God as Shepherd | Psalm 23

God as Shepherd | Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is often used at funeral services.  Many of you know that I am personally working part-time as a graphic designer to support the work of this church.  A while back, I was asked to create a program for a funeral.  An older lady had died and the family asked for a funeral program that was fitting for a senior saint (a lady from the greatest generation who had been walking with the Lord for many years).  They intentionally wanted me to made it look old fashioned.  Soft borders, vignettes, curly graphics, scripted fonts and the 23rd Psalm.  It is traditional for funerals.

This psalm certainly has implications for families who have walked through such a dark trial that it literally led to a death.  The psalm itself has been and continues to be a source of peace, comfort and consolation in times of utter darkness and extreme loss.  It brings incredible hope and assurance to those who are facing death.  But this psalm was not written to be a funeral dirge.  This psalm is for the living!  It is for “all the days of my life,” not just when I’m faced with death.

Listen closely to how these phrases are written,

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

It is written for right now, not for some far off distant time.  Let’s not postpone to the future what is meant for us to hold onto today!

We can say right now, “Even though in this very hour I am walking through a difficult time, You are with me!”  That’s hope for today!  Psalm 23 is pointing to promises to be enjoyed today.  When David wrote this psalm, he was not dying.  He was very much alive.

Background

David was probably in his later years when he wrote Psalm 23.  These are not the musings of a shepherd boy, sitting under a tree for long hours, watching the sheep, playing his harp.  These are words from a seasoned, veteran king and a man who had walked through many hardships and many difficult trials.  Some scholars (not all) think this passage may have been written during Absalom’s rebellion.

Absalom was King David’s son.  Absalom had killed his brother, Ammon, because Ammon had raped his sister.  Through a series of events (2 Samuel), Absalom amassed a small army and tried to take over David’s throne.  2 Samuel 13:37 says that King David, “mourned for his son day after day.”  It is possible that in this family rebellion – in this dark valley –  is when David penned the 23rd Psalm.

Aren’t you glad that the Bible is so real?  Have you ever faced a family in crises?  If so, then this psalm is written for you, now – today!  We are not supposed to wait until a funeral to hold on to these promises, but it is to be sung and recited all throughout our lives!

This psalm was not written with young people or new believers in mind.  People of all ages love and quote this passage, but the message of this psalm is intended for mature believers who are fighting some difficult battles and who need to carry some heavy burdens.  Charles Spurgeon said, “there are experiences of the children of God which are full of spiritual darkness and I am most persuaded that those of God’s servants who have been most highly favored have, never-the-less, suffered more times of darkness than others.”

Does that sound like you?  Have you suffered through many seasons of darkness?  Have you had more seasons of darkness than many of your friends?  Let’s take a closer look at the connection the Bible makes between the Good shepherd and His sheep.

DISCLAIMER:  Now I am no expert at animal husbandry.  I’ve never lived on a farm.  I’ve never owned sheep.  I’m the son of a school teacher and a diesel mechanic.  I’m no expert in sheep.  BUT, I have some pretty good books.

What I know about sheep, I’ve read in books.  From what I’ve read, there are dozens and dozens of implications that can be drawn from the 23rd Psalm.  For this morning, I’m going to focus on the analogy of shepherd and sheep and what it means that God is our Shepherd (and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd).

If there is a connection between shepherd and sheep that I don’t touch on this morning that is meaningful to you, I’d love to talk with you after the service about your experiences and observations.  Here’s the first implication from this passage:

The Lord is the All-Sufficient Shepherd

Let’s take a look at verse 1:

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

It is significant that the passage does not say, the Lord is the Shepherd.  God is not just taking care of the universe, while being uncaring towards individual people.  God cares tremendously for his people and is personally involved in their lives.

The Lord is not just the shepherd, but He is my shepherd.  The Hebrew could be translated as “The Lord is Shepherding me.”  It’s very personal and hands-on.  Sheep are defenseless animals.  They are prone to wonder off.  They need almost constant care and attention.  Sheep are unlike cattle in that you can’t drive sheep.  Sheep have to be led and called out and coached and coaxed along the entire time.

