Summer Psalms #2: Secure Psalm 23
Psalms 23 is probably the best know scripture in all the Bible. It is considered one of the “crown jewels” that are set apart because of their beauty and their subject. Passages like Genesis 1, Isaiah 53, Job 38, John 3, 1 Corinthians 13 or Revelation 21. It is hard to get a consensus from everyone on what all the crown jewels chapters or passage of scripture are, but Psalm 23 would be on each one of those lists.
Listen to what Charles Spurgeon said about Psalms 23 - Of this delightful song it may be affirmed that its piety and its poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality are unsurpassed. The position of this Psalm is worthy of notice. It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross. There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second Psalm. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” - C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 1-26.
Let me pick up where Spurgeon stopped and put down some contextual foundation before we look at the six beautiful verses of this Psalm. Psalm 23 is actually one of a trio of Shepherd Psalms, Psalm 22, 23, and 24. These 3 Psalms show us David’s great shepherd, His Lord and if we also are the sheep of his pasture, then they show us our great shepherd as well.
We see The Compassionate Shepherd Dying for His Sheep in Psalms 22:1-2 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season and am not silent.
We see the Caring Shepherd Protecting His Sheep in Psalms 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
And we see the Conquering Shepherd in Psalms 24:7-8 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
And in the center of those “shepherd Psalms is the 23rd Psalms. So, let’s turn there now and read all six verses.
Satisfied With the Shepherd – Psalm 23:1-2
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
David makes these boasts in the opening two verses. First, Jehovah is my shepherd, and secondly, because that is true, I shall not want.
Here David uses the personal name of God, because he has a personal relationship with Jehovah. He knows and is known by the creator of the universe, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy, just and loving God. David knows that He is the one who is personally watching over him.
In fact, Warren Wiersbe points out that each of the OT names for Jehovah can be seen in this psalm:
Jehovah-Raah, “The Lord my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1)
Vs. 1, I shall not want shows us Jehovah-Jireh, “The Lord who provides” (Gen. 22:13–14);
Vs 2. He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads beside the still waters is Jehovah-Shalom, “The Lord our peace” (Jud. 6:24);
Vs 3 He restores my soul and vs. 5 he anoints my head with oil is Jehovah-Rapha, “The Lord who heals and restore” (Ex. 15:26);
Vs. 3 He leads me in the paths of righteousness is Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “The Lord our righteousness,” (Jer. 23:6);
Vs. 4 says in the valley of the shadow of death you are with me. That is Jehovah-Shammah, “The Lord who is there,” (Ezek. 48:35);
Vs. 6 David declares that he is part of the household of God and now lives under God’s banner and that is Jehovah-Nissi, “The Lord our banner” (Ex. 17:8–15).
No wonder David would say in his second boast, “I shall want.” He says, I lack nothing, I need nothing, I am full to overflowing because Jehovah God is my shepherd.
The Theme: “I shall not want” is the theme that runs throughout the 23rd Psalm. We see it in vs. 2, “I shall not want” for rest and refreshment, in vs 3, I shall not want for restoration and righteousness, In vs 4, I shall not want for protection in time of trouble, in vs. 5 I shall not want for provision in the wilderness, and finally in vs. 6 I shall not want for an eternal home.
In vs 2 David gives an example of resting in the Lord and needing nothing nor anyone else. He says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters.”
David is probably writing this Psalms as an older man, the King of Israel now, but he looks back to when he was once just a shepherd boy and his mind dwell on those times and how he remember when he was a shepherd and watched over his own sheep and now he rejoices that even in midst of all the problems of kingship, the battles with enemy nations, the family problems, the sins of his people, even his own sin, still he can boast that God cares for him and gives him peace. Jehovah is his Shalom.
Stablished in My Shepherd and Savior
As New Testament believers our Good Shepherd is fully revealed as Jesus, God the Son. When it was time, Jesus came as the shepherd of Israel and gave His life for the sheep, just as Psalm 22 prophesied. Jesus is the Shepherd of our souls, each and every day.
One of the reasons we so love Psalm 23 is because we see in it our own relationship with our Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He is our provider, He is our peace, He is our leader, He is our protector.
In John 10, Jesus claims the title of the Good Shepherd and He echoes Psalms 23 but changes the perspective. Instead of the sheep looking to His shepherd, now Jesus in John 10 looks as a shepherd to his sheep. And this chapter also is another crown jewels of God’s Word.
In John 10:7-11 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: 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.
