The Sustenance of God: Psalm 23
It has been supposed that David wrote this Psalm while king, but with a vivid recollection of his time as a shepherd because that is how he opens this short Psalm up. “The Lord is my shepherd” is a fitting analogy, don’t you think? Even today, in this crazy, backward, political-leaning, mixed-up world that we live in.
It’s not the only time this reference was made:
The words of the wise are as goad, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.Ecclesiastes 12:11
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.Isaiah 40:11
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.John 10:11
What Does a Shepherd Do?
For most of my life, especially as a child, I imagined a shepherd as being one who walked around leisurely through a gorgeous, lush, green prairie with a staff in his hand, gently leading wayward sheep back to their group. It’s quite serene, this picture in my head.
But I remember reading a story not long ago – and you’ll have to forgive me that I don’t know where I read it or how to find it. But it was an analogy of a whole other sort. It was a story about what happens at night when the shepherd doesn’t want the sheep to wander off or predators to slip in and pick them off.
The story said that the shepherd would gather briar limbs and weave them together, almost into a circle, large enough for all the sheep to comfortably fit inside.
The briars were so that, while the shepherd was sleeping, if the sheep tried to push through, they would be pricked and inclined to not push any harder. But the story about the door is what REALLY made me stop and think.
Instead of fashioning a door out of the briars, or some other material, the shepherd himself would leave a space just large enough for himself, which is where he would lie down to sleep!
If sheep tried to get over him, it would wake him and he could gently put them back. If a predator tried to get IN, it would also wake him, and he could deal with the situation.
The point of the story is that in order for something to try to get to the sheep, they had to GO THROUGH THE SHEPHERD!
Now, isn’t that just like Jesus? To set Himself between us and the enemy in so many cases? I love it, because it shows the love He has for us and the lengths He’s willing to go to in order to save us. We might not even know a predator is coming, because it will get to HIM first.
To me, that is just SO amazing!
The Lord is MY Shepherd
Unlike a wild animal, a sheep was a valued piece of property. We belong to the Lord, as a joint-heir with Christ Jesus through the flesh, and “in Name” through water baptism (much like a woman takes a man’s NAME in marriage, constituting a true union), and “in the Holy Ghost” through the Spirit.
And in this entire sentence, it could be that the sweetest word, as C.H. Spurgeon once spoke about, is “my”. It’s true that the Lord shepherds his entire flock, but even if there were no one else, He would shepherd ME. He would care for ME. He would watch over ME.
Glory to God!
I Shall Not Want
Everybody wants something. To be completely without want can only mean one thing, really, and two at best. One is that to have no want, we must know that all our needs are already supplied by Jesus. The second is to decide that there is nothing else we could possibly desire that would mean more than Jesus.
You see, to desire means that we are dissatisfied either with what we already have or what we think we want. To be content… to “not want”… THAT is where we understand who and what our Shepherd really is!
Still, in a state of satisfaction, we might still not know what’s best for us. The implication that the shepherd “makes us” lie down begs the idea that we might not know what’s best for ourselves. What we really need.
OH, what a Word this is to me! As a lifelong insomniac, I have many nights where, knowing I won’t be able to sleep, I simply work. All night long. On something. And it might be important, and it might not.
But GOD knows that even if I won’t sleep, “bedtime” is a time a rest. A time beside truly green pastures. Enjoying the breeze and the splendor of the water nearby, being content in knowing my needs are met by a Shepherd who has ALREADY given His Life for me!
Doesn’t that just make you want to weep?
Because when I can’t sleep… I can pray. I can rest my eyes, my mind, and my body. This is a great time for plans, and dreams, and meditation. A great time to just be still and quiet and allow the Lord to speak to ME, instead of the other way around.
My Shepherd Leads Me
Restoration paints a picture of rescuing the one that is lost. Bringing it back. Which speaks to repentance and conversion, or living in a backslidden state, and finding repentance again, and experiencing restoration to Jesus.
Even the Hebrew words that make up the term “restores my soul” can also mean “bring to repentance”. Isn’t it amazing how that works out?
He “leads” me… guides me. Towards things I might not even know I need. And he leads me through the paths of righteousness… of holy obedience that creates moral excellence along the way.
For His NAME’S SAKE, glory to God. That Name – Jesus – that is above every name. That Name that SAVES, because the Bible says there is no OTHER Name by which we may BE saved.
For His NAME’S SAKE, because HE will get the glory through OUR repentance, salvation, and restoration!
No Valley, No Fear
“Walking through the valley of the shadow of death” is one of the darkest connotations I can even fathom. Even having been a reader of King and Lovecraft and others who put their sustenance into the fear they could invoke through words. This one gets me the most.
A valley is neither mountain nor meadow, but a hedged in space, surrounded by who knows what.
The shadow of death means there is no facing death itself. But what is a shadow? It is a looming darkness, blocking out the LIGHT. It allows us to know that there is something between us and the light, and we don’t want anything to do with it.
Praise God, that’s why we WALK THROUGH IT. It isn’t a place to set up camp. It isn’t a place to stop for lunch. It’s a thing we must do because we do face an enemy that is real. An enemy that can cast shadows.
