Psalm 23 is a bold selection of Scripture regarding faith in our Good Shepherd. Because the Lord is our Shepherd that must make us His sheep (metaphorically speaking)! I say metaphorically because Christians might take offense to literally being called sheep since we have accepted the idea that sheep are stupid creatures. Unfortunately this has kept us from gaining a deeper understanding of the similarities we have with them. God does not compare us to sheep in order to point out how stupid we are but rather to encourage us to live as sheep in the safety of His fold. Being compared to sheep is not a negative thing, something we should get over, or try to avoid. For the most part, every characteristic of sheep can be paralleled with the Christian life and we find God’s brilliance in describing us as sheep and He as our Shepherd.
We generally only quote Psalm 23 when life is difficult, when death is near, or at funerals after loved ones are gone. Unfortunately this limits it to a Psalm of comfort instead of an assertion of our faith in the Most High God. We must delve into this Psalm with open hearts and minds to see the power displayed as we proclaim, believe, and stand on its truths. Then we can apply it as Psalm of victory! Examining each declaration in Psalm 23, clarifying our beliefs about those declarations, and then establishing our response to them will perhaps create a desire in us to be His sheep – metaphorically speaking that is! Even as we read this Psalm if we “proclaim” each statement rather than just speaking it, we will begin to “hear” the authority and truth packed in these words, and we will “feel” the power, own these decrees, and walk in trust and confidence.
The first declaration is: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” When we know the Lord is our shepherd we then command ourselves “I shall not want!” This is not a weak, comforting statement of faith but a demand we place on ourselves to completely trust our good shepherd and want for nothing in this life as a result of that trust. Regrettably, we often find ourselves “wanting” for many things in this life. Why this paradox? I believe it is because Christians lack understanding of what it means to be sheep. Thus we “say” He is our Shepherd but do not embrace the fullness of this revelation and do not act on the truth that we are sheep because we stay in the metaphor rather than making the comparison.
When we proclaim the Lord is our shepherd we are confirming our knowledge of His care for every detail of our lives. Shepherds lead, guide, feed, protect, and care about the minutest details in their sheep. They ensure that proper nutrition, rest, exercise, and shelter are provided. Sheep want for nothing when they hear and follow their shepherds. Believers in Christ, people who have made Jesus their Lord, want for nothing when they hear and follow their good shepherd because there is total trust that every detail of their life is under His protection.
Declaration two – “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Notice the word “makes”! When we follow our shepherd He makes or causes us to lie down, remain, and rest in the perfect dwelling place of abundant provision. It is not just “any” pasture but green ones where the habitation is ripe and flourishing, ready for resting, eating, and staying! When we have no wants because we have complete trust in our Holy shepherd we willingly follow and take up residency in His environment, responding to Him as He compels us to lie down.
Declaration three – “He leads me beside the still waters.” This leading insinuates care and protection as our good shepherd leads us to enjoy tranquil rest and happiness (still waters). It is a place of refreshment where we experience the contentment only achieved with our shepherd as we respond to His gentle leading. We must choose to be led and then look up and enjoy where we are. If we trust our shepherd knowing He leads us to tranquility, rest, and happiness, we will embrace and “see” these places in our lives.
Declaration four – “He restores my soul.” This restoration must be completed His way not our way. To restore in this context means to refresh our minds, wills, and emotions. He renews our energy by giving us rest, provision, and reactivates our awareness of Himself and what He does for us. Our response should be open mouthed, open heart, open mind, open will, open emotions, and we should drink deeply of the refreshment only our shepherd can provide!
Declaration five – “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Leading in this context means “to go forth” instead of the former meaning of care and protection. Our good shepherd leads us forth in righteousness; He leads us to be in right standing with Him! He does this for His sake not ours. In other words, He is righteous and has declared us to be righteous in Him. Because of this declaration He must lead us in the paths of righteousness to defend His Name or confirm His Word that we are righteous! He is a God of His Word!
Declaration six – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” A couple important truths can be gleaned from the first part of this phrase alone. First, we walk “through” the valley; we do not stay “in” the valley. If we remember this we do well to “keep walking”. Secondly, it is the “shadow” of death, not death itself but the presence of all things that cause death. We know we will walk through extreme darkness that potentially causes distress because of the danger represented in this valley. But remember; it is the shadow!
In the second part of the verse, notice once again the declaration and demand placed on ourselves. “I WILL fear no evil!” It does not say I will try not to fear evil; I will pretend evil does not exist; or I will avoid evil. In this world we will face evil head on but we do not fear because we stay in the care and protection of our warrior shepherd. Again this requires us to trust Him as we walk through together. But there is a big difference if we perceive walking with a shepherd who only brings comfort in the midst of darkness – or one who is a warrior, protector, and is victorious in EVERY situation. How do you see Jesus?
If we do not take this declaration seriously and refuse to fear, we find ourselves off the path. Fear will cause us to wander off on our own usually beside turbulent waters instead of the still waters our shepherd leads us beside. When we walk in fear, we hear very little from God. The more emotional we are, the less consistently we hear and the more we hear things contrary to God’s will. Here in Psalm 23 “I will fear no evil” means a refusal to be terrified or allow the dreadful psychological feeling that comes over a person when facing evil. Most of us have God’s Word planted in our hearts, but if we haven’t watered and allowed the Son to grow it, we forget what was planted when fear comes and His Word is uprooted. We must remember and live in the reality He is with us. He does not fear, therefore we do not fear.
Declaration seven – “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Look very closely here! Earlier I asked how do you see your good shepherd; as one who comforts or as a mighty warrior who guards, protects, and is victorious in every situation? The Lord is our shepherd who leads, guides, provides, and protects us. And He has something else to bring comfort to us – His rod and staff. First of all we do not fear evil because it is solidified in our spirit that He is with us! Secondly, we do not fear evil because we receive comfort from His rod and staff.
In Bible times a shepherd carried only a rod and staff. A rod was used to defend sheep from their enemies. The staff was used to corral the sheep for their protection. We are comforted knowing our Shepherd not only defends us from our enemies but also keeps us protected by hooking us in so to speak. We are not to fear evil because of the comfort we receive in the knowledge that our Great Shepherd has His rod and staff in action. We are not to receive comfort after we are in fear, but receive comfort so that we DO NOT fear.
In the New Testament we get the revelation Jesus lived, died, and resurrected, leaving us with His precious Holy Spirit. Now we have Him living inside of us, and we live in Him; Oneness. Today, we not only receive comfort from the outside, seeing this Great Shepherd ward off the enemy with his rod and keeping us safe with His staff, but we also have the indwelling of Holy Spirit, to strengthen, nurture, comfort, and give us encouragement. We have it all!
In the place of war and battle, in the valley, we need to remember our comfort, our strength, our place of refuge. When the battle rages, it is not easy to “see” our Shepherd so we must “hear” His voice. We must lie down in the provision He makes for us; walk in tranquility and happiness as He leads us; be restored in our entire beings; fear no evil as we walk through life; know He is with us holding His rod and staff, keeping the enemy at bay, corralling us in to keep us safe. We need to know and experience our Shepherd BEFORE the battle. We need to train for battle, so we know Who to trust and are confident in our victory, enveloped in His comfort. Our bravery is not based on building ourselves up, trying to be strong and fearless. It is based on the power, strength, and comfort of our good shepherd!
THE LORD! HE IS OUR SHEPHERD! WE SHALL NOT WANT!