Summary: Psalm 23 likens us to sheep which are vulnerable -in contrast to the symbol of America - the Bald Eagle. (A sermon that refelcts upon the wake of September 11,2001).
IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY
One of the most beloved Psalms of the Bible is Psalm 23. Psalm 23 likens us to sheep which are vulnerable. We as Americans do not like to see ourselves as vulnerable. For that matter, no one likes to be seen as weak and vulnerable. As one of the major national symbols of our country we have the Bald Eagle. The Bald Eagle is a symbol of strength and majesty. To see ourselves as sheep makes us feel weak. Like it or not, we are more vulnerable than we would be comfortable admitting. Perhaps one of the reasons that we see the Bald Eagle as a symbol of strength is because of its spirit of independence. The spirit of independence is woven into the fabric of our nation’s way of thinking and history. Compared to the eagle, we see that the sheep is dependent upon the resources of the shepherd for protection. The whole point of Psalm 23 is that we are sheep who are dependent upon the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ (John 10:11). Without God’s help we cannot have the kind of peace that passes understanding (Philipians 4:7) because we would be too busy leaning to our own resources and our own understanding .
On September 11, 2001 the United States of America became a victim of an act of cowardice when terrorists launched an unprovoked attack. Terrorists are nothing more than international bullies who want to strike without warning and cause great loss to life, limb and peace. They like to instill fear into their victims making them afraid. They attack their victims making a point that is pointless. They want to traumatize our way of every day life. The terrorists succeeded in terrorizing us. But, unless we let them they have not, will not and cannot defeat us.
Psalm 23 is a passage of scripture that reminds us of how God takes care of us even in times of danger. God takes care of us even when we encounter threatening circumstances in the valley of the shadow of death. Consider the images of Psalm 23 and how they relate to what it is that they convey as sources of strength. Yes, the images are metaphors. But, they are metaphors of the reality of the spiritual strength and support that God gives to us.
THE GREEN PASTURES
Sheep will not lie down unless they have eaten their fill (Psalm 23a). To lie down in green pastures is a comforting metaphor. It reminds us that God takes care of our needs. God provides for all of our needs. Psalm 23 is a Psalm that reminds of how God takes care of us from the cradle to the grave and beyond. When the Lord is our Shepherd, He takes care of all of our needs in such a way that we will not be lacking because He provides for all of our needs (Psalm 23:1).
Sheep are content in the green pastures because the shepherd is nearby (Psalm 23:2a). The imagery of the Bible in other Psalms (Psalms 46 as an example) reminds us that God is our refuge. There are many who might wonder “Where is God?” or “Where was God?” God is everywhere and He knows our pain. We know that God is with us through His Holy Spirit. In fact, when we do not know how to pray any harder or when we feel like we are at a loss of words to pray with, God’s Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8: 26-27). The Shepherd is still with us.
THE STILL WATERS
Another image that comes from this Psalm is that of still waters (Psalm 23:2b). “He leads me besides the path of still waters …” Why is that image so important? The image is important because sheep are vulnerable and do not like swift moving water. Sheep will not drink from a body of water unless the water is still.
Jesus’ disciples did not like rippling water. Remember when Jesus’ disciples were in a boat in the sea of Galilee with Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)? A storm came up. The storm was so fierce that it scared the disciples to death. In fact, they were so scared they went to Jesus and frantically said, “Master, save us lest we perish!” Remember how Jesus responded? “O ye of little faith” (KJV). And then He put His hand up over the sea and said, “Peace be still”. And the storm stopped. If we had been in that same boat, our reaction would have been the same. Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen who had probably encountered storms before. But, for some reason this particular storm scared them senseless. Jesus can bring peace to our raging internal storms if we will trust Him!