Look at verse 2:

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

As the shepherd leads, some of the flock stay near the shepherd and follow without hesitation.  Because of the shepherd, they are able to find green pastures and still waters.  The shepherd sufficiently supplies all their needs.

Some of the sheep, however, wander around or lag way behind or stray off to one side or the other.  Without the shepherd, the sheep would put themselves in dangerous situations.  Sheep without a shepherd will quickly die.

When Jesus saw the crowds that were wandering away from God, he saw a similar scene.  He saw that without the Good Shepherd, we would wonder off and get lost and ultimately die spiritually.  Jesus says in Matthew 9:36:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

If a sheep started to wander off, the shepherd would call the sheep by name in a stern voice (in a dad voice).  Sometimes he would need to hurt the sheep if it did not come when it was called.  A man named William McClure Thompson traveled through the holy land in the 1800’s and recorded many of the ancient shepherding practices that were still being used at that time.  When a sheep tried to stray off course he said, “[the shepherd] often turns around and scolds them in a sharp, stern cry or sends a stone after them.  I saw him lame one just now.  Not altogether unlike the Good Shepherd.”

The shepherd knows the best interest of his sheep and it is good for the sheep to quickly learn how to recognize, identify and respond to the shepherd’s voice.  Sometimes it is the shepherd who injures the sheep in order to get their attention.  Even if it hurts, learning to hear the shepherd’s voice will save the life of the sheep.

This is not unlike Jesus the Good Shepherd.  In John 10:4, it says that when Jesus has “…brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

A sheep that is well trained will follow his shepherd without question.  He will follow the shepherd:

  • to and from the pen,
  • through a busy marketplace and
  • even in the midst of another flock of sheep.

If a stranger tried to call out to the sheep, the sheep would lift up their heads in alarm and if the call continued, they would turn and run the other direction because they did not know the voice of the stranger.  The sheep know the shepherd’s voice and the shepherd knows their names.

If you talk to folks who own other farm animals, like chickens, they will say that you never give them names.  People who raise chickens typically keep them for about a year, eat their eggs and then “harvest” the meat.  They know not to get too attached to these animals.

Eastern shepherds did not see their flocks like that.  They knew each one of their sheep by name.  They called each one individually.  When he called, the sheep responded.  The sheep were kept for a long time.  They were not typically used primarily for food, but for wool, milk and for breeding.

Jesus, using the analogy of being the Good Shepherd, says in John 10:14, “14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

The Good Shepherd does not just call his sheep by name and know his sheep intimately, but he leads the sheep personally.

The Lord Leads His Sheep

It is the shepherd’s job to find an adequate pasture for his flock.  Left to their own devices, sheep will wander back and forth on the same paths until the grass is eaten down to the dirt and totally trampled.  A greener pasture could be nearby, but they would be too dumb to see it.  They would stay right where they are until they died.  The good shepherd sees their needs and moves them to the next pasture.  Look at verse 3.

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

Some sheep keep especially near the shepherd.  They are the ones that tend to be the most content sheep in the flock.  They have much less danger of getting lost or being devoured by a wild animal if they are always remaining close to the shepherd and closely following his lead.

However, the sheep that grow discontent with the shepherd and choose to wander from bush to bush exploring for delicacies or wander far away from the shepherd looking for greener grass, often put themselves in the most risk.  There is danger in the green fields.  The danger begins when the sheep become unaware of the predators that surround them and wander away from the shepherd.  The wandering sheep might become more content with the grass than with the shepherd when he’s in the green pasture… it might become more thrilled by the pasture than with the one who lead them to the pasture.

We are the most content when we are walking with Jesus in paths of righteousness.  Danger comes when we are more excited about the gifts that Jesus gives than we are with the creator and giver of the gifts.

