He Leads Me | Psalm 23
I’m not sure what you think about this video clip version of Psalm 23. To me, perhaps to most, when we think of the 23rdPsalm we may think of green fields, the kind that I saw just last month in the UK. I mean, after all, David did say in verse 2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalms 23:2 NIV).
When David wrote this, he knew what shepherding was all about. He himself was a shepherd when he was younger. In those days, as it still is today, the land that the shepherds guided and protected their sheep seems so barren. What I find interesting is amongst the ugliness of these barren lands there is a beauty which brings out the more authentic meaning. More about this in a moment.
Today we are commencing a new series, looking at 10 Psalms that we have grown to love. Google lists the Psalms that we will be looking at up till and including Father’s Day, as the most popular psalms that people look for.
The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers, poems, and songs that focus the worshiper's thoughts on God in praise and adoration. Parts of this book were used as a song book in the worship services of ancient Israel.
This collection of Psalms was written over a period of 1000 years. King David has clearly written most of the psalms – perhaps at least half of them. Two of the psalms (72) and (127) are attributed to Solomon. Psalm 90 is a prayer assigned to Moses. Another group of 12 psalms (50) and (73—83) is attributed to the family of Asaph. The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms (42, 44-49, 84-85,87-88). Psalm 88 is attributed to Heman, while (89) is assigned to Ethan the Ezrahite. With the exception of Solomon and Moses, all these additional authors were priests or Levites who were responsible for providing music for sanctuary worship during David's reign. Fifty of the psalms designate no specific person as author.
The oldest psalm in the collection is probably the prayer of Moses (90), a reflection on the frailty of man as compared to the eternity of God. The latest psalm is probably (137), a song of lament clearly written during the days when the Hebrews were being held captive by the Babylonians, from about 586 to 538 B.C.
While it is clear that these 150 individual psalms were written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel's history, what isn’t clear is how they were compiled and put together in their present form.
The Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible. It is also one of the most diverse, since the psalms deal with such subjects as God and His creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice, and the coming of the Messiah.
The Book of Psalms is divided into five books, probably to reflect the five books of the Pentateuch. There are a variety of Psalm that can be identified according to some basic categories such as songs of praise, songs of lament, songs of thanksgiving and celebrating God’s law. There are wisdom psalms, historical psalms and royal psalms that particularly point to the Messiah.
One of the themes in this book is God’s provision of a Savior for His people. There are prophetic pictures of the Messiah seen in numerous psalms. There are in the New Testament 116 direct quotations from the Psalms.
This is what some people have said about the Book of Psalms:
Matthew Henry: “We have now before us one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, wherein there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law”
Willem VanGemeren: “The book of Psalms can revolutionize our devotional life, our family patterns, and the fellowship and witness of the church of Jesus Christ.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”
Charles Spurgeon: “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure”.
Martin Luther: “[The Psalms are] a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended.”
Steven Lawson: “Romans gave Luther his theology, but it was the Psalms that gave him his thunder.”
John Piper “When we read the Psalms, we are meant to learn things about God and about human nature and about how life is to be lived. Some poetry makes no claim to instruct the mind. The Psalms do. They are meant to be instructive about God and man and life.”
C.S. Lewis: “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”
R.C. Sproul: “Whenever I read the psalms, I feel like I am eavesdropping on a saint having a personal conversation with God.”
And this morning we are eavesdropping on the saint David having a personal conversation with God.
The 23rd psalm is perhaps the most loved of the Psalms. While it is good that we hear it or sing it at funerals, it must be seen that it is a psalm for the living - it is a psalm for you and I to apply every day of our life.
David wrote it as a testimony to the Lord's faithfulness throughout his life. As a song of confidence, it pictures the Lord as Shepherd. David, by using some common ancient Near Eastern images in Psalm 23, progressively unveils his personal relationship with the Lord in three stages.
In verse 1 David says, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing”(Psalms 23:1 NIV). The word "shepherd" is often applied to God in the Old Testament. Israel's kings are also called shepherds. After denouncing the unfaithful leader/shepherds of His people, God promises, "I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking"(Jeremiah 23:4 KJV). And Jesus identifies Himself as the "good shepherd,"the Messianic King in John 10:11. His goodness is in His giving His life for the sheep.
For David to call God "shepherd," is to acknowledge God as his King, his Savior, the One who meets all of his needs. David is saying that the eternal God of the Universe is his personal shepherd. David could have rightly said, “the Lord is our shepherd”, but he doesn’t say this, instead he says, "The Lord is myshepherd". There is a personal relationship here.
This is a reminder that Christianity is not as much a religion as it is a relationship. Being a Christian means having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And so Psalm 23 is very personal. There are no references to "we" or "us" or "they," but only "my" and "me" and "I" and "You." This is David's testimony, his personal experience with God.
And he sees God as his personal shepherd. In contrast to goats, who are quite independent, sheep depend on the shepherd to find pasture and water for them. Shepherds also provide shelter, medication and aid in birthing. Basically, they are virtually helpless without the shepherd.
David really believes this about God. We realize as we read over these words that what David writes is not poetic exaggeration or nice theology. He has experienced God in these ways, heard His voice, followed His lead, felt His care. Beneath the beauty of his words there are solid convictions, formed in the trials of crisis. For David, God has meet his needs and he goes on to explain how.
