Preached at Jackson Street Church of Christ, Monroe, LA, July 24, 2019.
Passages That Strengthen Me is a great theme for a series of messages. When we turn to the Scriptures for the strength we can truly find what we need. Everyone in this room has needed to find strength for difficult days.
Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.
Seeking strength from the Lord, we turn to the Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23.
Sometimes when a passage is very familiar, we tend not to look at it closely. This is one of the most familiar and most beloved passages in Scripture. Tonight I’m using the KJV because no matter what version I’m reading when I come to a passage like this or the Lord’s Prayer, I always hear it in KJV in my head!
Psalm 23: 1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We do not know when in David’s life he composed this Psalm, but it has the wisdom that suggests it was later in life, although it appears early in the Psalter. David learned through his many experiences that his only strength was to be found in God. Tonight we note several areas of strength in this Psalm. David Begins with ‘The Lord Is…”
MY SHEPHERD (23:1a The Lord is my shepherd)
Jacob is the first one in the Bible to call God his Shepherd upon his death bed as he blessed Joseph, “God who has been my shepherd all my life, to this very day… (Genesis 48:15)
One of the greatest mistakes we can make is to believe that we do not need a shepherd, a leader, that we can make it on our own. David was an accomplished King, but he still knew he needed the Lord. The idea of God as our Shepherd indicates that … We are like sheep – not exactly complimentary. We tend to wander. We face enemies from which we need protection. We are dependent upon our Shepherd. A great source of strength in our lives is the reality that we have a Lord who is our Shepherd.
Psalm 95:6-7 Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.
He is my Shepherd and …
MY PROVIDER (23:1b I shall not want.)
We use the word “want” in a different way. Most of us always want something, and it seldom relates to NEED. But this word means “lack”. (“I have all that I need.” NLT)
Everything we really need in life is found in relationship to Our Shepherd. We sometimes forget this and wander in search of something else. Contentment to enjoy and appreciate the care of our Heavenly Father is a quality we need to have in order to find strength in the care of the Shepherd.
2 Corinthians 9:10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
Every good thing we enjoy in our lives is provided by God. Even among the ones of us who have the least, we can say that God has provided for our greatest needs. I find strength for living by trusting my Shepherd and my Provider…
MY PEACE (23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.)
Can there be a more serene setting than the one described in this verse? Ancient and Modern Israel is a semiarid climate that experiences little or no rainfall for five months each year. Shepherds lead nomadic lives as they move frequently from place to place in search of suitable grazing for the sheep. So a reader in that climate and place would especially find inspiration and encouragement in these words.
But we don’t have to live in the desert to desire the kind of blessing described here … our lives are seldom serene, often overrun and overcommitted, stressed, plagued by mental fatigue – a quiet peaceful time seems a rarity.
God wants to shepherd us into a more peaceful life.
Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Strength can be found in the Lord who is our Shepherd, Provider, Peace.
MY RESTORER (23:3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.)
A line in a familiar hymn reminds us that we need to be restored often. Robert Robinson wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love: Take my heart, oh, take and seal it With Thy Spirit from above.” Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing reminds us that even when our souls have wandered, the Gentle Shepherd restores our soul.
He leads us in paths of righteousness. In 2005, nearly 1,500 sheep jumped off a cliff (with 450 dying) when they blindly followed the foolish path of a dominant member of the flock. All this happened while the Turkish shepherds, their usual leaders, were away at breakfast. Without our Shepherd to lead us we wander into a disaster. We can all probably testify to a time when following our own desires and wants created a bigger mess than we could have imagined. The paths of righteousness are not just so we can be right with God, they are also the best paths for life and living. He keeps us safe – ‘for his name’s sake’ – as a testimony to His goodness and power.
Strength can be found in the Lord who is our Shepherd, Provider, Peace, Restorer and…
MY COMFORTER (23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.)
Dark Valleys are common to every life. Death, divorce, discouragement, defeats of every kind. There are physical valleys (sickness, etc.). There are mental valleys (depression, etc.). There are spiritual valleys (doubt, etc.). There are relationship valleys (marriage, etc.)
Something transitions in this verse. Instead of speaking of God in the third person, David turns to Him and begins addressing him directly. ‘for thou art with me’. When it comes to walking through these valleys, we need to know that God is with us personally and closely.
This dark valley is the valley of the shadow of death. Nothing marks the passages of our lives like the death of our loved ones. We remember and miss them, we weep and we seek solace in the Lord. David knew the pain of losing loved ones – he was a man of war with much bloodshed on his hands. Nothing equals his plaintive cry for his rebellious son when he learned of his death.
