The Lord is my shepherd

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1.Psalm 23 in popular culture

  • Of all the psalms in the Bible, Psalm 23 is probably the best-known today in popular culture. However, it wasn’t always…
  • Psalm 23 rose in popularity mid-last century when the hymn of it was included in the wedding ceremony of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947.
  • Psalm 23 had been popular in Scotland for 300 years before that, but not anywhere else. However, after the queen’s wedding, the hymn became a regular part of wedding and funeral services elsewhere. Lines of the psalm have also been included in many popular songs, from U2 to Pink Floyd to Jay Z.
  • And there are now many more arrangements for church singing.
  • It is a great psalm to look at, particularly at a church anniversary, as we take the opportunity to remind ourselves of who God is and his work in our lives – and our hopes and our dreams.

 

2.  The Lord is my Shepherd

  • The psalm uses the striking image of the Lord as a shepherd.
  • The ancient Israelite would have readily understood this image because shepherding was such an important part of their economy. Sheep were used for wool and meat – and of course they were vey important for their role in sacrifice.
  • But if you are like me, born and raised in the city, then the only thing I know about shepherding is from what I’ve read in books … and from that popular Australian movie “Babe” … shepherding has something to do with pigs doesn’t it? Maybe not! Especially in Israel where pigs were unclean!
  • The image of a shepherd conveys a number of ideas – a shepherd leads and guides the sheep – often to food and to water, in this way they provide nourishment.
  • Shepherds also provide protection from wild animals that might attack the sheep – using the rod and the staff to fight them off.
  • Shepherds save their sheep from danger and gather them to safety. Isaiah 40:11 says that God “tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart”. A shepherd gathers up the lambs – the little ones, the weak ones, and carries them, protecting them.

 

a)      The good times (vv. 1-3)

  • In vv. 1-3 of Psalm 23, all the positive elements of God as shepherd are celebrated – 1-3.
  • Upper case LORD in verse 1 means that it is translating the Hebrew word Yahweh – the personal name for God that he revealed to Moses. “Yahweh” is my Shepherd. The God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The one who revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites. The psalmist says that Yahweh is “my Shepherd”. It is the same God who has come to us in Jesus Christ in fulfilment of the hopes of Israel.
  • This is why Christians claim this psalm as our own with another layer of meaning. For Jesus in John 10:11 says that he is the good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He is the one who saved us by laying down his life in our place.
  • He not only saves us, but he gathers us, guides us, protects us and nourishes us. Because of Jesus, we lack nothing. All good things in life come directly from God’s good shepherding through Jesus Christ. The green pastures, the quiet waters, the refreshment of the soul. These are gifts of God in Christ.
  • Like the Psalmist, we must acknowledge come from his hand. We easily forget this.
  • Our tendency is to think that we are “self-made”, and we have earned the things we enjoy – our holidays, our recreation, our retirement.
  • We might think we’ve earned them, but the truth is they are gifts of God and must be acknowledge as such.
  • If we are his sheep, then God guides us. The “right paths” can also be translated “paths of righteousness” – another way of putting this is that he guides us in the right ways. For Christians, he does this by his Spirit through the Bible. In the Bible, he sets out for us the right paths to walk in – not only for our own good, but “for his name’s sake”. That is, for his reputation. He guides us in his ways so that others may see his goodness.
  • This was Israel’s task – as a kingdom of priests they were to make God known to the world. They were to be like a show home or a model home that is on display so that people might say, yes, I want one of those. Or yes, I want to know that God – Israel’s God.
  • The same task is given to Christians – to make God known through our lives and our lips. As we follow Jesus in the right paths that he sets out before us in his word the Bible, we should be making the teaching about God attractive. For the sake of Jesus’s name.

 

b)      The dark times (v. 4)

  • This psalm acknowledges that God’s people not only go through good times in vv. 1-3, but also dark times in v. 4.
  • We can often be tempted to think that God is only with us if we are having good times – when we lack nothing, when life is green pastures and quiet waters.
  • When dark times come… when we are sick or lose our job… or when we have a miserable job and our boss exploits us… when our kids rebel and go their own way… when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like… at those times we can think that God doesn’t care. Or that God has left us.
  • But the Bible never promises that God’s people won’t go through dark times. Think of the book of Job – a righteous and blameless man who goes through unthinkable suffering – not because he has done anything wrong.
  • God doesn’t promise us that life will be a bed of roses – “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden”. Not in this life anyway.
  • We live in a broken world and Christians are not promised immunity to suffering. We suffer illness and death like everyone else.
  • What God does promise us in such times, as our good Shepherd, is that he is with us – 4. God is with us – Jesus promises the same: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
  • This is where the Christian finds comfort at such times.
  • None of us knows what life holds for us, but we need fear no evil – the word “evil” can also be translated “calamity” or “disaster”. It doesn’t mean that calamity won’t happen to us. It means if or when calamity comes, we need not fear, for God, our shepherd, is with us. Even if we die, and are taken from this world, then we are surely in a better place. This points to the ultimate victory that this psalm leads to.

