THE SHEPHERD’S CARE
Devotional Thoughts on the Shepherd Psalm
Since it has been a few years since I wrote a devotional on this most famous portion of scripture, I though I would seek to do so again in hopes of bringing our hearts to a more intimate relationship with our Master, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep. Here is our text- the most familiar six verses in the Word of God.
“1 ‘(A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.’ ”
I said above that this was the most familiar portions of the Word of God because it seems that it is used very often in funerals and in various ways in religious literature. I don’t imagine that my thoughts on it and its simple yet profound application to the lives of believers will exceed others usage, nor will it elucidate all the great truths we can derive from meditating upon it. But recently as I was thinking about it a few things about this Psalm which I had not thought of before occurred to me and therefore I though it might be good to use this Psalm again for a devotional article for the church website.
First of all I would like to call our attention to the first statement in the Psalm- it is a psalm written by King David and actually it is the middle Psalm of a trinity of Psalms which are actually prophetic of Jesus mission in coming into the world for our salvation. We don’t know the exact circumstances which inspired David to write the three Psalms in this trilogy [IE: Psalm 22, 23 and 24]. I won’t attempt to go into the other two Psalms in the trilogy but just briefly state their place in the trilogy and then focus on the 23rd Psalm.
Psalm 22 is sometimes called “The Crucifixion Psalm” for it is a prophesy relating the suffering and death of Christ. Read it carefully for yourself and you will see it pictures the suffering our Savior underwent on Calvary.
In the same manner Psalm 24 pictures His final triumphant coming to rule and reign over the world. Therefore Psalm 23 pictures His role for us as the Great Shepherd of the sheep and is very suited for our needs today. It is therefore the PSalm for Jesus' presence withus today as our guiding Shepherd.
Now here is our text for today’s devotional Psalm 23:
“1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
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.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
Again, no one knows why David had such agony as expressed in Psalm 22, but his words are definitely prophetic of Christ. Then the 23rd Psalm is the “Pastoral Psalm” for it pictures His shepherd-like care over His “sheep” and ends up addressing our eternal home with Him. Psalm 24 pictures the yet to come return of Christ for the establishment His Messianic rule over all things. Now let us turn to the individual verses of Psalm 23.
Verse 1: “1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Note that there can be no doubt about the author of this Psalm, and that identification aids us to understand some of the parts of this Psalm and it’s strong reliance upon the elaboration of a shepherd’s duties and his care of the sheep.
You see, David had a lot of experience as a shepherd himself. When he came to the battle when Israel was in war against the Philistines he left his fathers sheep in someone else’s’ care. The scripture makes plain that he took care of his father’s flock of sheep, and he had much experience in that against large predators, as he related to King Saul when he essayed to go out and fight the giant Goliath. [See 1st Samuel chapter 17:verses 4 through 23 &1st Samuel 21:9 and 22:10]
So, we might rightfully conclude that David was well acquainted with the role and duties of a shepherd. That familiarity of David with the duties and tasks of a shepherd for sheep aids our interpretation of this psalm which leans strongly upon the tasks shepherds must do to take care as they tend the sheep. I will quote portions of Psalm 23 as we go along and seek to elaborate them for application to our lives.
Verse1: “1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
This short statement is very profound when we apply it to God’s care for us. We are like sheep in His fold and He takes shepherd-like care over us. A shepherd during the time the sheep were grazing in the fields was a full time job for someone like young David who cared for his fathers herd. Primary among his duties was to find the food the sheep needed.
“2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:”
Note the words “green pastures”. That was one of his primary duties for it was good food that sustained the lives and health of the flock. Christ likewise takes care of our needs as we depend upon Him as our Shepherd. Note the complete confidence in the care of the shepherd. He knows when to give us rest and he finds us “safe harbor” from enemies that would attack like wolves or bears would sometime attack the sheep, as David had related to King Saul of how he defended the sheep from a lion and a bear. This was strong defense for such a young shepherd!
