The Beautiful Shepherd
October 7-8, 2023
This is, of course, the most famous of all of the Psalms. Many people have memorized Psalm 23 at some point in their lives. It's, of course, memorialized on plaques and cards and artwork and home screen in small. It resonates with us because it touches the greatest desires and the greatest needs of the soul. Now, we know David wrote it and David was a shepherd.
We get the theme of the Psalm right away. The Lord is my shepherd. When David wrote it, we are not really sure. We know that David was a shepherd in his teens. In fact, we know that when David was attending the sheep, the day that Samuel the prophet who was told of the Lord to go to the house of Jesse, David's father, and there he would anoint the next king of Israel.
Samuel, when he arrives in the house of Jesse, he first sees the oldest son, Eliab, and he thinks to himself, oh, this must be the one. After all, he was tall. He had the look, he was staturely, he had probably a cleft chin, I'm thinking, kind of the Dudley Do-Right look. He thought, oh, surely he must be the one. The Lord said, no, this is not the one. Because he said, do not look at his appearance or the height of his stature. God sees not as man sees. Man looks at the appearance, but God looks at the heart.
This is not the one. The next son appeared before Samuel. This is not the one, and the next one, this is not the one. In fact, seven, David had seven brothers. All seven of his brothers appeared before Samuel and then Samuel's confused. God did not choose any of these. Is this all you have? Is this all of the children? Then Jesse said, "No, there's David, but he's a shepherd." "Well, go get him."
I love that scene where Samuel says, "We will not sit down until he comes." I don't know. I love that part. David comes and he is the one. He's anointed there to be the king of Israel. God used those years though when David was a shepherd. God used them. God was preparing David. David had no idea, but God was preparing David for his calling on his life. There he is a shepherd and then a lion, you know the story.
Lion came to tear away one of the lambs from the flock. Then David arising in tremendous boldness of courage, confronts the lion, snatched the lamb from the mouth, killing the lion. Then later on, a bear came attacking the sheep. Again, David confronts the bear, snatching the lamb out of his jaws, killing the bear. God was preparing David to when they face a giant. You can imagine all of the hours that David had alone out there watching the sheep. What would you do with all of those hours?
I just imagine David taking his sling and practicing slinging rocks and taking aim at the trees and whatnot. That's what young boys would do, for sure, throw rocks but with a sling, oh, you could really send those things like missiles, that would really be helpful when a wolf approached or whatever. Hour after hour, David would throw rocks with that sling, not knowing that God would use David to save the nation using that sling and one rock.
Or maybe David, I imagine him out there writing songs. David was a musician, probably had one of those harps rather one that you can just hold in your arms. David was skilled upon it. David wrote lyrics, songs. I just imagine David out there and there's nobody out there. David out there just singing to the Lord. The sheep are like-- Can you just imagine? David just worshiping the Lord. The lambs are like, oh, well, and there's something David was learning.
David, his heart was being poured out and those who you see the loving, caring relationship between a shepherd and the sheep. The sheep completely trust the shepherd. In fact, the Scripture tells us the sheep know the voice of the master. It's really beautiful. The sheep know the voice of the master. I mentioned this on Wednesday. If shepherds would get together, imagine they'd bring all the sheep and the shepherds all come together to say hi to one another. All their sheep are mingling together in some one big thing.
The shepherds are like, oh, how are you doing? How's your wife? How's the kids? How about them cowboys? They're just talking amongst themselves. Then it's time to leave. How do you separate all the sheep? They're all mingled up now together and they all look the same. Well, the shepherds would just call out, help and they know the voice of their master. They would just follow. They just follow.
I remember reading the story, took place during World War I when some Turkish invaders broke into a Jewish sheep fold and were driving away the sheep. They're going to steal the sheep. At night the shepherd hears the commotion and he comes, steps out into the field there at night as they're trying to drive away his sheep. He stands out into the field. He begins to call out to a sheep and they all just hear his voice and all turn around and just come running back to the shepherd. The Turkish invaders could do nothing to stop them. I love that story. The sheep know the voice of their master, and that speaks volumes about our relationship to the Lord. The sheep know the voice of their master.