And we will walk THROUGH.
Even when considering the REAL death of the human being, there is still a great comfort to find in this passage. For we remember that after the work of the cross, death was swallowed up in victory. WE no longer have death to face, but rather the shadow of it. A veil, as it were, that this flesh IS, is torn, and we walk through.
To those left, the shadow is dark and depressing. But we keep walking. And walking. Then eventually, the shadows will flee.
The Rod and the Staff
Some people think that the “rod” and the “staff” are the same thing, but the Hebrew words separate them quite actually. The road is for discipline, the staff for security. Others believe David could have been talking about the same stick, used for both applications in one.
“Thou Preparest a Table Before Me”
The “table” suggests “bounty”, and the suggestion that there was preparation means that God thought of us, and our need, before the need ever arose. “Before me” shows that we have a personal connection and it is natural for us to be in His presence.
And of course, being in the presence of the enemy would normally dictate that we snatch away what we can and run for the hills! But not this time. We know the enemy is there – and we certainly do, don’t we? – but the table has been prepared, and we are at peace with our Host.
A Blessed Future
The idea is not simply, as many think, that we spend our whole lives looking to “get” somewhere, but rather, we are already IN the House of the Lord. Spurgeon said that the whole world is His House to us, and in death, we simply ascend to the upper chamber without much of anything changing at all!
God’s World: Chapter 24
The Jews believed that only the Holy Land was God’s and only the seed of Abraham were His people. The Jews were still full of hate when Jesus talked spoke about how a prophet was sent to ONE widow in Sarepta, when there were so many. And that ONE leper was saved, Naaman, in the midst of many lepers.
They hated Paul for being sent to bring the Word of God to the Gentiles, and then full of awe that the Gentiles actually received.
We live on this earth and pretend that there are those that rule it, and those that own portions of it, from whom we buy if we hope to own any of it ourselves. Ah, but the Word is contrary to this because the earth AND its fulness BELONGS to God.
An Uphill Battle
It is truly an uphill battle for the creature to actually find his or her way to the Creator. And when we get there, how in the world can we stand before Him?
This chapter goes on to tell us how!
One of the greatest marks of grace is living in the practice of holiness, thus the analogy of clean hands. But to wash as Pilate did means nothing if we’re not actually innocent.
“Good works” are often perverted to look as though we mean to say we are saved by those works. But that is not only foolishness to our ears and our hearts, the sentiment will also be held in great disdain by our Creator, whom we struggled so hard to reach in the first place!
But that shepherd will round up the briar limbs and hem us in with His OWN BODY, as He did on the tree. Still, to draw near to Him requires clean hands because He is a righteous God and unrighteousness cannot stand before Him.
Does that put the burden on us or Him? He’s already made a way for us to BE clean. When we WALK in that, practicing outward holiness according to His Word, then we can truly rest in His presence.
If this were simply a thing of Old Testament theology, and we have changed from one glory to the next through Jesus and the New Testament, why then did Jesus compare some to a vessel that had been washed on the outside, but remained dirty on the in?
Why would he liken some to tombs, full of dead men’s bones, but that had been whitewashed on the outside, for decorative purposes?
Because true “religion” – not the blind leading the blind as is mostly seen – is a work of the heart. A transition. The reason God spoke of man looking on the “outward appearance” but God looking “on the heart”.
Jesus even spoke of our ability to pluck out an eye or chop off a hand, and we’d still be fit for the kingdom. But to lose our inner change is to lose our position in the Kingdom and quite possibly, to miss heaven entirely.
Remember: we are not saved by works. But the works are the evidence that we are known by.
The King of Glory
But who IS the King of Glory, but the One who has already fought the battles, and won the victory over sin? The one who conquered death, hell, and the grave. The One due all our praise and glory, singing and clapping, dancing and donning of the wedding garment!
We could spend our time sad, and depressed, wondering how we could ever approach this Holy God. But He has already done the work and paved the way. Jesus, our forerunner! Footsteps to follow!
My heart is flesh, and not pure… but HE put a new heart in my chest, a heart of FLESH. My hands might be dirty, but though my sins be as scarlet, He washed me white as snow!
Jesus Christ, Jehovah of hosts!
Lord of men and of angels!
Lord of the universe!
Lord of the world!
King of Glory!
Jesus of Nazareth… Jehovah Sabaoth!
Do you ever sit and think of God’s goodness as our Great Shepherd? Or do you think about His finished Work on the cross, giving us white-washed garments for the upcoming wedding feast?
What an image it is to consider where we are, what He has done for us, and what He has in store! Praise Him! Rejoice! Our God reigns!
Lord Jesus, I thank You for giving me the right – and the righteousness – to stand before You! I thank You that You have washed me white as snow, casting my sins as far as the East is from the West! I thank You that You created the demand for holiness to keep us ever mindful that we must keep our lamps trimmed and burning! Give us mercy and grace and continue with Your rod and Your staff because truly, they comfort me! I ask it in Jesus’ Mighty Name, AMEN!