Don’t miss the meaning

Most people have at least heard of the 23rd Psalm. Many Christians can quote it. It is the Psalm where David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It is a Psalm that comforts and calms our souls. Often it is read at funerals. President Bush read it to America after 9/11.

However, because of it’s popularity, we can miss it’s meaning. It is somewhat like singing the old hymns in church. We sing them, but we don’t really often stop to take in the depth of their meaning. When I used to lead music in my dad’s church, I could look out at the congregation and the mouths were moving but the words of the songs were often not connecting with their hearts. Can we say we’ve truly worshiped if we just remotely sing? Or would it more appropriately be called “lip service”?

Let’s break down the meaning that the Lord is my Shepherd and see it with new eyes that connect the meaning with our hearts.

The Psalm from the author’s eyes

King David is the author of this Psalm. In our world today, the majority of us don’t get the full meaning of this beautiful psalm because we fail to understand the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd of the Bible. But David knew it well. He was a shepherd before he was a king. In fact, when God sent the prophet, Samuel, to anoint David as king, David was out tending the sheep. So if we really want to understand the beautiful message of this psalm, we need to see it as David did. He knew what it means to shepherd sheep and when he became king of Israel, he learned what it meant to shepherd God’s sheep – the nation of Israel.

All we like sheep

The Bible refers to us as sheep nearly two hundred times. However, it is not usually a compliment because sheep are smelly, stubborn, and prone to wander. They also are not the brightest animal on the block. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6). Like sheep, we are smelly with the filth and stench of sin in our lives. We turn our own way because we stubbornly think we know better than God. So we wander away from God and try to do life our way but then when we make a mess out of life we bleat like a lost sheep looking for the Shepherd to rescue us out of our mess.

The Nutshell Take-away

If we were to sum up this Psalm in just one sentence it would be this: You can’t fully know and understand the Shepherd unless you are one of His sheep. Only once you enter into and have a relationship with the Shepherd can you understand that He provides, protects, and preserves His sheep. In the first three verses of Psalm 23, we find five things the Shepherd provides for His sheep.

If we summed up Psalm 23 into just one sentence, it would be this: You can’t fully know and understand the Shepherd unless you are one of His sheep.

The Shepherd Provides a Relationship

In verse 1, it says, “The Lord is my Shepherd. That’s a relationship. “The Lord” is the Hebrew word, “Yahweh” and it was first revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 which is where Moses has his encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses asked, “Who should I say sent me.” God replied, “Tell them “I AM [Yahweh] has sent you.” So David is saying here, that “I AM” is “my” shepherd.

Verb tense makes a difference

Notice that the verb “is” is present tense, not past or future. It is right now in this moment that God is our shepherd – and you can say that in every moment of life.

Jesus is my only Shepherd

In Israel, shepherding wasn’t the job career that everyone signed up for. It was the lowest, unpleasant job. Sheep require a 24/7 shepherd. They couldn’t be left alone. So they’re had to be a shepherd on duty every moment, in every season, and in every kind of weather. Jesus is just that kind of Shepherd. He never goes off duty. In fact, He never clocks out and trades off with another Shepherd. So not only is He my Shepherd, He’s my only Shepherd.

In Exodus 20:3, we find the very first of the Ten Commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before Me” and in verse 5 God says we are to have no other gods before Him because He is a jealous God. He will not share His place with anyone or anything else. If He is our Lord, there can only be one Lord on the throne and only one Shepherd of our hearts. So, if Jesus is your Savior, He is also your Shepherd – present tense, in every moment of life.

Pronoun choice creates a personal relationship

Let’s also not read too quickly past the pronoun choice David uses. He says that the Lord is my Shepherd. “My” is a possessive personal pronoun. Our Shepherd offers a personal relationship with Him. In the entirety of Psalm 23, David uses “my,” “me,” and “I” 17 times. Because He is with me 24/7 and because I am His creation, He knows me by name. He knows what tends to make me wander and where I can get off track. He knows when I’m hurt, wounded, or in trouble. My Shepherd knows when I’m spiritually hungry and thirsty. He knows when I’m anxious or fearful. And He knows when I need rest and peace. He is my Shepherd and He knows me personally. It’s a relationship.

