Saturday, April 8, 2017

I've Got Your Back

Print Passage: Psalm 23:1-6
Devotional Reading: John 10:11-18

Of the many psalms written by King David, Psalms 22, 23, and 24 are each psalms he wrote from his experience as a shepherd and each describe the LORD as the Shepherd from a different standpoint. Psalm 22 discusses His sufferings, gives praises and discusses the future generations who shall serve the Messiah or the Good Shepherd who gave His innocent life that we may have a chance to eternal life. John 10:11, 14-15, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (NKJV) Skipping to Psalm 24, it discusses the Chief Shepherd or the King of Glory and His Kingdom which explains that everything belongs to the LORD who has power and majesty. We own nothing and must have clean hands, a pure heart, and a clean soul. (See 1 Pet 5:3-4)

Our lesson today is about Psalm 23 which discusses the LORD as the Great Shepherd of His people. It is one of the most loved and known psalms written. It may be our favorite, we may have memorized it, we hear it in devotion, or we see it in an obituary. Today we shall focus on this psalm which reveals a total reliance on God as Shepherd who cares for every need of the sheep. God is our Protector, Preserver, Healer, Comforter, and Savior. As such we have a deep feeling of comfort and peace. See Hebrews 13:20-21.

As a shepherd boy, David had the experience to pen Psalm 23. He explained to King Saul his dependence on the LORD to deliver him from the hands of Goliath, the Philistines’ giant, just as He had delivered him from the paw of a lion and the paw of a bear while he was rescuing his sheep out of danger. (1 Sam 17:34-37) Following King Saul’s tenure, the LORD took him from the sheepfold to be the ruler over His people. (2 Sam 5:1-5; 7:4-8) Verse 1 powerfully asserts, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (NKJV) The verse is powerful because it is a description of the LORD. The LORD is the Creator of heavens and earth (Gen 1:1), He is the Great I Am (Ex 3:14), He is our Savior (Luke 1:47), He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Rev 22:13), and there are so many more unimaginable things that our infinite LORD is that our finite minds can’t capture.

The LORD is my Shepherd. Let’s stop there. Notice the personal pronoun my. It is true that the Almighty Father would not have any one to perish. Everyone has been given the opportunity to eternal life through belief in His Son, Jesus Christ who gave His life in redemption for our sins to reconcile us to His Father for eternity. (John 3:16-17; Rom 10:8-13) But everyone is not a believer yet, if ever in their lifetime. Remember the LORD said His sheep hears His voice. That would mean the unbelievers are not listening to our Shepherd. And since the LORD is really my Shepherd, then the rest of the psalm belongs to me and likewise to any other believer. I am happy to say He is my Shepherd. Therefore, the LORD whose being is beyond my finite mind belongs to me, He loves me, and this truly gives me comfort and peace.

What else gives me comfort and peace? Psalm 23:1b indicates I shall not want. That means I shall not have a need; it doesn’t mean I won’t have a desire or won’t make a request. The Apostle Paul taught at 1 Tim 6:7-8, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (NKJV) In fact when Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, He gave them a model prayer to the Father which included a request for need only. Matthew 6:11 simply requests, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (NKJV) The daily bread request is both spiritual and physical. Our Great Shepherd knows our needs and will fill them in due time.

The sheep are comfortable and happy in the presence of their Great Shepherd for several reasons. David penned two of the reasons in Ps 23:2 which states, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” (NKJV) All land is not rolling in green grass for grazing by the sheep. The shepherd must know where to allow His sheep to rest for suitable grazing. Then the wise shepherd must know when it is time to move in order to prevent overgrazing. It is the same with the Good Shepherd. God knows when His flock needs to remove itself to another green pasture for faith to feed for a spiritual and physical change. He is a Provider. There are Biblical examples when we are to rest to feed our faith spiritually. (See Matt 11:28-29; Heb 4:1-10)

Psalm 23:2b indicates He leads me beside the still waters. The image of rest is continued following the previous image of leading the sheep to abundant food. Here the Shepherd is leading the sheepfold to abundant water. Peaceful quiet streams are a must, not standing waters which have corruption and filth in them. Neither would the sheep be led to the troubled sea nor to the flood areas. The image of rest in Psalm 23:2 continues the overall theme of comfort and peace that David conveys to the readers.

David identifies two additional reasons the sheep are comfortable and happy in the presence of the Great Shepherd when he penned Ps 3, “He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (NKJV) How does God restore us, the sheep? Think of the times when you may have been sick, depressed, anxious, lost a loved one, etc. God is the Great Shepherd who promised never to leave nor forsake us. (Heb 13:5) He does not leave us out there to battle things on our own. Although there are more than 200 distinct breed of sheep today, one trait is the same regarding each breed.1 Each breed has wool. The shepherd must continually watch the sheep. If one wanders away and, by some unfortunate circumstance ends up on his back, he is not able to turn right-side up and will die. For this reason we see in Matt 18:12-13, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.” (NKJV) Just as the shepherd restored the lost sheep to the sheepfold, the Great Shepherd restores the souls of those who feel lost. God has our back. He provides our every need.

David knew how to be a good leader over the sheep and we know we have the best leader in God. But as sheep are we good followers? Many times we try, but we get off course. Ps 3b indicates, He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. That reminds me of the song, “Where He leads me I will follow…I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.” But we are the first ones to jump the course and become distracted.

