This Psalm, written by King David over 1000 years before the birth of Christ,
expressed his unshakable trust in God’s protection, care and promises. The Holy
Spirit breathed the words as David wrote his message of trust and hope in his
Good Shepherd. It is a timeless message of hope and promise intended for all
This beautiful, Messianic Psalm paints the imagery of God’s flock as sheep, being secure under the constant, loving care of the Good Shepherd. It’s personal. It is about the individual of the Shepherd’s flock. And it’s about the faithful, merciful and ever-loving God who will see him or her through all of life’s journeys and circumstances. It testifies to the believer’s certainty that God will ultimately take him home to eternal peace in heaven. It’s about simple faith that doesn’t look to itself for salvation, doesn’t wallow in doubt but that treasures God’s grace and looks onto Jesus Christ, the everlasting, ever present, ceaselessly watching and caring Good Shepherd. It’s about faith that is ultimately rewarded in heaven; a faith born by God’s grace.
David writes of the individual in the shepherd’s flock. It’s the bully that butts his way to feed on the best grasses. It’s timid one who may end its day still hungry. It’s the stubborn one that strays into danger, the horny and the pregnant, the young and vulnerable, the lame and wounded. It’s the old, aching and feeble. It’s the cast sheep, fallen over with feet straight up that the shepherd must stand upright and return it to the flock. It’s the easily frightened and the lost sheep and the desperate one caught in the bramble that is found by the shepherd. The shepherd knows each of them. He watches over the flock but always with an eye towards the individual in need. The sheep look to their shepherd. They know his voice and follow him. They will follow no other.
Doesn’t this describe much about me? Am I not that individual in God’s flock? Am I not the stubborn one who often resists the guiding rod and staff of the Good Shepherd? What thorny brambles of this world do I become entangled in before crying out for His protection? Have I truly chosen to follow Christ? Are my eyes on the magnificent, emerald green fields of eternity to which He is leading me? Do I thank Jesus for always being there meeting my needs and loving me despite my failings and doubts? Why do I turn to this blessed Psalm in times of stress or loneliness? Shouldn’t I desire it to be in my mouth every day?
Why would God’s Spirit have breathed such words into Scripture? It must be because we are in constant need of reminding that Christ the Good Shepherd is our only hope at the end of the day? The infinitely wise God has made every believer a promise that he may live in hope; that he belongs to the every watchful, Good Shepherd. And, His promise of this Psalm is brought into the eternal richness of its fullness when the believer finally goes home to Him.
These Scriptural words reside quietly in our heads, tucked away in our subconscious mind and resonate with fond familiarity, when recalled by the Christian. They are God’s sacred and purposeful promises; forever recorded in the Bible as unconditional love to the child of God.
This Psalm also touches the heart of the unbeliever. Why is it that the unbeliever will unthinkingly recite those famous words, particularly at a funeral? What compels him or her to join in the recitation of this Psalm? Are its familiar words written in his mind? Perhaps, it is because the Holy Spirit is knocking on his heart’s door at a time when he is conscious of his mortality. After all, the Spirit’s job is to point people to Christ! My wife would say, “It’s a God thing.”
God’s promise is expressed in simple, beautiful words that all can understand. God intended it that way. God is good.
v.1 “The Lord is my shepherd...” Only the true Christian can honestly speak this Biblical truth. This is a declaration of faith by the saved to the Savior; that is to say, “Christ is my All in All.” Christ owns me. He has paid the incomparable price for my soul. I cannot be taken from Him.
“…I shall not want.” I have no physical or spiritual need beyond Christ. Material things cannot compare to what I have in Him. I am important to Jesus. No earthly thing will distract me away from Him.
v.2 “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. The sheep look to their shepherd who leads them to a safe place to rest at the end of their day’s grazing. The choice grass is left for last…the cream of the crop tops off their meal. They know him and he knows them. Sheep will not lie down if they are hungry, unsettled or nervous, nor will they drink from flowing or turbulent waters. The shepherd seeks quiet pools of refreshment for his flock. He is calm, so they also are calm. Only then will they lie down, secure in his constant presence.
So too, I am called to rest content; to be nourished, restored in body and mind and spirit and bathed clean by God’s faithful word. Jesus, you call me to this restful place with you and ease the troubles of my day. There, you bathe me in your holy, purposeful word. My spirit is restored. You are near. I praise you Lord Jesus, because you care so deeply for your Creation.” The Father intends that I will be forever content in Christ.
v.3 “He guides me along right paths…” God has not called me for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. (John 17:17). God’s intention is to sanctify me entirely (1 Thess. 4:7, 5:23). His paths are not those of the world. When I stray and stumble, God is faithful to forgive, to cleanse me of sin and to guide me by the Spirit… for the glory of His name sake. He is preparing me for a better place in eternity. His word is my guiding light. His path is sure because He is perfect. He can never be less than a perfect or He cannot be God.
