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The Lord is My Shepherd
Psalm 23 – A Heart for God – May 2, 2021
Begin with an announcement
- Over the last couple of years we’ve had a group we called the Leadership Cohort.
- The goal of the group was to equip some of the men in our church to become more effective leaders.
- But also we recognize that in a church our size we need more elders.
- One goal of the Cohort was to identify elder candidates.
- That has happened.
- Benjamin Tangeman is officially an elder candidate.
- He’s been serving us well in a variety of ways.
- Elders are excited to work with him over the next months.
- Process will take a little while.
- He’ll have to pass the ordination exams with Trinity Fellowship Churches.
- Continue to be evaluated in his character and gifting.
- Kind of a courtship that’s beginning—he’s evaluating us, we’re evaluating him.
- Next winter is the soonest that an ordination would happen.
- Pray for him, pray for us.
Read Psalm 23.
One of the most famous passages in the Bible. If you’re watching a movie and there’s a crime boss who gets killed. At his funeral, the priest is going to read Psalm 23.
This morning we want to think of this Psalm as answering one of the most important questions there is, “What is God like?” This question is closely tied to another one, “What’s it like to belong to him?”
The Psalm isn’t primarily a warning to those who don’t have God as a Shepherd, but it’s an encouragement and promises to those who do.
If you’re not a Christian, not a follower of his, you’re on the outside of this Psalm looking in. Peering over the fence at the relationship this Good Shepherd has with his sheep. Tempting as you do that to think you’re a shepherd looking over the fence at another shepherd caring for his sheep. In that case, you’d probably think, “Why would I want to become a sheep when I’m a shepherd?” But the situation is different. You’re actually a sheep. The question is, in this world as it is, with your life as it is, are you doing ok as a sheep without shepherd? Or, do you need a shepherd like the one I’ll be describing this morning?
This Psalm develops the relationship of a Shepherd and sheep. In this Brave New World of ours, it’s likely we don’t know a single shepherd. Don’t know a single person whose full-time occupation is to care for a flock of sheep. We know people who have some sheep and some goats. But likely not anyone who makes their living off of it. For the ones who do make a living by sheep and goats, they likely have a fenced-in area for the sheep and the goats and a nice house they live in. The sheep don’t live in the house, the people don’t live in the pasture.
All that means we’re in a world very removed from the Bible. King David was a shepherd of sheep before he was a shepherd of Israel. He knows what he’s talking about. As a shepherd, he spent every day and every night among the sheep. When it was cold at night, he was cold. When it was hot during the day, he was hot. When lions and bears came after the sheep, he had to fight them off. His goal for all those years as a shepherd was to see those sheep flourish.
At some point God revealed that God’s relationship with David was like the shepherd’s relationship with his sheep. And now God is revealing himself to us.
Psalm 23 almost always one of people’s favorites—God is revealed as so personal, good, comprehensive in his care.
The series: A Heart for God. This Psalm inspires a heart for God by showing us what God is like. The more we know him, the more we’re drawn to him.
Sermon: (1) The Lord My Shepherd, (2) The Lord My Host (of the Banquet), (3) The Lord My Good.
Prayer for Sarah Long (C-diff), baby Lucy, John. June 6th…
I. The Lord My Shepherd
How does King David know that God is a Shepherd to him? It’s because of what the Lord does, how he cares for him.
- This Psalm doesn’t dwell in the abstract.
- Not speculation on what God is like in his essential nature.
- There’s a place for that.
- King David in this Psalm approaches God by thinking through how God actually treats him.
- How God relates to him.
- As he looks back on his life and the Lord’s care for him, what does it reveal about the Lord and his ways?
- He begins with a simple statement and then develops it.
“The LORD is my Shepherd.”
- This idea of God as Shepherd develops over time.
- Abraham, Moses, and David were all shepherds.
- Moses and David are described as going from shepherding their own flocks to shepherding the flock of Israel. Leadership is described as shepherding (e.g., Ps 78).