The Lord, Yahweh, I AM, is my Shepherd. “Is” is a present tense verb, so He is my Shepherd right now in this moment. And “my” is a possessive personal pronoun. He is my Shepherd and He knows me personally. It’s a relationship.

The Shepherd provides Replenishment

Whenever we wander away from the Shepherd we are wandering away from the Bread of Life and the Living Water. We become spiritually hungry. Also, the further away we wander, the more tired we become and we need rest. But sometimes we can be right with the Shepherd and busy doing whatever the Shepherd asks of us and get tired too. Sometimes we are so busy pouring into other people that we need to take a moment, like Mary did, and sit at the feet of Jesus and allow Him to pour into us.

Whenever we wander away from the Shepherd we are wandering away from the Bread of Life and the Living water.

The second part of verse 1 says, “I shall not want.” That is the words of person who has been fully replenished by the Shepherd. If sheep are left to themselves, they can’t even find grass to eat or water to drink. They need a shepherd to lead them. They also need a shepherd to watch over them, because they really are not smart enough to sense when danger is near.

Our Shepherd is also called the Bread of Life and the Living Water. In other Psalms, David calls Him a fortress and strong tower. And in another Psalm David talks about hiding in the shelter of His wings. So our Shepherd replenishes our spiritual hunger and thirst and He provides protection when we can’t see the danger traps that Satan would set out to ensnare us with. So if we’re feeling spiritually hungry and thirsty, we might be wandering too far from the shepherd. Or if we’re feeling anxious and afraid, we may have wandered too far from the Shepherd.

If we’re feeling spiritually hungry and thirsty, we might be wandering too far from the shepherd. Or if we’re feeling anxious and afraid, we may have wandered too far from the Shepherd.

The Shepherd provides Rest

Verse 2 of Psalm 23 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Us stubborn sheep often refuse to rest when we need to. We think we have to keep pushing – keep getting ahead – keep serving God – keep on, and on, and on like the Energizer Bunny. But even the Bunny’s batteries run out eventually.

In the New Testament, Jesus empowered the disciples and sent them out to do ministry in His name. They returned excited, but also weary. In fact, they had been doing so much ministry that they hadn’t even had time to eat. Jesus said, “Come away with me to a deserted place and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31) Our Shepherd knows when we need rest.

My Shepherd makes me lie down

Again, let’s point out the choice of verbs that David used in verse 2 of Psalm 23. The Shepherd didn’t invite the sheep to rest. The verse says, “He makes.” We are so stubborn that sometimes we have to be forced to slow down and rest. There are many us that for a while now have needed a slower pace in life. In 2020, when we were “social distancing” and “together at home,” we were forced into a time of a slower pace of life. If you’ve been needing some rest, maybe the Shepherd is making you to lie down in green pastures for a while.

My Shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures

If we are going to rest, then there are two things we need: a sense of safety and a comfortable place to lie down. Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will lie down to sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” When a world-wide pandemic is around, it’s easy to become fearful, anxious, worried. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of sound mind. Fear comes from Satan and it keeps us bound up so that we are not effective for the Kingdom of God. But 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”

Our Shepherd is sovereign. He’s in control. We can trust Him with every single part of our lives. When we trust the Shepherd, we have no need of fear or anxiety. Whenever there is fear or anxiety in our lives, that’s an area where you have wandered away from the Shepherd.

The other thing we need is a comfortable place to lie down. The Shepherd didn’t makes the sheep lie down on a hard, rocky place. He took them to a soft meadow of green grass. It is kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. When she decided she needed a nap, she laid down on Papa Bear’s bed and it was too hard. Momma Bear’s bed was too soft. But Baby Bear’s bed was just right and so she fell fast asleep and slept so soundly she didn’t hear the bear family return home. The Shepherd will make us rest, but He knows we need the soft, green meadow that is just right – not too hard and not too soft.