Jesus leads us in paths of righteousness continually.  He sees where you and I are spiritually, and in love, He won’t let us stay there forever.  If we are following after Jesus, He leads from one pasture to the next… to the next… to the next… one season of growth to the next season of even greener growth.

The holy land has a warm climate like the Verde Valley, but without the monsoons.  During the rainy season, there are pastures that are green and streams that flow.  During the dry season, it is more difficult to find adequate pasture land.  In order to get the sheep to the next green pasture, the shepherd might need to take them through a dark valley.

The Lord is Close in Crises

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.

Sometimes to get sheep to a green pasture, the shepherd would take them across rocky terrain that was full of snakes and wild animals.  Sheep lack good vision and when they are faced with unfamiliar countryside, they are easily frightened – especially if it is dark.  Leading the sheep to a good pasture required the constant attention of the shepherd.  He was not only directing them, but he was also making sure the way was safe for the sheep.  The presence, the care, the attention and the familiarity of the shepherd would be a source of comfort for the sheep in the dark valley.

Did you notice that David is no longer speaking about the shepherd, but speaking to the shepherd?  He could have said “The Lord is with me” “The Lord’s rod and His staff”  but he says “You are with me,” “Your rod and your staff.”  I think the switch in the language is significant for two reasons:

First, Crises draws us closer to God.

When we are in green pastures, we are more prone to talk about God – and perhaps keep God at a distance.  However, when we find ourselves in a terrifying place in life, we are more likely to begin talking to God rather than about God.

We learn far more about trusting God in the difficult times than we do in the easy times.  That’s why James can says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” (James 1:2) because the joy in trials comes through a deeper, more intimate relationship with the very God who is the source of all joy.  Crises draws us closer to the shepherd.

Second, talking about God must lead to talking to God.

Theology is the study of who God is.  Every Christian is at the very least an amateur theologian.  They make attempts – no matter how feeble – to learn some things about who God is and then put those things into words so that they can communicate those truths to other people.  There is danger in theology, though.  We can spend so much time learning about God that we don’t spend any time with God.

Wife illustration.  What would happen to my marriage if I just gathered facts about Lara but I never actually talked to her?  I could tell you all kind of facts about Lara – how tall she is, where she was born, her favorite flavor of ice cream, her shoe size – but simply gathering facts does not deepen my relationship with her.  Gathering facts about God without talking to God does not deepen our relationship with Him either.

There is a danger in letting this powerful book turn into nothing but a textbook.  Non-believers can learn facts about God and learning facts, by itself, (without the life transforming work of the Holy Spirit and without talking to God in prayer) does not really change anybody’s life.

If you and I try to enter a dark valley of life with just a head full of interesting Bible facts instead of with a deep, steady, passionate, personal relationship with the shepherd of our soul, then that valley will become overwhelming.  The tools we take into the valley are the tools that will be most useful to us once we are there.

Good theology is intended to stir up our hearts for deeper and more precious times of prayer and communion with the Good Shepherd.  Talking about God needs to lead us in talking to God.

SIDEBAR: Christ-focused, Bible-based, intentional worship accomplishes a similar goal.  You’ll notice that there is a pattern in our worship here every week.  We begin with a call to worship.  Then we sing about who God is, but we don’t leave it there.  If we only sang about who God is, then our worship services would become only an academic exercise for the mind.  The last song or two before the message is what we call songs of ascription.  I believe it is the most important time in our worship service.  It is a song or two where together we are singing out to God….not about God but to God as a congregation.

This week it was “Jesus you are worthy.”  Jesus, the great shepherd became the sacrificial lamb and laid down His life for us, the sheep.  Jesus, you are worthy of my praise, my love and my adoration, that is what you are.  It’s a song to Jesus expressing praise and adoration for all that He is.  END OF SIDEBAR

I think that one of the most important roles that Jesus plays in my life is that when I am facing the valley of the shadow of death, He is the strength, the rock, the fortress and the tower during the storms of life.   He protects the sheep.

The Lord Protects the Sheep.

