Psalm 23 Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Today, we are going to look at one of the most comforting, and definitely one of the most well-known psalms in the Bible-the 23rd Psalm. It was written by David, who presents us with the scenes of pastoral life, which he was familiar with since he wandered the hills and valleys of Israel as a young shepherd boy. In it, he describes God’s providential care in providing refreshment, guidance, protection, and abundance, and in so doing provides grounds for confidence in His everlasting kindness.
David is someone whom most of us can relate to very well. He knew what it was like to be a lowly peasant because he served as a shepherd for his father’s sheep. He knew what it was like to be on top of the social ladder because he became king of millions of Israelites. He knew what sin was all about-having committed murder and adultery. He was a brilliant fighter and an excellent musician as well. Maybe that’s why most of us know the story of David so well; we can relate to him in some way. He was a man with a vast amount of experience, but the best thing that can be said about him, was said by God, Himself-He called David a man after my own heart. David wrote this psalm, but he wrote it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at the first two verses.
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. (v. 1 and 2)
What a peaceful picture! David, the shepherd of the sheep said that God was his shepherd. If you had your Bible, you would see that LORD is spelled in capital letters. This stands for the ever constant God-the one who had consistently been there for the Israelites-mercifully saved them from slavery to the Egyptians-led them for forty years through the wilderness-and brought them to the Promised Land. Jesus identified Himself to be that shepherd. David knew that this LORD was his shepherd. He is also the shepherd of Israel, the shepherd of the whole church in general, and the shepherd of every individual believer. He is my shepherd and I hope He is yours too. We couldn’t ask for a better shepherd. And when David says that the Lord is his shepherd, what a comforting thought that is. Our Lord is a living and personal God-one who caries us in His arms-searches for us when we are lost-and takes a personal interest in us.
How does this shepherd provide for us? He lets us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside quiet waters. For a natural sheep, nothing can be better than when his shepherd feeds him in pleasant green pastures, and near fresh water. When that happens to it, it feels like nothing on earth is blessed more than it is. Notice what the shepherd allows us to do. We do not just graze on green pastures, but we lie down in them. The picture that I get is of a dog that lies down in the grass and rolls in it. It is a picture of complete rest and relaxation.
What are these green pastures symbols of? It can be nothing else than the Word of God. As 1 Peter 2:2-3 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Hearing the Word of God is like eating a great dinner. The first time it gets between your teeth, your mouth waters, and you want more. You can’t wait to chew it, swallow it, and get some more. And after you eat that first meal, you plan to eat it again and again.
Is that the way you look at the Word of God? As something, you can rest easy in? Something that gives you comfort?
Unfortunately, this is not the case with many. Why? Because Christ is not their shepherd. They are led by a man, who leads them in the wrong direction. Their shepherd may even claim to be a man of God, but he doesn’t teach the truth of God’s word, so his leading is poor.
If Christ is a shepherd to us, we must be like sheep, inoffensive, meek and quiet; we must know the shepherd's voice and follow him. And when Christ is our shepherd, He leads us to springs of living water. We can hear Jesus tell us, that our thirst has been quenched. He says to us, “Your debt has been paid in full! You are righteous in God’s sight, because of my righteousness!” When we hear that, it brings rest to our souls. That’s what the Word of God is supposed to do. It is only in the Gospel of God-the good news that Jesus has paid for your sins, that you can find rest. When you hear that God has punished Christ in your place, you realize that you have a merciful God, who loves you very much.
David understood this. It was David himself, who was led to the desert of regret by Nathan, who told him-YOU ARE THE MAN who murdered and committed adultery. But it was also David, who starving to death for God’s forgiveness was assured by Nathan-the Lord has forgiven your sins. And so he wrote the 23 Psalm. Blessed is he whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ. For those of us who know the guilt of David, because we sin every day, we also appreciate hearing that our sins are forgiven, for those words are refreshing waters, and we want to lie in them for the rest of our lives.
The Great Shepherd takes care of His sheep and gives them all they need. If I don’t have everything I desire, I may conclude it is either not fit for me, or not good for me, or I shall have it in the future. I am His sheep, so I trust Him for all things; even the air I breathe. The blessings of God and the joys of the Holy Spirit are those still waters by which the people of God are led.
Now we come to the third and forth verses.
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.
You might get the impression from the first two verses that Christianity is the easiest religion there is; just laying around in tall grass and drinking cool water. But if you have been a Christian for a while, you know that this is not true. David makes that clear, as he shows where the shepherd leads his sheep. As they continue down the path of righteousness; they soon find out that this wonderfully refreshing stream leads through the valley of the shadow of death. But in the darkest and most trying hour, God is near. Those that are sick and those that are old, have no reason to look upon themselves as if they are in the valley of the shadow of death. Death is a word which sounds terrible; it is death that comes to all of us, and there is no way out of it, but for God’s people, it can be a fruitful and comfortable time; a gentle walk through the valley with the Lord Jesus. To some, death is the king of terrors, but not to the sheep of Christ; they tremble at it no more than sheep that are intended for the slaughter. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; none of these things move me. Death cannot be an evil thing for the child of God, and therefore it can do us no real harm; it kills the body, but cannot touch the soul. Why should we dread it, when there is nothing hurtful about it?
Jesus’ own life gives us a great illustration of this. When He was living on earth, He did not build Himself a nice palace and lay around with servants polishing His toe nails and feeding Him grapes and snickers bars. He went down to the valley of death. Every day of His public ministry, He faced false prophets-Pharisees, Sadducees; the religious leaders. There were many days that He went without a place to lay His head. All of this was on the way to His eternal destiny-the cross. Jesus had to go through this valley, so He could pay for the sins of the world.
Jesus says to His followers, if you want to follow me, pick up your cross and follow me. Go down to the valley of darkness with me. You must suffer ridicule. You must suffer pain. You must suffer heartache. What do you think about this? Many think, “If Jesus is such a loving and caring shepherd, wouldn’t He lead us through the valley of lilies and lollipops? Wouldn’t it be like the movie, The Sound of Music, where we would skip through flowering hills and sing happy songs?” Well, there is an easy pathway through life, and many take it. The Devil offered the easy path to Jesus, but He turned it down. He chose to go through the valley because that path led to the cross. There was a path that went around the valley and avoided the cross, but Jesus preferred the hard way, and I am glad He did because I needed a Savior. Satan tempts us, just like he did Jesus. He says you can reach heaven without suffering. There is a nice paved pathway over here, which goes around the valley of death. There’s no suffering or pain. He says to us, “why eat such an awful meal of sorrow when I can give you a snickers bar of happiness with that woman; an ice cream bar of joy with that job on Sunday morning? Why exercise your faith? Enjoy life; eat, drink, and be merry.” Do you remember what Jesus told him? “Get behind me Satan.