Psalm 23:  The Lord is My Shepherd

Using beautiful imagery, Psalm 23 tells us about God's care for His people.  Before we study Psalm 23, let’s give some attention to another Old Testament passage.  Consider what we find in Isaiah 40.

Isaiah 40.12:  "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?  Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

In this beautiful description of God, we are told just how awesome He is

  • It was God who created the sea.  In terms of the surface of the earth, 70% of the earth is covered with ocean.  This verse says that these waters were measured in the hollow of the palm of God’s hand.  That is how God is presented here in figurative language.
  • God created outer space.  It says that God measured outer space with a span.  What is a span?  A span is the distance between the tip of your pinkie and the tip of your thumb or about 6 inches.  It takes light traveling 186,000 miles per second 120,000 years to go from one end of our galaxy to the other.  That’s just one galaxy.  There are billions of other galaxies.  The Bible says that God measured it all between His pinkie and thumb.    
  • According to one measurement, there are approximately 7 quintillion, 500 quadrillion grains of sand just on the world’s beaches.  We don’t know how many grains of sand there are on this earth, but God knows.  It was God who calculated the dust in a measure. 
  • If you were to take a football field and stand it upright, it would take 10,000 of them to reach the top of Mount Everest.  It is God who puts this all together.  

Here is this great, majestic, powerful God who brought the heavens and the earth into existence by His spoken word, and in all of His greatness, power, and might, there is a gentleness with God as our Shepherd.  In all of God’s greatness and majesty, He still cares for His people as Shepherd.  

Let’s take that thought to Psalm 23.  It begins with these words:  “The LORD is My Shepherd.”

The word "LORD" is spelled with all capital letters.  In the original Hebrew it is a four consonant word spelled YHWH.  It is the covenant name of God.  It is a name that describes God as the self-existing One.  He is the great I AM.  

This Great I AM, is My Shepherd.  Does God know your name?  Is He interested in what goes on in your life?  The God who said, “Let there be light” is the same God who wants to be personally involved in your life.

Then we have the word “Shepherd.”  Over and over again, the word “Shepherd” is used to describe the one who cares, protects, and provides for the sheep.  Here in Psalm 23, God is described as the One who cares for you.

What does it mean for God to care for you?  When the Lord is my shepherd, my life is better, and my life is better for three reasons:  When the Lord is my shepherd, I have contentment, courage, and confidence.  

Psalm 23:  I Have Contentment

Psalm 23.1-3:  "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures;  He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul;  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Psalm 23.1:  "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want."   Because the Lord is my Shepherd, there isn't anything that I want.  God provides for my material needs.  He provides for my emotional needs.  He provides for my spiritual needs.    I don’t need anything.  There is a contentment that I have when the Lord is my Shepherd.  

Psalm 23.2:  "He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”   The Hebrew translated as  “green pastures” suggests new grass that is just started to sprout from the fertile soil.  The sheep are lying down in green pastures as being fully fed and fully satisfied.

Psalm 23.2:  "He leads me beside the still waters.”   The word "still" suggests the idea of peaceful waters.  

Psalm 23.3:  "He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.”   Before the sheep are sheared, they wool has grown so much that they are top heavy.  Sometimes the sheep would topple over and find itself on its back unable to get back on its feet.  The shepherd would constantly have to watch these sheep, and if the shepherd does not quickly come to help, blood flow is restricted, and eventually, the sheep dies.  So the shepherd has to come and pick the sheep up, put the sheep back on its feet.  

That’s the idea behind, He restores my soul.  When I am stuck on my back, He comes and restores my soul, he picks me up and puts me back on my feet.

There is an image being painted of a God who cares for His people as a Shepherd cares for His sheep.  The sheep are satisfied, at peace, and refreshed.  Because of God, the sheep have contentment.

How Can I Learn to be Content?

Generally, there seems to be a lack of contentment.  We can never seem to be satisfied with what we have.  We always want more.  One of my favorite stories of Alexander the Great was how he made a request.  He requested that when he died, that he be buried with his arms sticking up out of the ground.  So when people would walk by, they would see that though he conquered the world, he still left this world empty handed.  

What does the Bible say about contentment?

Philippians 4.11:  "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content."

I can learn to be content by being grateful for the provisions of God.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve were placed into this garden and given everything that they could ever want.  They were in the midst of beauty.  God gave them such abundance as they were allowed to eat from every tree in the garden.  

He had only commanded that they restrain themselves from eating of the fruit in the midst of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Yet they ignored the command of God and ate of that tree.  Why would Adam and Eve, who had an abundance of everything they needed turn and eat the one fruit God said not to eat?  (Gen. 3.4,5)

Could it be that they were ungrateful for what they had?  They listened to the serpent and saw that there was something they did not have.  They were told that if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they will be like God.  They believed that God was withholding something of value that they want, that they deserve.  Instead of being appreciative of what they did have, they longed for what they did not have.  That is why they heeded the words of Satan.  Sin entered this world because Adam and Eve did not learn to be content by being grateful what they had.    

