ON THE 23RD PSALM
of the Psalms is most interesting, as well as inspiring. Intense feelings
are expressed here, and we can become personally and emotionally involved
as we read. However, when we are in this book, we should always keep in
mind that we are in the Old Testament. Many concepts and feelings are found
here which are not compatible with the New Testament (Godís completed and
final revelation). The Old Testament promised a land flowing with milk
and honey (material, temporal blessings), whereas the New Testament puts
the primary emphasis upon the spiritual and the eternal. Characteristic
of the Old Testament, in the Psalms vengeance (even personal vengeance)
and the law of sin and death are ever before us. Yet the Psalms are highly
spiritual and touch our souls. As we study we can profitably make a twofold
application of them, first drinking in the words, as they are written,
and then by making a New Testament application of them.
Of all the Scripture making up the Bible there
are two references that stand out as perhaps being the most loved and well
known. They are the 23rd Psalm and John 3:16. In this article let us spend
a little time with the 23rd Psalm. Such informal meditation is good for
1: "The LORD
my shepherd; I shall not want."
Palestine was a land that was a simple pastoral
society from which David emerged to become the king of Israel. In growing
up David himself had experienced being a young shepherd boy in taking care
of his fatherís sheep. He was personally qualified from a life of experience,
both physically and spiritually, to make all of the impressive applications
we read in this psalm. He speaks from his point of view.
David said, "The LORD is my shepherd? " The
word "LORD" represents the great, unspeakable name of God. The Jews respected
the name so highly that they would not even say it, but used another word
in its place. Inasmuch as the early written Hebrew language had no vowel
markings, with time the exact pronunciation was lost (not ever being uttered).
Our English word "LORD" (capital letters) stands for this name. It is thought
that Jehovah, or Yahweh, comes close to the pronunciation. Regardless,
it is Godís personal name, and it refers to Him as the Eternal, Self-Existent
One. It represents Him in covenant relationship to His people.
David said that such a Being is "my shepherd."
God is a personal God, and personal pronouns are found 17 times in this
psalm expressing our close relationship to such a shepherd. The great God
of eternity was the Shepherd of the lowly shepherd boy as well as the Shepherd
of the king of Israel. Isaiah 57:15 reads, "For thus saith the high and
lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the
high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite
Perhaps this story is not new, but it serves
as a good illustration. A well-known actor had come to town and to the
delight of everyone was giving public recitations of outstanding literary
pieces. Among the recitations he gave was the 23rd Psalm. His presentation
was flawless. Everyone was impressed. However, at the gathering an old
saint of God was recognized who had been known to recite the 23rd Psalm
at times. Upon the friendly prodding of the people, and the consent of
the actor, he was finally coached into giving his recitation too. As all
eyes were fixed upon him, with deep feeling and emotion he began, "The
LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green
pastures: He leadeth me beside still waters? " On and on he continued emphasizing
each personal pronoun as his own until he had finished the great psalm.
As he sat down everyone was visibly moved, including the actor. Without
hesitation, but with exclamation, the actor responded, "I know the psalm,
but this man knows the shepherd!" Yes, "The LORD is my shepherd." He is
Shall Not Want"
Now having asserted that "the LORD is my shepherd,"
the psalmist does not hesitate to say, "I shall not want." The rest of
the psalm follows to show what he has in mind. Although so much of the
Old Testament has to do with the material, the thoughts are enlarged to
include more than that here. There was no want of the presence of God in
every circumstance of life, whether good or bad. It is easy to go from
here to the New Testament where Jesus says, "I am come that they might
have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:10,11). The apostle
Peter later wrote that God had "given unto us all things that pertain unto
life and godliness, through the knowledge of him [knowing him] that hath
called us to glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3). Then taking the figure a
step further (the term Lamb is used), Revelation 7:17 projects us into
eternity, "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed
them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall
wipe away all tears from their eyes."
2: "He maketh me
lie down in green pastures:
leadeth me beside the still waters."
This certainly is a refreshing scene that now
comes before us. The good shepherd, considering the needs of his sheep,
has brought them into choice pastures of tender, green grass. Here in contented
repose they lie down. From this proximity they are led beside the still
waters. A most beautiful picture of tranquillity, quietness, and well-being
presents itself to us. It is no wonder that in the next verse the psalmist
says, "He restoreth my soul."
From here it is easy for our thoughts to jump
to the New Testament where our Lord said, "Come unto me all ye that labour
and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and
learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto
your souls [you will be rested up, refreshed], For my yoke is easy, and
my burden is light [mild, pleasant]" (Matthew 11:28-30). Then, as pointed
out, this thought is carried over into eternity when we read that he "shall
feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17).
