Am I loved??? In a world of isolation, desolation and destruction, could this REALLY be true????
Most well-known passage in Psalms and may even the whole Bible.
¨ Because this passage is so well-known, its familiarity and obvious power seem to make commentary superfluous or pointless.
¨ The 23rd Psalm is almost exclusively associated with death and dying but this psalm is as much about living as it is about dying. For it puts daily activities, such as eating, drinking, and seeking security, in a radically God-centered perspective that challenges our usual way of thinking.
AM I LOVED???????
- THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT WANT
A. In the ancient world, kings were known as shepherds of their people.
¨ Thus to profess “the Lord is my shepherd” is to declare one’s loyalty to God and intention to live under God’s reign.
¨ In contrast to the failure of earthly kings, God does what a shepherd is supposed to do; provide life and security for the people (Ezek. 34:11-16).
¨ The psalmist is expressing confidence and trust in God’s provision and protection in the past and linking the future with the great acts of divine provision in the past.
B. The psalmist exclaims, “Yahweh is MY shepherd,” with emphasis on MY.
¨ The temptation in ancient Israel was to speak only about “OUR” God, forgetting that the God of Israel is also the God of individuals.
¨ For this reason Psalm 23 is such a popular psalm, because it permits each believer to take its words on his lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenant love are his, too.
I own a marvelous little book written nearly a quarter of a century ago by a former shepherd, Philip Keller. He titled the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm Twenty-Three, He tells about his experience as a shepherd in east Africa. The land adjacent to his was rented out to a tenant shepherd who didn’t take very good care of his sheep: his land was overgrazed, eaten down to the ground; the sheep were thin, diseased by parasites, and attacked by wild animals. Keller especially remembered how the neighbor’s sheep would line up at the fence and blankly stare in the direction of his green grass and his healthy sheep, almost as if they yearned to be delivered from their abusive shepherd. They longed to come to the other side of the fence and belong to him.
Christians understand that the identity of the shepherd is everything. It is wonderful to be able to say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Leith Anderson, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” Preaching Today, Tape 136
C. As a consequence of the fact that the Lord is his shepherd, the psalmist can say: “I shall not want.”
¨ In general terms, the words reflect simply the shepherd’s provision. But more than that, they recall God’s provision for his people during the travels after Exodus; see Deut. 2:7, “you have not lacked a thing.”
¨ The psalmist moves quickly from “my shepherd” to a description: “I shall not be in want.”
- HE MAKES ME LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES; HE LEADS ME BESIDE QUIET WATERS.
A. The image of “shepherd” aroused emotions of care, provision, and protection.
¨ A good shepherd was personally concerned with the welfare of his sheep.
¨ Because of this designation “my shepherd” is further described by the result of God’s care: “I shall not be in want”; by the acts of God, “he makes me lie down . . . he leads . . . he restores . . . he guides”; and by the resulting tranquility, “I will fear no evil.”
¨ Sheep have two stomachs. The only way to digest food is to sit down.
¨ Sheep are scared of running water to the Shepherd has to dam up the stream for the water to be still so they will drink.
¨ Our God is a God of the details of our life.
B. The form of the psalm. In the first three verses David refers to God as “He”: “The Lord is my Shepherd… He makes me lie down … He leads me … He restores my soul … ”
- Then in verses 4 and 5 David refers to God as “You”: “I will not fear, for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me; you prepare a table before me; you anoint my head with oil.” Then in verse 6 he switches back to the third person: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.”
- The lesson I have learned from this form is that it is good not to talk very long about God without talking to God.
- But what I have learned from David in Psalm 23 and other Psalms is that I should interweave my theology with prayer.
- I should frequently interrupt my talking about God by talking to God. Not far behind the theological sentence, “God is generous” should come the prayerful sentence, “Thank you, God.”
C. Since it is Yahweh who is his shepherd, the psalmist is deficient in nothing he needs.
¨ Yahweh brings him to repose in pastures of green grass, and provides for (or leads) him near restful streams.
¨ It is indeed this Presence which relieves the psalmist of all fear of harm when he must walk in places of black darkness.
¨ The quiet waters are the wells and springs where the sheep can drink without being rushed.
¨ The combination of “green pastures” and “quiet waters” portrays God’s “refreshing care” for his own.
