An Exposition of Psalm 23Related Media
We live in a world in which many, if not most, people are engulfed with fear and anxiety. Some fear the future; they’re anxious about what’s going to happen. Others fear the past and they’re anxious about what has happened. And still others fear even the present, anxiety has gripped their souls and they cannot imagine how they can cope with the ugliness of present circumstances in their lives. Thousands of people each day wake up with untold burdens to bear and anxiety with which they must deal. Are you one of these? Bearing secretly a heavy burden?
I used to work for a financial consulting firm in which I had occasion to talk with scores of business men each week. I’ll never forget the conversation I had had with an angry businessman from a certain part of Canada. He was in the fisheries business and had been for some time. His whole family had taken their livelihood from the industry as far back as he could remember. I was talking with him during the time in which the Canadian government was shutting down large parts of his industry, due to budget cuts and the depletion of fish stocks. In a matter of a few months his entire life disintegrated in front of him—he looked on helplessly as he lost his entire income and accrued assets. When I spoke with him that day he cursed the government and as we spoke it became evident that he was overcome with anxiety and fear about the future—his future and that of his wife, children and immediate family. He was gripped with anxiety for his financial future.
How about you? Are you anxious for your finances? For many of us this is an area of tremendous concern, but sometimes we slip from concern into anxiety and are possessed with thoughts about the tentativeness of the security of our financial future. Some of you have kids in university and you do not know how you’re going to make ends meet as you continue to help them. Some of you have mortgage problems. Others have insurance problems and are anxious about what the future holds.
For some of us it’s not finances per se, as much as it is simply worried about the future and where you’re heading in life. You’ve graduated from College, you’re married, but you still wonder where life is taking you or what it is that God really wants from you. As far as you know you’re seeking Him and doing all that you know to do and have been taught to do. But still you’re not sure about what’s ahead.
The question then becomes, “How does God want me to respond to the anxiety in my life?” Well, like all the great questions of life, Scripture affords us an answer. This time it comes from the life of David. David says, by way of example, in Psalm 23, that there is a constructive, God-honoring way to respond to anxiety in our lives. He says that we should trust God as the good and faithful Shepherd and rejoice in His grace. Now, it must be said that responding to God in this way will not necessarily solve your financial problems, but God will provide confidence as to what He’s doing in your life. He will convince you, as He did David, that it is He who is leading your life, He is the One who is in control of all the details and circumstances. This will lead to greater peace and a knowledge that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Let’s look at Psalm 23.
David was a man just like we are. He was tempted to fret over his life on many occasions, not the least of which was the time when Saul was seeking his life, which according to some commentators may very well form the background to this psalm. But you see, David overcame sinful worry by trusting and rejoicing in God. Psalm 23 then provides a model for us, a paradigm to be followed throughout our lives as we respond to all the difficulties and worries that come our way.
The psalm has two basic divisions, each one providing part of the answer to our question about worry. The first four verses focus on God as the faithful and good Shepherd of his people. It calls us to trust Him as such. The second section made up of the last two verses, focuses our attention on God as a gracious host, preparing a splendid meal for a guest, and results in our rejoicing over His grace toward us. Why not read the Psalm now.
I. Trust God as the Good and Faithful Shepherd
A. To Provide for You
1. YHWH is personal
So you see, David says in the first section, verses 1-4, that YHWH is a faithful Shepherd and the last section, verses 5 and 6 that YHWH is a gracious person. Let’s talk about God as a Shepherd for a moment. There are three major things I want you to see about God as your Shepherd: 1) He provides for you (this is understood from verses 1-3a); 2) He guides you (verse 3b), and 3) He protects you (verse 4).
Focusing in on His provision first, we see three things emerge from the text. First, God is a personal Shepherd. David says the Lord is my Shepherd. It’s as if David were saying that He knew that the God of the universe was personal to Him and in control, as a good shepherd, of his whole life? Do you know that? Do you know the Lord as your personal Shepherd, like David did? The result of this, according to David, was the knowledge that he lacked nothing. Some versions say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.” Like a good Shepherd YHWH gives Himself to us and therefore, we really lack nothing. The rest of verse 2-4 simply bear this out. How can we fail to trust a God who has so willingly made Himself available to us?
2. His provision is perfect
Second we see, in verse 2, that God’s provision is perfect. David says that a good shepherd leads his sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. The green pastures probably refer to the tender young shoots that grow up in the morning and are loved by the wildlife of Palestine. The quiet waters probably refer to a well-spring with fresh water. The psalmist wants us to understand that this Shepherd goes all out for his sheep. The Shepherd wants them to have the best and is likewise sensitive to their needs. David wants us to understand that YHWH does the same for His people. It was David’s experience and it ought to be ours. Some of us have deep struggles with our present financial situation, job situation as well as other things, but we need to come to grips with the truth, that as we seek God, we are not getting second best from Him. He is a faithful Shepherd to give us only what is excellent according to His own purpose and agenda. Can you trust Him for that? Listen to what Paul said the good Shepherd has done for His people: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for all of us, will He not then, along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32).
3. His provision renews and satisfies (3a)
The first part of verse 3, that is, “he restores my soul,” should be understood first of all on the level of the metaphor of the sheep and its shepherd. Therefore, we could say that the green pastures and quiet waters, provided by so caring a shepherd are for the physical nourishment and energy of the sheep. The shepherd literally revives the life of the sheep under his care.
