I Have a Shepherd!

Psalms 23

In recent study of 2 Chronicles I continually asked the question: “What kind of man is David?” “What makes him so different from the other people around him?” I think David best answers that question himself in the 23rd Psalm. But David doesn’t tell us about himself so much as to explain who his God is and the relationship David has with Him. THAT’S the difference! How David sees his Lord and how David sees his relationship to God. We’re all familiar with the 23rd Psalm. We’ve read it over and over. We hear it read often at funerals. We’ve committed it to memory. There may not be a chapter in the Bible that is so recognized and loved. Since you’re so familiar with it, I doubt that much of what we have to say will be completely new or different. But maybe, we’ll add to the depth of understanding… maybe when you read this Psalm again, you’ll think of it a little differently. There’s a very good book out there entitled “A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23” Phillip Keller used his background raising sheep to shed light on the passage. But, I think more to the point would be a title like “A Sheep Looks at Psalm 23” because that’s the perspective that David gives. Yes, David was a shepherd, but he’s expressing his relationship with his Lord from the vantage point of the sheep. We’re sheep! That’s actually not a very flattering statement. Now days, we probably idealize the way we think of sheep. We see them as cute little cuddly, fluffy, loveable little creatures. But really, sheep are just dumb livestock. They are about the most helpless critters. They need to be taken care of. They can’t do much to protect themselves and they have to be watched all the time or they just get themselves in trouble. For instance, have you ever watched a flock of sheep out in a pasture? They may start out together but one will notice a nice tuft of grass over there a few feet away and wonder over to eat it… and there’s another… and another… and before he knows it, he’s off by himself. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that he never even noticed that he was getting away from the flock. That describes us pretty well. If it weren’t for the watch of the faithful shepherd, we’d be in trouble. What did Isaiah have to say about us? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6) Praise God that I have a shepherd!

The Lord is My Shepherd
Yes, I have a shepherd. That’s a good thing since I’m so much like a sheep. But, I have to assume that not all shepherds are equal. Just like some mechanics are better than others, Some shepherds are better than others, right? Well, my shepherd is a good one.. In fact, the best. The LORD is my shepherd! The one taking care of me, providing for me, protecting me is none other than the Almighty Creator of the Universe. When I say ‘the Lord is my shepherd’, that assumes some things:

I am totally dependent on my shepherd. We Americans don’t like to be dependent on anything. That’s how we started out. We fought a war because we couldn’t stand to be under someone else. The last thing that I want to admit is that I need help, in any area of life. I don’t want to have to rely on anyone for anything. But the Lord is my shepherd. If that really is true for me, then I have to deal with my pride and stop trying to portray myself as able to handle whatever comes along. I’m fooling myself. I’m a sheep and there is so much in life that I don’t have the ability to handle. I’m helpless in many situations. Just like a sheep, I need someone to take care of me. I can’t do it on my own. That’s hard for me to even realize, let alone admit. The Lord is my shepherd. I’m totally dependent on him. I am owned by my shepherd. Sheep aren’t the masters of their domain. They are owned by their shepherd. The shepherd leads them to where he wants them to go. The sheep don’t get a choice, they don’t make decisions for themselves. As much as I’d like to convince myself that I’m running the show, it’s not true. The Lord is my shepherd. He is my owner and master. I have a personal relationship with my shepherd. The Lord is MY shepherd. Unlike a real sheep, It’s my decision whether I’m going to be His sheep. It’s a personal relationship. Just because you’re born a sheep doesn’t mean you have a shepherd. It doesn’t mean you have the Lord as your shepherd. You have to come into the flock. The Lord is my shepherd, It’s a personal, loving relationship. He is My Provider My Shepherd takes care of my needs. I used to think “I shall not want” meant something like “shut up and be happy with what you have” But, that’s not what it means. It means that he provides everything that I ever need. I’ve never had a need that he hasn’t met! David said elsewhere in Psalms 34 “Even young lions sometimes lack food and are hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psa 34:10) I’m taken care of perfectly. I’m lacking for nothing. Even more to the point: HE is all I need. You could paraphrase it as: I have the Lord as my shepherd. What else could I want? He takes care of my needs. He gives me lush, green pastures to feed from. He provides cool, calm waters from which to drink. He Provides Rest He causes me to lie down in green pastures. Green pastures are where sheep eat, but that’s not the end of the story. After a sheep gets his belly full, he’ll lie down and chew his cud. It’s a part of the digestion process. You see, the eating part, I have a handle on. I’m thankful that the shepherd led me to the green pastures where I can eat. But, when it comes to fulfilling my appetite, I’m pretty good at that. I can indulge myself fine, thank you. But, like those dumb sheep, I get all wrapped up in consumption. I need to remember that life is more than eating, consuming, and fulfilling my appetites. We need to rest and that’s not something that all of us are good at. In this culture especially, rest is a luxury. We’re not good at it. But, it’s a necessity. We all need to have time to rest, meditate, and recharge. The shepherd is there to remind me… to make me lie down. The “still waters” speaks of rest also. But they also give us another glimpse into how well the shepherd takes care of us. A sheep needs water to survive the wilderness. One of the shepherd’s main tasks is to find water. He knows where all the watering holes are located and he maps out the route going between one source of water to the other. Some are just that - “water holes” where muddy, brackish water is all that’s found. It will keep the sheep alive, but it’s not refreshing. Some locations are fast-running rivers.