David never forgot the days when he was a shepherd. They formed some of the greatest lessons of his life. Very likely, David wrote this psalm. Later you can get a sense of that. David is remembering now. He has survived many battles. He's faced many challenges. He's faced many hardships and many enemies. Through them all, the Lord was his shepherd. One day he sat down and wrote out this beautiful psalm, truly one of the greatest ever written. It strengthens your faith. How many people ever read this psalm and it's encouraged them? The principles here will renew your love for the Lord, who is the beautiful shepherd.
Let's read it. Psalm 23. I'm going to ask, it's only six verses, would you read it with me? I'm going to read from the New American and you just read it out loud with me. I know that's different than what we normally do, but you can do it, right? It's beautiful. It's so beautiful. I want to just hear us all sing it together. Yes, we're going to sing it together. No, no, we're going to say it together. Can you do me one more favor? Y'all good with this? Will y'all stand on your feet? We're going to read the Word of God. We ought to be standing on our feet, right?
Let's read Psalm 23:1. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; and my cup overflows. Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Amen. Amen.
I. Sheep Need a Shepherd
Go ahead and be seated. What a great psalm. How beautiful is this? Let's look at it, starting with this, that sheep need a shepherd. For David, see, when he used the phrase, "The Lord is my shepherd," it's a beautiful phrase. It portrays the heart of God. When David says, "The Lord is my shepherd," he is saying wonderful things about the Lord. Now, when God uses the word 'sheep' to describe us, however, I'm not sure it's exactly a compliment.
Can you imagine? Imagine with me sheep that don't have a shepherd. They would be in such trouble. Sheep without a shepherd? Sheep are gripped with fear, often irrational fear. If a jackrabbit should bolt out of the bushes, they would all stampede. Interestingly, I read an article written by the columnists, Ann Landers and Dear Abbey. You remember them, that used to be a thing. People used to write them, "Dear Abby, here are my problems." Ann Landers and Dear Abbey wrote that the one problem that dominated all problems was fear. People were afraid. Afraid of losing their health, afraid of losing their wealth, afraid of losing their loved ones. Fear.
Imagine sheep without a shepherd, they're vulnerable. They're absolutely prone to wander. They have no natural defenses at all. Their teeth are not even sharp. Without a shepherd, can you imagine? They would be easy prey. In fact, that's what the scriptures say. Ezekiel 34:5, God is speaking of course of Israel, "They were scattered for lack of a shepherd and became food for every beast of the field." Matthew 9:36 is referencing to Jesus, "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd."
A. I shall not want
David was a man of great strength. We know that David was, and so for him, he understood the significance of having that good shepherd. It meant everything to David. He writes, "The Lord is my shepherd," and then everything that follows is related to that relationship that God is that beautiful shepherd in his life. He says, "The Lord is my shepherd. Therefore, I shall not want." I shall not want.
See, a shepherd knows what the sheep need is a picture of God being Jehovah-Jireh. It's the name of God. God will provide. God answers your greatest need. He knows your need, and He will answer that need. In the Hebrew, I shall not want literally is I shall not lack. It's the same Hebrew word that is used to describe God's provision for Israel during 40 years in the desert.
Interestingly, when Moses in Deuteronomy 8, Moses is looking back now over 40 years of Israel in the desert. Notice what he says in verses 3 to 4. He says, "God humbled you and let you be hungry and then He fed you with manna," which is a miraculous provision of God. He fed you with manna, which you did not know, that He might, and here it is, that He might make you understand. He did this that He might make you understand. God wants you to understand that man does not live by bread alone but by the provision of the body. No, man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
God wants you to understand. He is therefore being your provider. He says your clothing did not wear out on you, and your foot did not swell these 40 years, which is a miracle itself, because if you've ever been in the desert, your fingers swell up in two hours. The Lord knows your need and He's answering your greatest need. When David says, "I shall not want," it's a declaration. I will not be anxious, that's what he's saying. I will not fret, I will not worry.
