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Psalm 23:1-23:6
Key Verse: 23:1

Psalm 23 is the psalm of David. They say David wrote this Psalm when he became old and mature after going through all the experiences of life. This psalm has been loved by numerous people throughout all generations, whether they are believers or not. This psalm has been the source of comfort and strength for the afflicted, the discouraged, and even the dying. This Psalm described our relationship with God in the most excellent way. The Lord is our Shepherd, and we are his sheep. Is there any better way to describe our relationship with God? Through this study, we may know why the Lord is “my” Shepherd, and accept him as “my” shepherd very personally.

Look at Verse 1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” This verse tells us our relationship with God. God is depicted as our Shepherd in many parts of the Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus is also described as the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. David himself was a shepherd before he became a king, and shepherding was one of the major occupations in Israel. So people understood what it meant when David confessed that the Lord is his shepherd.

It is interesting to think of the nature and characteristics of sheep. Sheep have very short legs relative to his body. So they cannot run away or defend themselves when they are attacked by wild animals. They also have poor eye sight and lack sense of direction. So they are easily lost, and when they are lost, they have no ability to come back. Not only that, sheep are very stubborn and want to go on their own way. So Isaiah once said in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” In one word, sheep are “helpless.” They need absolute care of shepherd. Without shepherd, sheep cannot do anything. That is why they are fully dependent on their shepherd. That is the only way of survival. Shepherd means everything to them. That is how David felt when he confessed that the Lord is his shepherd. It was his humble recognition of his own helplessness and desperate needs of his shepherd. He felt that he lacked nothing as long as the Lord was his shepherd.

This is also true in our relationship with God. As long as the Lord is our Shepherd, we lack nothing. In the new version of NIV, it says, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” NLT Bible says, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” And MSG Bible says, “God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.” We do not need anything else when the Lord is our shepherd. May God also bless us to make such a confession faith like David. May God also bless us to make a decision to rely on God alone as our Shepherd.

Then what does it mean that the Lord is our Shepherd? What does he do for us as our Shepherd?

Look at verse 2, 3a. “he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” We usually image the beautiful scenery as we read this verse. But in Philistines, the natural environment is not favorable for sheep’s life due to wilderness in many areas. Following their shepherd means the matter of life and death for sheep. But as long as they follow their shepherd, he never fails to lead them to green pastures and quiet waters.

According to Philip Keller who wrote a book “A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23,” sheep cannot lie down in green pastures unless four conditions are met. First, they never lie down when they are afraid. Second, they will not lie down if there is friction among the sheep. If flies or parasites trouble them they will not lie down. Finally, if sheep are anxious about food or hungry they will not lie down. They can lie down and rest when the shepherd has dealt with fear, friction, flies, and famine. The shepherd leads them besides quiet waters. Quiet waters gives them deep rest and peace. We need rest living in this troubled world. Our shepherd gives us rest when we follow him. Our shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures, and leads us beside quiet water. The green pastures and quiet waters symbolize the word of God and the Holy Spirit. When we come to Jesus our Good Shepherd, he restores and refreshes our souls with his word and the Holy Spirit. Then we can find true rest in our souls.

Look at verse 3b. “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” What does the Shepherd do after restoring our soul? He guides us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. When our souls are fully restored by the abundant word of God and the refreshing work of the Holy Spirit, God leads us to the paths of righteousness. In the past we wanted the paths of success. The path of success in this world seems to be the best way, and everyone seems to follow that way. But when the Lord restores our soul, our eyes are opened to see the paths of righteousness. God changes our view of life. The path of righteousness is not popular in worldly view, rather seems hard and difficult. But this is the path that leads to life and glory. This is the way of the cross that our Good shepherd Jesus went through ahead of us. This is the path of righteousness where the Lord leads us for his name’s sake.

Look at verse 4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” This verse tells us that David was going through difficult times of his life. He felt as if he was walking in the valley of the shadow of death. But he confessed that he would not fear evil because the Lord is with me. When we go through the difficult times of life, we must remember that we are not alone, but the Lord our shepherd is with us and walking with us. Also, we must know that we are not walking in the valley of the shadow of death, but walking through the valley of the shadow of death. We will not be in there forever, but we will pass through with our Shepherd walking beside us. When we walk through our difficult time by faith, we experience personal faith in God. We can call God “you” instead of “he.” We will find ourselves stronger than before. Faith in God makes all the difference no matter what situation we might be in.

Loot at verse. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” David has been talking about his shepherd and sheep relationship with God. In verse 5, he uses different metaphor in describing his relationship with God, that is, host and guest relationship. A guest is invited to the house of the host, and a table was prepared for him. This table is the table of an abundant feast. But one thing sounds strange. What does “in the presence of my enemies” mean? What kind of feast is it? Maybe this feast was prepared as the last one before going to battle against enemies. Or more probably, after the great victory in battle the king invited triumphant generals to his table. It seems that the enemies are captured and bound and knelt down in front of the table. In such case, this table is the table of victory. This is what David felt when he accepted the Lord as his shepherd and followed his guidance with faith and trust. God gives victory to his people. Even though we talk through the valley of the shadow of death at some point of our lives, when we go through it by faith, a table of victory is prepared by our Shepherd.

“He anointed my head with oil.” Anointing a guest with oil shows that the host honored the guest greatly as honorable guest –VIP. God does not only restores our soul, but also restores our honor and self-esteem. Anointing with oil also symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit. When the Lord restores our life with the grace of Jesus and anoints us with the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the Holy Spirit until we feel that our cup overflows. This is the exact description of our life when we accept Jesus as our Savior and are anointed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 7:38. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s blessings overflow within us, and we become a channel of God’s blessing. As we learned in Galatians study, when Abraham believed in God, God credited it to him as righteousness, and blessed him first and then used him as a channel of God’s blessing. Through Abraham, God’s blessing of salvation overflowed to all Gentiles. “My cup overflows.” This is the confession of a sheep whose shepherd is the Lord and who is satisfied with him. God fills his cup with overflowing of his blessings.

Look at verse 6. It is the assurance of the sheep who wholeheartedly followed the guidance of his shepherd. When we follow our shepherd going ahead of us, we will find that his goodness and love will follow us all the days of our life, not just from time to time. Goodness and love are our two guardian angels following us behind when we follow our shepherd going ahead.

What is the final assurance of David? When he followed his shepherd, he knew that this world was not his real house, but his final destination was the house of the Lord, the kingdom of God. We live in this world, but we do not belong to this world. We live as holy pilgrims looking forward to our real house in the kingdom of God.

This psalm is the song of a happy sheep who has the Lord as his shepherd. All the blessings written in this psalm is what David experienced as he accepted the Lord as his shepherd. And this is the promises of God that will be given to us when we accept and follow the Lord as our shepherd all the days of our life. May God bless us to confess that the Lord is “my shepherd.” He is the only one we trust and follow. He is the only one who truly satisfies our soul with his heavenly blessings. May this confession be our own confession as we continue to follow the Lord as his good sheep.

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