Summary: If you want the calm of this psalm, you must become one of the Shepherd's sheep.
Once, a Sunday School teacher asked her class, “How many of you can quote Psalm 23?” Several students raised their hands, including a little girl who was only four years old. She stood up and declared loudly, “The Lord is my shepherd. I got all I want.” She had the words mixed up but understood the message perfectly.
Most everyone has heard of the 23rd Psalm even if they can’t quote it correctly. It’s a poem with no peer and has been called the sweetest psalm ever written. Abraham Lincoln read it to cure his blues, and President Bush read it publicly to calm our nation’s fears after 9-11. We could call it the psalm that calms the soul.
Since this psalm is so familiar, we’re in danger of missing the depth of its meaning. Because its setting is in the world of sheep and shepherds, many of us city slickers can slide right past its richness. Are you aware the Bible refers to us as sheep nearly two hundred times? This is not usually a compliment because sheep are smelly, stubborn, and prone to wander.
Now, listen to the Word of God.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
David, the human author, was a shepherd in his youth. However, he writes it from the perspective of sheep grazing and gazing at their caring shepherd. The psalm moves from victories to valleys and spans all of life, from the womb to the tomb.
Let’s put the sermon into a sentence: If you want the calm of this psalm, you must become one of the Shepherd’s sheep.
I see three main activities of the Shepherd:
• The Shepherd Provides (1-3)
• The Shepherd Protects (4-5)
• The Shepherd Preserves (6)
The Shepherd Provides
1. Relationship (1a). God provides for us through a relationship. Look at the first phrase of verse 1: “The Lord.” This is the title “Yahweh” and was the first name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM.” Ordinarily, Israelites considered this name too holy to be spoken by human lips. It was so revered that it was only pronounced once a year on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the high priest in the most holy place of the Temple.
David says the great “I AM” is “my” shepherd. The word “is” is in the present tense, meaning the Lord is David’s shepherd at that very moment. And “my” is the possessive personal pronoun, which shows how personal God is. David uses “my,” “me” and “I” 17 times in this psalm.
This is similar to Psalm 8 where we read, “O Lord [“Yahweh”], our Lord.” He is other than us and yet He is ours. He is powerful and He is personal. He is far away and yet He calls us friend. He is majestic and He is mine.
Shepherding was considered the lowest of all work. It was an unpleasant assignment that demanded 24/7 attention through summer and winter, in fair and foul weather. Aren’t you glad the Sovereign has stooped to be our Shepherd Savior?
2. Replenishment (1b). When you have a relationship with the Shepherd, He will replenish you so you can say: “I shall not want.” Left to themselves, sheep lack everything but with a good shepherd they have everything they need. When we have the Lord, we lack nothing.
If Jesus is your shepherd, everything else is secondary. We could say it like this: “If the Lord is my shepherd, then I shall not want. If I am in want, then I’m not allowing the Lord to be my shepherd.” Psalm 34:9: “Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” One of the best definitions of contentment I’ve ever heard is this: “Contentment is not having everything you’ve always wanted. Contentment is wanting everything you already have.”
This past week, Edgewood member Donna Glynn made a fascinating post on Facebook. I’m sharing it because it reveals her heart to help the hurting: “What is one thing you NEED?” When various people shared their needs, Donna responded with how she could help. This generated over 70 comments. My favorite response was from Edgewood member Fran Harvell, who’s in a wheelchair: “Nothing really. I have everything I actually need and a lot of what I want.” When I asked Donna for permission to share this, she humbly responded: “Absolutely. We all need to take care of one another in these days.”