Psalm 23

1 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 forever.

A Study on Psalm 23 – Phil White

Many years ago, barely out of my teens, I found myself on a long coach journey across Europe. This was before the days of the Internet, mobile phones or even MP3 players. As darkness encroached, you couldn`t even read. For some reason I cannot explain I decided to meditate upon Psalm 23, verse by verse; with an intensity, I have not pursued before or sadly since. Scripture does reward you for such hard work if we dare to free up the time to do it. Recently I decided to reactivate the exercise, to see what transpired, but having as a bonus the hindsight of experience to add into the mix.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want:

The One we are talking about is my Lord, the One we owe allegiance to and submit to for everything. It is a very personal thing;  the Psalmist was writing about a deep relationship that he was not ashamed to own.  He can say “my” because that relationship has been entered into at the cost of life itself  –  there is no renaging on it. The Shepherd could well have said “my sheep”;  indeed elsewhere He refers to the sheep of My pasture, and in John 10 He refers to My sheep.

The Lord Jesus has many titles, and one of the sweetest is Shepherd. It suggests guidance, leadership, protection and moment by moment care. We are by nature sheeplike  –  we are willful, independent and very often silly. You only need a trip to the countryside to observe the nature of sheep. Yet in wonderful grace I know that the Shepherd not only loves me and cares for me (Luke 15 bears this out) but in fact has given HIs very life for one lost sheep  –  which in fact goes much further than just finding it.

The Psalmist then says as a consequence of all this that he will not want. He is not saying he has everything he wants, but he will not be lacking in anything needful. It is because he knows the Shepherd and his character,  that he can trust Him implicitly to look after him. The apostle Paul says that “my God shall supply all your need (my emphasis) according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters

We are pilgrims marching through a wilderness, a desert place, on our way to the land that “flows with milk and honey”. Before we reach our heavenly Canaan we must experience the arid conditions that we are crossing on a daily basis. To the unbeliever (and to the young in the faith) this old world can seem very attractive with plenty to offer, with constant sources of interest and amusement. Only bitter experience will inform us that there is nothing new under the sun  –  a reading of Ecclesiastes, written by a man who had everything, will bear this out. This world, no matter how pleasant it might seem, is still Egypt where our Lord was crucified. Once we realise the truth of this, the world loses its appeal, and we discover that our source of life and strength lies outside of it.

In this respect, we are to take as our model the Lord Jesus, who was a Root out of dry ground  ie  he drew his supplies not from the arid conditions around but from the Father Himself.

However in our wilderness journey, we need refreshment and comfort, and the Shepherd would lead us into an area where His sheep are safe, and can feed. Napoleon said that an army cannot march on an empty stomach; no more than the Lord`s sheep can pass through this word without sustenance. Green pastures would imply an area of life, freshness, comfort and safety. It is interesting that when the Lord fed the multitude he made them sit down on grass. Our times of gathering together should be like that where in settled conditions we can enjoy spiritual food together.

Lying down would suggest a settled state where we can rest, physically and spiritually.

Again the Lord Jesus spoke to HIs harried workers of coming apart and resting a while; and there is that great appeal to receive rest to our souls in Matthew`s gospel.

Then not only is there rest, comfort and food; but there is another source of refreshment available. He leads by still waters. We are told that still waters run deep: there is a vast supply for us to draw on. The woman in John 4 was puzzled that the well was deep, and He had nothing to draw with. The fact was that He was able to lead her to a source of supply where drawing would be made easy, and there is an unbounded supply of life giivng water. It says in the scripture that God gives not the Spirit by measure  – we can have as much as we are able for.

It is also to be noted that it is still waters,  not stagnant waters. Whilst it is a restful scene, it s not in decay or putrified. It suggests the calming grace of the Spirit to refresh and revive; and He leads us to that place.

