Summary: A look at the 23rd Psalm and how the Shepherd cares for us and what the condition is.
It is probably the best known psalm in the western world and possibly the best known scripture period. It has been quoted and misquoted, it’s on plaques and mugs and posters, T-shirts and tomb stones.. It’s featured in the sacred and the profane. Most of us can quote at least a portion of it from memory if only from hearing it read at funerals. Karen read it earlier but let’s read it again together. Normally we use the New Living Translation on Sunday Morning but some scriptures aren’t right unless they are from the KJV. This is one of them.
Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.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.Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 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.
It is a psalm of comfort and reassurance, maybe because we are so familiar with it. But what does it mean to us today, May 2 2004. For the person who originally wrote it, it meant something, for the people who originally read it, it meant something but does it mean anything to us, is it anymore then a familiar litany that we can recite by heart without really thinking about what it says? The Lord is my shepherd, now I lay me down to sleep, hickory dickory dock.
While I was planning what I would preach out of each book the Psalms was probably the second most difficult book to choice from right after Genesis. Genesis because it has so many great stories and the Psalms because everyone has a favourite Psalm. At first I thought I’d preach out of the first psalm which is my favourite, then I thought I’d preach from psalm 51 which is David’s cry for repentance after his affair with Bathsheba and would have followed along well with my message from 2 Samuel. But then I really felt like the 23rd Psalm was the appropriate choice.
So here we are in the Psalms, which are quite accurately considered to be the song book of the Bible. It’s here that we find the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119 with 176 verses and the shortest chapter, which is Psalm 117 with only 2 verses. Psalm 117 is also the middle chapter in the Bible.
The Psalms make up the 19th book in the Bible. There are many different authors including Solomon, Moses and Asaph but King David wrote 73 of them including the one we are looking at this morning. When were they written? Actually they were written over a thousand year span between 1400 – 400 BC but they were arranged in their present form around 400 BC. The reason for the Psalms is as varied as the Psalms are, some were written to be sung in a solitary or personal setting others were written to be sung by a group of people as worship. It is speculated that some of the Psalms were written to be sung by soldiers while marching to battle. The Psalms are not doctrinal dissertations they are poetry and are more interested in how things feel rather then what they mean. There is no other book in the bible that more accurately charts the ups and downs of a persons relationship with God then the book of Psalms.
So what can we learn from the 23rd Psalm today? Are they just words of comfort and reassurance or are there lessons to be learned and if so then what are they.
This is a Psalm of thanksgiving, David is writing it to give praise and honour to his God. And long before there was David the King or even David the giant slayer there was David the shepherd. From the time David was just a young boy he spent his days tending the sheep that belonged to his father Jesse. Maybe this Psalm had it’s beginnings in the pasturelands overlooking Bethlehem. We will never know but we do know that when David was searching for a metaphor for the provision of God to his people he reached back in his past and pulled out the imagery of the shepherd and the sheep.
So how did David say that God provided for him and for us?
Psalm 23:1-2 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Tells us that God cares for our 1) Our Physical Needs. Let me start by saying God cares about you. He loved you so much that he willing came to earth as a human, lived here for thirty three years and again willing offered his life up as a sacrifice for your sin. It’s easy sometimes to get a pout on and think that nobody loves us and life’s against us and we never get what we deserve and others are better off then we are. But listen to me, God loves you and God cares for you and God is concerned about you. And God wants to meet all your needs. The problem is that we have such a tough time separating needs from wants.