My Shepherd leads me

Once again, I want to point out the choice of verbs that David uses. I find it interesting that David said the Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures, but He leads us beside still waters. So I meditated on these two verbs and asked why are we made to lie down in green pastures, but led to still waters.

Sheep need water as much, if not more so, as rest. So with a little googling, I learned that sheep are afraid of moving water and they will not drink from it. So the Shepherd leads them to a still, quiet pool so they will drink. The Shepherd also has to make sure that the water they drink is safe to drink – that it isn’t polluted and full of parasites. How often do we wander away from the Shepherd and drink from waters polluted with the parasites of sin? We need the Shepherd to lead us so that the water we are drinking from is the pure water that comes from the Living Water.

My Shepherd leads me beside still waters

I don’t know about you, but when I sleep, I need “white noise.” Some people like to go to sleep with the sounds of nature, such as a rain storm or gurgling brook, or the ebb and flow of the waves of the ocean. I’ve tried all of those and I just end up getting up and down with trips to the bathroom. I’m also of an age where I have “personal summers” or “power surges” whatever you want to call it and so I sleep with a fan on. I also have an app on my phone called Abide where I can choose Bedtime Meditation stories based on Scripture.

Without these two things, I have a hard time getting to sleep. My mind is constantly planning the next post, or planning the next ministry opportunity, or creating the next idea, or the next chapter in the next book. So these “background noises” help me focus my mind on Christ, my Shepherd, and He leads me beside the calm, still waters so that I can drift off to sleep.

The Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures when we need rest but he leads us beside the still waters. We need to be led to the pure water of the Living Water so we are not drinking from water polluted by sin.

The Shepherd provides Restoration and makes us New

Sheep are careless, curious, and cantankerous. The are often in need of being restored. So we find in verse three that the Shepherd “restores my soul.” If we restore an antique piece of furniture, we bring it back to what it was originally like when it was first created. We revive it to it’s former state and renew it so it looks like new. When David wrote about restoring His soul, he was talking about repentance. Who else would understand the need of repentance more than a King who had been guilty of both adultery and murder? It is through repentance of our careless, curious, and cantankerous sins that we find restoration with the Shepherd and we are renewed and revived spiritually. But our shepherd takes our restoration a step farther. He restores us into a relationship with Himself.

Because of sin, we were separated from God. But our shepherd tenderly and lovingly paid the price for our sins and when we accept by faith His free gift of salvation offered by his grace, he doesn’t just restore us, He makes us a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Who else would understand the need of repentance more than a King who was guilty of both adultery and murder? It is through repentance of our careless, curious, and cantankerous sins that we find restoration with the Shepherd.

The Shepherd provides Refuge and Protection

Also, because sheep are prone to wander, they can easily become lost or find themselves in danger. They can fall or become a victim to a predator. Sometimes a sheep will roll over on its back, feet flailing in the air, and they are not able to roll back over again. This is called being “cast down.” When this happens gas builds up inside of them, cutting off their circulation in their legs, and they die within just a matter of hours. When the Shepherd finds a sheep that is cast down, he rolls it back over and lifts it up to its feet. He then straddles the sheep and begins rubbing it’s legs to restore circulation, while talking to it gently to try to calm it from its panicked state.

The Shepherd Is Tenderly Calling

When we wander from our Shepherd and are rolling around in our sin, cast down, the Shepherd tenderly calls out our name. He picks us up and sets us back on our feet and restores us to the fold once more. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve strayed. A heart of repentance is all that’s needed to bring about restoration. And then, back in the fold, you’ll once again enjoy the personal relationship with the Shepherd, be replenished, find rest for your weary soul and the restoration of His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Is He tenderly calling for you today?

The Shepherd tenderly calls us whenever we wander. A heart of repentance will bring about restoration so we can enjoy the personal relationship with the Shepherd, be replenished, and find rest. Is He tenderly calling for you today?

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