2 Samuel 18:33 The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.”
David reflects that we need not fear evil and we should feel comforted … because God is with us … staff and rod … tools of protection and guidance. Strength can be found in the Lord who is our Shepherd, Provider, Peace, Restorer, and Comforter. The setting changes here… from the fields with a Shepherd to the Host in a home.
MY HOST (23:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.)
Three pictures in this verse declare David’s confidence in the Host of this Feast.
*The table is prepared to extend hospitality – but David is confident in the Lord enough that the table is prepared in the presence of enemies.
*Anointing Head with Oil – From AMP: It was customary in hot climates to anoint the body with oil to protect it from excessive perspiration. When mixed with perfume, the oil imparted a delightfully refreshing and invigorating sensation. … The body, therefore, anointed with oil was refreshed, invigorated, and better fitted for action… Remember this anointing was not done for Jesus when Simon the Pharisee hosted him for dinner, an intentional oversight noted by Jesus (Luke 7:46).
*Cup Runs Over – The host has given the guest more than enough to satisfy his thirst.
God is not only our Shepherd, but the perfect host of our lives – giving us confidence in the face of our enemies, refreshment of spirit when we are weary, and supplying satisfaction of our thirst with the Water of Life.
Herrick: The tremendous grace of God is evident in David’s experience here. In fact, the implication in verse 5 is that this has been David’s experience with God up to this point in his life.
Strength can be found in the Lord who is our Shepherd, Provider, Peace, Restorer, Comforter, Host, and…
MY PROMISE (23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.)
Whatever dangers the sheep may wander into, whatever dark valleys we wander through, and whatever enemies are before us as we journey … God is with us. This is his promise. The presence of the Lord is to give us strength and comfort.
Psalm 16:11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.
The qualities of God’s Promise to be present are Goodness and Mercy. God is good, and all of his actions are in our best interests – even if we do not understand them. God is merciful – withholding from us what we deserve.
The promise is for all the days of our lives … He will not leave us nor forsake us.
LOOKING AT PSALM 23 THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS
*The Lens of Prayer – What a marvelous model of prayer this Psalm gives. Unlike most prayers, it does not ask anything of God. A Prayer of Acknowledgment and Thanks. Our dependence upon the Great Shepherd. Our appreciation for the peace that passes understanding. Our need for restoration. Our gratitude for His presence in darkness and in the face of enemies. Our appreciation for the provisions of life we enjoy. Our hope that is dependent upon His goodness and mercy. This Psalm could serve as a beautiful prayer.
*The Lens of Trouble – when life has taken a bad turn, this Psalm is a source of comfort and strength. It affirms God’s presence but more – his Active presence as he provides, comforts, restores, comforts, and gives us hope for eternal life.
*The Lens of Devotion – If we need to remind ourselves of why we love God, what He means to us in our lives, this Psalm is a great expression of devotion, adoration, love.
*The Lens of Jesus – ultimately Jesus is the Great Shepherd to whom we are to give our lives.
-He has a shepherd’s heart – He was willing to sacrifice his life so we could be saved. (Hebrews 13:20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.)
-He has a shepherd’s eye – the watches over the flock even noticing the one that wanders away.
-He has a shepherd’s faithfulness – which will never fail nor forsake us; he will never leave us comfortless, he will never run away when the wolf approaches.
John 10:11-16 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.
-He has a shepherd’s tenderness. F. B. Meyer: “He has a shepherd’s tenderness; no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it, no saint so weak that He will not gently lead, no soul so faint that He will not give it rest.”
Psalm 95:7 He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep in his hands.
What strength we can draw from this familiar Psalm. It addresses the deepest needs that we all have. (Cloer)
-We need spiritual food and spiritual rest – and we find that as he leads us by quiet waters.
-We need pardon for sin. He restores our wayward souls.
-We need His presence for comfort, and he walks with us all the way.
-We need protection from evil, and He gives us confidence through his power.
-We need peace regarding tomorrow. He goes before us and welcomes us into his home forever. (1 Peter 5:4 And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.)
God help us to grow in our trust in You as our good and faithful Shepherd.
Zorn, W. D., Wood, L. M., & Tomeo, N. A. (2017). Shepherding Love. In R. L. Nickelson, J. Eichenberger, & M. K. Williams (Eds.), The NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, 2016–2017 (Vol. 23, pp. 265–271). Colorado Springs, CO: Standard Publishing.
An Exposition of Psalm 23, Greg Herrick https://bible.org/article/exposition-psalm-23
The Shepherd Figure for Jesus, F. B. Meyer
Cloer, Eddie. Truth for Today Commentary: Psalms 1-50. Resource Publications, 2004.