4b I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

 The shepherd cares for the sheep individually.  The staff referred to the shepherd crook.  He used the staff to assist the individual sheep.  In the evening, each one of the sheep would pass under the crook one by one so the shepherd could count and examine them.

The rod was a weapon.  The Eastern shepherd was always armed.  The rod was a heavy club with which the shepherd could stun or kill an attacking animal.  He had to be courageous.  Some shepherds would engage in combat with savage wild animals.  There were no guns.  The fighting was up close.

Such a scene was recorded of David in 1 Samuel 17:34-36 when he was a shepherd.  David was speaking to Saul about going head to head with Goliath.  Listen to the tremendous courage of David as a young man as he speaks to the King:

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”

What incredible courage!  When the shepherd was not defending his sheep from wild animals, there was always the threat of the robber.  The faithful shepherd would go head to head with the robber who tried to steal the sheep.  Either way, he had to be ready at all times to lay down his life in defense of the sheep.

Do you see how all of this is a picture of our Savior?  It reminds me of John 10:11 when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Jesus was willing to face Satan, to face sin and to endure the cross for the sake of us, his sheep.  Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  The Lord is our protector and he is our provider.

The Lord Provides Perfectly

Remember the quote I used a few weeks ago “the Lord provides all our needs, not all our greeds.”  Look at verse 5

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

 

The table probably does not refer to a piece of furniture, but to a flat place in a hilly country.  It is a place where the flock could eat and rest as they headed back to the fold.  If sheep are hungry, they would not lay down and rest, so there is a picture here of the shepherd spreading out their food before them in the presence of many danger things and making sure they all had eaten.

Just because Jesus is near us and He was willing to die for us does not mean that the danger ceases to be present all around us.  The Lord does not always eliminate the dangers from our lives, but he watches over us.  He prepares a table IN THE PRESENCE of our enemies.  He leads and guides and protects.  He enables us not to be paralyzed by fear.  Being “more than conquerors” in Christ does not mean that he eliminates all the threats, but that He gives supernatural peace and divine oversight in the midst of danger.

At the end of the day, the shepherd would lead the sheep back to their stone pen and he himself would become the door.   AND that is a picture of salvation

The Lord Saves

Verse 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.

David looked around and he saw trouble everywhere.  He wasn’t naive.  He was fully aware of the dangers that surrounded him.  BUT He didn’t just focus on the trials.  He also looked ahead.  He looked up.  He knew at the end he would be in the Father’s house forever and ever.

Jesus made it clear that the door to heaven – the only way to the Father – was through him.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the door.  No one enters the Father’s house except through him.  John 10:7-9

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Application

You might be facing tremendous difficulties in your life right now.

  1. Do you know the Good Shepherd?  Have you received Jesus as you Lord and savior?
  2. Are you following the way that God blesses or are you straying from the path of righteousness?

Those who are most joy filled in this life are those who treasure the Shepherd and who stay close to his side both in the green pastures and in the dark valleys.


 

God as Shepherd | Psalm 23, John 10

The Lord is the All-Sufficient Shepherd – Ps 23:1-2, Mathew 9:36, John 10:4, 14

The Lord Leads His Sheep – Ps. 23:3

The Lord is Close in Crises – Ps 23:4a

Crises draws us closer to God.

Talking about God must lead to talking to God.

The Lord Protects the Sheep – Ps 23:4b, 1 Samuel 17:34-36, John 10:11, Romans 8:32

The Lord Provides Perfectly – Ps 23:5

The Lord Saves – Ps. 23:6, John 10:7-9

Application

Those who are most joy filled in this life are those who treasure the Shepherd and who stay close to his side both in the green pastures and in the dark valleys.

 

 

 

Mark Stafford

Senior Pastor

Canyon Bible Church of Verde Valley

mstafford@canyonbiblechurch.org

By | 2017-07-19T14:02:00+00:00 July 19th, 2017|Psalms, Psalms: Real Comfort from a Powerful God, Sermons|0 Comments

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