Saturday, January 22, 2011

Psalm 23


"Psalm of the Divine Shepherd"

We come to Psalm 23 – perhaps the most famous of the Psalms!  Can you recite it by memory?  I think it may be one of the first Biblical verses / passages I memorized as a child. 

Maybe you’ve had the opportunity to read the book A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller.  He spent many years as a sheep rancher.  He makes this note:
 To a great extent the Bible is a collection of books written by men of humble origin, who penned under the guidance of God’s Spirit.  Much of its teaching & terminology is couched in rural language, dealing with outdoor subjects and natural phenomena.  The audience to whom these writings were originally addressed was for the most part themselves simple, nomadic folk familiar with nature and the outdoor life the countryside about them.
David was known as the Shepherd King.  He served as a lowly shepherd of his father’s sheep before God anointed him as future king of Israel.  This Psalm shows David's understanding of a shepherd's care of the sheep, as he relates it to God's care for His children. 

Gleaning from an actual sheep rancher’s knowledge of sheep, we can learn these things from Phillip Keller and his book on the 6 verses of this Psalm:
  • v. 1:  The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord, the Great God Jehovah – is my owner, my manager.  I exchange the fickle fortune of living life by sheer whimsy for the more productive and satisfying adventure of being guided by God.
  •  I shall not want.  I shall not lack the expert care and management of my Master.  CONTENTMENT SHOULD BE THE HALLMARK OF THE MAN OR WOMAN WHO HAS PUT HIS OR HER AFFAIRS IN THE HANDS OF GOD.  Isn’t that a great statement!!!
  • v.  2:  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.:  because of their very make-up, sheep are unable to lie down unless 4 requirements are met:
          a.  because they are so timid, sheep must be free from all fear
          b.  sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind
          c.  Only when free of the torment of pests & parasites can sheep lie down and relax.
          d.  Sheep will only lie down when free from hunger.
Thus, a flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well. 
As Christians, David is teaching me that our Shepherd’s desire is to see my best interests served.                                His concern for my care is beyond my comprehension, really.  All I can do is enjoy and revel in what He has brought into effect.
  • He leads me beside still waters.  Our Good Shepherd makes it clear that thirsty souls of men & women can only be fully satisfied when their capacity & thirst for spiritual life is fully quenched by drawing on Himself. 
  • v. 3:  He restores my soul.  David, who was much loved of God, know what it was to be cast down & dejected.  He had tasted defeat in his life and felt the frustration of having fallen under temptation.  David was acquainted with the bitterness of feeling hopeless and without strength in himself.  The toughness it takes to face life and the formidable reverses which it brings to us can come only through the discipline of endurance and hardship.  In His mercy and love, our Master makes this a part of our program.  If He is the Good Shepherd, we can rest assured that He knows what He is doing.  This in and of itself should be sufficient to continually refresh and restore my soul.  “God knows what He is doing with me!”
  •  He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Keller notes that a flock of sheep needs to stay on the move.  Staying in one place causes infestation of parasites, poor food supply, land erosion, loss of fertility and devastation to the flock.  A good shepherd must have a pre-determined plan of action – a deliberate planned rotation from one grazing ground to another.  This is precisely the sort of action and idea David had in mind when he spoke of being led in paths of righteousness. How well do I follow God?  Am I a stubborn, self-willed, proud, self-sufficient sheep?  Am I willful, wayward, self-interested and indifferent to God’s leading?  God wants us to walk with Him.
  • v. 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me..  Keller notes that never did a shepherd take his flock where he had not already been – always he had gone ahead to look over the country with care.  All the dangers of rampaging rivers in flood, avalanches, rock slides, poisonous plants, the ravages of predators that raid the flock or the awesome storms of sleet, hail and snow were familiar to him.  He handled his sheep and managed them with care under all these adverse conditions.  Nothing took him by surprise.  He was fully prepared to safeguard his flock and tend them with skill under every circumstance.

  • Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. The staff was a long crooked stick. Always the shepherd walked with it in his hand, and, when a sheep showed signs of straying, he would stretch out and pull it back with the crook. He carried the rod at his belt. It was a stout piece of wood, perhaps three feet long, with a lump of wood the size of an orange at one end of it. With this the shepherd fought the battles of the flock, using it to drive off wild beasts and to defend the flock against the robbers who would steal the sheep.  David is teaching us that God’s protection is all-powerful and is our comfort.
  • v. 5:  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  It is not always apparent to us what tremendous personal cost it has been for Christ to prepare the table for his own.  Just as the lonely personal privation of the sheepman who prepares the summer range for his flock entails a sacrifice, so the lonely agony of Gethsemane, of Pilate’s hall, of Calvary, have cost my Master much.  At best we can only grasp feebly the incredible concept of a perfect person, a sinless one being willing actually to be made sin so that we who are so full of faults, selfish self-assertion and suspicion might be set free from sin and self to live a new, free, fresh, abundant life of righteous.
  • You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Those associated with livestock are well-aware of the serious problem for animals presented by insects in the summer.  Sheep are especially troubled by the nose or “nasal” fly.  These flies buzz around the sheep’s head and lay their eggs on the damp mucous membranes of the sheep’s nose.  The eggs hatch, and the larvae work their way up the nasal passages into the sheep’s head, where they burrow into the flesh and cause severe inflammation.  At the very first sign of flies among the flock, the shepherd will smear an oil balm over the sheep’s nose to protect them.  David is teaching us that our Shepherd is alert to every approaching disaster that threatens His people.  We need a daily anointing of God’s gracious Spirit upon our minds.  God alone can form in us the mind of Christ.  The Holy Spirit alone can give us the attitudes of Christ. 
  • v. 6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.  David has been teaching us about the care of an attentive shepherd to his flock.  We see all the benefits enjoyed by a flock under skilled & loving shepherding.  Now David shows us that the Lord is our Shepherd – all the care, all the work, all the alert watchfulness, all the skill, all the concern, all the self-sacrifice are born of His love – the love of One who loves His sheep, loves His work, loves His role as a Shepherd.  My trust is in His love for me as His own. 
  • I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  God is conscious of every circumstance I encounter.  He attends me with care & concern because I belong to Him.  And this will continue throughout eternity. As a child of God, what blessed assurance!
Keller sums up with these questions:
  1. Do I really belong to Him?
  2. Do I really recognize His right to me?
  3. Do I respond to His authority and acknowledge His ownership?
  4. Do I find freedom and complete fulfillment in this arrangement?
  5. Do I sense a purpose and deep contentment because I am under His direction?
  6. Do I know rest and repose, besides a definite sense of exciting adventure, in belonging to Him?
If so, then with genuine gratitude & exaltation I can exclaim proudly, just as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” and I’m thrilled to belong to Him, for it is thus that I shall flourish & thrive no matter what life may bring me.

  • I praise the Lord that He is my Shepherd – for His watchcare over me.
  • I praise the Lord for His comfort & His restoration when I am in distress
  • I praise the Lord for the anointing of His Holy Spirit in my life
  • I praise the Lord that His goodness & mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
  • I praise the Lord that I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!
O Lord, what a beautiful & glorious prayer of David, the shepherd king!  Thank You for Your word, for this sweet Psalm that I have known since childhood, and for the heart of Your servant David who teaches me more and more of You.  How to love You fully.  How to walk with You closely.  How to trust You totally.  May contentment be the hallmark of my life, as I recognize the glorious truth that “God knows what He is doing with me!”  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Amen and amen!

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