- The word for “pastor” in the Greek is the same word as used for “shepherd.” A pastor is a shepherd of a flock—a flock bought in the blood of Christ and set apart by the living God.
- Peter, though, reminds pastors that they are merely undershepherds who are accountable to Jesus, the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).
- In John’s gospel Jesus calls himself, “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:14–15).
This Psalm one of the vivid reflections on God as our Shepherd.
- We’re not sure where in David’s life he wrote Ps 23.
- Could have been as a teenager watching his flocks.
- Or on the run from King Saul.
- Or as King himself.
- But once he did this it seemed the idea took hold and the OT writings after this speak of God as “the Shepherd of Israel” much more often.
Why a Shepherd? What is it about our relationship with God that makes him a Shepherd?
My Shepherd Provider (Ps 23:1–2)
- The first thing David develops in thinking about God as Shepherd is God as Provider: “I shall not want.”
- One of the basic responsibilities of the shepherd—keep the sheep from starving to death, dying of thirst. Basic provision. Essential provision.
- “I shall not want” is better as “nothing I lack.”
- I lack nothing I need. My needs are satisfied. It speaks to God as our Provider.
- “Green pastures”: The word means “the rich, abundant grass of springtime.” Not just vast quantity but the highest quality.
- Green pastures aren’t simple in a desert region. Can’t overgraze. Have to rotate the pastures to allow them to replenish.
- In a dry region, finding them is a major task for the shepherd.
- Herding tribes may travel 1,500 miles annually to provide their flocks with greener pastures.
- “Still waters”: Literally, “waters of rest.” A river wouldn’t do. Needed to be a still water, where the sheep could drink, wash, have wounds cleansed.
- “Restores my soul”—Now we’re leaving the shepherd/sheep imagery for something precious. Our very “souls” restored. This is powerful. Remember, we are bodies and souls. There’s no other part of us. God restores that part of us we can’t touch or measure. Our very souls. Emotions, feelings, thoughts, fears, desires, interpretations, all these are part of our souls. Remember the Gerasene demoniac. Jesus cast out that “legion” of demons and then we find him seated, clothed, and in his right mind. His soul is restored.
- A Shepherd’s provision is based on a deep knowledge of the sheep.
- He knows what they need and monitors their needs and provides accordingly.
- The Lord’s provision in your life is PERSONAL. And GENEROUS. And RESTORATIVE.
- He’s no stingy shepherd saving a buck by giving you weak grass and polluted water.
- He provides so that “nothing you will lack.”
My Shepherd Guide (Ps 23:2b–3)
- He “leads me beside still…leads me in paths…”
- “Paths of righteousness” can also be “right paths” (Ross), “righteous ruts” (Laniak). Such paths would lead to safety, to home. At times wagon tracks.
- In July 2005: “First one sheep jumped to its death. Then another and another, and then dozens more. Having left their herds to graze while they ate breakfast, stunned Turkish shepherds now watched as nearly 1,500 others leapt off the same cliff. The first 450 animals died under the billowy pile.”
- Happened because the sheep were allowed to “wander onto the wrong trail.”
- “Good shepherds lead their flocks on the right paths. This kind of guidance requires knowing the environment well enough to recognize where each trail leads. The valued lives of one’s flock depend on guidelines.”
- One of the key ways God reveals the right paths is through his Word:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps 16:11)
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. (Ps 25:4)
My Shepherd Protector (Ps 23:4)
- Even when death and darkness seem to surround us, God is with us.
- He’s with us to protect us from our enemies.
- “Valley of the shadow of death” (ESV, NASB) goes back to the KJV. A long history to it.
- But the marginal reading is probably closer, “the valley of deep darkness.”
- The Hebrew is essentially “valley of darkness” but more than just a valley at night. “Darkness” = “an impenetrable gloom, pitch, darkness” (HALOT).
- Some translations use “the darkest valley” (NET, NIV, NLT, CSB, NRSV).
- New Jerusalem brings ideas together well: “In a ravine as dark as death.”
- The verse is painting a picture of a threatening situation.
