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By Jenny Duffy A note to readers: as soon as Pastor Keat asked me to preach this Sunday, I knew that I would share about Psalm 23. This portion of scripture in particular has been like medicine to me, and like a pillow that I have laid my head on, as I have continued read it over again and contemplate the sovereignty and goodness of God. Since translation cuts my sermon in half, I did choose just some of the scriptures to highlight and teach on. There is much to be said about the scriptures that I’ve chosen that I cannot do justice to, as well as the rest of the Psalm. When I did preach this, I kept in mind that there aren’t any sheep in Cambodia and thus no shepherds. To keep it culturally relevant to the Cambodians and especially those unfamiliar with the Bible, I related the comparison to the man who watches over the cows in the field. All of the scriptures quoted are from the English Standard Version. A Brief Background Psalm 23 was believed to be written by David in a time where he was hiding from Saul. God had appointed Saul as king of Israel, but removed him from this office when Saul showed himself to be disobedient. God then anointed a shepherd boy to be the new king of Israel. In great jealousy, Saul attempted to kill David several times but failed. Finally, David fled for his life, wandering in unfamiliar places amongst strangers and enemies, in attempt to hide from Saul who arranged an army to pursue and kill him. While there are a few theories as to when David did compose this Psalm, the most popular thought is that it was during this dangerous time that he wrote the words ‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want’(Psalm 23:1). God our Shepherd David knew well about the job of a shepherd since he spent most of his life in this vocation. It was the job of a shepherd to care for, protect and guide the sheep. David was happy to place the Lord in this role in his life: his protector, watcher, and care-giver. If God is our shepherd then we are his sheep. Sheep are unintelligent and defenseless animals, who easily wander into harm’s way. We can rightly think of ourselves as these feeble animals, who without the guidance of our shepherd, wander into paths of sin, danger and fruitlessness. We need God to constantly guide us into righteousness. Also, sheep are property to be owned, rather than a wild animal. It is the children of God who are referred to as sheep, and the unbelievers are wolves and goats. A farmer would know that livestock is bought at a great price. In the same way, God has bought us with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and we belong to God. A shepherd does not stand at a distance and watch over his flock from afar, but rather he stands in the midst of them. Are you in the midst of a difficult situation? God does not look on from a far. He stands with you in the midst of your circumstance. Just like how a shepherd doesn’t abandon His flock, neither does God abandon you. God is committed to you. When we feel that there is a distance between ourselves and God, it is not because God has moved away, but only because like sheep we tend to wander. Jesus knew well the job of a shepherd when he spoke about how even though a shepherd may have one hundred sheep, he will go and look for the one that is lost (Luke 15:4-56). This is a picture of God’s ownership of us. Though we may wander, we still belong to God and continue to belong to Him, if we let Him take us back in His arms. He is dedicated to us. He is our shepherd and we are his sheep. The Heart which does not Starve In the same verse, David says, “I shall not want.” God is our provider. He is a good Father who cares for his children. While we may not have everything that we wish, God helps us to be content. I believe that contentment is a precious gift from Holy Spirit. God helps us not to strive, covet and pine after things in endless craving. God fills and satisfies our hearts with his
passion and excitement, leaving us satisfied and in utter disbelief of how much we really do have. The Green Pastures In his hiding, David writes “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me to quiet waters. He restores my soul (v.2-3).” Anyone who lives on this earth knows that this world is full of troubles and tragedies. As Christians we can be comforted when we remember that after this world with its toiling and tears, we will arrive in Heaven where there is no shedding of tears and we can enjoy God forever. But let’s not miss out on God’s goodness right now. While there seems to be no need for comfort in Heaven, there is certainly need for comfort on this earth, and God makes it His priority to be our comforter. We feel frustrated, burnt-out, and grief-stricken and our tears are sometimes abundant. Where comfort is needed, that is where God dwells. He specializes in healing our hearts. God doesn’t want us to wait for Heaven to feel relief and enjoy Him. God wants us to enjoy Him now. I believe that Psalm 23 is like poetry that paints a beautiful scene for us, so picture this green, lush field covered in soft, fresh grass. Imagine laying in this field, feeling satisfied and care free. There may be dangers around, but your shepherd is standing and watching. This is a picture of our relationship with God. God invites us to come be with Him in enjoyment, trusting Him