Shepherd of My Soul (Psalm 23)

MOTIVATE

Baskin Robbins boasts of 31 original ice cream flavors, with the idea created to represent a different flavor for each day of the month.[1] Since 1945, the company has created more than 1,300 unique flavors honoring not just customer appetites but current events and cultural trends, such as Lunar Cheesecake to honor the 1960’s space missions, Sesame Sweet for the popular children’s educational entertainment, Valley Forge Fudge for America’s 1976, two-hundred year national bday celebration, and many others. A current peak on their website displays an additional 18, for a total of 49 different flavors. In fact, their flavors have such variety and craziness that one man told one of the owners Burt Baskin, “Whoever thinks of all these [ice cream] flavors must be plumb nuts!” Mr. Baskin replied, “Congratulations, you just invented a new flavor: Plum Nuts!” Flavors were literally created with such wild spontaneity. Two examples are when the other owners Irv and Irma Robbins were enjoying souvenir pralines from a recent New Orleans trip. They enjoyed the pralines so much that they decided to mix them with vanilla ice cream and a caramel ribbon, and born was Pralines-N-Cream. Another example was at the height of Beatlemania, just before the Beatle’s U.S. tour. A reporter asked what flavor would honor the rock band and Mr. Robbins was a bit unprepared but replied, “Beatle Nut, of course.” And it was created, manufactured, and delivered in just five days. In all, the variety of flavors is certain to please almost every ice cream lover.

Today’s message is from the book of Psalms. Psalms has 150 and each one has such variety and appeal among many. One of the most treasured texts is Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 calms the anxious, consoles the grieving, and comforts the hurting and lonely. This psalm is a remedy and rescue to any breathing soul and provides a firm foundation for any person and family.

–        Charles Spurgeon called it “This is the pearl of psalms whose soft and pure radiance delights every eye.” (Treasury of the Psalms).

–        Pastor H.B. Charles Jr. called it “the John 3:16 of the Old Testament”.[2]

–        Unbelievers and irreligious people know it as well as long-time believers.

psalm 23 - shepherd of my soul .png

EXAMINE           Psalm 23        The Shepherd of My Soul

Anti – Psalm 23[3]

1 I am on my own. I have unending needs, wants and frustration.

2 I am restless on a merry-go round and like a tossed wave of the sea.

3 My soul is overwhelmed with disillusionment and dissatisfaction from my selfishness.

4 I stumble and fall in the dark clouds over my life. I feel hollow and am haunted by depression and death.

5 I walk without friends but live among foes; I am exhausted and empty of life.

6 What is the point? Is there hope? Where shall I turn?

 

This is NOT the Psalm 23 you know and love; it’s the anti-psalm 23. The anti-psalm captures what life feels like when God is vanished from one’s sight. The anti-psalm describes the problem of discontentment when meaning and hope are sought apart from faith in Jesus Christ. The anti-psalm does not have to be your story. Today we will examine Psalm 23 for three results of knowing God like the psalmist.

◊      And on this Mother’s Day, ladies can be reminded to live like the psalmist – not that every day is worthy of a poem or a song, but that every day is awareness of the presence of God with you. Regardless of hidden struggles or open heartache, God can give you hope through walking with Him as your Shepherd.

The difference of the personal nature to Psalm 23 makes to us is at least two-fold:

1)    Faith is profoundly personal. In Psalm 23 the psalmist’s reflections are not general statements about “we” or “us” as the people of God, but instead is intimately personal with who God is to him and how he relates to God, using personal pronouns “my” and “me” and “I”. There is a definite and dynamic relationship that exists between this person and God. The person’s faith is not rented upon another, but is owned.

2)    Theology turns into doxology. When the psalmist speaks about God, he cannot help but speak to God. So, the pronouns move from “my” to “You” and become prayers and praises directly to God. Christianity is not just filling one’s head but inspiring the heart affections and how that results in daily life application.

Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

When the Lord is my Shepherd, I am fulfilled (Ps 23:1-3).
We need to remember that Psalm 23 is a “Psalm of David.” The reason why that matters is because David was a shepherd. And David, even from his youth, was a confident (cocky?) shepherd. When King Saul sought a man who could play music for him, this is what was said about David: “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him… he is with the sheep” (1Sam 16:18-19). Later, when Israel is faced against the Philistine army, David observes the taunts of the Philistines with their champion Goliath (1Sam 17:23-26). The young shepherd-boy David boasts, “for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God” and later speaks to Goliath saying, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the hosts of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1Sam 17:26, 45-46).

While David was a confident and competent shepherd-warrior. Yet, David boast was not in his strength but his weakness. You see, to call the Lord his Shepherd was to acknowledge that David was a sheep. Likewise, we cannot enjoy Psalm 23 and call the Lord our Shepherd if we cannot admit we are sheep.

The problem with sheep is that they are sheep! Sheep are not smart like a lion, swift like an cheetah, or even friendly like a dog. Simply put, the feature characteristic of sheep is that they are a bit foolish Sheep are known for their flocking behavior as an effort to protect themselves from predators.[4] However, while their “follow the leader” mentality is meant to protect, it can also cause senseless harm. Sheep can literally be led willingly to their own slaughter simply because they follow other sheep. Foolish for them but profitable for us as we are the recipients of meat, milk, and wool.

Sheep are not wild animals fending for themselves, they need a shepherd. Sheep by themselves are foolish, easily frightened, needy and wayward. If a sheep falls down it can hardly get back up without a shepherd to help.[5]

So, David compares himself to a sheep because he knows the greatness of God and the Lord as his shepherd. And this is interesting because many of the psalms have different metaphors of God: a high royal king, an impersonal rock or shield, etc., but this psalm has a profoundly personal metaphor for God in shepherd.[6] A shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to it: king/master, protector/deliverer, physician/help. So, the shepherd comparison is comprehensive and intimate.

David lists several benefits of the Lord as one’s shepherd.

“I shall not want.” God fulfills us with His presence. This means the Lord fulfills us. In God we have all we need; He is sufficient and sustains us with the provision for our daily needs. In God, we lack nothing. In fact, Jesus told us to pray to our Father in heaven for daily provision as a reminder that our contentment is in Him (Matt 6). In God there is no unfulfillment – we are satisfied.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” God fulfills us with His provision. This implies God’s provision in the journey of life. The good shepherd knows how to take care of his sheep and navigate the journey of every season to find green pasture for food (Ez 34:14-15) and waters for drink. The quiet/still waters emphasize rest and security.[7] Since sheep are “cud-chewers”, peace and rest while eating is essential for sheep to digest their food.[8] Further, God’s provision and care for His sheep is not seasonal but is steadfast and constant.

“He restores my soul.” God fulfills us with His support.

The restoration could be either corrective or nurturing.[9] God’s corrective restoration is necessary for when sheep are wayward and wander away (cf. Psalm 60:1). God’s nurturing restoration is through His blessings and the beauty of His word (cf. Psalm 19:7; Isa 58:12).

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” God fulfills us with His pathway.

The good shepherd has a purpose for every path. There are times when the shepherd may lead his sheep through a valley with threats of danger and death, but with the purpose to a greater destination. Our journey through the valley paths develop our trust and dependence upon the shepherd. So, we can join with the psalmist and pray, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for your are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:4-5).

Notice also the psalmist gives the motivation of the Lord’s namesake. In other words, God is always working for His glory and not our instant gratification.

◊      Mom’s, you can be tempted to chase contentment through activities and accumulation of things in this world. You must realize that contentment cannot be had apart from trusting and treasuring Christ. Often that will mean something you have to give up in order to gain (Php 3:7-10).

 

When the Lord is my Shepherd, I am fearless (Ps 23:4).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

David had walked with God long enough to know that there are highs and lows; peaks and valleys. David knows that God will not only provide but also protect from the dark times of life. Even death can do no wrong because of the psalmist’s hope in God’s resurrection (cf. Ps 16:10).

