The Shepherd's Psalm
Rev Kenneth I Macleod shares some thoughts on Psalm 23, The Shepherd's Psalm, in this Pastoral Reflection for October.
"The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3
I have preached frequently from this psalm and make no apology for doing so, as it is not only the best known of all the psalms but remains one of my favourites. It is short, simple, sweet and yet so deep with meaning, encouragement and assurance. There are many themes highlighted in the psalm but probably the three main truths that tie the psalm together beautifully are Provision, Direction and Communion.
In some ways this psalm could only have been written by a shepherd. In my opinion, the best commentary on this psalm is ‘The Lord Our Shepherd’, which was also written by a shepherd - the late Professor Douglas MacMillan. We know that one of the great themes throughout the Bible, is the Lord shown as the Shepherd of His people. He is pictured leading His people like a shepherd-feeding His people like a shepherd; protecting and providing for His sheep like a shepherd.
God is termed Israel’s Shepherd. In the New Testament Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. He has come to search for and rescue His sheep by giving His life for them. The greatest blessing we can ever have in this life, is to have the Lord Jesus as our Shepherd.
David begins the psalm with a great note of assurance, “The Lord is MY Shepherd.” Assurance of faith is a great blessing and something we all desire to have all the time. Of course assurance of salvation is not essential to salvation although God through the Word and Spirit convinces our souls that we belong to Him. However some of the Lord’s people go through periods of real doubting as to whether they really are united to Christ by faith. These are distressing times for Christians. Sometimes a person can come to faith in the Lord, and may take quite a long time until they come to assurance of faith showing that faith and assurance of faith not one and the same thing. A person can have come to faith and yet be still seeking with all their heart the Lord they have already embraced. In time that assurance should come. Assurance of faith grows out of saving faith, but there can never be true assurance of faith without saving faith. Assurance of faith really helps us in our Christian walk.
Christianity is all about a relationship built on love- so it is sad if one member of that relationship is not convinced that the other loves them. All they can do is hope the other one loves them, but they are not sure. So you see how that has a detrimental effect on our relationship with the Lord. David is categorically saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd”-not “I think He is” or “I hope He is.” David really knows. Knowledge is key to our Christian life. It was what we knew of Jesus in the first place that persuaded us to trust our life, our all to Him.
However, that knowledge of Him continues to grow over the years, and that is the reason He becomes all the more wonderful in our eyes. Of course, this happens in all meaningful relationships. A Husband/wife know each other far better after 20 years together than they did the day they got married. The apostle Paul having come to know Jesus made it his prayer, “That I might know Him”, that is, know him better and more intimately every day. We know that Christianity is all about deepening and strengthening the relationship with Christ. Throughout an endless eternity in His presence we will go on discovering more and more of Him.
It is as a result of David’s knowledge of the Shepherd that he goes on to tell us in verses 2 and 3 what the Shepherd is going to do for him, and we may add, for us as well. We will not want for anything. Jesus alone satisfies the deepest needs of our being, and as long as we are looking to Him to be the ultimate satisfaction for our lives, we will be fulfilled and satisfied. It is only when our eyes are taken off Him and we begin to put other things in God’s place, that we become restless and dissatisfied with life. We see in verses 2 and 3 a picture of absolute contentment. The picture is of sheep lying down in green pastures beside still waters. When sheep are fed, satisfied and content, they will lie down. Hungry sheep and frightened sheep will not lie down. So we have here the picture of the Lord nourishing His people, having removed the fear that sin brought into our lives.
The result of the fall is shown in Adam trying to run away from God and hide. That unfortunately is the default position of human nature - we try and hide from God. The wonderful thing Jesus does for us when He comes into our lives is that He reconciles us to God. Past enmity and differences are removed and we are now at peace with God. There is no greater blessing in this world. God is now our Father and Friend. He promises His continued presence with us every day until He calls for us to come to His house in glory, to be with Him forever. In the meantime, He has provided the green pastures of feeding in His Word - read, preached, meditated, discussed (both public and private) and the still waters of Christ who is to us the water of life. He terms Himself the Living Waters.
Wonderfully we see the Lord is in the business of restoring our soul. Far too often we wander off the paths of righteousness. We all know how prone sheep are to wander. Sadly we are even more prone to wander than any wandering sheep. However, the Good Shepherd will not leave us there, despite our wandering, stumbling and limping along our own paths, but will direct us back into the paths of righteousness. He will do this, “for His name’s sake.” Everything He does is to display the honour and glory of His name. The Lord’s character, name and glory are displayed in the shepherding, feeding, guiding, providing, restoring and comforting His people. If the Lord is your Lord then every truth and promise of this psalm is yours. If the Lord is not your Shepherd, then ask Him right now to become the Lord and Shepherd of your life.
Love and prayers. Kenny
Photo by Biegun Wschodni on Unsplash