The 23 Psalm is most beloved of the 150 Psalms written. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said this psalm is “the pearl of psalms” Why would Spurgeon say that? The answer is simple! This psalm has dried many tears thought-out the years and has supplied the necessary strength to endure hardship and trails for the glory of God. Millions of people have memorized this Psalm because it brings such hope in such desperate times. Millions of people have found their strength from the promises we see here in this Psalm. If there ever is a Psalm that could stand almost on a single line it would be this Psalm here. “The LORD is my Shepherd” Yahweh! The great God of the universe who spoke everything into existence. The God who said to Moses "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you." It’s an inexhaustible name which relates to God’s timelessness. He is a Shepherd, the God of the universe who is timeless, who will always be unchanged and unchangeable forever. This is the Gods you tell them Moses who sent you. The Great I AM. The other name He is given in the opening verse is “Shepherd”
See! A shepherd in those days had to live with the sheep 24/7 and the task for caring for them was unending. It was a thankless position and considered the lowest of jobs. Day and night, through every season of fair weather to terrible weather the shepherd was always there to see his sheep through. Why For this reason? “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” Isa 53:6. We are prone to go astray because we love this world more than we love Jesus Christs. The shepherd never stops laboring for their sheep. They never stopped nourishing or guiding and most of all protecting their sheep from harm. This Shepherd that David pens about is the same Shepherd who cares for you and me through the gospel. Jesus said these words “"Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” John 10:2-16
This Shepherd that David writes about is Yahweh, the LORD God who is and is to come. The God of the universe who in involved personally in your life. The God who sustains everything for His glory. The God of the universe who cares deeply about your sin and your sorrow and He has the power to give you the necessary strength to endure for Him and His glory. He is a God full of forgiveness and full of tender mercy. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:4-5 Why? He is the Great Shepherd! Look what David writes about our great Shepherd and the provisions He supplies for you and me.
“You shall not be in want” (v1)
Sheep are the most helpless animals, but if we belong to the Shepherd then we are under His care. This is a care that comes with unlimited resources, because God is self-sufficient, inexhaustible and utterly unchanging by time.
What does this mean? God possesses within Himself every quality, ability, and supernatural command with never-ending measure. Every attribute or mighty and wonderful power is His endlessly. God wants for nothing and lacks nothing; He is complete. We call this “the aseity of God.” The aseity of God means that He is the One in whom all other things find their source, existence, and continuance. He is the ever-present Power that sustains all life. There is no other source of life and none other like Him.
Isaiah penned this “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” Isa 46:10
J I Packer said “God has no need. He is complete in and of Himself and always has been. God did not create man because He was lonely or because He needed to create. He is and always has been complete and self-sufficient in and of Himself.” Despite that that He doesn’t need you or me, He chose to create us for His glory and He knows what you need…not what you want but what you need. We will lack nothing because He is self-sufficient for all things and will provide for us as the Great Shepherd does. Jesus said “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matt 6:26. Because of the aseity of God, we can depend upon Him as the independent One who is able to deliver, protect, and keep those who trust in Him.
“You shall not lack rest” (v2)
Sheep do not lie down easily; they need the shepherd’s direction. They are so skittish…… they will not lie down until 4 requirements are met. One, is they will not lie down unless they are free from all fear. Second, because of their social behavior they will not lie down unless they are free from all friction from other sheep. Third, they will not lie down if they are being tormented by flies or parasites. Fourth, they will not lie down as long as they feel the need to finding food. The great Shepherd is where we find this rest. This psalm reminds us that the Christian life also begins with resting in Christ and His goodness founded in the gospel. Are you resting in Christ this morning? Because Jesus said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt 11:28-30. He also declared “"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
John 6:35. And Jesus also reminded His disciples before He was crucified “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27. Are you truly resting in Christ? Have you found Jesus to be your perfect provider of all your many needs? We must begin by resting in Him who has done everything for us.
“You shall not lack life” (v3)
God is the one who “restores my soul!” This is referring to salvation. When a sheep falls over on its side and sometimes onto their backs they begin to panic and within hours they usually die. And the only one who can restore the sheep to health is the shepherd coming to the rescue. For example! Sheep are built in such a way that if they fall over on their side and then onto their back, it is very difficult for them to get up again. They flail their legs in the air, bleat, and cry. After a few hours on their backs, gas begins to collect in their stomachs, the stomach hardens, the air passage is cut off, and the sheep will eventually suffocate. This is referred to as a “cast down” position. It is said that when a shepherd restores a cast down sheep, he reassures it, massages its legs to restore circulation, gently turns the sheep over, lifts it up, and holds it so it can regain its balance.
What a picture of what the Great Shepherd does for us! He lifts us up, and holds us until we’ve gained our spiritual balance and He keeps holding with breaking a sweat. Sometimes we are like sheep……spiritually on our backs, spiritually dead, disobedient, living for self, and the feeling of helplessness because of what we are going through. But Jesus comes to us when we are in this condition to give a living hope through His precious gospel. Jesus came to save the lost, the broken, and the sinner. "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15. When we are on our backs, flailing because of guilt, grief, or grudges, our loving Shepherd reassures us with His grace. Remind yourself of this truth that He laid His life down for you. Because you can’t save yourself whether you stand or lay on your back. The great Shepherd is the one who gets us up on our feet and going again and He will keep us going according until we get home.
“You shall not lack guidance” (v3)
Sheep are foolish creatures, it is said they are the dumbest animals of all animals. They are creatures of habit; no other livestock requires more careful attention then sheep. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off and get lost. Jesus spoke about this in His parable in Luke 15 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Luke 15:4-5. This is a picture of you when you were lost without a Shepherd, all because of our rebellion and pleasure over sin. So we desperately need His leading because like sheep we can’t make it on our own. We might think we can but were only lying to ourselves. As sheep, they will keep on grazing until every blade of grass and every root is eaten. Which leads them to possible destitution, so the shepherd must lead them to field to field otherwise they will destroy themselves. Isaiah reminds us of this truth! “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16. You need to trust that God will get you this and supply what is needed for you to continue under His grace. His path of righteousness is what leads us on the straight path of His moral righteousness which is pleasing in His sight! God’s way will always help prevent us from straying away by sinning.
“You shall not lack safety” (v4)
God is our source of comfort, though we seek one another for comfort, ultimately God’s comfort brings about a certain peace that surpasses all understanding. When we read “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” The great Shepherd protects His sheep in moments of danger. We need to understand that this valley is much of God’s right path for us as the “green pastures”. For example! “Matthew Henry, the famous Bible scholar, was once accosted by thieves and robbed. In his diary, he wrote: “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because they took my purse and not my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Though God supplies for green pastures, He also allows us to go through the shadowy valleys like this. The Christian life is not always tranquil or mountain top experiences. God guides us through the mundane and tough times like this. Its times like this where God strengthens and deepen our character to stand by His grace. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. What we call adversity, God calls opportunity.
“You shall not lack a Heavenly home” (v5-v6)
Our lives are like a pilgrimage and we long for this home. Because this is not our home. Sometimes we fear that everyone is our enemy. “A little girl was being punished for bad behaviour, and her parents were making her eat dinner by herself in the corner of the room. They paid no attention to her until they heard her pray part of Psalm 23: “I thank You, Lord, for preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Our families can sometimes feel like our enemies when they aren’t exactly what we want them to be. Even our spiritual family at church lets us down occasionally. Psalm 23, reminds us of the mercies of God are new every morning, they continue all the day long. David knew this as he looked to Heaven, he would be in the Father’s house forever. This psalm isn’t focused on some puny god as the world seeks after. This is a psalm that reminds us of the God who sustains us in the palm of His hand without effort. This is the same promise of God, grounded in the gospel of His love as the great Shepherd. "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." John 14:1-4. Knowing of this home as we go through valleys and beautiful days give us strength! Why? We are Heaven focused by the constraint of the Holy Spirit. We are not earthly-minded or living for the flesh wandering aimlessly seeking this world to fulfill our wildest dreams and sin-filled desires. We, who are in Christ, are seeking a Heavenly Kingdom where He is seated on the Throne. Under the Old Covenant the sheep died for the shepherd, but under the New Covenant the Shepherd died for the sheep. “…I lay down my life for the sheep.” Remember when you read this Psalm next time, the weak and the helpless are in the Good Shepherd’s special care who laid His life down for you and me. That’s what this Psalm helps to remind us of; as we walk each and every day for the glory of His Name.