Meditations in David’s Psalms : 27 : The Shepherd – Psa 23
Psa 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing
The danger with meditating on this psalm is that it is so well known that we might become complacent with it. The sense of it is that it is written by a shepherd about The Shepherd. David starts off, “The I AM is my shepherd.” The name of the Lord as revealed to Moses is the name he refers to. The great eternal God, the One who is and was and always will be, is his God. But more than this, this One acts like a shepherd to David and David is one of His sheep. David, as a shepherd, knows about sheep and he knows that the shepherd cares for and provides for his sheep. David knows that with the Lord as his shepherd he lacks nothing. The Lord is first of all his Provider.
But the provision he speaks of is not what we might have thought: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” (v.2a) He provides David with gentle, quiet, refreshing rest. Note He’s not providing food in the usual sense but food for the soul – stillness, rest, freedom from activity; that’s what being made to lie in green pastures does for you.
But it’s even more than this, “he leads me beside quiet waters.” (v.2b). It is a second picture that suggests gentle, quiet, refreshing that is not merely of the body, for so David concludes, “ he refreshes my soul.” (v.3) For Dave, the Lord’s provision, that is so important, is a provision that refreshes not his body but his soul. How important this is in this day of haste and stress. How so many need this refreshing of soul. They cannot do it on their own, they need to come under the Lord’s direction and let Him bring them into that place of quiet, that place where solitude brings a refreshing. How so many of us struggle and strive with life, strive to achieve some importance, some stature, when all along the Lord wishes to restore us to what we were originally, His children untrammelled by the ways of the world and the stupidity of sin. Instead of struggling to get our own way, instead of trying to make something of ourselves, if only we would put ourselves in the hands of the great shepherd He would bring us into a place of stillness and quiet and refreshing that life in the world has denied us, a place where He is able to lead us to become the people He has on His heart, more wonderful than anything we might consider for ourselves.
Movement through life is at the heart of this psalm. Yes, it started with the Lord bringing him to a standstill, to stillness, for that is where spiritual life begins, when we come to the end of ourselves and place our reliance entirely upon Him. But then the Lord led him in quiet places and refreshed him. After we have come to the Lord that first time, we find life takes on a new feel. Striving and struggling have gone – He is in charge, He is now leading us and that is very refreshing.
But then we find that the way He is leading us, had a very right and good feel about it: “He guides me along the right paths.” (v.3a) Notice the repeat language: “He leads me… guides me…” It is all about the Lord showing the way. No longer is it us in control of our lives. And why does He do it? There may be many reasons but they are summed up, as we now know, because He is love (1 Jn 4:8) and He wants the best for us, but that is all in conformity with who He is and therefore all He does is to conform to who He is and how He is known in His world and so it is, “for his name’s sake.” (v.3b)
He thinks on further to his ongoing walk with the Lord: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley….” (v.4a). He thinks of some of the dark moments of life that he has experienced, seeing them as times of walking through a dark valley. They are scary BUT, “I will fear no evil.” (v.4b) What should be the human experience, isn’t. Why? “for you are with me.” (v.4c) In however long it is that he’s known the Lord, David has come to realise that security comes from knowing that the Lord is there with him.
This is a tremendous revelation for the new believer (and the old!) and it comes with a specific reason: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (v.4d) Now without trying to go deep here, the rod and the staff were the shepherds tools of his trade. They were what he used to beat off attacks of wild animals, and what he used to both lean on, but also to reach out and guide the sheep and even, sometimes, to rescue them. Put most simply, David the sheep knew that his Shepherd had the means to protect him, guide him and rescue him – and that was both comforting and bought a great sense of security.
So there it was, his walk with the Lord. It started off with the Lord bringing him to a standstill, then leading him into a way of quietness and refreshing, guiding him in right ways and in such a way that he had total security. He now reflects on the wonder of this, starting from this place of security where he doesn’t have to worry about the dark times of life or of enemies. Indeed, he reflects, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v.5a). What does that say? It says when enemies turn up, leave it to the Lord. Come and sit down with Him and enjoy His presence as you ‘eat’ together in great style. Yes, battles may have to be fought but before that, just focus on the Lord and on enjoying Him and either leave it up to Him to sort out or let Him show you how He wants you to sort it out.
But it gets even better than that: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (v.5b) i.e. the Lord blesses him and makes him look and feel good, and he’s left with a really good feeling and optimistic about the future: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (v.6) Is that the sense that you and I have as a result of our walk with the Lord? All I’m going to get in my life as I walk it with the Lord is goodness and love and a real sense that my future with the Lord is secure. Hallelujah!