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Psalm 23: Resting in God

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