First, in verse two, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters”(Psalms 23:2 NIV). Now, let’s go back to what I was sharing before. We tend to think that the shepherd in those parts of the world leads their sheep to lush green fields. Reality is, the green pastures looks more like barren land. On the screens are today’s shepherds guiding their flock through the land that David knew so well. But amongst the tough dry dirt is what is known in our language as pasture – green shoots. The area is humid and the wetness in the air enables these pastures to grow. And the shepherd’s role, as it was in David’s day is to lead their flock to such green pasture.
This may be interesting facts, but I would rather rest in a field of lush grass. But this is the thing. Life isn’t like this. It can be hard and tough. Who here as a Christian feel like life is about lying in beautiful lush green and when you are in need you just simply reach across and you have everything right there next to you. It just doesn’t happen like this. Jesus never promised a life like this. In fact, he said if anyone wants to come after Him they must be ready to carry their cross.
What David is picturing God as and doing is this: He pictures his God as a shepherd who guides him to places where his needs will be met. It’s about trusting the shepherd. It’s about you putting your faith in Jesus as the Good Shepherd to guide you through this tough thing we call life.
David learnt that when God led Him, that experience renewal through periods of silence and dryness. David writes in verse 4, “he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake”(Psalms 23:3 NIV). For His glory, God leads and refreshes us.
In the first three verses of Psalm 23, David takes the gentle picture of a shepherd with his sheep to describe the relationship God has with us and we with Him. Everything makes sense in our understanding of a shepherd leading his flock to green grass and calm waters. Then we get to verse 4, and it doesn't fit. David writes, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”(Psalms 23:4 NIV).
The dark valley invokes thoughts of a dangerous situation where a sheep's life is in danger unless the shepherd is alert and attentive.
But why would a sheep be going through such a place? Not because he strayed off in sin; that is not the point here, because the shepherd is pictured as going with the sheep not snatching him back to the pasture he left behind. No, the reason the sheep is going through the valley is because the shepherd led him there.
The connection between verses 3 and 4 confirm this: The path through the valley is also one of the paths of righteousness in which God leads. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”(Psalms 23:3-4 ESV).
But why would a good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep lead a lamb into a valley filled with danger? There's only one possible answer: "To get to some better place!" Philip Keller is an Australian farmer whose wonderful little book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 includes this opinion about these barren valleys:
"The shepherd knows from past experience that predators like coyotes, bears, wolves, or cougars can take cover in these broken cliffs and from their vantage point prey on his flock. He knows these valleys can be subject to sudden storms and flash floods that send walls of water rampaging down the slopes. There could be rockslides, mud, or . . . a dozen other natural disasters that would destroy or injure his sheep. But in spite of such hazards he also knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country. He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop”.
When you're walking through some unfamiliar valley and the shadows linger… When you have cancer and have to decide whether it will be chemotherapy or some other way… When you're trying to decide as a matter of Godly stewardship whether to take your money out of the market or let it ride... When your finances are tight, and you are taking on yet another job to make ends meet, remember this: Your Shepherd has appointed even this hard time as one of His paths of righteousness. He is leading you through this valley for reasons that probably won't be apparent. But rest assured, He is taking you to the high country, where the sun is warm, and the grass is lush. Every valley is pathway to something better. As Psalm 84:11 says, “The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right”(Psalms 84:11 NLT). Or as Paul put it, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”(Romans 8:28 NIV). The valley isn't good, but the Shepherd is. He knows the way.
David again wrote that through such valleys, he didn’t fear the dangers. And he gave us some reasons why. First, he knew God was with him. He wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”(Psalms 23:4 NIV). When you step into your valley, and it's so dark you can't even see the path ahead, your Shepherd has something He wants you to hear: I will be with you. Don't turn to other things or resort to other feel good philosophies. All you need is your Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
(Lloyd Stilley is pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama).
Hebrews 13:5-6 says it like this: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid”
(Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV). There is no valley, no matter how dark, that you will go through alone. He will not leave you.
The Lord grants us even more than His presence. He also grants us His power: "Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."The "rod" beats off the enemy, while the crooked "staff" guides us from harm's way. In Jesus' parable, we are the lost sheep brought home on the shepherd's shoulders (Luke 15:3-7). He has the power to save and restore. Knowing that our Lord has the power to beat off our enemies gives us great comfort in this life. Jesus promises, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28 NIV).
David was supremely confident, not only about his present circumstances, but of grace in the future that would see him all the way home. That’s why he wrote, “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” (Psalms 23:6 NIV). In the Old Testament, we learn that it was in the Tabernacle where God dwelled but in the New Testament, we know that God dwells with those who honour Him, and they with Him forever in eternity.
And so, David believed that valley times were sometimes for His good. He learned things about God that could be learned no other way in the deep valleys of life. He stayed close, trusted in God's protection and guidance all the way. All because he could say, "The Lord is my shepherd."
When you find yourself weak, in the dark, uncertain of the future. When all the emotional wind has been knocked out from you, look up. Fix your eyes on Jesus, your Good Shepherd. Stick close to Him. Trust that He knows the way through this valley and will see you safely through. Believe that He has good reasons for taking this route, even though it is hard and unfamiliar. And hold on to the truth that there is something better waiting on the other side of this valley.
Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd!