HIS SHEEP AM I (PSALM 23)
Have you heard of the computer user’s version of Psalm 23?
The Lord is my programmer, I shall not crash.
He installed His software on the hard disk of my heart. All of His commands are user friendly.
His directory guides me to the right choices for His name's sake. Even though I scroll through the problems of life, I will fear no bugs, for He is my back-up.
His password protects me. He prepares a menu before me in the presence of my enemies.
His help is only a keystroke away.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and my file will be merged with His and saved forever.
Psalms 23 is the most beloved psalm in the Bible and the shepherd analogy is the most popular analogy in the Bible. A pastor says, “Psalms 23 is the most quoted and memorized poem in history” and a writer says it is the most repeated and cited chapter in the Bible. A renowned pastor Coffman remembers quoting Psalms 23 at every one of the one hundred funerals that he held in 1937.
What kind of a relationship do we have with the Lord and how do we deepen our relationship to Him? Why must we closely and consistently follow our Savior and Shepherd?
No Supply is Surer
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.
Once I went to my clubhouse for my morning swim and my club card got entangled with small bills in my pocket. I joked to the lady who manned the morning shift: “There goes my money. Now I cannot be rich anymore!” She said, “Mr. Yip, it is not necessary to be rich; having enough is OK.”
The shepherd is the most beloved analogy for God in the Bible. In the Old Testament the Lord is known as the Shepherd of Israel (Ps 80:1), and in the New Testament Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11), that great shepherd of the sheep (Heb 13:20), the Shepherd and Bishop of souls (1 Peter 2:25) and the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). We, on the other hand, are the sheep of His pasture (Ps 74:1, 79:13, 100:3) and the sheep of His hand (Ps 95:7).
The noun “shepherd” may also be translated as keeper (Gen 4:2), feed (Gen 29:7), a companion (Prov 13:20), friendship (Prov 22:24) and pastors (Jer 3:15). It is more a title; it is a task. It is practical more than positional. It is a duty more than a designation. The shepherd is dear, dedicated and dependable, never distant, dreaded or disliked.
The verb “lack” (v 1) is traditionally translated as abated (Gen 8:3), decrease (Gen 8:5) and bereave (Eccl 4:8). The same phrase “lack nothing” is repeated in eight other verses – half of which famously referred to the wilderness experience where those who gathered little had no lack (Ex 16:18), where they spent forty years lacking nothing (Deut 2:7), eating bread without scarceness (Deut 8:9), experiencing God’s sustenance in the wilderness (Neh 9:21). Other passages outside of the wilderness experience include Elijah’s promise of oil without fail to the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:14), no want of any good thing (Ps 34:10), husbands with capable wives who have no need of spoil (Prov 31:11), and the promise of bread without fail for the exile (Isa 51:14). The shepherd is tender, tenacious and, most of all, trustworthy. We are never short, stranded or starved with our shepherd around us and attending us. There is no hunger, harm, hazard, hurry or heartbreak with Him around.
The next line begins with four second person HE singular: HE makes me lie down in green pastures, HE leads me beside quiet waters (v 2), HE refreshes my soul, and HE guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
The noun “pastures” (v 2) make its debut in the Bible and can be translated as habitations (Ps 74:20), houses (Ps 83:12) and pleasant places (Jer 23:10). The noun “green” (v 2) is never translated as “green” elsewhere, but as grass (Gen 1:11), tender herb (Deut 32:2) and tender grass (2 Sam 23:4). It refers to superior, satisfying and sprouting food. The verb lie down implies recline, rest and relax, not rushed.
The verb “lead” (v 2) is more work to mere “lead.” It includes feeding (Gen 47:17), guiding (Ex 15:13) and carrying (2 Chron 28:15). The noun “quiet/still” can be translated as rest (Gen 49:15), ease (Judg 20:43), and comfortable (2 Sam 14:17). Besides green pastures, sheep require quiet waters for the food to go down. Pastures and waters are plural in Hebrew. There is peace and plenty in the Lord.
After the physical is the spiritual and moral. The verb “refresh/restore” is the traditional word for return (Gen 3:19), bring back (Gen 14:16) and come again (Gen 15:16). It is to be revived, refreshed, reinvigorated, revitalized, rejuvenated, recharged and renewed. Food and drink are physical part; heart and soul are the emotional, spiritual and mental needs.
The noun “path” (v 2) is also translated as trench (1 Sam 17:20), wayside (Ps 140:5), ways (Prov 5:6) and goings (Prov 5:21). Paths of righteousness refer to our footing, frontier and formation. It means inviting and involving Him in our direction and decision.
No Support is Stronger
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. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
It was a dark and stormy night when a lady was on a boat crossing Lake Michigan. The lightning, thunder, and rain made her very nervous. She saw jagged rocks jutting above the surface of the lake. In fear, she asked the captain, “Do you know where all the rocks are out there in the lake?” “No,” the captain replied, “I don't, but I do know where it's safe.”
What is the worst thing for a sheep? It is to be without a shepherd (Num 27:17, 2 Chron 18:16, Jer 23:1, Ezek 34:5, 8, Zech 10:2, Matt 9:36). Three worst scenarios for a sheep in the Bible are when they stray or are lost (Deut 22:1, Ps 119:176, Isa 53:6, Jer 50:6, Matt 10:6, 18:12, Luke 15:4, 1 Peter 2:25), scatter (1 Kings 22:17, 2 Chron 18:16, Ezek 34:6, Zech 13:7, Matt 9:36, 26:31, Mark 14:27, John 10:12) or are slaughtered (Isa 53:7, Jer 12:3, Acts 8:32, Rom 8:36). The shepherd is needed to counter the actions of thieves, wolves (John 10:10-12) and even hirelings.
Verse 4 continues where verse 3 left off because the word “though” is actually “because” in Hebrew. There are four negative words in verses 4 and 5: shadow of death, fear, evil and enemy. The noun “darkest/shadow of death” makes a timely but thankless debut in Job. Ten of its 18 entries in the Bible are from Job, in the context of darkness (Job 3:5, 10:21-22, 12:22, 28:3, 34:2), weeping (Job 16:16) and terrors (Job 24:17). In Psalms 107:10 it refers to affliction. The shadow of death is a place of terror, torment and troubles. The valley is a lowly, lonely and lifeless place.
In the Psalms the phrase “I will not fear” (v 5) is not based on a positive outlook, but a personal relationship with a reason (“ki”): the ability, availability and accessibility of God’s power, presence, peace, protection and provision. The clause “I will not fear” first appears in the Psalm and is never an end by itself, but an experience with God, not about self-help but God’s help.
“I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God” Ps 3:6-7
“In God I have put my trust; I WILL NOT FEAR what flesh can do unto me.” (Ps 56:4, 11)
“The Lord is on my side; I WILL NOT FEAR.” (Ps 118:6)
The minor translations for “evil” are wickedness (Ps 7:9), adversity (Ps 10:6), trouble (Ps 27:5), mischief (Ps 28:3), afflictions (Ps 34:19), hurt (Ps 35:4) and calamities (Ps 141:5).
The clause “You are with me” refers to God’s presence, but “your rod and your staff” refers to His protection. The twofold purpose for the rod and staff (v 4) are to correct and comfort. The rod (v 4) is used in the context of love (Prov 13:24), correction (Prov 22:15), beating (Prov 23:13), reproof (Prov 29:15), smiting (Isa 14:29, 30:31) and affliction (Lam 3:1). The staff is for the hand’s use of very aged old men and old women in their hand (Zech 8:4). The rod is the whacking cane and the staff is the walking stick. One is to strike and the other is for support (Ezek 29:6, Zech 8:4). The first is to overpower and to second is to uphold. One is to injure, the other is for the injured. The first is to prod others, the other is to prop up. The extreme translations for the verb “comfort” are “repent” (Gen 6:6) and ease (Isa 1:24).
The verb “prepare” (v 5) has the connotation of arranging things in order, so it is also translated as lay things in order (Gen 22:9, Lev 1:8), set in order (Ex 40:4, Job 33:5, Ps 50:21, Isa 44:7), put in order (1 Kings 18:33), reckoned up in order (Ps 40:5). It implies nothing makes Him surprised, scared or sweat. He is ready, responsible and resourceful.
The table (v 5) means “eating” (2 Sam 9:7, 10, 11, 13, 1 Kings 18:19), having meat (1 Kings 10:5, 2 Chron 9:4) and being filled (Ezek 39:20).
The phrase “my enemies” is a Psalmist expression not found in other books to include possible grief (Ps 6:7), rage (Ps 7:6), reproach, shame, dishonor (Ps 69:19), and affliction (Ps 143:12) from adversaries, antagonists, and atheists.
The verb “anoint” is a rare translation, the major translation is wax fat (Deut 31:20) or make fat (Prov 11:25, 13:4, 15:30, 28:25, Isa 34:6, 7). Not only fat, but filling. My cup overflows implies satisfaction, spilling, swift, and splashy, soaking, sufficient, surplus, not short, scarce, sparing, sporadic or starved.
No Shelter is Safer
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.
At the end of the day all sheep needs a sheep pen or sheep fold, an enclosure or place of residence. Traditional barns, pole buildings, and metal buildings are usually the most expensive, but they provide the best protection for the shepherd, sheep, feed, and equipment, especially during cold or inclement weather. Lambing pens should be 16 to 25 square feet in size. Good ventilation is an absolute must and straw is the traditional bedding for livestock. There are numerous advantages to raising sheep and/or lambs in total confinement because of predator problems, disease outbreak and overgrazing prevention.
Goodness and love (kindness) are both good qualities. Goodness is done to others; kindness is felt by others. One is good, the others is gentle, gracious and generous. Goodness is the gold standard and kindness is the TLC (tender loving care). One is the approval and the other is the abundance. “All the days of my life” and “forever” are synonyms, similar but not the same. It implies the finish line, the final outcome, the fitful ending. The translation “follow” (v 6) is mild, the other translations are pursue (Gen 14:14), chase (Lev 26:7), persecute (Deut 30:7) and hunt (1 Sam 26:20). Follow is lethargic, listless, lazy, lifeless, lagging; the other translations convey a closer, faster, longer feel than “follow.”
Dwell in the house of the Lord conveys praise (Ps 84:4), to behold the beauty of the Lord (Ps 27:4). The Israelites previously were known to bring sacrifices into the house of the Lord thy God (Ex 23:19), put treasures into the treasury of the house of the Lord (Josh 6:24), and serve (1 Chron 23:28) and minister
in the house of the Lord (1 Chron 26:12), but the best thing in life is to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Ps 23:6) or dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life (Ps 27:4). Up to now the Israelites dwelt in tents (Gen 4:20), in booths in the wilderness (G Lev 23:42), in tents, or in strong holds (Num 13:19), and in cities and suburbs (Num 35:3).
Conclusion: Are you wayward, weary and worried? God is our comfort, companion and commander in life. Have you called on, cried out and confided in your Savior, Shepherd and Sentinel in life? Is He your source, supply and support?