He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for HIs own name`s sake

During our Christain pilgrimage we get tired, we get jaded, we lose our spiritual vitality. The ungodly trio of the world, the flesh and the devil would try and sap our spiritual strength, as once happened to Samson.  The antidote to this is to keep close to the Lord, to follow Him. Then He would lead us in the right way. He would lead us along the paths of righteousness. Not that there are many paths which are right; but if we follow Him we will always be on the right one. As sheep and not following the Shepherd we drift down many blind alleys;  we each go our own way (Isaiah 53).  These paths are in stark contrast with which we find all around us;  unrighteousness, deceipt, immoral and corrupt. He leads us along the paths of righteousness because he can do no other. His person, His    character, His integrity demand it. It is for His own name`s sake. The name speaks of the Person Himself –  what does it say   –  “he cannot deny Himself”.  The infalability of His person is our cast iron assurance that we will not err if we keep close to Him.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;

As we proceed along the Christian pathway there are many peaks and troughs  –  mountains and valleys. The song says that God is the God of them both; He is with HIs own at all times. The ultimate valley must be that of death itself. But for the believer death is not a forsaking of HIs presence, He is with us even (and especially) at that most low point. Many Christians at the point of physical death have testified of the presence of the Lord in a very real and remarkable way. At the point of severence from this earth the believer`s spirit is immediately translated to the presence of the Lord;  absent from the body, present with the Lord. All through that experience the enemy of our souls cannot touch us. Satan has much power, he is the god of this world  (being the temporary usurper), but only the Lord Jesus has the key of death (Rev. 1:18). He has it by right as having overcome death itself.

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me

Now the psalmist reverts to the present time. The rod and the staff are part of the divine toolkit used to form the spiritual character of the believer now. The Shepherd knows exactly when to use each, in what way, and for how long. The rod is for correction and for discipline. It suggests using an exacting method, something forcible. There are times when, maybe through our dull hearing, we need to be pulled up sharp. Then the rod is applied. You might wonder how this might “comfort”;  the scripture says the Lord chastens every son He receives, and that His chastening is a loving proof that we are His. This surely is a comfort.

Then there is the staff, like a sheperds crook, which is used for guidance. The sheep which is inclined to stray is gently pulled in the right direction. Sometimes the crook is used to pull the sheep out of a difficult situation.  How often in our lives have we experienced this from the Shepherd.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies

It is not all hard graft and conflict in the Christian pilgrimage. The Lord is gracious and merciful beyond measure. He has unlimited resources, and He loves to provide for HIs own. We do not have to wait until heaven to enjoy spiritual blessings;  we can enjoy much of the goodness of Caanan`s land before we actually get there.

Through wonderful grace Mephibosheth was given a place at the kings table, and so are we. It is interesting that it is there whilst the enemies are all around. When the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, how many enemies were abounding. However there was a small circle of believers that gathered together. The doors were shut through fear of the Jews. Their reward was the presentation of the Lord Himself. What a rich feast was to be had; and every believer since throughout the ages, if they have the same desire, can experience what the Lord can richly provide. This is all in a scene which is contrary to Him  –  but we are looking forward to the day when the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) will appear in glory.

Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over

The believer has the most wonderful blessing in receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. It shows that our mind and thoughts (conveyed by the head) are endued with this grace and power. It might also be connected with the collective idea of the flock   –   dwelling together in unity (not as a disparate bunch of sheep)  see Psalm 133.

My cup runneth over

It may seem sometimes that the Christian life is a hard graft, and our lot is a rough one. The actual reality is that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavanlies in Christ Jesus (Eph 1), yet King David could write this verse hundreds of years before the  blessings of the New Covenant came into effect. He could say this all the while he was moving in a scene very contary to him. How much more then should we, who are granted all the favour of the younger son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to understand it, should be able to say “my cup runneth over”.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

As we reach the conclusion of the psalm, David makes this all-embracing statement. He can say this with complete certainty, borne out of experience. We should be able to say the same. You will note it says “follow”. Very often as we go through various experiences and we do not understand the reason for them. They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in reality and in relation to our Christian pathway it IS. As we look backwards, we can trace the hand of the Lord in ways that we do not appreciate at the time. As we understand this, we receive the peaceable fruits of righteousness.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever

This is the grand destination. Paul says “thus we shall ever be with the Lord”. We do have a heavenly home to look forward to, in the Father`s house of many mansions. This is the  bright hope of the Christian, no matter what the experiences have been on this earth.

However, you get the distinct impression that the writer of this psalm was living currently in the light of this wonderful day even whilst here on earth, and enjoying the spirit of it.

So it should be with us.