I must admit, this is the Psalm which I’ve been dreading to write about. Not that I don’t love it—I do—but because this is so well-known that it’s hard to delve into it without repeating what others have said before. Most people recognize the 23rd Psalm along with John 3:16 as the most famous Bible passages. Before we get to my notes, I need to acknowledge that much of this material comes from A Shepherd Looks At The 23rd Psalm by W. Phillip Keller.
• The first five words are pretty ironic, since the author was a shepherd and knew sheep. Since he knew sheep, he didn’t sentimentalize them as we city-folk are prone to do. Sheep are--to be brutally frank--stupid, in fact one of the most scatterbrained animals which we’ve domesticated. They tend to wander off (mentioned in Scripture), and they love to get themselves into situations which they can’t get out of. They might wander off cliffs or into brier patches. They've been known to stand out in the rain and drown because they don’t know enough to seek shelter. When David called himself and other believers sheep, he wasn’t paying us a compliment.
• They require constant watch and protection. They have no defenses against predators, and they have to be frequently groomed and examined for wounds or disease, since their wool precludes easy inspections.
• The reason why David mentions “quiet waters” is because sheep refuse to drink from running water like in a stream or river. The shepherd had to constantly be on the move to look for green pastures and water which the sheep could consume.
• They also require constant guidance. The “rod” was used for protection and keeping count, while the “staff” was used for discipline and guiding the sheep back onto the proper path. Both discipline and protection provided comfort.
• Suddenly in vs. 5 the view shifts from the fields to a banquet. David looked at how God had provided for and protected him, and he compared it to a feast of goodness, to the point of overabundance (“cup overflows”). But notice where this banquet is. It isn’t in the midst of a calm, meditative retreat where we can focus on the Lord without hindrance. No, it’s “in the presence of my enemies.” As we mentioned before, David had plenty of cutthroat adversaries, and even with them breathing down his neck, he could see his Shepherd’s goodness, providence, and protection and see life as a banquet set by his beneficent Lord.
• And finally we see David’s proclamation summarizing up his life. As he looked behind him, he could see goodness and love (or “covenant kindness,” remember our study on chesed?) following him. Hindsight is always 20/20, and just like the poem Footprints put it, the older we get, the more we’ll see how our Savior has carried us. And this carrying will only continue as he carries us across the threshold of his House.
Lord Jesus, you are the Great Shepherd, and you laid down your life for me. Please help me to listen and obey. There are so many predators out there, but as long as I trust and obey, I have nothing to worry about.