When Pastor Ron Steel recently preached on Psalm 23, he called it the most beloved, but also the least believed. He also pointed out that it is the middle of three psalms that speak about Christ as our suffering Shepherd (Psalm 22), our sufficient Shepherd (Psalm 23), and our sovereign Shepherd (Psalm 24). I highly recommend Pastor Steel’s excellent sermons on Psalm 23, which can be heard here (7-15-12 PM) or here (August 19 evening worship).
Before he was a warrior or a king, David cared for his father’s sheep. He knew how much sheep need a shepherd to guide them to safe pastures and pools:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:1-2, ESV).
David trusted God to provide everything necessary for life and health. But David saw beyond these simple images of material provision and security to spiritual welfare:
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake (3, ESV).
Our Lord cares for the physical and spiritual needs of his flock. His Spirit renews our hearts through regeneration. When we despair and our faith is weak, God restores our souls to rejoice in his goodness. Our Good Shepherd guides us along the way of righteousness, so that we live for the glory of his name.
Life is hard, but God is always with his people:
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 (4, ESV).
On life’s journey, we often confront terrors that threaten to destroy us. We frequently face the last enemy of death. But remembering God’s continual presence helps us to face our dark valleys without fear. A shepherd uses his staff to poke the sheep and turn them onto the right path. He uses a crook to pull them from ravines into which they blunder. Such guidance or rescue is undoubtedly uncomfortable, but David realizes that even unpleasant or painful direction is from God for our good. And that comforts him.
Just as he began this psalm by praising the sufficient Shepherd who provides all his needs, David emphasizes God’s continual provision in imagery depicting an abundant feast:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows (5, ESV).
The liberal host in David’s day would have anointed an esteemed dinner guest with fragrant oil. Even though we may feel as if enemies are cutting off our supplies, the Lord is preparing a full course dinner. He sees to it that we sit down at the laden table to partake of his delights. And as if that is not enough, he anoints us with the oil of extra blessing. Our cups of thankfulness ought to overflow!
David was supremely confident of the Good Shepherd’s continued care in this life and the next:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever (6, ESV).
God’s goodness and mercy are never far from us. They will be with us through every remaining day of our lives. We can worship in God’s house now and we will dwell with him forever. No wonder this is such a beloved psalm!
But do we really believe it? Do we truly trust God to fulfill all our needs? To dispel the shadows of our dark valleys? To feed us a feast while our enemies watch? And to go so far as to anoint us with fragrant oil in their presence?
May God enable you to love this psalm because you believe it!