with all our affairs. It is very possible that we can lie down and our body is relaxed, but our minds are analyzing and trying to work out problems, and worrying. God is looking not only give us a physical rest, but also a mental and emotional rest. It is God who can make us to lie down in these green pastures of peace and joy while He ministers to us. The River of God David speaks of ‘quiet waters’. The Bible speaks much of the river, and Psalm 36:8 reads, ‘They feast on the abundance of your house and you give them drink from the river of Your delights’. God invites us to come and drink of Him. Jesus offers water that will end our thirst (John 4:14). An angel leads Ezekiel into the river deeper and deeper (Ez 47:1-12). God wants us to be fully immersed in Him, so that we may be so passionately in love that we give our everything. I think of the Holy Spirit as these quiet waters. While sometimes He may feel like a rushing flood, there is serenity in the Spirit that doesn’t know stress, rush and anxiety. He Restores my Soul David says that God restores his soul. When we don’t spend time with God and in prayer, worship and reading the Bible, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable for this world to drain us. God wants our company so badly. In our constant communion with God, He feeds our hearts. Too often, we become too busy to simply be with God. We have this idea that we are doing the Lord’s work, yet we neglect to spend time at His feet. I would dare to say that unless we are enjoying the fellowship of God, we are not really doing the Lord’s work. Jesus told His disciples that only by abiding in Him, would they produce fruit (John 15:4). I like when Heidi Baker says, “All fruitfulness comes from intimacy with God.” For the heart that has grown weary, bored and passionless, God tells us to come. He is the one who refreshes us and gives life back to hearts that have become hardened and complacent. God can see the condition of our heart, and He is ready and willing to give us a fresh passion and love for Him. The Feast Later in the psalm, David says, ‘He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies (v.5).’ As Christians, we will have enemies. Jesus had enemies, and He told the disciples that the world would hate them (John 15:18), but to take courage because He has overcome the world (John16:33).David was well aware that he had enemies but even greater was
His awareness of God’s presence. God doesn’t leave us to just deal with our enemies on our own. On the contrary, this psalm displays God’s approach to dealing with our enemies. He sets a table before us in their presence. Imagine someone setting a table for you. It is an elegant, fancy feast and everything is in its proper place. You sit down at this table and in perfect peace you eat the meal and enjoy every bite of food, although your enemy stands at the door watching. This is the kind of peace that God desires to give us in the face of the most dangerous circumstances. I’m also reminded of the great church father and martyr Poly Carp who not only set a table before his enemies who had come to collect him for torture, but he also invited them to sit and dine with him. In the face of death, God sets Himself before us and treats us to the fruits of Himself: His goodness, joy, peace, faithfulness, love. He calls us to feast on His love, in perfect peace and joy. Living in His Presence At the end of the psalm there is a definite note of victory and joy as David says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (v.6).” This psalm was written at a time where ‘the house of the Lord’ was the tabernacle, where the presence of God dwelt. The priests tended to the tabernacle, performed Holy duties and ministered in the courts. David isn’t expressing a desire to actually go to the tabernacle and be a priest, but more so, he wants to live as if he were there. He wants to live in a way that He is always in worship and in the conduct of Holy activities. He wanted to live constantly in the presence of God. Today, we no longer look to a building to experience the presence of God. When Jesus takes His place in our hearts, we are the temple of God, where He dwells. This means that His presence is with us and whoever comes into contact with God, can come into contact with His presence. While it is true that David had many enemies and so will we, on the other hand, people will run to us because just as people were drawn to the tabernacle for the Lord’s presence, so they will be drawn to us. God With Us It is no mystery why this Psalm has become so precious to us today. Even people who aren’t Christians can often recite some of this Psalm because of its popular use at funerals. It stands out as one that evokes the imagery and poetry, of a serenity that only God can give us. It is not in the denial of trouble, or trusting in our own efforts, that we experience relief. It is when we like sheep come to God our shepherd, and let Him guide us to His green pastures of rest, his waters of joy, the restoration of our souls, the elegantly set table and, ultimately His presence. This is where we can experience Him. And what is the best remedy for a troubled soul, but God Himself. Resources: Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary www.christnotes.org Charles Spurgeon’s Commentary www.spurgeon.org
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