Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd

Opening Prayer: Father, the cares of this life have made me anxious and fearful. Help me to understand why I should never doubt You or Your loving care for me.

This the first of a two-lesson series. This time we'll study Psalm 23 -- a Psalm that's quoted often but seldom properly taught. The next lesson will study the context -- Psalms 22 and 24, and draw some parallels that may surprise you.

As we study, remember our purpose in this series on Devotions: to learn more about the Lord we serve, and to gain insight into how to love and serve Him.

There are three keynote verses from the Psalms that set the tone for our lessons on Devotions.

The first is Psalm 105 verse 4:

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore.

Psalm 27 verse 8 gives David's reaction to this command:

Thy face, O Lord, I will seek.

Likewise verse 4 of Psalm 27 speaks of David's heart for the Lord:

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple.

So how would a parent describe David's feelings toward God?

If one of my daughters wanted to hang around somebody's house, watching the his face, asking questions and hanging on his every word, I'd call it LOVE. So this mighty king, this great warrior who established Israel as the most powerful nation on earth in its day, this man David was completely sold out and in love with his God.

How is that different from how I should respond to God?

If we're doing it right, it shouldn't be any different. We have abundant Scriptural evidence that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is still alive, still loves us and still seeks fellowship with us. Any person wanting to be a child of God SHOULD seek the Lord's face in his or her prayers and devotions.

But is this kind of emotional reaction necessary or even appropriate?

As we learned in Lessons Three and Four in the Basics series, our salvation does not depend on our works; it depends on the finished work of the Messiah. We don't need this kind of devotion in order to spend eternity with God. But must we wait until we die before we experience the joy of being in His presence? Scripture says God is willing to make Himself accessible to me every day, but am I willing to make an effort to seek that experience?

In this lesson, we'll study the nature of this Lord that we follow. Maybe we can learn more about who He is, and what He does, and how we can draw closer to Him.

Let's read verse 1 of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

How is the Lord described?

David says the Lord is his shepherd. As a former shepherd, David remembers how he cared for the sheep entrusted to him. David made sure the sheep had sufficient food and water, and David risked his life to protect the sheep from enemies.

Wait a minute. If the Lord God is my shepherd, what does that imply about me?

That I'm a sheep, or at least I act like I need the help of somebody stronger and smarter than myself.

Have you spent any time observing sheep first-hand? Are they intelligent? Well-mannered? Easily trained? Talented? Assertive? Self-confident? Self-sufficient? Disciplined? How would you describe sheep?

Many years ago, I took my daughters to a petting zoo which had sheep, among other animals. Zoo visitors could buy food and feed the sheep, so they ended up overfed. Actually overfed is being polite: those sheep looked like they'd swallowed a blimp crossways.

When I worked on a cattle ranch, we'd often see the big herds of sheep. The shepherds always had to keep them moving or they'd graze the ground absolutely bare. They were really rough on the ecology. Their senses of direction and stability weren't great either. The shepherds would get the herd moving east, and little groups of two and three would go wandering off the trail to look for a snack or a little romance.

So it isn't flattering, but God says we're His sheep in Psalm 79, verse 13:

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Furthermore, we are to show forth praise to all generations.

Then look at the very next Psalm, the very first verse, Psalm 80 verse 1:

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims shine forth.

I've got another question for you. Did you grow up planning to make a career out of raising sheep? Is that one of the glamor occupations? Is being a shepherd something that you'd put on your resume when you were looking for a job? But these writers are carrying on like being a shepherd was something God wants to be identified with. But does God really want to be called a shepherd?

Turn back to Psalm 23. If you have a Bible handy, see if you have margin notes on verse 1 that explain the literal meaning of The Lord is my Shepherd. The Hebrew says "YWVH Ro'i" -- literally "The Lord, my Shepherd." This, then, is one of the revealed names of God. God choses to be called YWVH Ro'i. He chooses to be identified as our Shepherd. My Shepherd. Your Shepherd. So if your Bible doesn't say YWVH Ro'i in the margin, go ahead and mark it in now.

Let's look at the first verse again:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
The second part of that verse should be translated, "I shall not have needs." Actually, you're wants aren't even discussed here, except in the translators' choice of words. The whole point is that taking care of our needs is God's responsibility. That's His job. He's volunteering for it. He's good at it. We need to let God do His job without needless harassment.

Now let's read verse 2:

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.

Do any of you have any margin notes for the first half of that verse? The phrase green pastures literally means tender grass. In other words, He feeds me today what I can need today. Note that it's a field, and not a big storage barn filled with hay. He promises the green field -- today's needs -- rather than a big savings account or a mansion in Bel Air.

Let's look again at the second half of verse 2:

He leads me beside the still waters.

Does your Bible have any margin notes on this one? Some alternate translations say that He leads me beside the waters of quietness, or the waters of rest.

Is anyone here ready for a rest? What is another Scriptural term for a time of rest?

God gave us Sabbaths (plural) throughout Scripture. In fact, He built rest cycles into the universe. We have day and night, waking period and resting period every day. And God gave us a 7-day week with the Sabbath day for rest. WE need a rest day, even though some of us frustrate the grace of God by doing all of our household chores on Saturday and loading up our Sundays with Church activities.

What is the Sabbath rest for a Christian?