Jesus is the good shepherd and in this passage He also tells us how we become His sheep.
in John 10:27-29 Jesus makes this clear, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.”
That is the promise of our great, good, guiding shepherd. Listen for He calls every man, woman and child. Listen, for when you hear the Gospel Jesus is calling and if you would know His love, peace and protection, then you must answer his call and come. Go to him and find salvation. Walk with Him to life and life eternal. Stand behind His protection for no man is able to take you from his hand. What more could anyone need or want?
We have eternal salvation, eternal protection and eternal life in Jesus if we answer the Gospel’s call.
Song Come Unto Me
Hear the blessed Savior calling the oppressed,
“O ye heavy-laden, come to Me and rest;
Come, no longer tarry, I your load will bear,
Bring Me every burden, bring Me ev'ry care.”
Stumbling on the mountains dark with sin and shame,
Stumbling toward the pit of hell’s consuming flame;
By the pow’rs of sin deluded and oppressed,
Hear the tender Shepherd, “Come to Me and rest.”
Come unto Me; I will give you rest;
Take My yoke upon you, hear Me and be blest;
I am meek and lowly, come and trust My might;
Come, My yoke is easy, and My burden’s light.
After David boasts that His shepherd meets all his needs he
then reflects on the security and peace he has through his great shepherd in
Secure In the Shepherd – Psalm 23:3-4
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Through The Valley - The next two verses present us with a progression of the sheep in their walking with their shepherd. The first two verses show us the sheep at rest in the shady, green pastures of the lowlands. Now in vss. 3-4 we picture the shepherd leading the sheep up through the paths of righteousness and even climbing steep mountain valleys filled with the deadly shadows of jagged peaks and waiting predators.
David, when he was a shepherd boy, would have made this kind of journey every year with his own flock. He knows that once the sheep knew him, and trusted him, then they would follow him anywhere. He also knew that it was necessary to leave the hot, dry lowlands and travel to the high, cool mountain tablelands.
For His name’s sake speaks of the Shepherd’s reputation, his name. David as one of the Lord’s sheep knows that his soul has been restored by his time with the shepherd in the green pastures. He knows that he is now ready to follow as his shepherd leads him in righteous, true paths. As he faithfully follows wherever his shepherd leads, then the shepherd’s name, his authority is clearly seen in the obedience and loyalty of the sheep who go where the shepherd leads.
The Rod and The Staff- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” David knows he is safe and fears no evil because the shepherd walks beside Him through the valley. The rod and the staff of the Shepherd comfort him because with them the shepherd will protect the flock he loves.
Also notice here in vs. 4 that the person of the shepherd changes from third person, He leads me, to second person, You are with me. The danger, the threats of the dark valleys bring the sheep closer to their shepherd. David is no longer just talking about the shepherd, he is now talking to his shepherd who walks beside him through those dark paths.
Secure in My Shepherd, Jesus Christ
Jesus in John 10:11-15 says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. -- The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Do you know where boldness in the face of danger or death comes from? Do you know where you will find courage while you pass through the valley of the shadow of death? It is not in us, we truly are frightened sheep, but that boldness, that courage, that ability to say, “I will fear no evil” comes from knowing my shepherd, Jesus Christ, the Son of God walks beside me in those dark valleys of my soul.
David says, “Thy rod and they staff, they comfort me.” Jesus’ rod and staff for us is the Bible and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, promised by Jesus. Listen, our Shepherd speaks to us through this Word and He eases our troubled hearts with the unspeakable joy and hope of the Holy Spirit.
Thy Word and Thy Spirit, they truly comfort me.
Stand By Me
The Hymn Stand By Me was written by Charles Albert Tindley, born in 1851, he was the son of a slave, lost his mother when he was very young. Then he was sent away from his family to live with an aunt. He was born free through his mother, but was hired out by his family to work alongside slaves throughout his youth. He taught himself to read and he taught himself the Bible and when God called him to preach he was ready. He wrote hymns and would often start his sermons by singing one of his hymns. He wrote the hymn Stand By Me. In it you can hear the voice of one of the Lord’s sheep calling out for the protection of His shepherd in those dark valleys.
1 When the storms of life are raging,
stand by me; (stand by me)
When the world is tossing me
like a ship upon the sea,
thou who rulest wind and water,
stand by me. (stand by me)
2 In the midst of tribulation,
stand by me; (stand by me)
When the hosts of hell assail,
and my strength begins to fail,
thou who never lost a battle,
stand by me. (stand by me)
5 When I’m growing old and feeble,
stand by me; (stand by me)
When my life becomes a burden,
and I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O thou Lily of the Valley,
stand by me. (stand by me)
There is such courage, such boldness, such comfort in knowing that our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, stands by us with His rod and staff. Walking with us through the valleys of dark shadows that we pass through in this world.
