The Lord is My Shepherd
Pastor Ron Macciola
Psalms 23 has been one of my favorite passages in scripture. Not only do I use it to comfort people in times of loss, but this week it has ministered to me personally in our rollercoaster of faith. Psalm 23 was written from the viewpoint of the sheep, not the shepherd. Spiritually, it is the testimony of the child of God.
The first verse states the theme of all 6 verses. A 4-1/2 year old girl quoted Psalm 23 verse 1 by saying “the lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.” She said it all. The major theme is simple, but it deceives us. One shepherd, many sheep. Only one shepherd… Is he your shepherd? I have one shepherd…. He is Jehovah.
The word Shepherd is a derivative of the Hebrew root RAAH which has several denotements and also has a two way spiritual satisfaction in it. It means at the same time to feed and the one doing the feeding. Jesus not only provides bread for his hungry flock, but at the same time, He is that bread. He not only leads the thirsty to water, but He is that water. He guards, governs and “Leads his dear children along.”
One translation states “I shall not want for rest… He makes me lie down…” Sheep don’t have common sense, they are unpredictable and untrainable. It’s interesting to note that you can train a lion, a whale, a tiger and a team of horses BUT YOU CANNOT TRAIN A SHEEP. Sheep are defenseless. The shepherd has to squeeze the ears of the sheep and push it’s head down to feed them. This stops their jitteriness. Has God done that to you lately? Made you to lie down. How fast is your pace? How hurried or harried are you? God has a way of calming us. The Hebrew puts it this way, “He leads me beside the waters of rest.” It’s the idea of still waters. Sheep don’t like fast waters for fear of drowning. Their heavy coat is like a sponge and absorbs water and becomes heavy. So a good shepherd will dam up a part of the river with rocks, so sheep can drink. Has the lord done that for you? Has he slowed you down and quieted the waters? He is a master at that. He has a way of damming up the right area so our pace slows and we drink beside the waters of rest. Lambs can be stubborn… Is 53 says this, “All we like sheep have gone our own way.” A way of depravity, a way of stubborn selfishness.
Being sheep, we need to be restored… The Hebrew thought there is to turn back, around, as to rearrange the life. It’s the picture of going one’s own way only to be stopped and turned around so as to be going the other way. Repent is the New Testament equivalent word. “He restores my soul”… That’s our inward bent that God changes. Little lambs when hungry, will eat only what they want and eat themselves into a dangerous spot. Stubbornly, lambs will go back, and back, and back. Is your soul being restored today? “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”… His reputation. The only thing that a sheep can produce, brings profit to the shepherd, and that is wool. One of my favorite preachers, Chuck Swindol, says this, “When you have nothing to prove, you have nothing to lose.” Sheep by nature fail, it’s remarkable when they succeed. The shepherds name is at stake. Our shepherd does not lose his sheep. His name’s sake is the only thing that has to be proven. I have no need of working up the quietness, he does it by stilling the waters. I have no need of living like I need to be restored, he takes care of that. I have no need to work at the idea of obedience. If I relax myself under the control of his marvelous holy spirit, my life will be an obedient life. WILL IT BE EASY? Let’s look at verse 4.
“Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness”… The Christian life is filled with pits and deep valleys.
In her book, “The Hiding Place”, Cory Tenboom relates this story: Betsy, Cory’s sister, is in her arms dying. Betsy makes this incredible statement. “THERE IS NO PIT SO DEEP THAT GOD IS NOT DEEPER STILL”.
There is no scene so dark that he will not sustain you through it. The old hymn puts it this way. “He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hand he leadeth me. His faith follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me.”
The Christian life is not one of ease. That’s never the impression. It’s a life of deep shadows, of heartache, loneliness, treachery, surrounded by enemies. “We might walk”… NO. Even though we walk… Lose our job, have a terminal illness, lose a friend, face many barriers, have a grandson in medical distress. HE’S THERE. Yes, the shepherd leads on right tracks. God’s leading often appears very illogical, deep dark valleys come at the most illogical times.
His rod and staff equal comfort. The rod was used to break lambs legs to keep it from dying, or if it intended to go back and eat what wasn’t good. At that point, the shepherd knew exactly where to break the leg. Then he would splint the leg and carry the lamb on his shoulder, so this way, the shepherd and the sheep would bond. When the shepherd puts the sheep back on the ground after it is healed, the bond is so strong that the sheep will not deviated from the shepherd. It’s a beautiful pastoral scene. Harbor Light, there are some splints in this body. Some of you have been wayward. Hebrews 12:11 says this, “No discipline for the present seems joyous, but it is grievous, however, in the end it yields a peaceable fruit, righteousness.” The rod was also a club made of oak 2 feet wide and carried on a belt. At the end of the rod is a head, a knot, made from old oak limbs to which the shepherd has pounded pieces of bone and metal. It’s a club to remove savage wolves from the flock. A good shepherd could hurl the rod over the heads of his sheep as a missile to take out the enemy. Our good shepherd guards us, there is no savage wolf strong enough to take the shepherd. He’s on our side. Ps 4:8 says this, “In peace (Shalom) will I lay me down and sleep because the Lord makes me dwell alone in safety. A classic hymn states “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Ps 27:1 states “because He’s my light, I will not fear.” WE WIN!!!
Literal…”a table”… eating/drinking/nourishment. “Prepare” for our enjoyment. Sheep had enemies… A brown adder would usually hide in the hole of the ground where sheep would feed and the adder would enjoy biting the sheep on it’s nose and face. Therefore, a wise shepherd prepares the table. He holds the sheep back and with his staff, he moves the grass back and finds the hole. He removes oil from his pouch (which has a pungent odor) and pours a circle of oil around the hole and that repels the adder from coming out. With excess oil, the shepherd anoints the sheep’s head and nose. “In the presence of my enemies…” We are a minority out in the world. Jesus said, “I don’t take you out of the world, but I preserve you in it.” GOD’S PLAN IS NOT ISOLATION, BUT INSULATION. With the oil of the Holy Spirit without, and within, we can do the work of the ministry. “…my cup overflows…” a stone cup by the well, draws water to overflowing to water the sheep… it may take two to three hours for the sheep to be watered.
Goodness and mercy shall follow me… Here are two sheep dogs dispatched to us. “And I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.”