- A skiddish, weak sheep in that kind of situation would be on edge, terrified. By itself, he’d be…dinner.
- But the point is the sheep is never alone—ever.
- The Shepherd is there. Always.
- And the Shepherd is there with his “rod and staff.”
- “Rod and staff” are the tools of the shepherd.
- Rod (or club) was typically made from a tree branch. It was used for counting the sheep but also as a weapon to fight off wild beasts.
- Staff (or crook) was to guide and control the sheep. Snag a trapped animal. Keep the sheep in line.
- In the hands of our Almighty Shepherd, this means we’re safe.
- This threatening situation is not threatening because “You are with me.”
- David’s response, “I will fear no evil.”
- The powerful thing is his presence with us: “You are with me.” Immanuel. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
- Some of us struggle with FEARING things that aren’t actually threatening. We interpret something as a threat which isn’t.
- But David reminds us that even when something IS a threat, we need not fear, because God is with us!
The fact Psalm 23 mentions this “ravine as dark as death” tells us this Psalm is utterly realistic.
- David knows this world is filled with enemies and threats and darkness.
- The question is, what hope can we have in such a world?
- Where can we turn in such a place?
- His answer is, turn to the Good Shepherd. His rod and staff will protect you. And he’s always there.
Remember how metaphors work…
- The truth is, sheep are smelly and stupid.
- Remember that biblical metaphors are meant to say a few things. Try not to go past how the author means it.
- We know that “smelly and stupid” isn’t in view in the Bible because Jesus is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29).
II. The Lord My Host
In verse 5 the scene switches from the Shepherd and his sheep to the Host and his banquet. But here, too, the blessings overwhelm.
“A table before me”: Now we’re guests at a banquet. A table has been prepared for us. Filled with food and drink in abundance.
The power of this image is that we’re seated there at the table with the LORD. We’re undeserving and wicked. He could easily have opened the door and thrown scraps of food on the ground for us to eat. That would be fitting.
But instead, he prepares a table for us. He’s at the head of the table, but the point is we’re there eating with him.
It’s a picture of fellowship, communion. He has accepted us. There’s a seat at the table and it’s got our name on it.
This is no “musical chairs” situation where you run around frantically trying to steal a seat from someone else. Nope. There’s a seat at the table reserved for you.
The banquet is even “in the presence of my enemies.” The ancient host was obligated to protect the guest of honor at all costs. If you were a guest, you were protected.
But like God’s protection in “a ravine as dark as death” the mention of “enemies” tells us this Psalm is utterly realistic. Tempting some times to think of the blessings and promises of God as simply unrealistic.
- We can think, “These writers didn’t know what my life is like.”
- Or, “Things are more complicated now.”
- But that’s not true.
- They’re writing in a world filled with “dark as death” valleys and hostile enemies.
- The amazing promise is that even in the middle of such a dangerous and dark world, God is with us to protect us and provide for us.
- King David is utterly realistic even as he holds out to us the richest of promises.
“Anoint my head with oil”: In a dry, hot region, oil was seen like we might think of skin lotion. Soothes, heals. Our host is not stingy. “It was the duty and delight of the gracious host to give the guest scented, perfumed oil to freshen up (especially after being in the sun and sand; modern skin lotions may be similarly refreshing.”
“My cup overflows”: “Cup” fits the banquet image, but it’s also in the Bible a word used to describe our life. The idea is that our lives overflow with God’s blessings.
- Again what stands out is the generosity, closeness, and protection of God.
- We’re feasting at his table.
- Protected in his house.
- With him—and not far from him.
- In a hostile world that isn’t safe, we’re reminded again that we’re safe with our God.
III. The Lord My Good
In the last verse King David responds. He leaves behind the metaphors of the first five verses and responds. What does he learn as he thinks over the LORD as SHEPHERD and the LORD as HOST? Psalm 23:6.
He’s amazed at the LORD’s “goodness and mercy.”
When you consider the detailed way he watches over us and blesses us, his goodness is astounding. He is good. Not evil. Good.
