A FEAST OF GRACE - Page 2 (series: lessons on Psalms)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

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.

Sheep are frightened by turbulent water. And they don’t like stagnant water. They don’t want to drink where the hogs drink. All of this applies to the human family. We need rest in our day—not so much physical or mental rest, but rest for the soul. Remember what David said in Psalm 55:6: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” He wanted to get away from it all. But he found out that getting away from it all was not the answer to his problems. He had to learn to put his trust in the Lord, rest in Him, and wait patiently upon Him. The Lord Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

The word here translated “leadeth” means to lead gently. You cannot drive sheep. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow him, just as we listen to Christ in His Word and obey Him (John 10:3-5, 16, 27){14]. If a sheep goes astray, the shepherd leaves the flock in charge of his helpers and goes to find the lost animal (Matt. 9:36{15]).

The outstanding characteristic of a sheep is that it is stupid. When a sheep goes astray it does so for no reason, and once it has gone astray, it cannot find its own way back home. That is why the good shepherd had to leave the ninety and nine sheep in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost. But:

None of the ransomed ever knew
• How deep were the waters crossed?
• Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
• He found His sheep that was lost.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

He restoreth my soul

The third blessing that comes from the Lords leading is guidance in the right way (“paths of righteousness”). A good shepherd knows the right paths on which to bring his sheep home safely. Likewise, the Lord loses none of His sheep but guides them in the right way. He does so because of his reputation (“for His name’s sake”).

David tells us that God is the God of hospitality, the Father who sets before the returned prodigal a special fatted calf. Why does David think of himself in this light? Because of the expression, “He restoreth my soul,” which is really “He gives me back my life.” David knew what that was. David had sinned—he was that little lost sheep that had strayed from the fold, and his Shepherd had restored him. God longs to be hospitable, even to David’s enemies, if only they would also come home and share in the feast. In the New Testament God’s hospitality in eternity is pictured as our being invited to sit down at the Supper Table of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9{8]).

We smile at the youngster who panicked when reciting this psalm and came up with a novel version, “The Lord is my Shepherd: I should not worry.” But he was more right than wrong. He missed the exact words but caught the exact sense. If the Lord is our Shepherd, we need not worry.

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”

The word “paths” means well-worn paths, ruts. When sheep start to explore an exciting new path, it will lead them into trouble. “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:9). God cares for us because He loves us and wants us to glorify Him (“for His name’s sake”). The shepherd cares for the sheep because he loves them and wants to maintain his own good reputation as a faithful shepherd.

Paths must lead somewhere, and for sheep that somewhere is the fold, which for the sheep is home. They have been awakened in the morning; they have been led to the mountainside pastures, where necessity requires they be given rest for tired hooves and weary legs; and now it is evening and they must make their way back to the fold and reach there before nightfall.

Jesus leads, but we must follow. The Lord Jesus said to the religious rulers who were actually His enemies, “. . . I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:25-27).

There can be no true happiness apart from true holiness. Moreover, there can be no more walking the paths of righteousness in our own strength. So He puts His life in us. As Paul put it, “He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

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

This verse is the central verse of the psalm.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

The “valley of the shadow of death” represents any difficult experience of life that makes us afraid, and that includes death. Sheep lack good vision and are easily frightened in new circumstances, especially where it is dark; and the presence of the shepherd calms them. Toward evening time the sheep must be led through deep gorges, which are so characteristic of Canaan, which by early afternoon lay in deep, dark shadows where wild animals lurk and where danger to the sheep may be imminent. The safe way is not easy to discern; the right path is not clearly marked. But the Shepherd knows the “right paths” for the feet of his sheep and is prepared for any crisis. Thrust into His belt is His club, “a straight stick tipped with a heavy ball of bitumen, hard as a rock.” And in his hand is a staff for support or protection. His sheep are secure.

The fourth blessing from the Lord’s leading is protection. If one finds himself in a valley of deep darkness (“or shadow of death”), he need not “fear.” The Lord is “with” him and will protect him. “The valley of the shadow of death,” is what faces all people of every race and social standing.

Death is the supreme test of life. This is not just talking about the deathbed. Our human family lives in the shadow of death. When a person is born he starts down a great canyon, and that canyon is “the valley of the shadow of death.” You are in it constantly. As someone has said, the moment that gives you life begins to take it away from you. All of us are in death’s valley. The shadow of death is on us. But, all the while I walk through that valley, I will feel no evil. This is the encouraging comfort He gives. If one of our loved ones dies as a child of God, this is our courage and comfort.

Note that he is no longer talking about the Shepherd. He is talking to the Shepherd. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” We note that this is only the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of a dog cannot bite, the shadow of a sword cannot kill, and the shadow of death cannot harm the child of God.

Where we have a shadow we have two other things—a substance and a light. David has already talked about the valley of the substance of death in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That is what Jesus cried at Calvary. The very substance of death is to be forsaken by God. That is the essence of a lost eternity—to die, God-abandoned. That is what awaits those who die without the Shepherd.

Where there is a shadow, there must not only be a substance; there must also be light. It is the light shining on the substance that casts the shadow. This is what makes the difference between the death of a believer and the death of an unbeliever. The unbelievers go out into the dark. There is reserved for him “the blackness of darkness forever. “ It would be hard to imagine a greater horror than to be lost and alone in eternal darkness. The believer, however, goes out into the light.

The sting of death is sin—sin unconfessed and unforgiven. But Christ has robbed death of its sting for believers. He has put away our sin once for all. Now the worst thing that death can do to us is really the best thing that can happen to us. Thus we can sing:

O death, O grave, I do not fear your power;
The debt is paid.
On Jesus is that dark and dreadful hour
Our sins were laid.
--Margaret L. Carson

It is true that Christians may have a certain foreboding about the suffering that so often accompanied death. As one old saint was overheard to say, “I don’t mind the Lord taking down my tent, but I hope He takes it down gently.”

It is also true that we usually do not get dying grace until we need it. But the fact still remains that death has lost its terror for us because we know that dying means going to be with Christ—and this is far better. “To die is gain.”

I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;

David was comforted by the Lord’s presence and protection. Believers are never in situations the Lord is not aware of, for He never leaves or forsakes His people (Heb. 13:5{7]). He is “Immanuel. . . God with us” (Matt. 1:23). We can know that our Shepherd is with us at all times, and even at the time of death. And I WANT HIM WITH ME WHEN IT IS MY TIME TO DIE.

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