3. HE RESTORES MY SOUL. HE GUIDES ME IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE.
A. Only God has the key to our soul and only He can restore our soul from abuse.
¨ God renews His people so that they feel that life in the presence of God is good and worth living.
¨ God restores, He gives the enjoyment of life, to His own.
¨ God restores vitality, vigor, strength; to renew, invigorate.
¨ He puts a new heart in me.
Cattle-rustling is a major problem in Uganda. The Ugandan army daily attempts to reunite cattle with their owners. The biggest difficulty lies in proving ownership. This article recounts how one elderly lady settled the issue:The BBC’s Nathan Etungu witnessed the process beginning in a village north of Mbale. He told the BBC’s Network Africa that when an elderly woman stood before the herd a remarkable thing happened. She called her cows by name and to the amusement of the soldiers, as each cow heard her voice, it lifted its head and then followed her.
As far as the army was concerned, it was as strong a proof of ownership as one could find.
Heard on Paul Harvey (2-28-03); “Ugandan Cows Know Their Names,” BBC.com, (2-25-03); submitted by David Slagle, Lawren
B. The nature of the shepherd’s care also lies in guidance.
¨ He leads his own in the “paths of righteousness.” These paths do not lead one to obtain righteousness.
¨ “Righteousness”—here signifies in the most basic sense “right,” namely, the paths that bring the sheep most directly to their destination.
¨ God’s paths are straight. He does not tire out his sheep but He knows what lies ahead.
¨ Even when the “right paths” bring the sheep “through the valley of the shadow of death” there is no need to fear.
¨ The Word and the Spirit team up to transform the mind and in that way God leads us in paths of righteousness. He gradually shapes our thinking and molds our emotions so that when there is no explicit command in the Bible to guide us, we weigh all the considerations with the wisdom and the love of God and are drawn to the path of righteousness.
¨ God refreshes his life, and guides him in the right ways because of His name.
¨ Yahweh is there; and because He is who and what He is, He can do no other.
¨ Yahweh’s reputation is one who keeps His promises.
4. EVEN THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I FEAR NO EVIL; FOR THOU ART WITH ME; THY ROD AND THY STAFF, THEY COMFORT ME.
A. Even in the most life-threatening situation, God’s provision is sufficient.
¨ The word that NIV translates “the shadow of death” elsewhere seems to mean simply “darkness” or “deep darkness.” The word appears to be a compounding of words meaning “shadow” and “death.”
¨ The threat is real, but it is not to be feared, for the shepherd’s provision is sufficient.
Donald Barnhouse was the pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church when his wife died and left him with young daughters to raise alone. He did something that I could never do: he conducted his own wife’s funeral. It was while driving to that funeral that he realized that he had to say something to explain all of this to his girls, to somehow put in perspective for them something with which he himself was already struggling.They stopped at a traffic light while driving to the funeral. It was a bright day, and the sun was streaming into the car and warming it. A truck pulled up next to them, and the shadow that came with the truck darkened the inside of the car. It was then that he turned to his daughters and asked, “Would you rather be hit by the shadow or by the truck?”
One of them responded, “Oh, Daddy, that’s a silly question! The shadow can’t hurt you. I would rather be hit by the shadow than by a truck.”
It was then that he tried to explain to them that their mother had died and that it was as if she had been hit by a shadow. It was as if Jesus had stepped in the way in her place, and it was he who had been hit by the truck. He quoted the familiar words of (Psalms 23): “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Leith Anderson, “Valley of Death’s Shadow,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 131.
¨ The expression “fear no evil” is reminiscent of the central feature of the prophetic salvation oracle in Isaiah 40-55. The message of the prophet Isaiah is that even in exile, God will provide.
¨ The word translated evil means here danger, harm, injury.
¨ The only two occurrences of the personal name for God, Yahweh (Lord), occur in v1 & 6, as if to indicate that Yahweh’s presence is all-surrounding.
¨ The rod was a club used to drive away wild animals.
¨ The staff was a long stick used for support in walking.
¨ The rod makes sense as a shepherd’s implement; however, the word even more frequently signifies royal authority and rule (see scepter in Gen 49:10; Ps 45:6).
¨ What is ultimately comforting is the assurance that God is sovereign and that God’s powerful presence provides for our lives.