He is doing good things in our lives, providing us with good things.
“Mercy” is the Hebrew word hesed. Most of the time this word is translated “steadfast love.”
- “Steadfast love” is appropriate because God’s love is not just his affection.
- It’s steadfast.
- In his love is an unwavering loyalty.
- His love doesn’t change its mind when we act up.
- His love is steadfast.
- Unceasing. Unchanging.
“Mercy” is included in it. God is perfectly holy and infinitely glorious. His choosing to set his steadfast love on us is amazing mercy. His goodness on people so inferior to him, so beneath him, so sinful in the face of his sinless perfection, such goodness is nothing but mercy.
We read that this “goodness and mercy follows us.” But “follow” doesn’t really capture it. The Hebrew verb (rdp) is used a lot in the OT.
Almost always referring to an army “pursuing” someone. When you come across the word “pursuer” or “persecutor” in the OT, it’s this word.
God’s “goodness and steadfast love” are pursuing us, chasing after us, they won’t let us go. The NLT does a good job with this phrase: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.”
The point is, God “will not let David out of his faithful loving care.”
No matter where he went or why, David knew that God would follow him with his love. He had been pursued often in his life; but no man chased him as persistently and effectively as the LORD.
Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms
The Lord’s ACTIVE concern for us is all over this Psalm:
- “Makes me lie down in green pastures…”
- “Leads me beside still waters…”
- “Leads me in paths of righteousness…”
- “You prepare a table before me…”
- “You anoint my head…”
- “Goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me…”
The Final Words…
The final words of the Psalm are where David tells us what difference this knowledge will make. What will he do in response to knowing God cares for him in this way?
He purposes to dwell “in the house of the Lord.” His tabernacle. His temple.
The ESV hints at this determination on the part of David by saying, “I SHALL dwell.” Not, “I WILL dwell,” but “I SHALL dwell.”
It’s like David is saying, “Based on the glory and generosity of God, I determine here and now that I shall dwell in the LORD’s house.”
“As long as I live” (CSB), David says, “I SHALL dwell in the house of the LORD.”
The house of the Lord in the OT is the centerpiece of God’s presence, so it makes sense for David to think of dwelling there all the days of his life.
David is saying, “If God is so generous and wonderful, I want to be where he is. Where he is is in the temple. So, that’s where I’ll stay.”
I will build my life with the worship of God at the very center of it. I won’t let myself stray far from the true worship of God. I will keep the worship of God and the presence of God at the center of my decision-making and values and priorities.
To keep near “the house of the LORD” in David’s time meant all that.
That’s how we want to respond as well. If God is so good and his love so steadfast and his Shepherd care for us so excellent, we ought to build our lives around him and the worship of him and his very presence.
As we close, we want to think of this Psalm as both a PROMISE and an INVITATION.
If you’re a Christian, it’s a PROMISE.
- This is God’s care for you.
- You can TRUST him. THANK him. WORSHIP him.
- It’s a promise that gets even greater with the words of Jesus.
- Jesus reveals himself as the fulfillment of Psalm 23
The Gospel of John (10:14–15; 1:29):
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14–15)
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
If you’re not a Christian, this Psalm is an INVITATION.
- An invitation to come to Jesus and know him as the Good Shepherd.
- Acknowledge you have wandered far from the Good Shepherd.
- You need his protection. You desire his fellowship.
- Come to him and find green pastures and waters of rest and protection.
- Come to him and find forgiveness in the GOOD SHEPHERD who is also THE LAMB OF GOD.
As we close, read Romans 8, kind of the NT Ps 23:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:31–39)
Prayer and closing song
 Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, I:561.
 Timothy Laniak, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks (ShepherdLeader, 2007), 54.
 Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, I:562.
 Laniak, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, 201.
 Laniak, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, 201.
 Laniak, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, 201.
 Craigie, WBC, Psalms 1-50, 207; Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart, 56.
 Allen Ross, Psalms, I:567.
 Ross, Psalms, I:570
 Ross, Psalms, I:570.
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