See, to be anxious is that. It's to worry, to fret. It's based on the fear of the unknown. What if this? What if that? Because it could happen, many people worry as if it will happen. Jesus said this in Luke 12:25, "And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?" Worry does not add to your life. It can take away but cannot add. If you then cannot do even a very little thing, then why do you worry about other matters? Then, of course, He went on to say, "Do you not be anxious. God knows. God will provide." That's why he was saying that.
B. He restores my soul
David says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Then the next verses culminate in that great phrase, "He restores my soul." See, the Hebrew poetry here in verses 2 and 3, they're interconnected. Poetry does that. It connects. "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
Now, the idea on lying down, first of all, a sheep will not lie down at all unless they are free from fear. He says, "I will make them to lie down." Now, I've heard several. He says, "He makes me lie down." It's peace. It's rest. I will make them to lie down in green pastures. See the green there? See, it speaks of the freshest, most nourishing lush grass that feeds the soul. It's a picture of God feeding the soul. "I will make them to lie down in lush green fresh pastures that they will be well fed."
In other words, God wants you to be well-fed. Now, He's speaking spiritually, of course. See, in other words, God doesn't want you to go to a church just because that church serves Krispy Kreme Doughnuts or dinners three times a week or cookies after the Wednesday service. No, God wants you to go to a church that delights in the Word of God. See, that's one of the reasons I love this church. I know that there is a delight. There is a hunger for the Word of God.
Now, it just so happens we also serve Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, but more than anything, the soul needs to be fed. The Word of God is that which nourishes. We need to be regularly bringing the life of the Word into the soul. That is how the soul is built and strengthened and edified. Life. God wants to give life to you all the week long. My daily bread.
In other words, you don't eat once a week, right? You look pretty healthy to me. You eat every day. See, now, you might have a feast once a week. That's my prayer. Come to church and have a feast. That's what I want Sunday services and Wednesday. That's what I want. I want a feast in the Word of God. I tell pastors at pastors' conferences, "Pastors, you are a chef. Take the Word of God and serve it deliciously." Amen.
You don't put raw meat on the plate. You prepare it and cook it and add spice and make it nourishing and delicious. The Word of God is the delight to the soul. Come to church and have a feast, but you need to eat every day. He is your daily bread. Amen. Your soul every day nourished on the Word of God. I love Ezekiel 34 where Jesus or the Lord says this about His people in Israel. "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he's among his scattered sheep, I will care for my sheep. I will feed them in good pasture and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel."
Beautiful. "There they will lie down on green grazing ground and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock and I will lead them to rest." He's a good shepherd. He's the beautiful shepherd. Then it says, "And He leads them besides still waters." It's all part of the same beautiful poetry. "He makes me lie down in green pastures and then he leads me besides still waters."
Sheep will not drink from turbulent waters. They will stand there and look at the water, but they won't drink until it's calm. The shepherd, actually, if there's turbulence in the water, will take rocks and form a little pool and then it's a picture of peace. He leads me to peace. Peace that passes understanding. You can have peace like that in the midst of the turbulence because God is the one who brings. He is my shepherd and He brings me to still waters. He brings peace that passes understanding even in the midst of the turbulence of life.
Then He says, "And He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." You can imagine, of course, a shepherd would make sure that he guides the sheep on the path that is right. It's good, and that's the Lord's heart. He will guide you in the path that's right and good. Righteousness. He will bring a blessing to your life when you walk in the path that God has set for you. He will keep you from that path of destruction, that path that is danger, that path that is filled with this and that. God will lead you into the right path. Psalm 37:23, he says, "The steps of the righteous are ordered by the Lord." Literally, ordained by the Lord, "And He delights in His way."
