s right paths – his straight paths – seem to us to be crooked – they seem to us to go dangerously out of the way or they seem to us to go the wrong way altogether.
And, so, it looks like the wrong way, and we think, we think we’ve made a wrong turn, and we depart from the path. Or, it looks to go out of the way, and we think, we ought to take a short cut.
But, how often does it work to try to take a short-cut and depart from the tried and true path – especially when God is the one guiding us along that path?
I remember in college I went camping with some friends, and me and another friend had gone to get some firewood or something, and you know since firewood is heavy and the path we were on seemed to wind around way out of the way, we thought, let’s take a short-cut; but we overshot it, and we got lost, and we ended having to walk further; getting more worn out; than if we would have stuck to the right path.
And, we weren’t lost for very long, but it was a relief, when we found our way back to the path that we had previously departed from.
CS Lewis – “the reason the psalmists delight so deeply in God’s laws and in God’s ways, is the same reason that a pedestrian delights in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields.”
God is the one guiding us, and so we can trust that he is taking us along the right way.
Even, when that path on which God is leading us, leads us right into a deep, dark, shadowy valley.
“The dark valley is as truly one of His right paths as are the green pastures – a fact which gives much comfort in every ordeal.”
Too many people think of the Christian life too exclusively in terms of mountain-top experiences. Too much so-called Christian preaching promises a Christian life primarily characterized by promised-land mountain tops in this life;
And it is true that there are those legitimate, God-given, blue-skies and sunny mountain-top experiences to be had in the Christian life.
But, just as much if not more-so, this life, as we wait for our deliverance into the eternal rest of God, the true promised land, the eternal green pastures and quite waters – this life is characterized by dark valleys. The darkest of valleys. Experiences, hardships, difficulties, struggles, sufferings, that on our own would not be bearable.
But, the wonderfully good news of this Psalm, is that in those darkest of valleys, we are not alone, but God is with us. Every step of the way. He is guiding, protecting, and mores simply giving us the comfort and warmth of his presence.
And so he is not afraid – not because he doesn’t face evil; but because he doesn’t fear it.
He doesn’t say that there will not be any evil in his life or experience. The absence of evil isn’t the reason for his hope – but the presence of God with him in the midst of the evil is the reason for his hope.
When we are in the valley, it does not necessarily mean that we took a wrong turn; when we are in the valley, it certainly does not mean that God has left us.
But, what this psalm assures us of – what it promises – what it guarantees – is that God is with us, still leading and guiding us, through the dark valley.
Change from “He” to “You” happens when he changes from green pastures to dark valleys. “as if, remembering the trials he had to endure, he wanted to cling to God even more strongly.”
And, he knows that he is not just walking in the valley, but that he is walking through the valley – he knows that there is another side; that there is light.
“When there is a shadow, there must be light somewhere.” And so the Psalmist believes that darkness has not consumed or defeated him, but is only a passing shadow.
And, until the shadow passes, his shepherd is with him.
Walks with us every step of the way. Knows exactly what we are going through; understands our temptations and cries of suffering because when he walked this earth, he didn’t spare himself from temptation or cries of suffering but became well acquainted with grief and so is able to sympathize with us, and give us just what we need to endure, and persevere in our faith and cling to him – as he holds on to us – with his grip such that he will never let us go, we will never slip through his fingers, and nothing can pry open his hand to pull us away from our Shepherd.
And, even in that danger, the response of the psalmist is “I fear no evil” – the result is trust, and peace, in the midst of walking through the darkest valley, rather than fear and anxiety.
walk – not panic & run; not stop dead in tracks, but walk in peace and confidence because he is with us.
Because God being with us, is an incomparable comfort.
But, we need to trust. We need to entrust our lives to God, and we need to believe that God is good. That is what the Psalmist is most convinced of – v6 – that the goodness and love of God follow him all the days of his life.
However long or short that is; he knows that God’s love and goodness is with him, and that even death doesn’t separate us from God’s goodness and love.
this Psalm, like so many of the psalms and so many of the promises of God – must look beyond this life to find their ultimate fulfillment.
Because, at some point, for all of us, that darkest valley – that valley of the shadow of death – will be death itself – the darkest of valleys.
And, so, the promise of protection in this life can’t be ultimate – because we all – even God’s sheep – see the harm of death in this life, whether timely or untimely, whether relatively peacefully or through calamity – what this Psalm ultimately promises is that nothing can bring us ultimate harm – because even that darkest valley of death will not separate us from the love of God – and that even in that darkest valley of death – God’s guiding and protecting hand is over us, and he is using that evil, to bring us home.
No Christian lives in this world untouched by evil; but, every Christian, because they know that God is their Shepherd, can trust God through every evil – knowing that he uses it for our good – either for our good in this life, or to bring us into eternal good, in the next life.
And, so, we don’t need to fear because we can entrust our lives to his sovereign, powerful, good, and loving hand.
If God is your shepherd and you walk closely with him, what wolf can harm you? What danger can rip you away from him? None!
If God is with you – or if God is for us, who can be against us? Rom 8 – “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Nothing. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
3 positions of shepherd throughout psalms – leading from the front; walking alongside; guiding from behind.
whether he leads us from the front, calling us by name such that we follow; whether we walks alongside of us to give us the comfort of his presence so that we don’t despair; or whether he walks behind us and gently nudges us with his staff back to the right path such that we don’t stray; we know that he is guiding us in love, for our good.
And, it’s no coincidence that Jesus calls himself the good shepherd – who shows us the full extent of his love by laying down his life for his sheep.
When he sees the crowds, he sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless – and he has compassion on them – he wants them to find their shepherd. So he goes to them, to peach the gospel – the good news that God is a shepherd to any and all who see their need of him – who realize that on their own they are but a lost wandering hungry – as-good-as-dead sheep; but the shepherd wants to gather you into his flock.
And when he gathers us, he withholds no good thing. He is the good shepherd who died to make sure we would always be his own – who saw the danger we were in, and unlike the hired hand who has no love or care for the sheep – it’s just a job for him and the danger isn’t worth what he’s getting paid so he leaves the sheep and runs – but the shepherd doesn’t run because he loves the sheep. And, he faces the danger to spare them from it; he lays down his life, so that they can have life; he faces death so that death can be merely a passing shadow for them.