The shepherd’s tools for our dark trials are his rod and staff. They were used for identify (Lev 27:32), defend (Ps 2:9), and discipline (Ps 89:32). Even more, David may have recalled the rod and staff as Moses’ instruments to miraculously part the Red Sea and guide the Israelites safely across to escape Egyptian slavery and enter the Promised Land under God’s power and provision (Ex.14:16).

These dark and deathly valleys develop the sheep. The psalmist transitions from general statements about God to specific statements to God; they become personal prayers and praises – “for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff comfort me”. Like the psalmist, we are able to appreciate the dark and difficult valleys, perhaps even more than heights, because of the depth of awareness we learn of the shepherd. The crisis of life draw us closer to Christ. In fact, it is no accident that the psalm opens with green pasture and ends in the gratefulness of God’s house, but in between is the dark valley. We learn to cry out and depend more on God in trials. One pastor says, “there is danger in the valley that we might get angry at God and reject him, there is an even greater danger in the green pasture that we might become satisfied with the grass and forget the shepherd. In the dark we hug his knee; in the light we are prone to wander off in all direction.”[10]

 

è What dark moments are you tempted to fear rather than faith?

o   Health

o   Heartache

o   Unmet needs or unemployment

o   Haunted by dark or deathly circumstances

–        Psalm 16:8 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

–        Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

–        Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

–        Isaiah 43:1-2 “thus says the Lord, he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

è What obedience to God have you feared but God has called faith and action?

 

When the Lord is our Shepherd, I can trust the future (Ps 23:5-6).
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David deepens the metaphor of shepherd to table fellowship. In fact, there’s a word that’s close to shepherd (רָעָה‎ / rāʿâ) that means friend (‏רָעָה‎ / ʿâ).[11] The shepherd is the perfect host that leads the sheep to good grazing land. Hospitality in the ancient near east required more than providing a meal, but also responsible for protecting guests from enemies (Gen 19:8).[12] The host would also have their guests feet washed and anointed them with oil. Or, in this case, the anointing oil could be what the shepherd uses to keep the flies away from the sheep when grazing.[13]

A meal between persons would create a strong bond of fellowship and promise of continued friendship. And so, Jesus – the Good Shepherd – invites us to His table to eat of the bread and drink of the cup in fellowship with Him, not just for a day as an acquaintance but forever as friend (Matt 26:26-29; 1Cor 11:25-26).[14]

God’s goodness and mercy (hesed; God’s covenantal loyal, steadfast love) follows His sheep. To follow does not merely mean to bring up the rear or follow and never catch up, but to pursue forever[15] and the length of days.[16]

◊      Mom’s can endure the difficulties and pains of childbearing because there is joy of seeing the child. Likewise, we can endure almost anything because we have been promised an eternal home in the

 

APPLY/THINK

Psalm 23 comes after Psalm 22 that is known for its prophecies about the cross. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that we can come to see the Lord as our shepherd.[17]

–        You can experience fulfillment, be fearless, and have an eternal future by turning your life over to God through repentance of sin and trust in Jesus Christ.

–        Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I am the door of the sheep… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:7, 11).

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

[1] https://www.baskinrobbins.com/content/baskinrobbins/en/funfacts.html

[2] http://hbcharlesjr.today/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Living-with-Confidence-in-God.pdf

[3] Inspired but completely adapted from David Powlison, http://www.boundless.org/faith/2008/sane-faith-part-1

[4] http://www.sheep101.info/201/behavior.html

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0iJQD7B6DQ

[6] Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 127). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[7] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 23:2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[8] http://www.sheep101.info/cud.html

[9] Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 128). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[10] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/restful-words-for-labor-day

[11] Theological Words Old Testament, 2186.

[12] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 23:5). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[13] Philip Keller, A Shepherds Look at Psalm 23.

[14] Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 130). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[15] Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 130). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[16] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 23:6). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[17] Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psalm 23.

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