And we must pass through those valleys because only through the valleys will we find the tablelands Jesus has prepared. This is what David sings of in his last stanza of Psalm 23. The Sheperd has been with the sheep in the low restful pastures. He has walked beside then in the dangerous mountain passes, then comes the summit and they walk out upon the peaceful tablelands in vs 5-6.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
This journey began down in the lowland pastures, where the lambs were born and life with the shepherd began, but the shepherd could not leave the flock there, for during the hot summer months the lowland pastures dry up. So, He leads them higher and higher, up and further up, through those deep and dangerous mountain pathways. In order to get to the high cool, plentiful mountain plateaus, the mesas, the tablelands, they had to go forward and upward, the flock had to learn to follow their shepherd, leave the green pastures and brave the dark shadows if they were to come to a place of serenity with their shepherd.
David says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” The shepherd had gone ahead and had already prepared a place for the flock to find sustenance and a higher, greater peace.
David rejoices in this time with His shepherd. “You have prepared a table to feed me and you have anoint my head with oil to sooth and comfort me. O Lord, My cup runs over.”
Stephan Haboush, who was a shepherd boy in and around Bethlehem in the late 1800s, wrote a book called My Shepherd Life in Galilee. In that Book, he talks about this phrase, “My cup runneth over.”
A pilgrim, having a very dear and intimate friend in a distant country, visits him. Upon his arrival, this pilgrim, though in a strange land, finds the gates and doors of the palace of his friend open and the friend standing expectantly with open arms to welcome him to his bosom. The pilgrim is refreshed wonderfully; the dust of the long and tedious journey is washed away, and he is made to feel at home. He did not dream of the wealth or of the great possessions of his friend, or of the beauty that he saw in every nook and corner of the magnificent palace. Every conceivable thing was lavished on the pilgrim. From the hour of his rising to the hour of his slumber he was entertained royally, for nothing was left undone to make his stay the richest experience of his life. Every wish, and every want was fulfilled. The time of parting came.
How will he express his appreciation to his wonderful host? If he offered gold and silver his friend would feel insulted, for he was vastly richer than the pilgrim. Would the mere words “thank you" or "much obliged" be sufficient to express his sincere appreciation of the wonderful hospitality? How, then, should he express his gratitude? The pilgrim, while visiting his friend, learned that there was a supreme expression of appreciation. He could only say to his host, "My cup runneth over."
David closes his song of praise to the shepherd of Israel, by looking even higher than the table lands. He says, in vs 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
He looks past this high place of peace, past this serene supper to a dwelling place for all eternity where He will be with His shepherd forever. From the tablelands high above the valley below, David looks even more upward and forward and he sees into forever, into eternity.
Supper In My Shepherds House
One day we will hear the voice of our shepherd call us home. One day after we have journeyed through the painful paths of this life, one day when we pass through that final valley of death’s shadow, then on that day we will follow our loving shepherd to that final tableland.
On that day, we will leave behind even the high tablelands of earth, leave behind our earthly places and times of joy and go on to the highlands of heaven and like David, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
There is so much promise in that phrase, “the house of the Lord,” to us it is speaks of heaven, but it is more than just a place. The House of the Lord means we belong in and are a part of the household of God, we belong to Him now and for eternity. Dwelling in His house forever means protection now, it is belonging to him now, it is who we are and where we will be, now and always. We are the sheep of his pasture. We are the members of His mighty, eternal house.
Remember how Jesus expressed it in John 10:27-30? “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one.”
One God, One Lord, One faith, One people, One Flock, One House. We are His and we are protected under the power of the House of God forever.
We began this sermon by saying that the 23rd Psalms was a crown jewel of the Bible. So much beauty and truth in just 6 verses. But what we truly need is not to know the 23rd Psalms as a masterpiece of literature but as the Master’s Peace in my life. It should be as true for me as it was for David.
In its prose I should hear my own heart of thankfulness, my own hope of peace, my own height of joy.
I pray that you have answered when the Good Shepherd called. I pray you are walking with him though those pathways of righteousness. And if you face the valleys of death’s shadow that you know He walks beside you each step of the way. Finally, I pray that you are looking upward to those blessed tablelands of heaven, to a serene suppertime with the Shepherd of your soul.