A FEAST OF GRACE Part 1 of 4

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

May 16, 2014

Tom Lowe

Title: A FEAST OF GRACE

Psalm 23 (KJV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 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
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 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.


Introduction

This little psalm along with the Lord’s Prayer may be the most well-known passage in the Bible, and it is definitely the world’s favorite psalm, since it is the favorite of Jew, Eastern Orthodox, Western Protestant, and wistful agnostic alike. It is expressed in language that really spoke home to the country folk of that time. A long experience of trusting God lies behind these words. I am convinced that its message is timeless and that we will be blessed as we study it together.

David used the dual images of a humble shepherd and a gracious host. He reflects on the many benefits the Lord gave him even as he faced the dangers of life. His conclusion is that God’s persistent, loving protection is always with him.

Abel, the first Martyr, was a shepherd (Ge. 4:2) and so were the patriarchs of Israel. Moses spent 40 years caring for his father-in-law's sheep, and David, Israel’s greatest king, served his father as a shepherd.

In Psalm 22, David compared his enemies to animals that are clever and strong (22:12-16, 21{9]), but in this psalm, he pictured God’s people as lowly sheep. Why? So we could learn about the Shepherd and see how tenderly He cares for us. Sheep are defenseless animals that are prone to get lost, and they need almost constant care. You can’t drive sheep, as you do cattle; they must be led. The eastern shepherds know their sheep by name and can call them and they will come (John 10:1-5{10]).


Message

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

“The Lord” is Jehovah God, the covenant-making God of Israel. “Is my shepherd” means “is shepherding me.” Eastern shepherds guarded their sheep, led them, provided food and water for them, took care of them when they were weary, bruised, cut or sick, rescued them when they strayed, knew their names, assisted in delivering the lambs, and in every way simply loved them.

Ezekiel from the early years of the Chaldean exile had given the finest portrait of the Lord conceived as Shepherd of the people of Israel to be found in the Old Testament: “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick. . .” (Eze. 34:15-16). But our psalmist does not say that the Lord is Israel’s Shepherd, but the Lord is his Shepherd. For himself, as an individual, he claims the shepherding care of God.

The psalmist employed the figure of a shepherd to recall the blessings he enjoyed from the Lord (Also see Ps. 80:1{1]). The metaphor was a natural one for David, the shepherd-king. It was also a common metaphor in the ancient Near east, since many kings compared themselves to shepherds in their leadership capacity. In his prophecy of the coming Messiah, Isaiah incorporated the same imagery: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11). And in John 10:14{2], Jesus identified Himself as the expected “Good Shepherd.” He is also called the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20{3]) and “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4{4]). David’s needs were met because “The Lord was his Shepherd.”

Our Lord called believers “my sheep” because He died for them (1 Pet. 18:19{11]) and because the Father gave them to Him (John 17:12{12]). The emphasis in verses 1-3 is that Jesus is adequate for every need the sheep may have as they are in the pasture. Primarily, they need food (grass), water, rest, and a shepherd who knows where to lead them. When God’s people follow their Shepherd they have all they need and will not lack the necessities of life (37:25; Matt. 6:33{13]; Phil 4:19).

Travelers who have gone to Eastern lands have told us how various flocks may be sheltering in a common fold, and when a particular shepherd comes to the gate and calls to his sheep, a shivering movement can be seen here and there among the sheep; in little groups of two or three they turn toward the gate and edge their way through the other flocks. No sheep of another flock will move; but these know the voice of their shepherd. When the gate opens they go directly to their shepherd and crowd behind him and “follow whithersoever he goeth.” Only those who follow Him wherever He goes can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” And only they can say with confidence, “I shall not want.” Shepherds declare that they can recognize their sheep individually, just like we recognize each other’s faces. Certainly, the Good Shepherd knows His. Nevertheless, He is guarding His flock as a whole, and each sheep is safer if it stays with its comrades and if they move homeward together.

When he wrote, “I shall not want,” the writer was clearly referring to his material needs—food, drink, shelter, rest, etc. Notice that David does not say, “I have not wanted,” but “I shall not want.” “I shall not want” looks into the future and gives assurance to the child of God. The security of the believer rests upon the Shepherd. It is not possible for us to maintain that a Christ-led man is materially secure or more secure than a man who turns from Christian principles, though I believe he is. The Lord Himself is our security, and he provides everything we need, even the air we breathe. My friend, if I possessed the whole world and had not Christ, I would be more miserable than any man. Though I have little of the world’s goods, I have Jesus, therefore I am happy and content.

The tremendous lesson of this psalm is that God is love, God is loyal, and God will never let us go. It unfolds this loyal-love of God for us in three stages:
1. While we live our life here on earth, so long as we live it with Him, and allow Him to live it with us, then we experience the deep joy, satisfaction, and security that the sheep know in the presence of its good shepherd.
2. The second stage is this—life is not a bed of roses. We can be deeply and gratefully aware of God’s continuing presence with us in Days when all goes well. It is just because of that, however, David declares, we can be sure of Him when things do not go well, even when the light fades and we find ourselves in darkness. The phrase he uses is literally “Valley of Deep darkness.” So the idea is that God’s comfort and strength are with us in all kinds of darkness, in times of depression, serious illness, rejection by one’s friends, horror at discovering the disloyalty of one’s own heart, and so on, as well as the experience of death itself. David does not argue that this is so. He tells us that it is so.
3. Stage three is David’s recognition of the eternal security he has in God. He will never let go of His children and no one can snatch them out of his hand. I can’t even imagine anybody (even Satan) strong enough to open God’s clenched fist. Therefore I know “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

By the authority of His redemptive work, His death and resurrection, you can trust Him and call Him your Shepherd. It is true that the Good Shepherd died for all, but only those who actually receive Him by a definite act of faith are His sheep. His saving work is sufficient for all, but it is effective only for those who actually believe in Him. Everything, therefore, hinges on the personal pronoun my. Unless He is my Shepherd, then the rest of the psalm does not belong to me. On the other hand, if He is really mine and I am really His, then I have everything in Him.


2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
The first blessing David experienced was spiritual nourishment. Just as a shepherd leads sheep to fresh grass, so does the Lord lead His people. One who follows the Lord does not lack any spiritual nourishment. Under-shepherds are expected to feed the flock (John 21:15-17{5]) as well. The Word of God is food for the soul (Heb. 5:12-14{6a]; 1 Pet. 2:2{6b]).

People who know sheep tell us that a hungry sheep will not lie down. When sheep are lying down in green pastures, it means they have their tummies full. And Christ is our sufficiency. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

The key word in this clause is “maketh;” is that what weariness is for, and even illness? In our modern life we seem to lose the power to relax; so God mercifully compels us, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” But rest is not an end in itself. “He restoreth my soul (v. 3).” Rest is a means to an end. The restored soul is expected to renew the pilgrimage.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.

Another blessing that comes from the Lord’s leadership is spiritual restoration. Just as a Sheppard leads his sheep to calm waters for rest and cleansing, and where energies are restored for continuing the journey, so the Lord restores (v. 3) and refreshes the soul. Here the spiritual lesson is clear. The Lord provides forgiveness and peace for those who follow him.

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