- YOU PREPARE A TABLE BEFORE ME IN THE PRESENCE OF MY ENEMIES. YOU ANOINT MY HEAD WITH OIL; MY CUP OVERFLOWS. SURELY GOODNESS & MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE AND I SHALL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER.
A. God is here portrayed as a gracious host.
¨ The gracious host does for the guest exactly what the shepherd did for the sheep—provides food, drink, and shelter/protection.
¨ It is God’s very character to provide for God’s people.
¨ The clue in v1-4 is the phrase, “for His name’s sake.”
¨ The primary indication in v5-6 is the Hebrew word hesed, which is translated as “mercy” or “love.”
¨ God’s hesed lies at the very heart of God’s character, as suggested by the fact that the word occurs twice in God’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7.
¨ The word goodness is also reminiscent of God’s self-revelation to Moses, for God’s goodness passes before Moses in Exodus 33:19.
BERMUDA MEAL PLAN—GOD KNOWS WHO WE TRULY ARE AND STILL BLESSES US.
B. Most translations suggest that God’s goodness and hesed will “follow” the psalmist, but the Hebrew verb (rapad) has the more active sense of pursue.
¨ “Follow” might mean trail behind and never quite catch up. That wouldn’t be very comforting: “Surely goodness and mercy will lag behind me all my days.”
¨ The Hebrew word is much more active than “follow.” It almost always means pursue, often in the sense of pursue to do harm or persecute.
¨ God is in active pursuit of the psalmist!
¨ God is not only our Good Shepherd, nor only our lavish Host; He is also a Highway Patrolman pursuing you with goodness and mercy every day of your life and He is fast.
¨ Ordinarily in the psalms, it is precisely the enemies who pursue the psalmist.
¨ Here the enemies are present but have been rendered harmless, while God is in active pursuit.
¨ The mention of the house of the Lord in v6 may indicate the Temple and, along with the mention of a table in v5.
¨ It is more likely that the “stay in the sanctuary is probably metaphorical for keeping close contact with the personal God.
¨ To be in the house of the Lord literally provides a communal dimension to this psalm that is usually, heard exclusively individualistically.
¨ Thus the personal assurance articulated by the psalmist is finally experienced in the community of God’s people.
¨ Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.”
When my daughter Amy was three years old, we had her in a preschool. They were going to give the parents of the preschoolers a Christmas concert, so we filled a tight-capacity room. Every parent was there, equipped with a camera and the biggest flash it could bear. About 30 kids came out and filled up the risers, all tucked together. One willing-hearted teacher up front led them in “Joy to the World.” She had a nylon string guitar that probably hadn’t been played since the Christmas program the year before, and that was probably the last time it was tuned as well. Nevertheless, she had a willing heart.
The kids were only three years old. They could barely speak in complete sentences, let alone sing full measures of music. Undaunted, the teacher began her solo—”Joy to the world!”—but the kids were more interested in locating their parents: “Hi, Daddy! Hi, Mom!” The teacher kept singing, “Joy to the world!” Then Amy saw me. I took a picture of her. The teacher kept singing, “Joy to the world!” Just then one of the boys in the back of the risers began to fall backwards. He bravely took four others with him. Bang! She kept singing, “Joy to the world!”
It was absolute chaos: formless and void. When the song was done, I was the first to jump to my feet like popping corn. The parents gave the kids a standing ovation. We took pictures. It was like Halley’s comet had just come through the room. We were all so proud.
After it was done, I went outside to get some air, and I was chuckling to myself. I thought, We just gave a standing ovation to the worst concert we’ve ever heard. I just took pictures of the worst concert I’ve ever heard. Then I thought, But wasn’t Amy good? She’s cool.
Why in the world did I applaud? It wasn’t because of their performance. It was because that was my little girl up there. I applauded them based not on performance but on relationship. When I was thinking about that, it was as if the Lord again reminded me: Wayne, that’s why I applaud you. It has nothing to do with your performance. It has everything to do with the fact that you have a relationship with me and you’re my kid.
My heart began to melt and tears came to my eyes, because I began to understand that what pleases God the most is the relationship we have with him.
Wayne Cordeiro, “A Personal Relationship,” Preaching Today audio #225