 

c)      Victory (v. 5)

  • The Shepherd imagery gives way to the image of a victory banquet – 5.
  • After a battle in the ancient world, the victors would feast, often in the presence of the defeated foe. Here this picture is used to convey ultimate victory. God hosts a great banquet, again providing food, like he did as a shepherd, but now in the context of military victory.
  • The head is anointed with oil – anointing the head with oil wasn’t just for kings – in the ancient world it is a picture of joy and pleasure.
  • For instance, Ecclesiastes 9:8 says “Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this brief life that God has given you under the sun”.
  • I’m not sure that anointing my head with oil would lead to my wife’s approval, but it’s a cultural expression of blessing and joy. Perhaps the equivalent is having a good shampoo and condition!
  • So abundant is the provision that the psalmist says “my cup overflows”. He can’t consume all there is to enjoy.
  • He is convinced of God’s goodness and love. God’s goodness and love are central attributes that speak of his dependability and commitment to his people. God’s goodness and love don’t just follow the psalmist as in NIV. The Hebrew says that they pursue him all the days of his life. As Christians, we know that the goodness and love of God surely pursue us to.
  • Finally, the Psalm finishes with the climax – “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.
  • Many interpret this as the psalmist’s desire to dwell in the Lord’s presence – in the house of the Lord – in David’s day, the temple.
  • This is certainly true, but it is much more than this.
  • We can understand the story of the Bible as God’s establishing his temple in the whole world. The temple was much more than a symbol of God’s presence, it was the connection between heaven and earth. God dwelled in the heavens, but his glory was present on earth in his house. And his plan in the Bible was to have his house cover the whole earth.
  • That’s where we wind up at the end of the Bible in John’s vision of the new Jerusalem – there is no temple, because the Lord and the Lamb are the temple.
  • The new creation is the new city of Jerusalem which is the temple.
  • It is sometimes said that the Israelites didn’t express much of a belief in life after death. But I don’t think that is correct. It is more that we don’t see the way that they express it.
  • In the psalms and in the prophets, the hopes expressed for a new Jerusalem and a new temple go way beyond anything that was ever experienced in Israel’s history. What the psalmist is speaking of here is not just dwelling in the temple but dwelling in the Lord’s presence beyond death in the ultimate temple – the new creation. It is life after death.
  • That temple that was realized in Jesus. His death brings forgiveness of sins and his resurrection gives us the certainty of resurrection after death to a new creation. Jesus gives us the certainty of victory. He went through the valley of the shadow of death for us. He won the victory over our great enemies – sin, death, and the devil.
  • The wonderful truths of Psalm 23 take on a greater significance and even greater certainty for Christians who know Jesus. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, in his presence, in the new creation.
  • This is guaranteed because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead some 2000 years ago.

 

  • Let me finish by pointing out something else about this psalm that might seem obvious or insignificant to us but is mind-blowing.
  • It is the title just after the heading Psalm 23 – a Psalm of David. So what?
  • In the ancient world, it was common for kings to describe themselves as shepherds.
  • But if you do a study of this word, what you find is that while God is frequently called “shepherd”, it is very unusual for the kings of Israel to be spoken of as shepherds, unless they did the wrong thing – in which case the prophets call them foolish or bad shepherds.
  • This reluctance to call Israel’s kings shepherds is probably because of the way that kings of other nations used the title of themselves.
  • Kings of other nations saw themselves as gods. If not, their gods were very privileged to have them serve as kings.
  • By contrast, Israel’s kings were to be very different to the kings of the nations.
  • In this psalm, David doesn’t call himself a shepherd, but recognizes the Lord is his As mighty and as great as king David was, this psalm attests David’s humble trust in the Lord. It attests his faith.
  • This is so important today where leaders use their privilege to act as mini-gods. Wanting the adulation of people. We live in a world where leaders try desperately to trump one another – pun intended. Leaders use their privilege not to serve others, but to serve themselves.
  • It is not just politicians, we’ve seen it with the banks, with those who run aged care institutions, putting profits above people. It is sadly what has happened in religious institutions where people forget Jesus and use others for their own perverse gratification.
  • But we can all fall into this trap of thinking we are entitled to have others serve us – to think that life’s about what we can get, rather than what we can give. We can do this at work, in our families, in our church. We think we are God. This is the heart of sin.
  • What can fix sin and corruption? Inquiries? More laws? Greater regulation?
  • Ultimately only God can change the human heart to teach us to walk in the paths of the good shepherd, Jesus, who gave up his life for others. Jesus is the only answer.
  • With the little title at the beginning “of David”, this psalm reminds us that even the great and mighty king David was totally dependent on God as his Shepherd.
  • That’s what we need to be reminded on this anniversary day – that the Lord is our shepherd. That all good things come from his hand. Let us commit to walk in the right paths, for his name’s sake. To seek to love and serve others by making Christ known. Let’s pray.