II. God’s Presence Changes Everything
There's a beautiful picture. The steps of a righteous man is ordained. God ordains your steps. He sets you in the path that's right. Then God delights in it. When you walk in the path that God has set before you, God delights in it. Well, let me just submit that not only does God delight in it, you'll delight in it too. God is keeping you from the path of danger. God is keeping you from the path that's going to bring destruction. You will delight when you walk in the path that God has ordained. Amen?
All of that then culminates in that He restores my soul, summarizes it all. Restores to what? See, the word 'restore' in Hebrew means to come back, to return, to turn back. God turns your soul back from the path of destruction and will restore. See, when God turns you back from that destruction, He will restore by building and edifying into that which is beautiful in your soul.
That's the beautiful work of God. He takes you out of the mess, takes you out of the mire, takes you out of the mud, takes you out of the trouble that your sin brought you into, and then he'll start building and edifying and strengthening and He'll do that. Some work of transforming that's far, far better than the mess that you had before. He will restore your soul into that which is beautiful. It's the beautiful work of God.
Then the last section of Psalm 23. I'm telling you, Psalm 23, every verse is so full of depth of understanding. Literally, you could do a message on every verse here, but just the last section is culminated where he says this, "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil." Why? "For thou art with me." That's why I do not have fear in my heart because God, you're with me. That theme is it right there. God's presence changes everything. You are with me. It's one of the greatest themes that runs through the entire Word of God from beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation. It is the greatest, perhaps, of all the themes that runs through the Bible.
God's presence was broken when Adam sinned but restored to us in what Jesus has done, the Son of the living God has brought the life of the presence of God. He is Emmanuel. God is with us. Everything is founded on that great truth. It was the key to David's understanding of faith. It was the very substance of David's confidence in God. That's why he's writing it, declaring it. The Lord is my shepherd. I will not be afraid. There it is. Do not be afraid.
A. Do not be afraid
I will not be afraid of 10,000 who have set themselves against me roundabout. Why? Because that word 'with me' changes everything. Over and over you see it in the Bible, it runs from beginning to end. For example, when Moses had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, they came to Sinai shortly after they were there. While Moses was up on the mountain those 40 days receiving the law of God, the people grew impatient. They said to Aaron, his brother, make us a god, and so they took gold and fashioned a calf, and then they started to revel and to party and to go wayward. Moses comes down, sees this, and smashes the tablets.
God then later said to Moses, "Take the people up from Mount Sinai and bring them into the land that I promised, but I'm not going with you." I said I would give them the land, I'm going to give them the land. Moses, take them up, but I will not go with you. My presence will not go with you. Moses, interceding in behalf of Israel, says, "If your presence does not go with us, we're not going anywhere." Now, that is powerful. Moses is interceding and he says to the Lord, no, we must have you. We must have your presence. God was so pleased with Moses' interceding prayer, "I will go." David captures that beautiful thought here in Psalm 23. "I will not be afraid because thou art with me." Now, David experienced fear. You can be sure of that. David writes about that.
It's very, of course, common for people to experience fear. But David is writing this to say, I will not be mastered by it. Fear will not master me. Fear is a terrible master. No, it is faith in my shepherd. I will not be afraid. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear." Now, those words have encouraged so many. If you've ever walked through the valley of deep darkness or a valley of deep trouble, even the valley of the shadow of death, you turn to Psalm 23 and it strengthens. It encourages you. You are reminded. Yes, that's right. I say the same. I also declare it. I will not be afraid for you're with me, Lord. Even now as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid. It will not master me. For you are my great, beautiful shepherd. I was thinking of an illustration.
