Kevin Reilly – Gdańsk, Poland
Surely, these are five of the most familiar words in the whole Bible – The Lord is my shepherd – and yet as with many things which become familiar to us, if they are to retain their value in our lives, it is good to pause, occasionally, and consider them afresh.
David’s 23rd psalm is one of the richest and most comforting pieces of scripture in the whole Bible. In the writing of this song, David was expressing a revelation of the very nature of the God he served. God is not to be understood as distant and omnipotent only; he is powerfully present and intimate and near; and so David writes and his heart is swept along by the Spirit as he considers his former life as a shepherd, and in light of this, God’s deep care and faithfulness to those who know him as Lord.
To David, the Lord is a shepherding God – meeting every need, providing places of rest and restoration. Leading him along good paths and into dark valleys – the Good Shepherd – always present and near and comforting. In the wilderness, David is unafraid; whether he is facing the shadow of death or a gathering of his enemies: peace, blessing and the overflow of God’s goodness are his. And to David, this blessed position is not momentary as he concludes that goodness and mercy shall follow him, throughout his life, and even beyond…into eternity.
All these great statements of blessing are conditional, however. Verse 1 is the context for everything that follows. God is unchanging, of course, and so everything that David writes is always true about the Lord, but for us to be able to speak as David speaks, verse 1 is our determiner.
The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord. Jehova. The Existing One. Our point of entry into the blessings within verses one through to six, are here in this opening phrase – in a name. Jehova.
David is probably King at the time of writing this psalm – he was formerly a shepherd but now he reigns as Israel’s king and despite his wealth and power, he surrenders himself to one who is higher.
To begin with ourselves, our circumstances, our good works, our many sins, is to start badly. The key to the whole psalm is to begin with God. The Lord is David’s entry point. The Lord Jesus must be ours. The Good Shepherd (Jn 10) who knows his sheep by name, who lays down his life for his sheep – he must be our beginning.
The Lord is my shepherd. This is no general statement about God, fired off by some religious leader to his people to keep them fed and watered. David is rejoicing in the particular truth that he belongs to the Lord, personally. The Lord is my Shepherd – not simply a shepherd. I belong to him and he belongs to me. There is relationship. There is fellowship. David moves from the general to the personal. The Lord as a Shepherd is objectively true but requires nothing of me. The fact that he is my shepherd positions us both – He as Lord and me as his dependent.
God is not able to work in our lives with the fullness of his blessings without a personal surrender on our part. He requires this of us. We confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9) and we believe in our hearts that he is alive – he is Jehovah (the Existing / Living One). We declare him Lord and we enter into his blessings and rest. We may see God’s work in creation, or in the life of someone we know; but Jesus requires that we personally give way, lay down our arguments and pride and surrender to Him – indeed we spend our lives as Christians continually learning to do this.
The Lord is my shepherd. And the metaphorical context is set for the whole psalm. David’s movement from the general truth of God to the particular love of God for himself now intertwines with his experiences among the hills of Canaan as a shepherd. God, distant and all-powerful and all-knowing, has become God, present and personal and particular to me, on the hills and in the valleys.
In John 10, Jesus takes this metaphor for himself and in so doing aligns himself with The Lord of Ps 23. I am the Good Shepherd he states, unequivocally. And the God of Psalm 23 has just stepped even closer as he clothes himself with humanity and bones and flesh. And the shepherding experiences of David are enriched as Jesus states: I am the Good Shepherd. (Jn 10:11)
And Jesus goes on to describe himself as the true shepherd (v3) and the shepherd who speaks and listens (v3+4). He is the naming shepherd (v3), knowing us particularly and personally by name. He is the intimate shepherd, knowing us fully and completely (v14). He is the leading shepherd (v3), going before us. He is the saving shepherd (v9), laying his life down for his sheep. He is the generous shepherd (v10), offering us life in abundance. He is the searching shepherd (v6), leaving the 99 in order to find the one who is lost. He is the unifying shepherd (v16), bringing all believers together into a single fellowship under himself.
The Lord is my shepherd / pastor. (shepherd and pastor are interchangeable)
To declare The Lord is my pastor is to accept all that Jesus says about himself and to surrender completely to him. In doing so, the doorway to the journey within the whole of psalm 23 is opened to us and we are able to declare with confidence that Jesus is my pastor and I will lack no good thing (Ps 23:1).
Jesus meets every need, gives me places of rest and restoration. He leads me along good paths and into dark valleys. He is always present and near and comforting and in wilderness journeys I am unafraid and as the shadow of death closes in upon me, I will know his peace and his blessing and the overflow of His goodness for me. And I shall know this goodness and mercy throughout my life and into eternity. If we have accepted Jesus as Lord then the fulness of the blessings of psalm 23 are ours, through faith in Christ.
Friends, as our journey into 2022 begins, we must fight the good fight of faith in order to live within the blessings secured for us within this psalm. To live without fear, unafraid, (Ps 23:4) is itself a battle worthy of consideration. Jesus has made every provision for this – we will lack no good thing – even as we journey through dark periods. We are not to deny our fears and anxieties, but neither are we to accept them as governing determiners within our circumstances – they are not – the Lord Jesus is our pastor and he is present and ruling in the valley with us (and he led us there too!) and therefore we turn to our fears and speak to them, not allowing them to shepherd us into cul-de-sacs of smallness and anxiety. For we have a Good Shepherd and his name is not Fear. His name is Jehova, Jesus – the name above every name.
Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Ps 100:3)