No, it isn't Sunday. And it isn't Saturday. Nor is it the Friday night to Saturday night period. Our Messiah Jesus is our Sabbath, because He gives us spiritual rest. He came to be our sacrificial Passover Lamb and paid the price for our deliverance from our personal Egypt, and put to rest our futile attempts to earn heaven by religious works. We still need physical rest, but that's a separate problem. So He leads me by the waters of rest. He leads me by the waters of Jesus.

Let's read verse 3.

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

So the Lord restores my soul. What kind of objects do we restore and why do we need to restore them?

We restore furniture, houses and cars because they get battered and bruised. This verse says our souls need restoring, because they get battered and bruised too.

But if we've become new creatures in the Messiah (see Lessons Three and Four), why is this important?

Unfortunately, we don't instantly become eternal supermen with inexhaustable powers after receiving the free gift of new life. We're saved, we're His sheep, we're already in the fold. Despite the hype of some TV preachers, believers in the Messiah can get battered and bruised.

The second part of the verse says that the Lord leads me. Our Good Shepherd leads us, and that word literally means to DRIVE us. God drives me along. How does a shepherd drive his sheep from place to place? Does he load them in a van with air conditioning? Actually He pushes and prods me along, sometimes with more gentleness than at other times. Not only do I need guidance, but sometimes I need to be pushed and prodded.

But where does he push and prod me to?

..He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.

Do you have margin notes for "paths of righteousness?" It actually says tracks.

What's the big deal? Is there a difference between a path and a track?

Think about it. A path is a general way, and maybe nobody has ever been able to make it along that path. By contrast, if you can see tracks, you know that other people have been down that same path ahead of you.

The Messiah Jesus of course marked the path for us to follow, and all the saints since His day have been leaving tracks. Some of your dearest friends are fellow sheep who are leaving tracks for you to follow, if you choose to. We are blessed to have other saints to see, hear, and be taught by.

So He leads us--but why? To make us look good?

No--for His name's sake.

Read verse 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.

What does it mean, 'valley of the shadow of death?' Is the writer talking about his own experience of dying here?

No. This is the threat of death. He's talking about fear -- the type of fear when we are threatened by death, by physical violence, by emotional or spiritual distress, by financial uncertainty. We face this valley anytime we're not sure where we are or where we're going.

We will have to go through the Valleys, but we won't have to stay there. Evil may be there. Evil may threaten us and may even get in a few good licks. But I don't have to worry. Because the Lord is there. And whose side is He on? My side. And yours. God is there for me. And for you.

The last part of the verse says:

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Does the Lord comfort us with gentle words and a soft touch? Sometimes. But not necessarily. The Shepherd uses His staff to poke and prod the sheep, and maybe pull them up from ledges where they've gotten trapped.

So here we are in this valley of the shadow of death. Evil is all around us. So how do we know God is with us? By all the poking and prodding and thumping we feel as we stray from the path.

Now here's a question for some of you spiritual veterans--can you remember the last time you were in a difficult spot--some type of personal Valley--and you fell on your face before the Lord in prayer. Do you remember that process of being broken before the Lord, and crying your guts out, and then having the Lord show you some kind of answer? Later, maybe you could see that God used the crisis or problem to give you some type of guidance. And maybe you might have missed an important turn somewhere if God hadn't allowed you --or even pushed you--into such a Valley that you really sought His face in prayer.

The point is the Lord is my Shepherd. I ain't scared of the Valley because the Lord is with me, whacking me in the ribs and prodding me in the wallet.

Before we read verses 5 & 6, let's take a deeper look at this -- our Shepherd. Let's read Isaiah 40 verses 10-11:

Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.
The prophet describes the Lord coming as a shepherd. Now let's see how Jesus describes Himself. Turn to the Gospel of John, Chapter 10, verses 1-5:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.

"The sheep hear his voice..." That's still true today. Two shepherds get together to talk for awhile, and the sheep get intermingled. But when it's time to go, each shepherd can call out and the sheep will quickly start following their own shepherd.

Now read verses 7-10 of John Chapter 10:

Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

The last part of verse 10 says, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. Here again we see that the Lord is my shepherd; I have no needs, because He provides so abundantly.

At this point, let's look again at our last two verses in Psalm 23:

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 forever.

Notice verse 6: What will follow me in this life and for how long?

Goodness and mercy shall follow me around. Part-time? No. ALL the days of my life.

And what is my portion in the life to come?

I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

All my life, I can trust my Shepherd to provide His goodness and His mercy. And in the life to come I will live with Him in His house. Forever.

But what is this table prepared in verse 5?

Turn to the book of Revelation, chapter 19 verses 5-9:

And a voice came forth from the throne, saying, Give praise to our God, all ye his servants, ye that fear him, the small and the great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright [and] pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God.

This table is called the Marriage supper of the Lamb. And who's invited and in what capacity?

You and I are invited, to be the bride of the Messiah, the Lamb of Israel.

Does an honest man ask a woman to marry him if he doesn't really care about her? Would Jesus ask you to be His bride if He didn't love you a whole lot?

Let me encourage you to seek the face of the Lord, your Shepherd, tonight in your devotions. And tell Him how much you love Him.

Closing Prayer: Father, Your love for me is difficult to understand, since You know all my weaknesses. Comfort me with Your rod and staff, and lead me in the tracks of righteousness for Your name's sake. Amen.

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