There is plenty of water, but it can be dangerous to get at. A sheep can fall into the raging current and be swept down stream. And a sheep really doesn’t stand much of a chance when he’s in the water. But my shepherd… he leads me besides still waters. He didn’t lead me to whatever water he could find. He made sure I have still waters, a spring-fed pool. I can easily drink the fresh, cool water without danger. Yes, it’s true that we can be spoiled kids that want everything to come easy. But, the other side of that is that our God is a gracious shepherd who doesn’t want us to settle for less. He works to give us not only what we need, but he makes sure it’s the best position we can be in. He Provides Restoration Rest is something that we need and something that we rarely get enough of. Scripture, particularly the O.T. speaks of rest quite often. It’s maybe the biggest issue that we completely ignore… the concept of Sabbath. We don’t really take it seriously at all. But the shepherd does. He gave us an example by resting after creation. He wrote it into his commandments. He promises rest to his people. Why all the fuss? It seems to be a big deal about a little topic. Rest provides restoration. It’s the only way to get it. He restores my soul. He makes sure that I’m refreshed, renewed. He provides his word that restores my spirit and my fellowship with him. Our Shepherd is providing for us all of the time. Sometimes He uses normal channels. He provides us with health, opportunity, and abilities that allow us to work for our paychecks. Yet, we can’t forget that it He who is providing. There are other times when He’s provided for us in more dramatic ways. A job seems to drop into our laps or an unexpected check in the mail when we were in desperate need. Can you recount times when God had obviously provided for you? He is My Guide The basic job description of a shepherd is to guide is sheep. He guides them from one watering hole to the next. He guides them from pasture to pasture. He guides them onto safe paths and away from the briars and brambles. He’s constantly giving his sheep direction. The Lord is my shepherd and like a good shepherd, he’s always guiding me. Sometimes he leads and all I have to do is follow. Sometimes he has to prod me along. But, he’s busy making sure that I’m on the right path and am moving in the right direction. My shepherd is always guiding me. I don’t have to stress out over finding God’s will. But, what direction… what road? “the paths of righteousness.” or right paths. A sheep isn’t a very good navigator. If he comes to a fork in the road, he has no idea which path to take. But, the shepherd knows. He’s always guiding us onto the right road. There are plenty of paths that aren’t the right paths. They’re full of danger and hardship. When we listen to the voice of our shepherd, he guides us away from them. When we follow our shepherd’s leading, we stay on the path that leads to green pastures and still waters. But, God’s leading is more than a matter of “right” paths - He leads me in “righteous” paths. His goal for me is to be righteous, honorable, upright. That’s the direction that he leads me in. He has high hopes and expectations for me and all of his guidance is to achieve that in me. Notice why he leads us… Yes, he loves us and wants the best for us. He wants us to avoid the dangers and pain of the wrong paths. But, ultimately it’s not only for us, but For His Namesake. His reputation is at stake. A shepherd is judged by the way he cares for his sheep. It’s wonderful assurance that I can be secure in the fact that He WILL take care of me “for his namesake.”