God’s provision for David and for us accomplishes similar ends. Whether it is physical needs that are met or spiritual, it revives or rebuilds us. Ultimately it strengthens our trust in God and enlivens our spiritual sensitivities toward Him. It satisfies our longings to receive from His hand.
So you see it is reasonable to trust our faithful Shepherd. His provision is always perfect and renews and satisfies us. Rather than worry ourselves to death, why not trust God for what only He can provide? God’s faithful provision is only part of what He does for those who know and love Him. He guides them as well. Look at verse 3b.
B. To Guide You
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” I want you to notice two things here: 1) He guides you in righteous paths and 2) He does it for His name’s sake.
1. He guides you in righteous paths
And David goes on to say that as we go through life God guides us, as a good shepherd, along paths of righteousness. For the sheep, of course, this means right or true paths; paths that are certain to lead to the places of rest and provision talked about in verse 2. But for David, God desired to lead him down paths of uprightness during his kingship and enable him to win great battles in his commission to possess the land promised to the nation. God desires to lead us into greater and greater righteousness in our lives as well. We should be concerned about this. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 that God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification or holiness and that God’s intention is to sanctify us entirely (5:23). Therefore we must keep a short account with God. For some of us this is why we do not have the confidence before God that we ought to have. We want to know that God is our Shepherd, but we tolerate sin in our lives. It goes unconfessed for long periods of time. We must confess our sins and permit God, as our faithful shepherd to deal with us. John says that when we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive and cleanse. But notice why He leads and guides us.
2. He guides you for His name’s sake
The end of verse 3 gives the reason why God was such a faithful Shepherd to David and still is for us today. He does it for His own name’s sake. That is, it is for the sake of the glory and reputation of His own name and honor. What kind of reputation would a shepherd in Palestine earn if everyone knew he was careless and irresponsible with his own sheep? Let me ask you another question, what kind of reputation would God earn for Himself if He were careless with those who belong in His charge? God’s name is on the line in your life. He wants to show the world that He is faithful to provide for all your needs and guide you in righteous paths, in a holy life.
So far we have seen that YHWH should be trusted as the good Shepherd, especially as One who provides for His own and faithfully guides them as well. But, shepherding in the ancient Near East consisted of more than just providing for and guiding one’s sheep. The Shepherd must also protect them. This of course, as we talked about in the introduction, is the focus of verse 4.
C. To Protect You
David says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The phrase “valley of the shadow of death” most likely refers to deep ravines with sharp cliffs. And, it was not at all uncommon in Palestine for a shepherd to have to travel through one of these dark ravines where danger was imminent (i.e. either from the cliffs themselves or from animals hiding and waiting for their prey), in order to get to another food source. David says, “and so it is with life.” We often travel through what appears to be dangerous circumstances— perhaps David is thinking of the attempts made on his life by Saul and others—but we need not be overcome with fear for as the shepherd is with us and is able to ward off any danger by his rod and staff, so God is powerful enough to protect us from danger. For us the application the apostles make, is not that God will shield us from every harmful circumstance—this is patently false as many of you can testify—but that 1) nothing can separate us from Christ during those experiences (Romans 8:38,39) and 2) that He alone passes approval on what things are permitted to afflict us and 3) it really is for our good and deeper knowledge of Him (Romans 8:28). Some of you are going through some very difficult circumstances with your children, at your job and even struggling with untimely death in your immediate family. You need to know that God has not abandoned you—He is not a hired hand as it were—He is the faithful Shepherd (cf. Jn. 10:14). He has only permitted what in His wisdom is ultimately good for you and will never allow permanent separation to come between you and Him. You can trust Him to protect you from everything He does not desire for your life.
God is a faithful Shepherd. He provides for us without sparing a single detail. He guides us into a righteous life for the sake of His own reputation and He protects us, not by shielding us from difficulty, though He does at times, but by permitting in our lives only what is beneficial to us according to His good purpose for us. We need to trust Him as our faithful shepherd.
The question we raised in the introduction and have been dealing without throughout this study, as we’ve looked at Psalm 23 is, “How should I respond to problems and pain in my life?” The first portion of the psalm encourages us to trust in God as the faithful Shepherd, rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed with anxiety. But it doesn’t stop there, for David’s example also encourages us to rejoice in God’s grace to us. Let’s look at verses 5 and 6.
II. Rejoice in God’s grace
A. Because He Spares no Blessing (5)
The picture here is of God as a gracious host, throwing a banquet as it were, sparing no extravagance for the invited guest. David says, “my cup overflows” which could either mean that the quality of the drink is absolutely superb or that the host had provided him with an abundance. Either way, the tremendous grace of God is evident in David’s experience here. In fact, the implication in verse 5 is that this has been David’s experience with YHWH up to this point in his life and verse 6 seems to indicate that David is confident such grace and fellowship with God will continue throughout all his days.
B. Because it Results in Constant Fellowship with Him (6)
He says, in verse 6, “Surely (notice David’s confidence) goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. Rather than being pursued by his enemies (e.g. Saul), the goodness and mercy (i.e. God’s lovingkindness) of God will follow him all his days and he knows that he will dwell in the house of the Lord for as long as he lives. David envisions the direction his life will take as centered around fellowship and communion with His God. The grace of God can accomplish that in our lives as well. Do we realize how gracious God has been to us in Christ, forgiving our sin against Him and giving us His Spirit to enable us to walk with Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12)? We ought to rejoice in God’s grace toward us, rather than be overcome with anxiety over the circumstances the good Shepherd allows in our lives.