“…he leadeth me beside the still waters”
One thing about sheep is their tendency to be frightened by something disruptive. The Shepherd does not lead them by roaring waterfalls or any other unusual disturbance, for sheep are easily frightened. They are so helpless and dependant upon the Shepherd’s care so that He has to take them to places where they won’t be frightened. Frightened sheep tend to scatter in all directions. He knows His sheep and He takes care to protect them against any disruption that would scatter them in fright. It is very likely that Jesus allows us to avoid something that would upset our lives or cause us to flee from His presence and watch care. We may not even be aware of how and why He does that for us. But we are under His watch care and so have nothing to fear for He will protect us and supply what we need even in unexpected crises. Does this mean that there will never be any critical times when we are in danger? No, for there will be times when Satan will seek to harm us. And, just the every day toils and dangers in this world's experience bring challenges. But trusting in Christ for our outcomes is the best and safest way to deal with whatever Satan throws at us.
“3 He restoreth my soul:” This essentially means that He allows us times to regain our strength - either physically or spiritually, or even emotionally. As the “good shepherd” He knows what we need. And, as we obediently follow His lead He will take care of those needs. Note they are “needs” not necessarily “wants”.
“…he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Jesus is not just satisfied with us as His sheep to graze and live ordinary lives. He has a purpose for each of His “sheep” and we ought to always seek to learn what He has for us to do. Here David begins to depart from the shepherd/sheep analogy. He focuses upon the actual leadership of God to cause us to live in a righteous manner. Note that He carried the shepherd/sheep analogy as far as it supports our relationship with God in the lives we are living. Now He moves on to another analogy. “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.”
Well, I might have spoken a little early about the leaving of the Shepherd/sheep analogy. For David makes one last parallel. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death continues the analogy. Notice that it is not “the valley of death”, but “the valley of the shadow of death”. We need to always remember that we are mortal and subject to death. So – it behooves us to walk as if we are creeping quietly by death and so must live carefully. Many dangers waited on those Judean hills and the shepherd of sheep needed to always remember that death was all around. In the case of sheep it meant the power of predators to kill them and accidents to injure or kill them.
The shepherd carries a “staff “and a “rod” The Hebrew words are different, but the actual item mentioned likely was probably one item but with multiple functions. The “staff” means that long pole with a crook on the end. This was used to pull a sheep out of a hole or crack in the ground. It is a tool of rescue from some physical danger. Sometimes the shepherd might have to use it to pull a straying sheep back into the flock, or to rescue it out of a hole it had fallen into. The “Rod”, (probably the same item) was a tool of discipline. The Hebrew words imply that it was used to punish a misbehaving animal. A light blow to it hindquarters usually did the trick. I found it fascinating that the two words probably represented the same item, but different functions- one of rescue and one of discipline. He will, and does, do both actions of Grace for us!
“5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Yes! He does take care of us and not just our basic needs, but often times much more than the minimum that we need. Notice the location: “In the presence of mine enemies”. This is so that His blessing to us is plentifully demonstrated. This is His testimony to the unbelieving. Notice the other items mentioned: “preparest a table before me”. God takes care of our needs. Now you might have longed for steak and he gives you fish. That is not the point, but the point is that He prepares it, and that it is what we need, and furthermore- it is a witness of His watch care over us.
“…thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
Not only is the feast that God prepares for His own, but there is an “anointing”. In the Old Testament “anointing with oil” signifies an appointment of some important task or position. Kings were anointed with oil, priests, entering their priesthood service, were anointed with oil. Kings, upon taking power, were anointed with oil. It is likely that any asumption of officeor powere ws introduced by this ceremony. It is a symbolic empowerment; often time the empowerment of God. It also signifies blessing. It points out that this person has been approved for vital and important tasks by the Holy Spirit! Here that is David’s point I believe. He believed that God had anointed Him with the holy oil of an appointment by God. Therefore-“my cup runneth over”. This indicates that his blessing exceeded his ability to comprehend it all. All that life is described as:
“6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
David firmly believed that God had anointed him and that this was evidence that God wished him to rule and reign and that God’s promises to him were being fulfilled.
Earlier, I mentioned that the three Psalms in this trilogy were prophetic. In this one, the 23rd Psalm the representation is no longer a future depiction of God uniting with David in fellowship, but a picture of Christ’s ministry to and with His people- “the sheep of His pasture.’ Let us then follow our Great Shepherd.
The conclusion of this psalm is both a hope and a conclusion:
“…and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
This is the fitting end for His sheep, those who come to, and follow, the Great Shepherd of the sheep.
Prayerfully Submitted Joe Forbus 07/11/2017