v.4 “I will fear no evil, for you are with me,…” David tells me that God is a personal, protective, unchanging and loving God. Although I may suffer in my circumstances, nothing can ever separate me from Christ. (Romans 8:38, 39) I take comfort knowing that God’s promises secure me for all eternity. This is His purposeful, blessed and unalterable work in me.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The sheep have learned not to fear the shepherds rod and staff. One corrects and protects and the other guides and retrieves the stray from danger. God’s guiding and correcting word is His rod and staff and the source of my contentment. I must respond to Christ’s loving and constant guidance. If I am to be truly secure and comforted, I should desire no less than the coverage of His grace. Why then, am I sometimes stubborn and slow to yield to Christ’s guiding and protective ways for me? If I am discontent, I will not lie down peacefully in His grace to be nourished. I must look past myself, my doubts and rest in His holy presence. God is calm and desires me to be calm and content. And, in my contentment I am eager to tell lost souls that the One True God of Love will be their Good shepherd.
The shepherd always looks to grow his flock. A newborn lamb that has lost its mother is an alien and will die without nourishment and mothering. It will be brought into the shepherd’s fold in a special way. The shepherd brings the newborn alien to a carefully selected, lambing ewe and introduces the alien lamb its foster mother to be fed. He stays with them and will persist in this introduction, using ancient, proven methods, until the alien lamb is accepted by its new mother. The alien may resist but with the shepherd’s patient remedies, ultimately it becomes adopted into the fold; not left to die, not alienated but made anew and accepted. This is the earnest work of the shepherd. He shepherd has grown his flock.
God calls those who, in their sin, confusion and disillusionment, will turn to seek Him. God provides a way back to Him. His Plan of Reconciliation (2 Cor 5: 17-19) is that merciful and loving grace which is poured out for the alienated. He desires that none are lost. Praise Christ the Redeemer who has fulfilled God’s plan of Reconciliation! From His Cross, the Lamb of God has drawn alienated men and women to Him. The lost and condemned soul that responds in faith is made a new Creation in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17) God gathers them into His flock and they are tended by the Lamb of God who has become the Good Shepherd. Jesus Christ is ever with us. Thank you Father for calling me to Christ. “His rod and His staff comfort me. “
Because I am comforted and secure in Christ, I am called to be a messenger of God’s Plan of Reconciliation. Sharing this beautiful Psalm 23 with the lost is a powerful way to introduce the sum result of accepting the Gospel message, so they might listen and turn to the Good Shepherd.
v.5 “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” God’s grace of salvation is granted me in Christ. Thus, the Father invites me to His table of abundant blessings every day. It is a feast of grace that is not to be hurried in consumption, not wasted. God’s grace is not lost in the confusion of my direst circumstances or doubts. My faith, however small is a God-given channel by which I receive His grace of salvation. My faith is the hand that takes the bread that is freely given. God’s grace, like the bread, is blind to my dirty and trembling hand that grasps for it. God’s grace and word, like the bread, nourishes me. I desire to feast upon God’s grace with a deep appreciation of its immeasurable cost on the Cross. Thank you my Jesus for bringing me to your table of sustaining grace. And I know that the greater feast of indescribable and eternal love awaits me in heaven.
“You anoint my head with oil….” Like an honored guest, I am anointed with blessings of grace for each of my days. Yes, and I am called by my generous God to bathe in those blessings. Precious oil was used to anoint the head of Christ the King before His Passion and death on the Cross. Such is the oil of blessings that is poured out as welcoming grace of my anointment. It is the spiritual oil of gladness that anoints me as an honored guest who sits at the Lord’s Table. It is that priceless, costly blessing of redemption in Christ by which I am able to come before the Father. God’s blessings meet my daily needs. His promise of heaven is my greatest luxury. As I try to comprehend this Biblical truth, I cry tears of joy, “Lord I am not worthy!” I belong to you, Father.
“My cup overflows.” The poor but grateful man eats the only scrap of bread, drinks from his unwashed cup of water and says, “All this, and I get Jesus too! Father, I am content.” Father, thank you for your immeasurable grace. I must carry my cup upright; spill none, waste none. I must allow it to overflow to my brother and sister and to those for whom society has no grace, so that they might drink it and be saved.
v.6 “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,…” These twin guardians of God’s attributes always have my back. Inherent in this blessing is God’s mercy and forgiveness for my many times of straying, ignoring Him, sinning and failing…but never falling from His loving, watchful grace. He picks me up like the cast sheep lying on its back and unable to right itself and loves me even more. For, He is my Shepherd.
“and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I will go to the place in heaven that God has prepared for me when He takes me home. The fullness and richness of His promises await me there. He will welcome me to sit among the angels and saints and awaken my senses to His infinite glory and majesty that is beyond human comprehension. His unfathomable and boundless love of His Creation; a love that paid the ultimate,redemptive price of my reconciliation to Him, will be fully unveiled. There, I will be one with the Father in Christ. My ability to praise Him will be unlimited and unquenchable. I will be with Jesus, the Great Shepherd. All this will be for His glory.
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9)