A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
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 your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23 is the next Psalm I am highlighting in my series, “Psalms that awaken a longing for heaven.” I have read this psalm for many decades, but it wasn’t until recently when I read the book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller, did I gain an enormous appreciation for the comparison of the shepherd and his sheep with God and his people.
Psalm 23 uses rural language and speaks mostly of the natural world. I grew up in the city of Chicago and have lived in metropolitan areas most of my life where man-made environments are the norm. My lack of understanding of rural sheep life was preventing me from understanding the significance and beauty of the language used in Psalm 23.
Most of the words in this psalm conjure up images of sheep, green pastures, quiet streams, paths, dark valleys, a rod, a staff, a table displaying a feast, an overflowing cup, oil pouring and finally a house that belongs to the Lord. Keller describes in detail his firsthand experience as an East African Shepherd, and these stories have taught me that this isn’t simply a nice poem with descriptions of beautiful scenes but rather a revelation from God about how much he loves me.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Keller asks several reflective questions:
1. Who is the Lord?
2. What is His character?
3. Does He have the adequate credential to be my Shepherd – my manager – my owner?
David makes it clear that he is the sheep under the management of the Lord who, according to David, is so good at being a shepherd that David can confidently say that he lacks nothing. David intimately knew the character and intentions of his shepherd.
Jesus claims to be the “Good Shepherd” in John 10:11:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
This claim Jesus makes that he is THE good shepherd leads me to believe that He is claiming to be the only good shepherd to choose for my life and all others are impostors. I am absolutely protected and well taken care of when I make Jesus my manager, my owner and the sole controller of my life. Jesus can be nothing less in my life if I want the protection He longs to provide for me.
Keller says, “It is the boss – the manager – the Master in people’s lives who makes the difference in their destiny.”
Who is your master?
Keller also states how pitiful and lacking are the sheep who have a neglectful sheep manager. When we refuse to be under the control of Jesus’s authority, we will be following a false shepherd who has no interest in our care or well-being. This shepherd can even be our own feelings and thoughts that we depend on to manage our lives.
You will know if Jesus is your shepherd if you can truly say, “I lack nothing.”
Another word for “lack” is deficiency or in want of something. When Jesus is my shepherd and the words of the Bible fill my heart and I am quick to obey them, then no matter what I’m going through I will not feel short changed or deficient in something. Just like the sheep who wanders off and is no longer within the sight or care of the shepherd and becomes vulnerable to the attacks of predators, as soon as I get outside the management and care of God, His Word and his people, I’m left vulnerable to the attacks of Satan.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
God is the best shepherd a person can ever have because His intent is to pour love, peace and joy into my heart. I have come to believe that no matter how difficult my trials, God can bring me to those quiet waters and refresh my soul right in the middle of my pain. I love to get up early while it is still dark and sit on my couch with my Bible, pen, highlighters and journal and seek the Lord with all my heart. Psalms 42:2 says: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Keller says that the good shepherd is constantly estimating how long the sheep should be in a specific pasture, how to keep them from being cast (on their back with no ability to get up), how to protect them from predators, how to lead them to the clean streams etc. This reminds me of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” As I face a painful trial, I struggle to silence all fearful and negative thoughts that so instinctively flood my mind. By choosing to believe God is attentive rather than distant and uncaring, the love of God wins the battle of my mind and my heart is at peace.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Currently I’m walking through one of the darkest valleys I have ever had to walk through in my entire life; yet, I can say, “God has got this, so I’m not going to wander off and find my own pastures.” My God is absolutely attentive to my needs and is planning and estimating where to lead me next; therefore, I will not judge my God by the length of this wait or the difficulties I’m facing.
The world is dark, scary and a sinful place. Jesus promises to lead his followers through the darkest valleys to green pastures and quiet waters. Don’t be surprised when you are facing painful trials or difficulties because they are unavoidable in this fallen world. What matters the most is who you are following to lead you out of the many dangers you’ll face on this earth.
When David says he will fear no evil in the dark valley because your rod and staff are with me, he is referring to the protection these two objects offer him in the hands of his shepherd. The shepherd is skillful in protecting his flock from vicious animals. The news lately can cause great fear in our hearts. The human inflicted and natural disasters during the fall of 2017 have been unprecedented. The good shepherd guides his sheep through dangerous valleys and leads them to higher and safer ground.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Keller refers to the table as the mesas or tablelands that are sought after by the shepherd, and David who wrote this psalm referred to the table as the entire high summer range. The shepherd needs to visit these tablelands before leading the sheep there. The good shepherd surveys the land to determine the best location for the sheep to graze and he clears out any poisonous weeds prior to the sheep’s arrival. I believe that God puts this much effort into my care.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This is my favorite line of the entire psalm. It reveals the deep trust David has for his Lord, his shepherd. These words in the 6th verse ooze with contentment and confidence in his future. This is the result of a person who is in a sheep and shepherd relationship with God. I also know that when I’m willing to be the sheep in my relationship with God, then I will have confidence of spending eternity with him. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Can you confidently say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing?”
Below is a link to a video I took while walking along the Deschutes river that flows through Bend, Oregon. I was praying and thinking about this blog post when I took this video.
Please scroll down to the bottom of this page and enter your thoughts about Psalm 23.