Many of you, of course, know that beautiful hymn that we've sung in the church many times. It is well with my soul. Well, the story behind it speaks to this powerfully, quite beautifully, written by Horatio Spafford in the story of his life is that he endured one tragedy upon another. He was ruined financially in the great Chicago fight of 1871. Then in 1873, he planned to travel to England with his family in order to help D.L. Moody's upcoming evangelistic campaigns in Europe.
There at the port, he gets news that there are more business troubles and that he must attend to. He had to go back to Chicago. He sent his family on ahead. Then as they're crossing the Atlantic, the ship that they were on collided with another vessel and sink quite rapidly. All four of Spafford's daughters perished. All four. His wife, Anna, survived and sent him now what is now a famous telegram, saved alone, broken. Broken financially, broken relationships. His daughters all perished.
Shortly after Spafford boarded a ship, the Ville du Havre, in order to join his grieving wife, crossing the Atlantic, he asked the captain to alert him when he approached the spot where the ship carrying his four daughters went down. One evening, deep into the night, the captain of the Ville du Havre came and alerted Spafford that they were approaching the place. He went out, standing on the deck of the ship in the night, looking across the billows of the sea.
The words that came to his heart are out of the same great truth. He said, "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll," do you see what he's saying? "Whether it be peace or sorrows, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul." How can it be well? Because I know I have a rock, because I know I have a shepherd, and though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for thou art with me. This is my great truth, David is writing. This is my great hope, I stand on this, I know it's great truth, it's for me. I can add my own testimony. I'm sure you can add your own testimony.
When our daughter died when she was murdered, it brought us to the depth of our grief, but this I know, that I have a shepherd over my soul, that he was walking with me and still walks with me. I've got a rock to stand on, and this I know, that the same Lord who forgave my daughter's sin is the same Lord who forgave my sin. The same Lord who gave her eternal life is the same Lord who gave me eternal life. The same Lord who welcomed her into his presence will welcome me into His presence and I will see my daughter again. I know in whom I have believed. Amen.
B. May His rod and His staff bring comfort
Yes, let's give the Lord praise. Absolutely right. That's why David writes it. The Lord is my shepherd. I will not fear because the Lord is my shepherd. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Then he adds this phrase, and your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Yo, that's beautiful, may His rod and His staff bring comfort. Here's why. Every shepherd would carry, of course, his staff of wood, usually made of very hard wood like olive wood, for example. Usually with a crook or a hook on the end, and it would serve meaning, purposes.
It would guide. You can guide the sheep with it. You could use it to pull a lamb close to the shepherd. It could be used to rescue an animal slipping out of the reach, but it could also be used to attack a predator. There, see, David saw that it represents the power, the authority, the might of the king. He says the Lord is my shepherd, and when I see that staff, when I imagine that staff in His hand I'm comforted by it, because I know that my Lord knows full well how to use it. I love that.
In Psalm 3:7, he says, "Arise, Lord; save me, oh my God. For You have smitten my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked." He says, "Salvation belongs to the Lord." David is strengthened in his faith when he imagines the Great Shepherd with the rod of authority in His hand. He knows full well to use it. That's why he says in verse 5, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." See, in other words, with enemies situated roundabout, I sit down at a table prepared for me by my God. I am at rest, I'm at peace, I'm protected.
C. May your heart overflow in God’s anointing
Even with enemies surrounding me, I will not be afraid, because the Lord, you are with me. Psalm 73:28, "As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge that I might tell of all of Your works." Then lastly, all of it is culminated, I believe in this great statement. "You have anointed my head with oil and my cup overflows." This is a beautiful picture. I love this. May the heart overflow in God's anointing. Now, shepherds would anoint with oil to protect the sheep from disease or to heal a wound.
Yes, but David no doubt remembered that day when the prophet Samuel came to the house of his father Jesse to anoint the future king of Israel. When David was finally summoned from watching the sheep, Samuel literally poured oil over his head, anointing, signifying that he is the anointed one, the chosen one of God to be the future king of Israel. Anointed. See, the oil is a picture of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the presence of the living God is the oil poured out upon the life.
