God in the Psalms No.38 – God who is a shepherd
Psa 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
To approach this most familiar of psalms, let’s see if we can view it slightly differently from usual, in an endeavour to catch something new from it. Suppose you were a sheep and you’d never read this psalm – well sheep can’t read can they! As a sheep you know little of existence. There are sheep enclosures where you are put at night and there are fields where you wander during the day. That is your world – and no more. In the morning you are turned out of the fold. You wondered why you had to be in a fold. Without thinking you start nibbling at the grass. As one patch of grass is shortened you are moved on to another fresh patch. You are taken to the river shallows where you drink. This happens day in, day out, and all the while in the background of your consciousness is this figure who is there. You’re not sure why he’s there, he just is, and he’s the one who lets you out in the morning and shuts you in at night and moves you on during the daytime. He’s just there, whoever he is, this being.
I suspect that is how many people feel about life. It just happens and we take it for granted. We seem to have what we need – and lots more sometimes – and life goes on, and there in the background we’re conscious of some ‘being’ who is there – God.
David is very much aware. He is aware of what the shepherd does – because he is or has been, a shepherd. He also knows who God is and what He does, and as he thinks about it, he realises that God is very much like a shepherd. He’s there in the background of the sheep but He’s not just there, He’s doing things and He’s doing them for the sheep. He spells out some of the things he’s come to realise that the shepherd does. “He makes me lie down… he leads me…. he restores” (v.2,3). Yes, the way The Shepherd looks after him, He looks after his welfare and quietens him and restores him when he feels worn and jaded. “He guides me in paths of righteousness” (v.3). He helps keep David on track. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v.4). He reassures David by His presence with him. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v.5). David didn’t have to worry about his enemies because God was blessing him. “You anoint my head with oil” (v.5). David was aware of the Lord re-equipping him and resending him (anointing was a sign of being set apart for a task).
In each of these ways David was aware of The Shepherd looking after him: quietening, restoring him, keeping him on the right track, reassuring him by His presence, blessing him and resending him. So how about us? Have we taken for granted the figure in the background or have we realised that He is there ministering to us? Have you responded to Him and let Him lead you into a place of peace and quiet (even in the midst of busyness) where He stills you and restores your soul? Have you known His reassuring presence? Have you had a sense of His gentle voice calling you back to the right track when you’ve gone to wander away? Have you had that sense of being equipped to be sent, of going into life with a clear sense of purpose, going at the bidding of the Shepherd?
Do you see the point of what we have been saying? It is so easy just to have a vague awareness of this person in the background of our lives, but not realise what He’s doing. He IS you shepherd and He’s there guiding and directing, protecting and providing, caring and concerned – all for you!