3: "He restoreth
soul: he leadeth me in the paths
righteousness for his nameís sake."
As life has been restored and invigorated,
he leads his sheep on "in the paths of righteousness for his nameís sake."
Blessings received, whether material or spiritual, should not be for naught.
God leads us in deliberate paths for an expressed purpose or intention,
"for his nameís sake." The bottom line to all human experience is whether
it will bring glory to the name of God or not. By deliberately leading
us in "paths of righteousness," the LORD purposely seeks to encourage and
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Our Father
which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name" (Mat-thew 6:9). Godís name is
hallowed and His glory is accomplished when His attributes are reflected
in us. But there is a problem. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, "For
all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Even in the Old Testament
the prophet Isaiah said, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned
every one to his own way? " (Isaiah 53:6). However, the rest of this prophetic
verse in Isaiah arouses hope, "And the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity
of us all." That is where the good shepherd of the New Testament enters
the picture. Jesus said, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save
that which was lost" (Luke 19:10; Luke 15:1-7). John had much to say about
Jesus being the good shepherd (John 10:11-18). The good shepherd would
give his life for the sheep. With grace and forgiven sins, we again have
a chance to glorify His name. Through him we are led into the paths of
righteousness "for his nameís sake" as he goes before us.
4: "Yea, though I walk through
valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
When the psalmist speaks here of "the valley
of the shadow of death," he is not talking about the experience of death
itself, but the danger and possibility of death. During the visit to Bible
lands one time, the dark shadows cast across the Kidron Valley by the towering
walls of Jerusalem suggested such a shadow to this writer. Take that situation
and put it in the wilderness. The danger of wild beasts lurking in the
shadows as the sheep passed through was very real.
David as a young shepherd boy had dealt with
such problems and had come to the rescue of his sheep. Thus looking to
the LORD as the great shepherd, he says, "I will fear no evil: for thou
art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." With his rod and his
staff David had guided his sheep safely through the valley and warded off
the attack of wild beasts. The very appearance of the rod and staff brought
a feeling of security and comfort to the sheep. These thoughts from the
human perspective are going through Davidís mind as he finds comfort and
security in God (and how God will handle the situation). And looking to
Jesus in the New Testament as the good shepherd, many reassuring things
come to mind (John 10:10-13). He even gave his life, and has been raised
from the dead, in coming to our rescue (Hebrews 13:20,21).
Some would see "the valley of the shadow of
death" as death itself, and then they would bring forth beautiful lessons
and applications from this angle. They would say that Jesus has gone through
"the valley of the shadow of death," becoming the "firstfruits" of those
who slept. Consequently, he has taken away the fear and sting of death
as he accompanies us in this experience. While these things are true, that
is not exactly what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote these words.
5: "Thou preparest a table
me in the presence of mine enemies:
anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."
Here it seems that David jumps from the vivid
shepherd and sheep imagery to just plain language when he states, "Thou
preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." More than
once during the lifetime of David this had happened. Two occasions come
to mind. This happened when he was fleeing from Saul before he became king
and later when he was fleeing from his own son, Absalom. Even in adverse
circumstances it seems that God had openly provided.
The verse as it continues could be mingled imagery.
"Thou anointest my head with oil" could apply to sheep or human beings.
Tender care of a torn sheep would at times prompt anointing with oil. But
anointing the head with oil was one of the gestures of honor and hospitality
offered by oriental people to their guests (Luke 7:46). Not only had David
been fed, other acts of honor and hospitality had been bestowed upon him.
"My cup runneth over" further suggests the
abundance and overflowing of blessings coming to him (even in the presence
of his enemies).
6: "Surely goodness and mercy
follow me all the days of my life: and
shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."
Even in the face of adversaries, and them pursuing
him, David thinks in terms of goodness and mercy following him. With Godís
presence he could only conclude, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life."
Now his thoughts go beyond this life, "And
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." The Old Testament that
says so little about life hereafter at times has a few beams of light to
shine through. It is mostly in anticipation of the fullness that would
come in Christ who has "brought life and immortality to light through the
gospel" (II Timothy 1:10). And the words about dwelling "in the house of
the LORD forever" fit into this mold. The writer of Hebrews tells us that
"Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are
the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence
of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24). So, to dwell in the house of the LORD for
ever would mean to be in heaven.
How wonderful to have such a shepherd in this
life and then to be with Him forever!
Amen! The LORD is my Shepherd!