The Apostle John penned at chapter 10:2-5, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (NKJV) Our Good Shepherd leads His sheep along the right paths, not for the comfort and pleasure of the sheep, but it is what a Good Shepherd does. Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount at Matt 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
A Good Shepherd is known by a fine, healthy flock and receives a good Name. Glorify the Name of the LORD by being obedient to His commandments. (See Ex 20:1-17; Matt 22:37-39) Don’t get caught on the wrong path distracted in sin and/or trying to do something yourself. The comfort and peace of this Psalm is there is only one path and believers must be in right-standing with the Good Shepherd on the right path.

Death can be very scary because we have no personal experience or knowledge as to death. David comforts each of the believers in Ps 23:4 when he declared triumphantly, “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.” (NKJV) He acknowledged that he was also afraid of death and danger that threatened his physical and spiritual life. But it was only a shadow of death. There is no substantial evil of harm for the sheep (believers). True, it is a valley of the dark shadow. I can imagine a dark valley and David was looking for light. The valley was fruitful because he walked through it in the LORD to the other side. David knew the Word of the LORD was the lamp before his feet and the light for his path. (Ps 119:105) He knew he did not have to fear the dark valley because the Good Shepherd is ever-present to offset any evil of hurt, harm, or danger.

In protecting his sheep David had used the rod and staff. The rod is the shepherd’s weapon to protect the flock. It was an extension of his own right arm.2 It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, and his authority in any serious situation. He relied upon it to keep himself and his flock out of danger. It was also the instrument he used to correct and discipline any wayward sheep. If the sheep should wander, get too close to poisonous weeds, or get too close to danger of any sort, the rod was used. It was also used to push their wool aside for careful examination of the welfare of the sheep underneath the wool. The staff was a symbol of compassion for the sheep. It is used to reach out and guide individual sheep for an intimate examination. Sometimes sheep wander off to eat from another pasture. It is used to gently bring them back to the sheepfold (the right path). Sometimes they wander off and get in places where they have a lot of thorns tangled in their wool and they can’t break free. The staff is used to break them loose and then guide back to the sheepfold (the right path). Through his experience as a young shepherd, David knew the sheep trusted him and were comforted when they heard his voice. He believed in God’s grace and mercy rod and staff instruments for the comfort, protection, welfare, and correction of His sheep who believed in Christ Jesus.

David has been providing words to present God as the loving and caring Great Shepherd who provides every need of His sheep (believers). Now the psalm describes God, the Great Shepherd, as a Divine Gracious Host and Provider. Ps 23:5 indicates, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” (NKJV) Hospitality is looked upon with God’s favor. David himself had shown kindness to the house of Saul after both Saul and his son, David’s blood-brother, Jonathan were killed. He brought Jonathan’s lame son, Mephibosheth, into his palace to live and to eat from his table forever, restoring all of Saul’s riches to him. (2 Sam) So I asked, “What kind of table would God prepare for me?” I don’t have to go far to be able to answer with another immediately recognizable Scripture. The Apostle John wrote at chapter 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but the world through Him might be saved.” (NKJV) God planned for us to be reconciled to Him. As a Divine Gracious Host, He provided not only protection for His guests in the midst of our enemies, but the enemies were shown an avenue to be saved if they chose to come within the light of God, the Divine Host. Otherwise, they would stay outside of the reach of the believers who were seated at the table daily dining of the goodness and mercy of the LORD.

The shepherd, in watching the sheep, would pull them aside for an examination. It may be that a lamb would need the medical attention of anointing a wound for a soothing and refreshing experience to treat bruises, scars, and lacerations before entering the sheepfold. The Divine Host anoints my head (and each of His guests’ heads) with the oil of His Holy Spirit to seal us with the New Covenant of Salvation which we receive by the blood of Christ, God’s grace, and our faith. God never promised us an easy path, but a trial for our faith. (1 Pet 5:7) We must remain within His refuge, His Household, and we shall forever be safe from the evil. (Ps 91)

“My cup runneth over.” The Divine Host provides overwhelmingly for His sheep, His Guests. Are we thankful? Look around. We are breathing, have sight, ability to think and mobility, etc. We are comfortable in our homes and surroundings, have cars, jobs, retirement incomes, etc. We have family members that love us and we are blessed. For these reasons and many more we are blessed of God that our cup runneth over.

David does not worry about the enemies who attempt to come after him. The final verse “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.” (NKJV) David knew he could count on the LORD. God had been with him when he was a shepherd boy and had to fight off the lion, bear, and Goliath. God had not forsaken him when he was running for his life from Saul and Absalom. The goodness and mercy of the LORD was omnipresent in his life because he put God first. This is still true today. Put God first and you will find His goodness and mercy continuously chasing you all the days of your life.

The sheep (believers) shall follow the Good Shepherd and “dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” They intend to remain in His house forever by dwelling. They do not intend to be like homing pigeons that leave the “house” and have an instinct to return. To dwell suggests a final destination. The Apostle John wrote of Jesus’ teaching in chapter 14 verses 2-4, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (NKJV) Does it not give you a feeling of comfort and peace to know that we shall dwell in the prepared house of the LORD forever?

In summation of Psalm 23, J. R. Littleproud gave an outline of how the Great Shepherd provides for our needs as quoted in the Believer’s Bible Commentary:

The secret of a happy life – every need supplied. The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want.
The secret of a happy death – every fear removed. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for You are with me.
The secret of a happy eternity – every desire fulfilled. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.3 Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, pg. 580, 1989, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.

3 Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, pg. 580, 1989, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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