Our Shepherd is always guiding us. Can you recall times where his leading was apparent? He is My Protector “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” We’d like to think that those “right paths” would always be an easy, comfortable walk. Always paved and always down hill. But, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the path that leads to green pastures and still waters must take us down into a valley… a valley so deep and so dark that it may seem as though we’re walking into the jaws of death. It’s a scary place to be! God doesn’t promise that we’ll never face evil in our walk. But, he promises that we don’t have to fear evil…because He will always be with us in the face of evil. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” There's a beautiful, but haunting song from Natalie Grant that illustrates trust in our Protector even in unimaginable circumstances:

Held - Natalie Grant Two months is too little. They let him go. They had no sudden healing. To think that providence would Take a child from his mother while she prays Is appalling. Who told us we'd be rescued? What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares? We're asking why this happens To us who have died to live? It's unfair. Chorus: This is what it means to be held. How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life And you survive. This is what it is to be loved. And to know that the promise was When everything fell... we'd be held. © Weimarhymes Publishing Inc
Words & Music: Christa Wells

Notice how David was speaking to us about his shepherd, but now he’s speaking to the shepherd, himself. He doesn’t say “He” is with me. He says “You” are with me. His perspective has changed. His shepherd is with him. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The staff is like the familiar shepherds crook. It was used to herd the flock along and to rescue a sheep that may need to be pulled out of the briars. The rod was more

of a weapon that the shepherd could use to beat off an attacking wolf, for instance. David is comforted to know that his shepherd is well equipped for the task. The shepherd is able to defend his sheep and able to rescue them. Was there a time when your shepherd protected you?

He is My Hospitable Host. David begins to use new imagery to describe the loving care of his Lord. He uses the imagery of the ancient Bedouin traditions of hospitality. Hospitality is a very important tradition in the mid east, even today.

According to the Bedouin law of hospitality, once a traveler is received into the shepherd’s tent, and especially once his host has spread food before him, he is guaranteed immunity from enemies who may be attempting to overtake him. In pastoral circles no human protection is greater than that afforded by the hospitality of a Bedouin chief.
So, even though David was surrounded by his enemies, he felt perfectly safe. He was under the protection of the king. The king has set a banquet before him, treating him as an honored guest and friend. “You anoint my head with oil.” In the imagery of the feast, this would speak of the host giving honor to the guest. If you relate it back to the shepherd scene, it could also mean healing and comfort. The shepherd would rub oil on a sheep’s cuts and scrapes and also into it’s ears and around it’s eyes to keep flies and bugs away. “my cup overflows” The gracious host doesn’t serve leftovers to his honored guest. He serves only the best… and plenty of it! Our cups overflow with His generosity to us. “Surely, goodness and love will follow me…” To my mind it looks like we’re going back to the shepherd metaphor. I like to think of goodness and mercy as the shepherd’s two sheepdogs - following behind all the way, guarding the rear and keeping us going down the path. As we walk the paths our shepherd leads the way and his grace and mercy are always there. “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” Now back to the idea of the host and guest. I’m protected from my enemies, I’m treated to a wonderful feast, I’m an honored guest in the king’s house. Ever hear the saying, “house guests are like fish… after 3 days they stink and must be thrown out.”? It’s not so in the King’s house. I’m an honored guest who has been invited to stay forever. What a promise! So, can you relate to what David has to say about his shepherd and king? Can you honestly say that the Lord is your shepherd? Can you look back on your life and see his provision, guidance, and graciousness? Are you worried, anxious, or scared of what the future holds? Or do you trust in your shepherd who cares for you for his namesake?

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