Then David says, "my cup overflows." All right, so you can see that Samuel would literally pour the oil on his head and it would overflow. It was a dramatic picture, but it's the spiritual picture also, my cup overflows. The presence of God meant everything to David. God was doing a beautiful work on his soul. So much so that he says I'm filled. See, the oil, the anointing of the oil is the presence of the Holy Spirit, and I'm overflowing. God has done such a work by His Holy Spirit in my life that I am overflowing in it.
By the way, did you know that everyone whose named the name of Jesus is given a gift of the Holy Spirit? The same Holy Spirit that anointed David is the same Holy Spirit that is filling and anointing your life. Do you believe that? That overflowing can be yours. My cup overflow. I love that picture. See, I tell you, I have a joy of the Lord. I love the Lord, and I have a joy of the Lord, and I want that joy to overflow unto you. I want that joy to overflow. I have peace. I have a peace that passes understanding. I do, and I want that peace to overflow unto you.
I have love. I love the Lord and I want that love to overflow onto your life. More than that, I want you to be anointed and filled with the presence of the living God so that you overflow. I want there to be such joy in you. That's my prayer for the church. That there would be such joy, the joy of the Lord would be yours so much that it would overflow onto people around you. Your children, your wife, your husband. It would just overflow upon them because they can just see it in your life.
Peace. There's such a peace in your life that it overflows upon the people around you. Your family, your children, your husband, your wife. That there's such love because the presence of God is love that is filling and then overflowing to your children, your husband, your wife, the people in your life. Let there be the overflowing in your life. God wants that for you. You know what it meant for David? It meant, in verse 6, "Surely goodness and loving kindness will fall on me all the days of my life."
See, the anointing of the Lord, the overflowing cup of His soul meant that goodness and loving kindness follow me all the days of my life. Now, you might say, well, I think I know the story of David and I know that he encountered many many storms. True, but he drove right through those storms and what followed him was goodness and loving kindness. You can look at Joseph in the book of Genesis. God had given to Joseph this vision of grandeur, of greatness that he would be one day that which leads and blesses his people. Then what followed after the vision was trouble upon trouble upon trouble.
Yes, he encountered many storms, but he drove right through those storms and what followed was goodness and loving kindness. God is truly the beautiful shepherd, and goodness and loving kindness will follow you all the days of your life because God is with you. His rod and his staff will comfort you. He's anointed you with the Holy Spirit, and when you delight in the Almighty, your cup will overflow, and goodness and loving kindness will follow you all the days of your life. That's what God wants for you. May you walk in it. May there be victory. David was strong in his faith, and when he declared the Lord is my shepherd, that's all we need to know about the relationship that David had with his God. He's the beautiful shepherd and He has blessed my life. Let Him bless your life.
Father, we love you, honor you, praise you for being that beautiful shepherd, because in that we shall not want. You make me lie down in green pastures, lead me beside still waters. You, God, you restore my soul. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you're with me. You rod and your staff, they comfort me. You anoint with oil. My cup is overflowing, and goodness and loving kindness will fall in me all the days of my life.
Church, how many would say to the Lord today, 'I want you to be my beautiful shepherd'? Be that to me, oh God. I want to know all that it means to have you as that shepherd in my life that I would say I shall not want. That you make me lie down in green pastures. You anoint my head with oil and my cup overflows. Goodness and loving kindness would follow me all the days of my life. Be that beautiful shepherd. Be thou to me that in my life.
Church, would you say that to the Lord by just raising your hand? It's a prayer, it's a request, saying it's a declaration of desire. Be that beautiful shepherd to me, Lord, and all that it means. Here I am, Lord. Fill and overflow by your Holy Spirit, the goodness and loving kindness would follow me all the days of my life. God, we love you and delight in you. In Jesus' powerful name, and everyone said, amen. Let's give the Lord praise and glory and honor. Can we do that? Amen. Amen.