We have been blessed all our lives.  Everything we have from where we live to the jobs we have to the clothes we wear, to the gift of forgiveness is a gift from God  (Rom. 8.32; James 1.17).  We have holidays once a year where we express our appreciation for what we have.  Yet we forget to give honor to God and be thankful every day for what God gives us in our lives.

When we sin, it was a sin that is so betraying to God, but He has given us life instead of death.  He made it all possible because of the gift of His Son.  When I am grateful to God as my Shepherd, my Provider, I have contentment. 

Psalm 23:  I Have Courage

Psalm 23.4:  "Yea, 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.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;  You anoint my head with oil;  My cup runs over."

The idea is that you are walking through a deep, dark place where your life is constantly being threatened with death.  You are constantly in mortal danger.  In the midst of darkness with the threat of death surrounding you, you don’t have to be afraid.  He then explains this with four statements.  

  1. Psalm 23.4:  "For You are with me.”   Do you believe that?  Do you believe that God is with you at all times?  God did promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Heb. 13.5).
  2. Psalm 23.4:  “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”   He is there for you, and He comforts you.  Do you really believe that God is not only there for you, but He gives you His comfort?  Have there been times when you have wondered?  Have there been times when you have asked for help, and He has not given you the things you thought you needed?  Trust Him!  Allow that trust to be the source of your comfort.  Trust Him enough to know that He may not be there for you the way you think He should, but He will be there for you the way He feels is best.  Be comforted that God knows what is best for you.
  3. Psalm 23.5:  "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies."   The idea is that even though you are surrounded by people who wish to do you harm, God shows your enemies that He is with you.  
  4. Psalm 23.5:  "You anoint my head with oil;  My cup runs over."   \To be anointed is to be protected.  You are protected because God applied salve to your head.  The salve that protects us is our listening and living by the word of God.  As a result, “my cup runs over."

How Can I be More Courageous?

You can be more courageous by learning to put your faith in God.  You can read about courage in 2 Timothy 1.7.

2 Timothy 1.7:  "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

The word that is used for "fear" is "deilias" which means cowardice.  God has not given us a spirit of cowardice.  When God is your Shepherd, you don’t have to live as a coward.  He has given you a spirit of power, and the power that moves your life is your trust and faith in God.  You do not have to be a coward because the Lord is your Shepherd.  

If you turn to Luke 8.23-25, you will find the miracle where Jesus calmed the sea.  We are told of a storm that hit as the disciples were in a boat on the lake.  They were afraid.  Jesus was asleep.  They went to Him, woke Him up, and begged Him to save their lives.  Jesus responded by asking them about their faith.  

There are dark days when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Sometimes you may feel afraid.  There may be times when fear fear grabs hold of you.  You believe in God with all my heart.  You believe that God is your Shepherd, your Protector and He is involved in your life.  But sometimes you may feel like the disciples on the boat frozen in fear crying out, "Lord save me."

Perhaps the question that Jesus asked of His disciples is a question that we all should be asking.  When you are faced with the storms of life, and you are afraid, ask yourself, “Where is my faith?”  

That’s why we can be comforted by Psalm 23.  When God is on your side, you don’t have to live in fear.  And when there are times when you are afraid, it helps to be reminded that the Lord is your Shepherd.  You don’t have to be afraid, because you know that God is with you.  

Psalm 23:  I Have Confidence

Psalm 23.7:  "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

There is a confidence that you can have because the Lord is your Shepherd.  You can be confident that you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  With the Lord as your Shepherd, there is a confidence that goodness and mercy will follow you.

How can I be More Confident?

You can be more confidence when you see you Shepherd, Your Lord as a God of grace.  The most comprehensive chapter on the subject of grace is Ephesians 2.  In this chapter, you will find the word "grace" repeatedly.  

  • Ephesians 2.5:  "even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
  • Ephesians 2.7:  "that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
  • Ephesians 2.8:  "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God"

As you read these verses, you gain a better appreciation of God as a God of grace, and that gives you confidence in your relationship with God, and the security of your home in heaven.

In these verses, you will find the definition of grace.  You will read about His mercy, love, and kindness as components of grace.  You have made a spiritual mess out of your life with trespasses and sins  (Eph. 2.1).  God sees you in this condition and He feels compassion toward you (mercy), and He acts in a way that is in your best interest by sending His Son Jesus (love).  He did so because He had a gentle spirit toward you (kindness).  So you are saved by His grace  (Eph. 2.8),.

There is nothing that you can do to earn salvation.  Your salvation comes because of the mercy, love, and kindness of God made available through Jesus.  You are able to receive that grace of God, not because of who you are and not because of what you do.  It is not of yourself.  It is the gift of God.  It is this grace that gives me confidence that I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  

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